Defensive box scores are far less thrilling than their offensive counterparts. Most numbers are single-digits, unless a player like linebacker DeMeco Ryans has an exceptional game and records 11 tackles, as he did against the Colts on Monday night.
One of the more quantifiable statistics in the muck and mire of the defensive box score is sacks. You see it in the box score, you see it on the field with immediacy, and typically sacks are thought of as the pinnacle of defensive pass rushing success. The more sacks, the better your pass rush is.
Yet Monday night the Eagles held Indianapolis' Pro Bowl quarterback, the prolific Andrew Luck, to just 172 passing yards without sacking him once.
That's because, as defensive coordinator Bill Davis said earlier this week, sacks are kind of overrated.
"I felt like we had good pressure on them," Davis said. "They ran a lot more than they threw, and when they threw he did not have clean throwing lanes very often. He made some great throws, as a matter of fact, when he was being smothered by guys. The sack number wasn't there, but people put way too much emphasis on the sack number as opposed to moving him off his spot, putting him under duress, all of those things. I wasn't disappointed in our pass rush at all. I thought we had good pressure."
Linebacker Trent Cole agreed with his defensive coordinator about sacks being slightly overrated, especially when it comes to playing the 3-4 defense that the Eagles employ. In the 3-4 defense, linebackers often have to drop into coverage against tight ends and running backs, especially against an offense like that of the Colts, which utilized a number of different weapons.
The key to the Eagles' successful pass rush Monday night was patience and capitalization, which led to Luck forcing a number of throws and throwing a few key ones away.
"When you're playing the 3-4 defense that's very true," Cole said, when asked whether he agreed with Davis's comment on too much emphasis being put on sacks. "We've been out in coverage a lot, and when we get our opportunities to rush we've got to try to get there. There are different things that happen in the game that we've got to game plan for and our coaches have to adjust, we have to adjust to what the game's giving us, and go from there."
A key example of the Eagles' pass rush forcing Luck into making a quick decision came at a crucial time in the game, the Colts' final possession Monday night.
On third down, the Colts faced a third-and-5 from their own 25-yard line. Luck took the ball from the shotgun and was immediately rushed by six Eagles defenders, which forced him to step up in the pocket earlier than he wanted to. With the pressure on him and nowhere to throw the ball, he threw it at wide receiver Reggie Wayne's feet to bring up fourth down.
The Eagles didn't get a sack on that play - in fact, they didn't even register a quarterback hit - but it was the most vital example of the team's pass rush working effectively Monday night.
Defensive end Fletcher Cox said that the Eagles' front seven was able to disrupt Luck's throwing rhythm often, something that he likes to see and accomplish as a pass rusher.
"It's always about disrupting the passer," Cox said. "Sometimes you can get a big hit on the quarterback and he still can complete the ball for a first down or a touchdown. By disrupting his throwing rhythm it shakes him up a lot."
Davis said that when the team looks back at film, the coaches grade players not on the number of sacks or quarterback hits they record, but on the number of times a player moves the quarterback off his spot.
"I said this last year a couple times - you could be a guy that has an awful pass rush going, the guy opposite you has a great one, moves the quarterback off the spot, you were stalemated and you fall into the sack," Davis explained. "Everybody says, 'Wow, he got a sack, great job.' As coaches we don't buy into that. Or you have a guy that gets an unblocked sack. He just ran through an open hole and tackled the quarterback. That's not a 'wow' sack.
"The sacks that beat a tackle, or beat a guard, or beat a center, those are the ones that have higher point value for us. And again, if you move somebody off the spot and one of your teammates gets it, because they are rushing the passer together. There are four of them or five of them that keep him contained, squeeze the pocket, get in the throwing lanes and that's how you have a productive pass rush."
This Sunday, the Eagles will face third-year Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins, and Cole said that the Eagles will have another good challenge in defending him.
"He's a good QB," Cole said. "It's about getting back and getting to him, getting the pressure on him, and I think we should be alright."