The Eagles’ defense hasn’t been as bad as you think. In fact, most of the time, it hasn’t been bad at all.
And we have the numbers to prove it.
The Rams game was terrible. Steelers was a disaster, although they’ve done that to everybody. Ravens was ugly.
But all in all, the defense has played well enough for the Eagles to win most of their games.
In 2017, the Eagles averaged 28.5 points per game. If they scored 28.5 each game this year, they'd be 8-3 with a five-game winning streak.
Instead, they’re 3-7-1 heading into Lambeau Field to face the 8-3 Packers.
Have there been embarrassing plays? Sure. Have there been late collapses? A couple. Have they struggled to force turnovers? Big-time.
But let’s look at the big picture.
Since most of us watch the Eagles more than anybody else, it’s easy to forget that other teams allow big plays too. Other teams allow embarrassing 3rd-and-longs, miss easy tackles and give up long touchdowns. They call it proximity bias. People assume that what they see right in front of them isn't happening anywhere else.
But it is.
The NFL is more of an offensive league than ever before. Teams are scoring an NFL-record 24.8 points per game this year, 1 ½ points higher than the previous record set in 2018 and nearly 3 ½ points per team per game more than as recently as 2009.
So you have to look at the Eagles through that prism.
This defense isn’t perfect. Not even close. But it’s a lot better than you might think.
Here are eight reasons why:
1) The Eagles have allowed 50 scoring drives, but 27 of them - more than half - have gone 50 yards or less. That’s the most short scoring drives allowed in the NFL. The Eagles’ offense has been so bad that the defense is continually stuck with short fields to defend. The Eagles have only allowed 12 scoring drives of 75 yards or more. Only NFL eight teams have allowed fewer. The average opposing drive has started at the 32-yard-line, the 3rd-worst average field position any defense has faced this year.
2) Because of the short fields, the disparity between the Eagles’ yardage ranking and scoring ranking is huge. The Eagles are allowing 25.2 points per game, 16th-most in the league, but they’re 9th in yards allowed at 339 - well below the league average of 357. They’re allowing the 8th-fewest passing yards per game at 211 - well below the average of 240. And although they’re allowing the 23rd-most rushing yards per game, they’re actually 9th in yards per carry. Most importantly, the Eagles are allowing just 5.04 yards per play, 4th-best in the league (behind the Rams, Saints and Steelers). But since they’re 28th in time of possession, there are just a lot more plays and a lot more drives to defend.
3) The Eagles’ secondary has been much maligned, but it’s only allowing 210 passing yards per game, 8th-lowest in the NFL, the Eagles’ lowest since 2008 and well below the league average of 241 per game. They’ve also allowed only 14 passing touchdowns, 3rd-fewest in the NFL.
4) I keep hearing "Jim Schwartz never makes adjustments." The numbers say otherwise. The Eagles have allowed 11.0 points per game under Schwartz in the first half since 2016 (10th-lowest in the NFL) and 10.1 in the second half (5th-lowest in the NFL). Halftime adjustments.
5) The Eagles are 3rd in the NFL on third down, allowing conversions only 37 percent of the time. In 4 ½ years under Schwartz, the Eagles are No. 3 in the NFL in 3rd-down defense (35.6 percent), behind only the Vikings and Ravens. The Eagles are the only NFL team to hold eight opponents below 40 percent on third down this year.
6) The offense is getting worse, but the defense is getting better. The Eagles were 17th in the NFL in yards allowed and 24th in points allowed the first six weeks of the season. The last five, they’re 8th in yards allowed and 8th in points allowed.
7) And it’s not exactly like the Eagles’ defense has been brimming with talent. Schwartz has coached 81 games, and the only defensive Pro Bowlers the Eagles have had during that span are Fletcher Cox and Malcolm Jenkins.
8) Finally, consider this: From 1999 through 2008, legendary Jim Johnson’s 10 years as Andy Reid’s defensive coordinator, the Eagles ranked 6th in the NFL in points allowed and 10th in yards allowed. From 2016 through 2020, Jim Schwartz’s 4 ½ years as Doug Pederson’s defensive coordinator, the Eagles rank 6th in points allowed and 10th in yards allowed. You can look it up.
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