Eagles' defense on historic run of eliminating big plays

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Eagles' defense on historic run of eliminating big plays

Big plays killed the Eagles last year. They allowed the second-most 20-yard plays in the NFL, the third-most 30-yard plays and the third-most 40-yard plays.

Those plays have largely evaporated this year, and the Eagles' ability to reduce — and lately eliminate — big plays has contributed tremendously to their eight-game winning streak and NFL-best 9-1 record.

“We're just all doing our job, nothing more, nothing less," Patrick Robinson said. "When the plays are presenting itself, we make those plays. It’s been huge for us so far. Make them throw it down in front of us." 

After last year's barrage of long passes and big runs, the Eagles this year rank third in the NFL in 40-yard plays allowed, third in 30-yard plays and second in 20-yard plays.

The improvement is astonishing.

It's been a month and a half since an opposing offense last hit a play longer than 32 yards against the Eagles — the Chargers game, to be specific. 

That's six straight games without allowing a big play.

That's the Eagles' longest stretch without an opposing play longer than 32 yards in at least 25 years.

“Last year, it was something we wanted to correct going into this year," Malcolm Jenkins said. "Big plays, it’s a group effort. And that’s the D-line included in that, linebackers, DBs. 

"I think one of the factors when it comes to passes down the field, I think the corners and the guys on the outside are doing a good job challenging down the field and quarterbacks don’t have a lot of time to throw it down the field, so we get hit with a lot of quick plays, and we’re tackling well, so we don’t have those missed tackles and plays going for 20, 30 yards. 

"All those things are contributing to it. And we’re doing a great job on third down, so we’re giving ourselves an opportunity to get off the field, and we’re not allowing them to score quickly. They’ve got to dink and dunk it, and eventually, we win on third down."

Let's take a look at the longest plays the Eagles have allowed in each of their last six games:

Cardinals [34-7 win]: Passing - 28 yards, Rushing - 14 yards
Panthers [28-23 win]: Passing - 20, Rushing - 20
Redskins [34-24 win]: Passing - 32, Rushing - 15
49ers [33-10 win]: Passing - 24, Rushing - 12
Broncos [51-23 win]: Passing - 32, Rushing - 9
Cowboys [37-9 win]: Passing - 19, Rushing - 22

During that same span, there have been 233 offensive plays league-wide longer than any play the Eagles have given up.

Like Jenkins said, it's going to be difficult to drive 80 yards down the field against the Eagles without hitting any big plays. They're ranked second in the NFL on third down conversion rate at 29.1 percent, behind only the Vikings (28.5 percent).

And during these last six games, the Eagles have allowed only eight offensive touchdowns. Three of them came on short fields. So they've only given up five TD drives longer than 52 yards since Week 5. Just one in the last three games.

Limiting big plays means limiting touchdowns. And that wins games. It's a pretty simple formula.

"Defensively, there are a lot of different things you want to do, but the very first thing you want to do is stop a drive," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said.

"The thing that correlates the highest to scoring plays, whether it's a field goal or ends up being a touchdown, are plus-20 [yard] plays. You don't want to play conservative. There's a fine line there, too. You [might] not give up [a 20-yard play] the whole time and just let somebody matriculate down the field. 

"I think we're a good tackling team. I think we're a good communicating team, and we've had a lot of different guys get experience. Our lineup was a little bit different just about every game early in the season. Some guys got hurt early in games, and they were filling roles. I think as the season has gone on we've settled down. I think that's probably the biggest part of that."

Of the eight plays of at least 35 yards the Eagles have allowed this year, three were Philip Rivers passes, two were Alex Smith passes, one was an Eli Manning pass and the other was a 35-yard run by Austin Ekeler of the Chargers on his first carry of the year.

When you tackle well and communicate well, those big plays just aren't going to happen. 

For the sake of comparison, since the Eagles last allowed an offensive play longer than 35 yards, the rest of the NFC East has allowed 27 of them.

“I’d say communication (is) definitely a big factor," Nigel Bradham said. "And also chemistry. Guys understand the scheme and how to play together with one another and have a good understanding of the scheme. It’s our second year in the scheme, most of us, some guys in their first year contributing, but we’re learning and everybody’s just feeding off each other.

"We just motivate ourselves. We trying to get off the field and get our offense on the field. We know what we have on the offensive side of the ball. Their ability to put up points is unbelievable. So we’re just trying to get them on the field as much as we can."

Thank Carson Wentz (and 1 other thing) for landing Mike Wallace

Thank Carson Wentz (and 1 other thing) for landing Mike Wallace

During the 2016 season, Mike Wallace thought his Baltimore Ravens were going to steamroll the Eagles, who had a first-year head coach and first-year quarterback. 

He was wrong. 

Sure, the Ravens were able to sneak away with a 27-26 win back on Dec. 18, 2016, but Wallace watched up close as the gutsy Carson Wentz had the Eagles one two-point conversion at the end of the game away from walking out of Baltimore with a win. 

A year and a half later, when Wallace was testing free agency, the veteran receiver thought back to that game and thought to himself, “I want to play with that guy.” 

