CHICAGO -- It seems backwards, doesn’t it?
Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham are two of the Eagles’ best pass rushers, but they both come off the bench. Curry’s four sacks last year ranked third on the defense. Graham, who played in very small doses, had three sacks last season, but Pro Football Focus rated him as one of the best pass-rushing outside 'backers per snap.
Graham and Curry were disruptive forces again in Friday night’s preseason opener against the Bears at Soldier Field (see Instant Replay), with Curry sacking Jordan Palmer and Graham’s pressure leading to an interception.
And both came off the bench.
And they’ll continue coming off the bench.
In a game that’s all about the quarterback -- and the guys who hit quarterbacks -- the Eagles are keeping ceilings on two of their most promising quarterback-hitting weapons. This is team that ranked 31st last year in sacks per pass attempt against them.
“We’ll see,” Curry said. “Right now, it don't matter what it is. My thing is, man, when I step on the field I want to help my team win and just keep showing I’m a key player.”
It was impossible not to notice the difference in defensive intimidation when the second unit replaced the first against the Bears.
The starters barely touched Jay Cutler, who converted three 3rd-and-longs on a 13-play, 69-yard touchdown drive in the first. Cutler completed 7 of 10 passes on the drive for 80 yards and connected with tight end Zach Miller (not the former Raider and Seahawk) on a 10-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-7.
Then Cutler left, Palmer entered, the Eagles subbed in their second team and suddenly the complexion of the game turned.
On the very first play of the second quarter, Curry barreled through scrimmage and ransacked Palmer on 3rd-and-8 for an eight-yard loss. On the Bears’ next possession, Graham bolted around left tackle Michael Ola and clobbered Palmer as the quarterback heaved a pass downfield that wound up in Nate Allen’s hands.
Strangely, when asked about his second string’s effort, coach Chip Kelly mentioned rookie Beau Allen and practice squad incumbent Brandon Bair as two guys who stood out. He called Allen a “disruptive force” and said Bair seemed to be “flying around.”
Graham and Curry?
When asked about them, Kelly said he needed to see the tape.
“There was one time they didn’t block Vinny at all,” Kelly said. “A couple of times they let a couple of guys come free. Travis Long, they called him hitting the quarterback in the head, but he was unblocked on a couple plays.
“There was one play I think Brandon and Vinny were in the backfield after the snap, I don’t think either of them got touched, but it could have been a move by them. I’ll have to check that out.”
Curry’s personal scouting report seemed slightly more enthusiastic.
“I feel like I was awesome,” the third-year pro said. “For the most part I felt like technique was really, really good. I think I played really hard, but I also think the whole unit played hard.”
Graham said his pressures were a byproduct of having Kevin Greene, a five-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker who played 15 NFL seasons, helping out the coaches this past week in camp.
“It’s definitely a good feeling,” Graham said. “I wish I could have sacked [Palmer], (caused a) fumble. But it was still was a turnover, no matter what.”
No matter how well they play this preseason, Graham and Curry probably won’t get any closer to the starting lineup. Curry is behind defensive ends Cedric Thornton, an outstanding run defender, and 2012 first-round pick Fletcher Cox. Graham is stuck behind veterans Trent Cole and Connor Barwin.
But if they keep hitting quarterbacks, it’ll be hard to keep them off the field on all passing downs.
“I don't want to get ahead of myself,” Graham said. “I’m trying to go harder than I was last year. Consistency is the big thing with me. If I can stay consistent … I’ve got a spot. It’s just all about me staying consistent.”