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Dorktown: The 1986 Philadelphia Eagles were sacked into oblivion

Sacks. So, so many sacks.

The 1986 Philadelphia Eagles are pretty well-known for having been by far the most sacked team ever. They allowed 6.5 per game when no one else since 1970’s AFL-NFL merger has even allowed five:

They’re the only team to have ever allowed at least three in every game, though I prefer looking at their abundance of five-sack games:

For the whole season, that amounted to over 100 sacks allowed. No other team has ever allowed 80. They’re a floating satellite, outcast from the rest of NFL civilization:

That’s all the big-picture macro stuff, but stopping there would be turning our backs on all the scintillating micro stuff that lies deeper. One chunk of the ’86 Eagles season in particular, seems like it couldn’t have possibly existed anywhere other than the Fumble Dimension.

See, for the first couple months of the year, Ron Jaworski was the Eagles’ starting quarterback, while coach Buddy Ryan sprinkled in second-year youngster Randall Cunningham on some third downs.

Then, shortly after halftime during Week 10 against the Giants, Jaworski tore a tendon in his pinky, an injury which closed the curtain on his Eagles career. The keys to Philly’s offense were subsequently handed full-time to Cunningham. Just minutes later, toward the end of that third quarter, NFL MVP Lawrence Taylor sacked Cunningham (yep, the single-most terrorizing individual season of pass-rushing happened to coincide with the most sackable team ever, at the same exact time, in the same exact division).

By the way, before going further: it’s important to know that in 1986 the rest of the NFL was about to fire off 12.8 pass attempts for each sack taken. Alrighty, now we can go further.

As of the moment of that LT sack, Cunningham had attempted 42 passes on the season. That suggests they’d be accompanied by something like 3.3 sacks. In reality? LT’s takedown was, for Cunningham, sack number … 27; 42 actual pass attempts vs. 27 sacks taken. 1.56 per. That, friends, is NOT a healthy ratio.

Cunningham then went on to start each of their next four games — and lest you think he may have woken up one of the ensuing Mondays not feeling like absolute shit, here they are, bookended by the white dots:

You can see how the first 10 games didn’t exactly go swimmingly — they’d taken over 50 sacks when no one else that year had even taken 40 by that point. While the 5.3 sacks per game they’d been allowing were already historically abysmal, things then got taken to another stratosphere as Cunningham was sacked at least nine times in each of his first four starts of 1986. That represented the majority of nine-sack games in the NFL that year:

It’s almost overwhelming to get a handle on how ridiculous allowing at least nine sacks in four straight games is, but I’ll give it a shot. Since that 1970 merger:

  • There has never been another instance of a team getting sacked at least nine times in two straight games. They did it in four straight. In other words, the only two instances of a team getting sacked at least nine times in back-to-back games happened to be the same team doing so … back-to-back.
  • No other team has ever been sacked as many as eight times in as many as three straight games.
  • No one but the 2005 Texans (Week 2-4) has ever been sacked as many as seven times in as many as three straight games.
  • No other team has ever been sacked as many as six times — let alone nine — in four straight games.
  • No other team has ever had as many as three games in an entire season allowing at least nine sacks (27 of the other 31 teams have never had even two such games in an entire season).
  • This:
  • In three of the four games, Cunningham was sacked at least 10 times; no other team has ever allowed double-digit sacks more than once in an entire season.
  • This:

Across the totality of those four games, the Eagles allowed 41 sacks. In 1986, literally half the league didn’t get sacked that much all season:

And for the rest of the NFL since the merger, allowing even 30 sacks across a 4-game stretch has been unattainable:

Probably the single-most absurd way to put in perspective how outrageous it is to allow 41 sacks in four games is, though, would be this:

After that physically brutal quartet of starts — somehow only two of which were losses — a thumb injury kept Cunningham out of their Week 15 game in Dallas. He’d return for their finale, a game in which the Eagles allowed their 100th, 101st, 102nd, 103rd, and 104th sacks of the year.

Thanks to that sack surge in the back half of the season, you can actually isolate a 10-game stretch of their season (Week 6-15) in which they allowed 78 sacks, aka the most anyone else has allowed over the course of an entire season.

The other lovely element to the story of the 1986 Eagles is Reggie White. White was arguably the greatest pass-rusher in the history of planet Earth, and he was a 24-year-old wrecking ball right in his prime in ’86 … who happened to play for those Philadelphia Eagles.

By far the worst team ever at allowing sacks also happened to have the player who — with the possible exception of, ironically enough, the aforementioned Taylor — struck the fear of God into opposing passing games more than anyone else ever.

So, uh, how could those Eagles have ever even executed a functioning practice when their offense was White’s opponent? Did Jaworski or Cunningham or whoever happened to be under center ever receive more than two microseconds to pass? Everyone across the Eagles’ o-line surely absorbed plenty of destruction, though my heart goes out to right guard Ron Baker and right tackle Leonard Mitchell in particular.

Nevertheless, there is something extremely poetic about 1986 Lawrence Taylor and 1986 Reggie White constituting two of the very, very greatest all-time individual seasons of pass-rushing — while that same season White’s own team and Taylor’s division foe was a team whose structural integrity of their passing game crumbled if you blinked too loudly.

In about as shocking a development as Castro keeping the trillion dollar bill, Taylor churned out seven(!) sacks against the Eagles in 1986, and we can only wonder what kind of devastation White was inflicting during practice.

As for Cunningham, he overcame all those early-career beatdowns to have a long, fruitful career — punctuated by seizing the means of production the following season.

Previously on Dorktown: