The Philadelphia Eagles believe the strength of their defense is their four-man defensive line and the pass rush it generates without help. They rotate eight or nine players to keep that line fresh and ferocious for 60 minutes. Starting ends Trent Cole and Jason Babin are the headliners who helped the Eagles post a league-leading 50 sacks last year, but they can get pressure from their defensive tackles, too, and having talented ends like Brandon Graham and Darryl Tapp as part of the rotation is a key to what they do. So far this year, Pro Football Focus rates the Eagles' pass rush the second-best in the league behind only that of the Seattle Seahawks. The Eagles' defensive line is legitimately one of the best in the NFL.
On the other side of the field Sunday night, however, will be the team that has perfected this method -- and won two Super Bowls with it -- over the past decade. The New York Giants, who visit Philadelphia for a huge division game this weekend, also live by the philosophy that the best way to play defense is to pressure the quarterback with the front four and drop seven into coverage. You wouldn't get anyone in Philadelphia to admit this, but the Eagles appear in some ways to be trying to copy the formula with which their division rivals have had such success. There are differences, especially in the way the Philadelphia defensive ends line up in Jim Washburn's "Wide 9" alignment. But the Eagles look at Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul with the belief that their guys are just as good.
Sunday night is a chance to show people. We have an ongoing debate on this blog about which of these defensive lines is better, and that debate is rooted in the idea that they are two of the best in the league. The Eagles want to be the best, and there's no better time to prove it than in a game against the reigning champs.
The Giants are likely to look their pass-rushing best Sunday night against Michael Vick and that banged-up Eagles offensive line. But the Eagles have an opportunity to put on a show of their own if they're able to harass Eli Manning into mistakes and win this key early-season divisional showdown. Sunday isn't likely to settle the debate, but it's a prime-time chance for the Eagles' defensive linemen to prove they belong in the discussion.