Generally speaking, the Eagles’ defense hasn’t been the biggest problem in this awful 2020 season.
Since the bye week, the Eagles have allowed 27, 22 and 23 points in consecutive games as their offense has scored exactly 17 points in all three losses. And, overall, they’re the ninth-ranked defense in the NFL in yards allowed.
That’s the good news with the Eagles’ defense.
The bad news is that they have forced turnovers at an alarmingly low rate in 2020.
Through 11 games (the Eagles are 3-7-1) the Eagles have exactly 11 takeaways, which ranks them tied for third-worst in the NFL. And in the three losses since the bye week, they have just one.
They know it’s bad.
“It's one of those things where all really good defenses do a good job of creating takeaways, and I think we feel we've done a good job of stopping teams or holding them to three at times, and in the red zone,” linebacker T.J. Edwards said. “But I think we all want to create turnovers and we all know those things are gonna happen. I think the biggest thing is not trying to do anything outside of ourselves to try to make those plays and just letting those plays come within the defense.
“So I think there's definitely been a heavy emphasis on it for a while now. And we've had to figure out a way to get our hands on the ball. I'm definitely confident that we will.”
The problem, of course, with the thought that those takeaways are going to come is the fact that it’s Week 13 and we’re still talking about it. Back in the Chip Kelly/Billy Davis days, the Eagles had giant orange dummies around the NovaCare Complex holding footballs in the hallways and every time a defensive player passed one, they were supposed to punch the ball. It was silly but it was a constant reminder to go for the football.
Under Schwartz, the emphasis has been to never just go for turnovers because they’re worried mistakes will happen if they prioritize going for the football instead of, for instance, wrapping up a ball carrier.
So if the Eagles don’t do anything differently, how the heck can they expect more takeaways to come?
“I think all year, there's been times where we've had chances to make plays and we just didn't make them,” Edwards said. “So I think it comes down to the point of executing and not being in the wrong spot, so that when you're in your right spot, that ball is gonna come to you, and making those plays when they come.”
To say the Eagles haven’t made plays to get takeaways is kind of an understatement:
- The Eagles’ 11 takeaways are the third fewest in the NFL and it’s just the fifth time in franchise history they’ve had 11 or fewer through 11 games.
- The Eagles’ turnover differential this season is minus-10, the third-worst mark in the NFL. It’s also their worst turnover margin since 2012, when they were minus-17. We all remember how that year ended. In the modern era, this minus-10 mark is the fourth-worst for the Birds.
- While their overall takeaway numbers are bad, they have just three total interceptions, which is tied for dead last in the NFL.
- The Eagles have fewer interceptions through 11 games than any other season in franchise history. The previous low was four back in 1998. In fact, the Eagles are one of just 14 NFL teams all-time with three or fewer interceptions through 11 games.
- And those three interceptions have come from Alex Singleton, Rodney McLeod and Jalen Mills. So they don’t even have one pick from a cornerback this year.
“When you play a lot of man (coverage), your back is turned to the ball and it is hard getting those type of picks every play,” Darius Slay said after Monday’s loss. “When you see guys that play zone, or guys that do a lot, those are the guys that make a lot of picks. When you play a lot of man, it is tough. That is why you see some of the great man corners, such as (Darrelle) Revis, ended with 28, 29 because he played a lot of man. That is what comes with it.”
Revis finished his incredible career with just 29 interceptions and Slay brings up a valid point. It is harder for teams primarily in man coverage to get interceptions. But three? Through 11 games? It doesn’t excuse that.
In recent weeks, the Eagles’ defense has given the team chances to win. They’ve had a couple goal-line stands, they’ve forced some big three-and-outs … but they just haven’t taken the ball away. With how poorly the Eagles’ offense is performing, they could sure use a short field every once in a while. But complementary football has been a struggle all year.
Before the bye week, the Eagles had five takeaways against the Giants and Cowboys that helped them go 2-0 and give some hope that they could turn things around. That hasn’t happened.
If you’re looking for a reason to think the Eagles could start to get takeaways, back in 2018, they had just 8 through 11 games (the Eagles were 5-6) but then they had 9 in their last 5 games to power the Eagles to a 4-1 record and into the playoffs. So it’s possible.
It’s just not likely. As much as the Eagles’ defense isn’t the biggest culprit for this season, the lack of turnovers is something they need to figure out for 2021.
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