Philadelphia Eagles News

D-Line Stands Out, Quietly If Need Be

Fletcher Cox tried "The Nobodies" for a short time during the 2014 season, but the nickname didn't stick. This defensive line, built on trust and competition and selflessness and success, doesn't see the need for a nickname or publicity, for that matter.

"We're just out there playing together, covering for one another and having fun," nose tackle Bennie Logan said. "We don't need a nickname. Nobody talks about anything like that."

The publicity part came the group's way on Wednesday when end Fletcher Cox was named the NFC's Defensive Player of the Week for his three-sack, two-forced-fumble, one-recovery performance in Sunday's win over the New Orleans Saints. And to a man, as Cox was surrounded by the media during the open locker room period on Wednesday, his linemates were thrilled for Cox to receive the recognition.

"He deserves it," end Cedric Thornton said. "He's deserved it for some time."

"I've been saying it for a long time," Logan said. "He's one of the best, if not the best. He's been playing that way all season and I'm glad he's drawing the recognition."

At the same time, the collective group of defensive linemen goes about its business quietly. It's a selfless group that relies on coordination and exacting technique and physical football for success. Defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro and assistant line coach Mike Dawson are equal-opportunity investors in the players: Reps are split evenly enough that those who are active on gamedays usually get good time. In Sunday's blowout win over New Orleans, Cox played 46 snaps, Logan played 31, Thornton had 28 snaps, Taylor Hart 27, Vinny Curry 22 and Beau Allen 21. Brandon Bair was inactive with a groin injury.

The idea is to keep the players fresh and hungry and, ultimately, productive.

"It's competitive and that brings out the best in all of us," Allen said. "I think a great example is when Ced was out (with a broken hand) and Brandon stepped up and just played really, really good football. It's impressive. I think it's a lot of fun when you can roll a lot of guys through there and play a lot of reps and get different looks. We've bumped Bennie from nose tackle to end and it was like he had been playing there his whole life.

"I think the competition is good. We all work with each other and we also compete against each other, and that feeds off itself and makes us better players individually and a better group, collectively."

A two-gapping scheme up front requires the linemen to play both shoulders of an offensive blocker -- two gaps -- and the hope is that by occupying blockers in such a manner, other gaps will come free for the four linebackers who playing downhill toward the line of scrimmage. Instead of penetrating at the snap of the ball and going for glory that way, the defensive linemen perhaps give up some statistics that they might otherwise attain. This group is so good that the numbers are still there, as Cox's big day on Sunday proves.

The strength of this group is its play against the run -- the Eagles are tied for best in the NFL against the run, allowing 3.5 yards per rushing attempt -- and yet there is enough versatility with Cox and Allen and Curry to provide some pass-rush punch, too.

"I think we're getting there, with a lot of room to improve, actually," Thornton said. "We're 2-3 as a team, and that's all that matters. We need to be more consistent, like we were against New Orleans. What makes it work for us is that we work together, like a collage. Hand in hand. Get to your second key, whether it's the quarterback and you get to him for a sack or the running back and you make a tackle.

"We aren't out searching for any kind of nickname or notice. Last year we kind of ran with 'The Nobodies' because we were playing the Cowboys and everyone was talking about their offensive line. It was fun. But it didn't stick and that's okay. We're just happy out there playing good football."

Safety Malcolm Jenkins says the defensive line's job is to keep him clean -- "my jersey's only dirty when I make it dirty. Our front does a great job. They don't let runs burst through to the secondary. They do a good job of getting pressure." -- and that when Cox has a dominating day like he did on Sunday, every part of the defense benefits.

The challenge on Sunday is enormous. New York's offense is explosive. Eli Manning is a veteran quarterback who threw 53 times and gained 429 yards the last time the teams met. While the Eagles gave up all of those yards in the air, they only allowed 76 rushing yards and 26 points and completed the season's sweep of New York.

So the responsibility will again be on the defensive line to win at the line of scrimmage, to get to Manning and move him out of his comfort zone and to strangle the Giants' ground game. It's going to take every man on deck to do so.

"Nobody puts himself in front of another here. It doesn't work if somebody does that," Logan said. "We have our assignments and we go out and play football. We take care of the guy next to us. We're all in it together and I think that's why we have success."

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