So much for rotating the Eagles’ deep stable of edge rushers.
It’s not happening anymore.
Josh Sweat and Haason Reddick are playing more than ever, and on Monday night in Kansas City they became the first pair of Eagles edge rushers to play at least 67 snaps in the same game in five years.
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Reddick played 68 of 79 snaps and Sweat played 67 snaps in the Eagles’ massive win over the Chiefs. It’s the most snaps either has played in an Eagles uniform.
The last time two edges played that many snaps was in the overtime loss to the Cowboys in 2018, when Brandon Graham played 83 snaps and Michael Bennett 74. Last time it happened in regulation was in 2015 in that late-season win over the Patriots in Foxboro, when Connor Barwin got 82 snaps and Graham 67.
In terms of percentages Monday night, Reddick played 86 percent of the defensive snaps and Sweat was at 85 percent.
With Derrick Barnett inactive, Brandon Graham played 25 snaps and Nolan Smith five.
Sweat’s previous career high was 63 in the Eagles’ previous game, the win over the Cowboys. His four-highest career snap counts have come this year. His previous high in percentage of snaps was the Washington game three weeks ago, when he played 84.7 percent (61 of 72).
Reddick had higher snap count games in Arizona, where he was playing linebacker full-time, but his previous high with the Eagles was 65 in the loss to the Saints last year.
This is definitely a philosophical change for defensive coordinator Sean Desai.
Reddick averaged 43 snaps per game the Eagles’ first seven games but is at 62 the last three. Sweat was at 44 through seven games but is at 64 the last three. Sweat has never played more than 62 percent of the snaps in his career for a season, but he’s at 76 percent this year.
The Eagles are one of only four NFL teams with two edge rushers who’ve played as many snaps as Reddick and Sweat. They’re on pace to become the first pair of Eagles edges to play at least 750 snaps in a season since 2015 with Graham and Barwin. Of course, that was during the Chip Kelly Era, when the defense was always on the field.
Now, all of this does kind of make sense. Sweat and Reddick have been two of the Eagles’ best players this year.
Reddick has 8 ½ sacks and Sweat has 6 ½, and the Eagles are one of only five teams with two players with at least 6 ½ sacks. Among the others are the Chiefs, who the Eagles just beat, and the Bills, who come to town on Sunday.
Sweat is second to Nick Bosa with 12 quarterback hits and fourth with 12 hurries. Reddick has seven QB hits and is tied for ninth with nine hurries.
Graham has played well in his 14th season but is 35 years old and his 19 snaps per game is just about right.
Is this sustainable? Will Sweat and Reddick continue playing so much? As long as they can handle it, why not?
“That's a balance,” DeSai said Wednesday. “It's always a challenge and something we're constantly talking about throughout the week and even in the game, and then it's just based on game flow, to be honest. You go into the plan with the game, and if the game goes a certain way, your reps account for a certain way.
“But then it is also the volume of reps you get by quarter, too. That is really unpredictable. We had a good bit of reps the whole game (vs. the Chiefs), and so it's just a matter of managing, and then … coach (Jeremiah) Washburn does a great job communicating to the guys. It's a dialogue. ‘OK, here is where we are at,’ and then you move forward and go that way.
“(Reddick and Sweat) have been phenomenal in terms of responding that way.”
Sweat and Reddick may be playing a lot of snaps, but they’ve both been at their best late in games.
The Eagles have an astounding 12 sacks in the final five minutes of games this year. Nobody else has more than eight. Reddick has a league-high four of them, Sweat has 2 ½, 3rd-most and Graham has 1 ½. The rest have been Jalen Carter (1 ½), Jordan Davis (1.0), Nicholas Morrow (1.0) and Fletcher Cox (0.5).
So Sweat, Reddick and Graham have a combined 17 sacks, and eight of them — nearly half — have come in the last five minutes of games.
Clearly the rotation is working.
“I think in terms of conditioning, that's a big thing, a foundational thing that we really believe in is making sure our guys are conditioned,” Desai said. “We practice a certain way to help them get into shape and conditioned. They have to do their own stuff, too, to stay up with that. I think that’s a huge part in terms of guys going to finish games. I think our whole defense has really shown they've been able to do that.”