PHOENIX (AP) — The defensive philosophy that has carried the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl is relatively simple.
A deep rotation of defensive linemen provides constant pressure that makes opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable and often leads to them ending on the ground.
“It’s always a race to the quarterback,” defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “We all look at it every week that we have to earn the right to rush the quarterback and guys buy into that.”
Few teams have gotten to the quarterback more frequently this season than the Eagles, who are closing in on the NFL’s most prolific season ever when it comes to sacks.
That will be the formula the Eagles (16-3) will hope to replicate on Sunday against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs (16-3).
“Any time you play these great quarterbacks, you got to affect them because you can’t have them out here playing 7 on 7,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “The line definitely has to affect anything that goes on with the play. I know that we’ve got a great D-line, but we got to prove it each and every week. I’m excited because we do got a task we got to achieve going against Mahomes.”
That won’t be easy even with Mahomes on a gimpy ankle. He was the best quarterback in the league this season at avoiding sacks, with only 10.2% of pressures turning into sacks, according to Pro Football Focus.
Mahomes was sacked three times in his previous Super Bowl appearance two years ago against Tampa Bay when he was constantly on the run behind a banged-up line.
Kansas City has bolstered the line since then, but Mahomes knows it will be difficult against the Eagles.
“They’re on like a historic sack rate and the way they’re able to get to the quarterback,” Mahomes said. “So everybody knows that everything starts up front. It’ll be a great challenge for our offensive line to try to do what they can.”
Philadelphia followed up a regular season with 70 sacks — tied for the third-most ever — with eight more so far in the playoffs. The 78 sacks combined in the regular season and playoffs have been topped only by the Chicago’s Monsters of the Midway with 82 sacks in 1984 and 80 the next season.
While the Eagles benefitted from a 17th regular-season game, their rate of sacks is also quite impressive. They have sacked the quarterback on 11.5% of drop-backs this season for the highest rate in a season since 1989, when the Vikings did it on 12.2% of drop-backs.
“Being a part of a pass rush where everybody gets the chance to eat, that’s the best thing,” star defensive end Haason Reddick said. “It causes no problems. Everybody gets their chance. Everybody gets the chance to get their stats up. Everybody gets their chance to make an impact at the end of the day. When you have a D-line like we have, it’s crazy. All it takes is for one person to make a play and then the energy amongst everybody is just rolling.”
Philadelphia spreads the wealth around with a record four players reaching double digits in the regular season: Reddick (16), Javon Hargrave (11), Josh Sweat (11) and Graham (11).
But Reddick is the one who sets the tone. He had 1 1/2 sacks on the opening drive of a divisional round win against the Giants and then the strip-sack that injured San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy’s elbow on the first drive in the NFC championship game.
It’s been part of a fairytale season for Reddick that will end where he started his NFL career. A first-round pick by Arizona in 2017, Reddick struggled early in his career with just 7 1/2 sacks his first three seasons while often playing out of position as an off-ball linebacker.
Reddick has put together three straight double-digit sack seasons in his final year with the Cardinals, one year in Carolina and this season in Philadelphia, where he has relished the opportunity to be back near his boyhood home in New Jersey playing for the team he rooted for as a kid.
“For me, it is a dream,” Reddick said. “I’m getting to live it each and every day, which is a blessing in itself. But looking back at that, if you would have told me that this would happen back then and I looked at you and said, I hope so.”
Now Reddick is looking for one final accomplishment to add to this memorable season: sacking Mahomes in a Super Bowl win.
“He’s one of the quarterbacks in the league that I haven’t been able to sack or haven’t gotten to yet” he said. “So if I’m able to get to him and I get him in a Super Bowl, that’s going to be historic for me.”