He picked off three passes, forced six fumbles, recovered four fumbles and came up with 6.5 sacks. Outside linebackers in a 4-3 scheme don’t post numbers like that. According to Pro Football Reference, no other player in league history has put up those numbers in a single season. That’s a big part of the reason Sports Illustrated gave him that honor.
Evans has always been the most underrated member of Gang Green. He was the coach on the field, which was no easy feat in Carson’s complex scheme. Carson put together voluminous game plans each week. Evans had to know them inside-out, so he could get everyone lined up correctly and on the same page. Evans was as tough as he was smart and by 1991 he had also become adept in coverage. Thomas was a rookie who was a role player early on. He earned his way into the lineup and gave the team another versatile, talented weapon. Thomas had great coverage skills, so backs and tight ends didn’t cause problems for the Eagles the way they did for so many other defenses.
The secondary featured a pair of punishing hitters in strong safety Andre Waters and free safety Wes Hopkins. Cornerbacks Eric Allen and Ben Smith were outstanding in coverage. Waters was a force against the run, but also was solid in coverage. Hopkins patrolled the middle of the field and everyone answered to him. Runners or receivers who got to the middle of the field knew there would be a price to pay. Allen was a smooth, instinctive corner who made plays when quarterbacks were crazy enough to test him. He picked off five passes that year and broke up another 15. Smith was only in his second year in the league, but started 10 games and helped the secondary reduce the amount of big plays allowed.
There were some magical moments in the 1991 season. In Week 3, the Eagles went to Dallas and beat the Cowboys 24-0, sacking Troy Aikman 11 times. Dallas finished the game with 90 yards of offense. That was the first sign that this defense was going to be special.
In late October, the Eagles lost to the 49ers, but held them to just 85 yards passing. That’s the San Francisco 49ers, who piled up 505 yards of offense the previous week. Even in a loss, Gang Green was special.
A team that piled up even more yards than the 49ers that season was the Houston Oilers with their Run ‘n Shoot offense. The NFL didn’t have answers for that attack, until the Eagles came to town. Houston’s stadium was nicknamed the House of Pain for the way the offense torched teams and its defense shut opponents down. On a Monday night in early December, the Eagles went to Houston and beat the Oilers 13-6. No other team came close to shutting down the Oilers like that. Joyner had an amazing game and Hopkins knocked several receivers out of the game with devastating hits. The House of Pain Game, as it is still known, is a great memory for Eagles fans.
Unfortunately, the season was as frustrating as it was fun. Randall Cunningham suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener and the quarterback position became a revolving door. Four different players started under center. Eagles quarterbacks combined to throw 27 interceptions that year. The offensive line was inconsistent and the running game was one of the worst in the league.
As great as Gang Green was, it could not overcome an offense that almost finished last in giveaways. The Eagles did finish 10-6, but just missed out on the playoffs. The NFC East was the best division in football back in those days.