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Eagles' defensive line vastly improved

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - The Philadelphia Eagles aren't relying on the blitz to sack quarterbacks anymore.

Jevon Kearse, Derrick Burgess, Hugh Douglas and the rest of the defensive line are generating enough pressure that defensive coordinator Jim Johnson doesn't have to send his linebackers or defensive backs after quarterbacks as much as in past seasons.

Entering this week's bye, the Eagles have 18 sacks in four games, with 13 coming from the defensive linemen. Philadelphia had just 38 sacks last season, 24{ from the line.

"We have some ends that can get up field, we have some tackles that are healthy that are getting a push," Johnson said last week. "We're still going to put pressure packages together as far as the blitz, but we're getting good pressure. It's been consistent from the ends."

The biggest reason for the significant improvement over last season is the additions of defensive ends Kearse and Douglas, and Burgess' return from an injury. N.D. Kalu and Brandon Whiting, the starting ends last year, had 7{ sacks combined.

Kearse had all three of his sacks against Detroit two weeks ago, and has been a dominant presence in each game. Johnson has even used Kearse as a linebacker in certain situations to get Douglas on the field at the same time.

"He's a guy you can move around a lot and do a lot of different things with because he's such a great athlete," Johnson said. "We still want to make sure we don't take away his pass rushing ability at left end. You will see him as a linebacker once in a while. He's still our left end. We're going to do some different things every week."

Douglas, back in Philadelphia after one season with Jacksonville, has two sacks. A three-time Pro Bowler with the Eagles, Douglas had just 3{ sacks for the Jaguars.

Burgess, who missed all but one game over the last two seasons because of injuries, has 1{ sacks. Jerome McDougle, who missed the first eight games of his rookie year last season, also has one sack.

Reserve defensive tackle Sam Rayburn leads the interior linemen with two sacks. Darwin Walker has one and Corey Simon has a half-sack.

"I think we're getting more production," Johnson said. "I'm happy with the tackles."

The most dominant defensive line in team history was the 1991 group featuring Reggie White, Clyde Simmons and Jerome Brown. White (15), Simmons (13) and Brown (9) combined for 37 of Philadelphia's 55 sacks that season, and the defense was first in the NFL against the pass and run.

Kearse and company have a long way to go to match the success of that defense, but the Eagles are on pace to record a club-record 72 sacks.

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