With those 5 sacks, the Eagles improved to 25-4-1 under head coach Andy Reid when the team has at least 5 quarterback drops. The output was exactly what the team hoped it would receive after its defensive line makeover in the offseason.
Hiring Washburn was the first massive step, having swooped in with a smart contracdt offer after his deal in Tennessee expired. Washburn was facing, for however long, an uncertain future with the Titans, so the Eagles were astute in their timing and execution of bringing in the game's most respected defensive line coach.
Improving the group was all about bringing in some veteran players. Phillip Hunt led the CFL last season with 16 sacks, and while some of those on the outside downplayed his acquisition, Hunt brought him the skill set that Washburn wanted: Quickness off the ball, a nose for the quarterback and hunger.
After the Eagles bypassed the defensive line in the draft, they attacked it in free agency. They added end Jason Babin and tackle Cullen Jenkins and all of a sudden the Eagles were steeped in talent across the board along the defensive line.
After years of major investments in the line and having some pretty good groups year after year with the likes of Jevon Kearse (free agency), Mike Patterson (draft), Brodrick Bunkley (draft), Darren Howard (free agency) and Trent Cole (draft) leading the way, the Eagles can look back proudly on their defensive lines in the Andy Reid Era. They had their misses -- Jerome McDougle never made it after he was a first-round pick Chris Clemons just didn't get it going after signing here as a free agent -- but by and large the Eagles ranked among the league's best in quarterback sacks and defensive line output.
The current group, everyone hopes, outshines every line from the past.
Week 1 didn't hurt the expectations, not one bit. Babin paced the effort statistically with two sacks. Trent Cole, Darryl Tapp and Jenkins added a sack each to total five. Juqua Parker recovered a fumble forced by Tapp and returned it for a touchdown.
And everyone agreed that the Wide 9 was a smash hit in its unveiling.
The challenge tonight is much different. The Falcons have an experienced group at the line of scrimmage, albeit one that had its troubles last Sunday in Chicago. Starting center Todd McClure remains out. The Falcons were beaten soundly by the Bears in Atlanta's opening loss.
Furthermore, Tapp is out with a strained pectoral muscle. Hunt is expected to replace him and rotate with Cole at right defensive end.
Are the Eagles ready for the next step?
They have to contain Atlanta running back Michael Turner, the Falcons' primary option in a very balanced offense. They have to hurry quarterback Matt Ryan, one of the rising stars in the league.
And they have to give the back end of the defense a chance against talented receivers Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas.
Amid all of the hype surrounding Michael Vick and his return to Atlanta as a starter and a star once again, it is the defense that must step up and win this game, and it is the defensive line specifically that must set the tone for the Eagles.
To beat Atlanta, the Eagles must win with speed off the edges, and they must beat Atlanta inside to keep Turner from reaching the second and third level of the defense. How legit is this defensive line? Can it be an elite group, a super, super group, one the Eagles have been close to having but haven't truly seen since the Gang Green days?
In a big moment like this, the big guns are the ones that do the dirty work. The Eagles' defensive line has that grind-it-out mentality, that great camaraderie within, and they have a fine mix of experience and youth. This is a 16-game watch, with the meeting against Atlanta a telling event.
There are other storylines gathering the attention here, but the game belongs to the line of scrimmage. The Eagles need another strong effort, and then some, from a line that opened the 2011 campaign serving notice that it has a chance to be the league's best.