Alejandra Villanueva tied for third on the Eagles in sacks this preseason.
He’s now with the Steelers. And he’s an offensive lineman.
It’s never a good sign when an offensive lineman is one of your sack leaders.
But that’s the kind of summer it’s been for the Eagles. They recorded just seven sacks in the four preseason games, and all seven were recorded by non-starters – Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham each had two, and Villanueva, special teamer and occasional linebacker Bryan Braman and linebacker Travis Long, now out for the year, each had one.
The 11 starters combined? Zero sacks.
“It's not a concern at all,” defensive coordinator Billy Davis said. “We talk about it often. [We may not have sacks], but are we moving the quarterback off the spot?”
Last year, the Eagles didn’t move the quarterback off the spot enough.
They ranked 31st in the NFL with a sack on just 5.52 percent of opposing pass plays. Only the Cowboys, at 5.46, were worse.
The Eagles did draft an outside linebacker in the first round, but Marcus Smith hasn’t yet demonstrated an ability to get to the quarterback.
Only Trent Cole (8.0) had more than five sacks for the Eagles last year, and they were concentrated into four games.
With a lack of pressure came deep issues in the secondary, and the Eagles allowed the fifth-most passing yards in NFL history a year ago.
Can the Eagles do better this year? They have to.
The Eagles believe they’ve shored up the secondary, with the additions of Malcolm Jenkins and Nolan Carroll. And with a beefed-up secondary, the pass rushers should get more sack opportunities. In theory.
But where will the sacks come from? Where will the pressure come from?
“I think we’ll get pressure from all sorts of different guys,” linebacker DeMeco Ryans said.
“I don’t think we have to rely on one particular guy, rely on Trent to get the sacks. I think all the backers, the interior guys, I think the back-end guys can also come down and get pressure.
“I don’t think there’s any concern. We were really pretty basic in the preseason. Each team presents a different type of gameplan and in the preseason we don’t really game plan. I think you’ll see pressure once we get going. I think we’ll be fine there.”
Opposing QBs threw for 4,636 yards against the Eagles last year, fifth-most in NFL history. And the 37 sacks were the third-fewest the Eagles have had in a season since sacks became an official NFL stat in 1982.
The Eagles appear to be relying heavily on Graham and Curry to generate pressure, but neither is a starter and it’s not clear based on the preseason how Davis will get them on the field in situations other than third and long.
“We consider Vinny a one when it comes to pass rushing,” head coach Chip Kelly said. “You could say some of our nickel packages, Vinny was in with the ones and did some good work and so did Brandon.
“We'll mix‑and‑match those guys in there with the other guys depending on what nickel package Bill is going to put out there. I'm pleased with where they are going.”
Cole is second in Eagles history with 79 sacks, but nobody is quite sure how much he has left. He turns 32 next month and did not generate consistent pressure during the preseason.
Other than Cole, only four Eagles have reached double-digit sacks in the last 20 years – Andy Harmon, William Fuller, Hugh Douglas and Darren Howard, of all people.
The Eagles sure don’t appear to have a Harmon, Fuller or Douglas on the roster.
But Graham is intriguing. The former first-round pick has had a series of roadblocks in his career but looked like a legit pass rusher in the preseason.
And he thinks the Eagles will be just fine getting to the quarterback.
“We’ve got Trent Cole, we’ve got Vinny, we got Connor [Barwin], Marcus is coming along – as long as we continue to get better each week, that’s the biggest thing,” Graham said.
“I’ve been productive, but right now I’ve got to make it count. It was preseason, I can’t get big-headed off what I did in preseason.”
Inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks is another potentially effective pass rusher. Kendricks had one sack playing under Juan Castillo and Todd Bowles in 2012, then had four last year. He generated very good pressure at times during the preseason, though he didn’t have a sack.
“The one thing about this defense is it’s very flexible and very adaptable to the situation at hand,” Kendricks said. “One thing I know is that Billy isn’t a very conservative guy.
“There’s a lot of capability. There are a lot of guys who can get there, so depending on game plan and what they have in store, I can see Billy unleashing some of the dogs.”
Kendricks was asked how vanilla Davis was during the preseason and if the lack of gameplanning was one of the reasons for the absence of sacks.
He deferred to Braman in the neighboring locker.
“What do you think, Braman?”
Braman quickly offered this: “I don’t think people saw even the tip of the iceberg in the preseason.”
Kendricks nodded in agreement.
“There you go,” he said. “They didn’t see the tip of the iceberg. You can go with that.”