FOXBORO, Mass. — When the New England Patriots take on the Philadelphia Eagles next Sunday in Super Bowl LII, one of their top priorities will be making sure Tom Brady doesn’t get acquainted with arguably the NFL’s most devastating defensive line.
The Eagles’ D-line has excelled at hassling opposing quarterbacks this season, and it’s incredibly deep, with Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan providing inside pressure in Jim Schwartz’s 4-3 defense and Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham, former Patriot Chris Long and rookie Derek Barnett flying in from the edge.
When asked Wednesday to describe Philadelphia’s front four, Patriots coach Bill Belichick responded: “It’s a lot more than four. I wish it was just four. It’s about eight, nine.”
Curry, Long, Cox, Barnett and Graham combined for 83 quarterback hits during the regular season, with Curry and Long leading the way with 18 apiece. That’s more than the Patriots’ top 11 pass rushers put together.
As a team, the Eagles pressured opposing QBs on 40.8 percent of passing snaps during the regular season, according to Pro Football Focus, the best mark in the NFL.
“It’s a very disruptive group,” Belichick said. “They’re hard to run against, hard to throw against. Again, they’re well coached, very instinctive. Screens and plays like that that you think will take the edge off the pass rush don’t look as good. When you run them they don’t look as good as what you think they’re going to look like – draws, screens, things like that, play action. A lot of times they blow those plays up, too. They do a good job. They’ve got a lot of good players.”
The leader of that group is Cox, a second-team All-Pro at defensive tackle in three of the past four seasons.
“Cox is as good as anybody in the league at his position,” Belichick said. “He’s a very disruptive player, hard to block, run, pass, no matter what it is. They have good edge rush, and they come hard every play. These guys really play hard. There’s no plays off, so you’re going to have to block them on every play. You can’t get away from them. There’s nowhere to go.
“You have to deal with that front down after down, and they wear you down. It’s a great group. That’s a huge strength for their defense.”
Philadelphia’s defense sacked Case Keenum just once during the Eagles’ 38-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game but hit him eight times, broke up eight passes, notched two interceptions (including a pick-six) and forced a red-zone fumble.