I've been an Eagles fan for a long time. I remember when Clyde Simmons had 19 sacks in 1992. It didn't seem like all that big a deal. Reggie White had 21 in 1987. He then had 18 in 1988. Back in those days you expected the Eagles great pass rushers to put up big numbers.
Things changed after 1992. Reggie left for Green Bay. Clyde stuck around for a year before heading to play for Buddy Ryan with the Cardinals. The huge sack numbers then fell off. William Fuller had a couple of 13 sack seasons in the mid-1990s. Hugh Douglas had 15 in 2000. The highest total in recent years is Trent Cole with a pair of 12.5 sack seasons.
Jason Babin has changed all of that. He has racked up 18 sacks this year. In 14 games. Stop and think about that. 18 sacks. I wrote back in the summer that fans should keep realistic expectations with Babin. He had a career year last season and had 12.5 sacks for the Titans. I simply didn't see any way that he would come to Philly and match that production, let along surpass it. I figured that Cole would take away some sacks from Babin. I also thought that teams might adjust to him now that they had a season's worth of game tape to study.
I was wrong on both counts. Cole is having his normal season. He's got nine sacks so far (despite missing some time). He's been a force against the run and has been plenty disruptive this year. Babin isn't losing sacks to Cole. It could be just the opposite, that Cole is losing them to Babin. There have been a few times when both guys got to the quarterback together. Babin has won his share of those instances.
Babin doesn't have a lot of tricks in his game. He relies on explosion. Teams can study all the tape they want, but in the end that isn't going to help the right tackle if he's not quick enough or athletic enough. Babin is able to explode off the ball. What makes him special is his ability to get by the blocker. Babin is able to round the corner and flatten out very smoothly. The wide rush angle created by the wide-nine alignment fits his game perfectly and makes him very hard to block. I am surprised that he doesn't get more double teams. Teams fear both him and Cole, but Cole gets more attention. I think part of that is due to Babin rushing from the quarterback's open side. In theory, the quarterback should be able to see him coming and move if needed. Cole is coming from the back side and is that much more dangerous.
Babin also gets his share of hustle sacks. This is when the quarterback moves around to buy extra time. Babin is exceptionally fast for a defensive lineman. He also is relentless. He will chase quarterbacks all over the field. Babin doesn't give up on plays and he doesn't slow down until he gets his target or the whistle blows.
In the last couple of weeks the coaches came up with a new plan of attack for Cole and Babin. They lined them up as inside linebackers. That gives them a lot of options. There is also a key benefit in that the offensive linemen don't know where the guys will rush so keying on them is hard to do. With Cole at right end and Babin at left end, teams can plan protections for them. With the duo standing upright and moving around, there is no easy way to plan for that.
The options for Cole and Babin are to rush hard up the middle, loop to the outside, or to twist/stunt off each other as they go up the middle. The coaches plan what to do very specifically so that the two down linemen know which rush angles to take in order to eat up blockers and help Cole/Babin. Sometimes blitzers are also part of the plan. Babin had a couple of sacks from this set in the Jets game. His speed and ability to bend/twist made him deadly when attacking on the run. Blockers had no chance to slow him down, let alone stop him when the plays were well executed.
It takes ability, scheme, good teammates, and good coverage to come up with 18 sacks. It really is an amazing feat. Clyde and Reggie did this when playing on a great defense that ran an extremely aggressive scheme. Some people want to argue that Babin's sacks don't count the same as theirs because he's not part of a great defense. Forget that. It isn't Babin's fault when Jarrad Page misses a tackle, Jamar Chaney forgets to cover someone, or Asante Samuel gambles and jumps a route, leaving his guy open.
Babin has 11 sacks in wins, seven in losses. He has four sacks against NFC East teams. He's got 13 sacks against teams with a .500 or better record. Some argue that he's feasted on weak blockers in recent weeks. He has. He's also faced first round picks in six different games this year. And if you take away the six sacks from the last two games, Babin still has 12 for the year. Anyway you slice this, he's having an amazing season.
The interesting question now becomes if Babin can break the all time sack record. Michael Strahan holds the record at 22.5. You guys remember Strahan, right? He's the guy who fell on Brett Favre and now sells crappy sub sandwiches to America. I'd love to see Babin break his record. Coming up with five sacks in the final two games is a tall order. I don't think it is likely to happen, but then again I would never have imagined that Babin could get to 18 sacks by this point.
One of the criticisms of Babin is that he's not a good run defender. This is a tricky discussion. Babin and the other ends are taught in the new system to focus on the quarterback. The end's primary job is to fire upfield and attack the passer. Once they see a play is in fact a run, the end is then to go after the ball. Most defensive schemes prefer the end to rush upfield under control so that the end can focus on the run and then go after the quarterback when he realizes it is a run play.
Babin plays the run exactly how Jim Washburn wants him to. This isn't to say the run is ignored. The wide-nine is designed for the ends to fly off the edge, which then funnels the action inside to the defensive tackles and linebackers. It is up to those players to then make the tackle. In the Seattle game there was a run play that went to Babin's side a few times. He got blamed by the announcers, but Babin was doing his job of funneling the runner back inside. Akeem Jordan was the one at fault for not making the tackle and getting sealed to the inside by a blocker. Also, Asante Samuel should have been a factor in those runs. Instead he was an observer and Marshawn Lynch got upfield with ease.
Babin is very good at hustling after the ball. He has a great motor and will chase plays all over. You see him getting in on tackles on the far sideline, 15 yards upfield. He chases the ball relentlessly. That relentless style does also tie into an area where Babin does cause some problems. There are times when relentless turns into reckless. Babin has had some late hit penalties. He's been flagged for hands to the face. Just last week he was flagged for hitting Mark Sanchez in the head. This stems from the fact that Babin flies around the field doing whatever it takes to get to the ball. He gets out of control at times. Unfortunately, I think you have to live with the penalties to a certain extent. Babin needs to play full speed in order to be his best. Going full speed and staying under control don't always work together. I'm sure the coaches work with him to clean up certain elements of his game, but they don't want to stifle the relentless style of play.
I hope fans start to appreciate just what an amazing season Babin is having. The last time an Eagle had this kind of success as a pass rusher was 1992. Andy Reid was a chubby assistant coach in Green Bay. Free agency didn't exist. The Tennessee Titans were still the Houston Oilers. The Eagles played at The Vet and Rich Kotite was the man charged with leading the team to a Super Bowl title. Those were dark days, my friends.
Babin is one of the great free agent signings in Eagles history. I am so glad they didn't screw this up. After seeing the success Babin had with Washburn last year, bringing him to Philly was a no-brainer. Some people still wanted Ray Edwards or other defensive ends. That just seemed ludicrous to me. Babin was the right fit and came at a reasonable price. Great signing.
I don't know how Babin will do in the final couple of games. It would be really cool to see him get to 23 and help the Eagles to an 8-8 finish. No one wants that even Strahan character to hold the record. Tony Romo is always being compared to Brett Favre. Maybe Romo will lay down a couple of times and let Babin fall on him. Even if Babin doesn't add another sack, he has had a special season. 18 sacks is just staggering.