So how responsible is Wentz for Wallace’s landing in Philly? 

“Ninety-nine percent. Ninety-nine,” Wallace said at his introductory press conference on Friday afternoon after signing a one-year contract. “The other percent was the rest of the team. I’m impressed by the way he plays football, the way he moves in the pocket, the way he throws the football and his competitiveness. You can see it.”

Wallace, 31, continued to watch Wentz during the 2017 season, when the second-year quarterback was seemingly on his way to an MVP award before a serious knee injury landed him on injured reserve.  

Having been through changing teams before, Wallace said the most difficult part for him is learning the new quarterback. He hopes this process won’t take exceedingly long, but he and Wentz might be at a disadvantage. Wentz is still recovering from a torn ACL and LCL and might not be ready until the season opener, if that. 

“You can just work on that watching film and things like that, but until he gets out there, there’s no real way to simulate it,” Wallace said. “I think he’s a great young quarterback who’s fired up. Whatever extra reps we need to try to get up to speed, I’m all for it.”

Wentz is, of course, a part of the big reason Wallace decided to join the Eagles. Wallace has played nine seasons in the NFL with four different teams. He’s made money, but he hasn’t been able to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. That’s what he wants. 

On Friday, Wallace said he turned down more money to join the Eagles. 

“I had options but I just wanted the best chance,” Wallace said. “I feel like this is my best opportunity to make a run. This is my 10th year. Can’t play this game forever. You don’t want to come out feeling empty. I want to get a ring.”

Wallace had been a free agent twice before this offseason and he admitted, that when he was younger, free agency was about money. He signed a five-year, $60 million deal in 2013 to join the Dolphins. 

But now, Wallace said, his family is secure. He’s made a lot of money in the NFL to make sure those close to him are well off. Now, he’s allowing himself to make a decision that benefits him. 

“I didn’t try to come into this game to leave empty-handed,” he said. “I had to secure the bag and I did that. Now it’s time to secure a ring.”

Warrant issued for Michael Bennett's arrest

Warrant issued for Michael Bennett's arrest

Eagles defensive end Michael Bennett has been indicted for a felony charge in Harris County, Texas, the Harris County district attorney's office announced on Friday afternoon.

Because of the indictment, a warrant has been issued for Bennett's arrest. According to the release, prosecutors are working with Bennett's lawyers to coordinate a surrender.

Bennett is being charged with "injury to the elderly, included intentionally and knowingly, causing bodily injury to a person 65 years or older." The penalty for the charge is up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The felony charge is for injuring a 66-year-old paraplegic woman who was working at NRG Stadium last year during Super Bowl LI, when Bennett was there to watch his brother Martellus play in the game. The Patriots played the Falcons in Super Bowl LI in Houston on Feb. 5, 2017.  

Bennett, 32, allegedly "shoved his way on to the field" during the postgame celebration, when the elderly worker told him to use a different way for field access. Instead, the district attorney's office said, Bennett pushed through workers, including the elderly disabled woman.

Neither the Eagles nor the Seahawks knew about the incident, a league source told NBC Sports Philadelphia's Derrick Gunn. Bennett has been an Eagle officially for just over a week.

During a news conference on Friday afternoon, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo asked Bennett to turn himself in as quickly as possible, calling Bennett "morally bankrupt" and entitled. Acevedo said there is no video of the incident, but there is a police officer eye-witness.

Acevedo said Bennett forcibly opened locked doors to get onto the field and then pushed his way past three workers. One was a male, one was a 28-year-old female and one was a 66-year-old female, who sustained a sprained shoulder. The 66-year-old female is a paraplegic and the force of being pushed back in her motorized wheelchair is what injured her. Acevedo said the woman needed medication prescribed to her because of the alleged assault.

According to Acevedo, Bennett said, "Ya'll must know who I am, and I could own this motherf-----. I'm going on the field whether you like it or not," as he pushed past the women.

A police officer, called "Officer Morgan" by Acevedo, the same one who saw the alleged incident, then tried to stop Bennett, but Bennett disregarded him, saying "f--- you." The officer then decided to tend to the woman instead of pursuing the suspect, as he thought Bennett no longer posed a threat.

The extended time between the incident and the indictment was explained by Acevedo as a lack of resources. He said the department decided to handle cases that put citizens in danger. This was pushed to the back burner. He also said it was exceedingly difficult to get in touch with Bennett.

"Mr. Bennett may think because he's an NFL player and because some time passed he may have thought rules don't apply to him," Acevedo said. "No. 2 he doesn't have to respect the dignity of a paraplegic woman trying to earn a living. He may believe he doesn't have to answer to a police officer trying to detain him, but I'm here to say I'm very proud of the fact our department took this case as seriously as we should have."

The Eagles released the following statement on Friday afternoon:

"We are aware of the situation involving Michael Bennett and are in the process of gathering more information. Because this is an ongoing legal matter, we will have no further comment at this time."

The Eagles officially traded for Bennett on March 14. They sent receiver Marcus Johnson and a fifth-round pick to Seattle for Bennett and a seventh-rounder.