All offseason, the expectation was that the Eagles offense, at least through the air, would revolve around the tight ends. After the team signed James Casey in free agency and used their early second-round pick to select Stanford's Zach Ertz, the prevailing perception was that Chip Kelly would make those two, along with Brent Celek, the focal point of the offense's game plan.
Through the first 11 games of the season, that was not really the case. Celek ranked fourth on the team in receiving yards and fifth in receptions, while Ertz, naturally, ranked fifth in receiving yards and fourth in receptions.
On Sunday, though, the tight ends took center stage offensively, from the first possession to the last. After a Trent Cole forced fumble gifted the Eagles offense the ball on the Cardinals' 25-yard-line for their first possession, Nick Foles and Kelly made no secret of the matchups they hoped to exploit on the afternoon. On the four-play touchdown drive, Foles targeted either Celek or Ertz on every play, including a six-yard touchdown pass to Ertz on a well-designed misdirection play that would be seen once more on the afternoon.
For a while, it looked like we had said goodbye to vintage Trent Cole. Still a force against the run, Cole was a helpful player for the Eagles defense through the early part of the season. But he wasn't exactly the relentless pass-rushing force that Eagles fans have come to know over his nine-year career.
Somewhere along the way, though, the 31-year-old appears to have regained the form that makes him among the best defensive players in franchise history. With 5.0 sacks over his last four games, Cole has reemerged as a major threat to opposing offenses. He was especially fearsome during Sunday's 24-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals as he recorded 2.0 sacks and forced a Carson Palmer fumble on the visitors' first possession of the game that set up an Eagles touchdown.
For the third time in his career, and the first time since 2006, Cole recorded back-to-back games with double-digit sacks. More importantly, Cole now has 76 sacks on his career, which ties him with Clyde Simmons for second on the Eagles' all-time list, behind only Reggie White.
"It's great. It's just numbers though," Cole said of moving his way up the franchise sack leaderboard. "Over the years, just playing hard, stay humble and play hard. I think that's a good way to go. When my time is done playing with the Philadelphia Eagles, I want to leave a legacy."
Cole's legacy, whenever he does end his career long down the line, will be that of one of the fiercest players in Eagles history. For his teammates, though, there will also be the remembrances of an occasionally, shall we say, strange individual.
"One of the best parts about playing for the Eagles is playing with Trent," said outside linebacker Connor Barwin, who, like Cole, played collegiately at Cincinnati. "The kind of stuff he says on the sidelines, the stuff he says in our meeting rooms, just the words that come out of his mouth makes it very enjoyable for me to come to work."
Light-heartedness aside, Cole's play of late is a serious boon to the defense. The combination of Cole, Barwin and Brandon Graham now have 7.0 sacks over the last two games. If those outside linebackers can continue to pressure opposing quarterbacks, the Eagles defense – which has now allowed 21 points or fewer in eight straight games – will continue to remain a significant impediment.
To listen to defensive coordinator Bill Davis, though, Cole's outburst has been coming for some time.
"I've watched Trent put pressure on the quarterback the whole season, and I was always saying that the sacks will come, and they're coming," Davis said. "Trent always collapses that side of the pocket. Sometimes sacks come and sometimes they don't. They come in bunches, and you can say that about turnovers and sacks. He just keeps working, and he's got it."
Throughout his early season dry spell, Cole refused to change his attitude.
"I'm sure he was (frustrated) when he went home or inside his own head, but one of the best parts about Trent is he never brought it into our meeting room, he never brought it into the locker room," Barwin said. "He just kept his head down and kept going to work and now he's got five (sacks) with a month left. That's good to see that happen, when a guy doesn't go in the tank or start complaining about the system or start complaining about the calls. He just kept doing his job and it's paying off for him."
The longest-tenured player on the Eagles defense, Cole's attitude reflects his priorities.
"The thing I'm glad about it is, as a team, we're winning as a team," Cole said. "Coming from the year we had last year, that's the number one thing I'm proud of."
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