Best era for Philly defense
When considering which era of Philadelphia Eagles football had the best defense, it’s important to remember that each had its own defining characteristics and players. The city of Philadelphia more so than other loves its football team and really loves its defense. There have been numerous Hall-of-Famers, All-Pros, and first-teamers sprinkled throughout the franchise.
The nineties “Gang Green” defense
The early nineties era defense led by Reggie White, Clyde Simmons, and Jerome Brown was historically destructive. White, widely considered to be the best defensive lineman in history, was simply unblockable. He led a defense that along with Wes Hopkins, Seth Joyner, and Eric Allen that was first against the run, and first against the pass. The Eagles also gave up the fifth fewest points in 1991. Sadly, that team didn’t even qualify for the NFL playoffs despite being considered amongst the best all-time defenses.
Early 2000’s defense
For a franchise that hasn’t experienced nearly as much postseason success as desired, they have managed to produce many epic defenses. The defense from the 2004-2005 season may not have had White, but it had its own future Hall of Famer, safety Brian Dawkins. The first Super Bowl team since the 1980-81 season allowed a third-best point against average at 16.3ppg. They also were second overall in sacks at 47, mostly because of pressure applied by Dawkins and the defense. However yet another disappointment followed in the playoffs as the Eagles fell to the hated New England Patriots 24-21 in Super Bowl XIVII.
2017-2018 Super Bowl defense
It’s hard to gauge the super bowl winning team of the Eagles without yet having the benefit of historical perspective. While it is too early to tell; this defense has any sure-fire Hall of Famers, there is potential for greatness. Fletcher Cox, if he can continue his current trajectory, has the chance to build a resume for his shot at Canton, Ohio. He remains one of the dominant defensive tackles in the game and has a plethora of help alongside him on the defensive line. Along with All-pro Brandon Graham, and recent addition Michael Bennet, the defense has an opportunity to be highly destructive.
Comparing and contrasting
This brings us back to the original question. What era of football for the Philadelphia Eagles had the best defense? Does one take into account overall team success when considering which era was supreme? Is a better barometer the gaudy accumulation of individual statistics like White’s 79 sacks(21 in 1991 alone), from 1987-1991? It is fair, but you would also have to include the numbers that Dawkins amassed. He had 13 interceptions 10 sacks and 10 forced fumbles between the years of 2000-2004. Cox himself as a defensive tackle had 28 sacks between 2013-2017. Again, let me emphasize from a defensive tackles standpoint, 28 sacks are ridiculous.
You have the individual greatness of White, the overall impressiveness of Dawkins and the numbers of Cox to consider. Even taking into account the differences in the game itself would be prudent when considering the best defense. During the White era of football, there were not the built-in advantages for the offense that there are now. Defensive backs really went after wideouts. Some would argue that being able to hold up receivers allowed lineman a better shot at getting sacks. The counter-argument, however, is that in that previous era there was a lot more dirty play that was allowed. Players would often hit and head slap and even eye gouge without getting caught.
Best defense conclusion
I just can’t ignore the 79 sacks over the five year period that White garnered. I also can’t discount the 1991 season with the top ranking in major statistical categories(rushing, passing) the Eagles achieved. It’s ironic that the team in the era with the least team success can be considered the best defense of any era. The late eighties and very early 90’s Eagles defense was without a doubt the best of all time in franchise history.
Featured image from Flickr: Guy Harbert
All statistics courtesy of www.pro-football-reference.com