Eagles Bye Week Breakdown: The Defensive Line
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Of the three levels on the Eagles defense, the line has been the one that has pretty much performed as expected through the team's first seven games.
End Fletcher Cox has seized the mantle of best Eagles player from longtime kingpin Jason Peters despite playing the two-gap, five technique position which in theory limits the ability to generate big plays.
A physical freak, Cox is a tremendously strong player and a load against the run coupled with the athleticism to shed blocks and rush the passer, a rare breed in a game that has become increasingly specialized over recent seasons.
It was hard to knock Cox at all until the Carolina game, which was his first subpar outing of the year, although he did still generate three hurries against Cam Newton. Overall, however, Cox has been awfully consistent in both phases.
Nose tackle Bennie Logan had a great preseason and came out like a house afire. He has continued to dominate against the run for the most part. A more consistent inside push from the former LSU star when he has his sights set on the passer would take him to the next level.
Cedric Thornton has been the least effective starter and spent some time on the sidelines with a broken hand. He's finally getting healthy, though, and he had his best game of the year versus the Panthers with four tackles and a hurry. Thornton is a lot like Logan in that he's a plus-player against the run but he rarely gets anywhere as a pass rusher.
Of the backups, the rangy Brandon Bair has been the most effective at the five-technique but he's played the fewest snaps because he wasn't dressing early and then suffered a groin injury. Taylor Hart beat out Bair in the staff's mind but he's been nowhere near as effective on the field.
Backup nose tackle Beau Allen has also been nondescript and, at best, mediocre even as a run stuffer, which is supposed to be his forte.
Now that the wasteful attempt to move Vinny Curry to outside linebacker is over, he has started to make a difference on the pass rush and is by far the Eagles best, pure edge rusher among the defensive lineman.
Cox jumped from a Pro Bowl level to an All-Pro level earlier this season and if he can cut out the one or two down performances he should be in that realm again after 16 games. As far as pure 3-4 ends or interior lineman go, only players like J.J. Watt, Aaron Donald and Kawann Short have been on the tier above Cox.
Better Days to Come: Logan
The light has already gone off for Bennie in the run game and if he can just learn a few tricks of the trade as an interior rusher, he would be in the conversation with the game's best nose tackles.
It's just not going to happen: Curry
It's not going to happen here at least. Curry is a very good player but he's a natural 4-3 weak-side rusher and the Eagles have no interest in that kind of player, preferring two-gap linemen who can tie up blockers so the linebackers can make plays. In a sense, the move to OLB was one last chance to see if Curry's skill set could translate to this defense and it just doesn't, at least on a consistent basis.
Biggest Disappointment: Hart
The Eagles really haven't built up much depth behind the starters outside of Curry, who isn't a scheme fit.
Hart was supposed to leapfrog Bair as the situational five-technique and take the huge step forward in his second season. He did remake his body in the offseason, getting in better shape and was able to move past Bair in a declarative sense. On merit, though, when he's gotten his chances, Bair has been the far more effective than Hart, who has been virtually invisible in 100-plus reps.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973ESPN.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen