Since opening day of 2018, the Eagles’ defense is No. 5 in the NFL in first downs allowed, No. 4 in rush defense, No. 2 on third down and No. 12 in points and yards allowed.
Every way you measure them, they’ve been very good. Especially when you consider the injuries that have riddled the defense the last few years.
Every way but one.
The Eagles are among the worst in the NFL at creating turnovers, and they have been for a while now.
During the 2017 Super Bowl season, the Eagles had 31 takeaways, 4th-most in the NFL.
In 33 games since then? They have just 37 takeaways - 7th-fewest in the league during that span. And one of them came on special teams, so the defense has only forced 36 in the last 33 games.
With 17 takeaways in 2018 and 20 last year, this is the first time in franchise history the Eagles have forced 20 or fewer turnovers in consecutive seasons.
And it’s making life very difficult for them.
Because we can break down every aspect of pro football from third-down to red zone to short yardage to sacks. If you don’t get turnovers, none of that matters.
It’s really hard to win.
“That’s one thing that we harped on all offseason especially in training camp was turnovers and especially in these Wednesday, Thursday practices, one of our emphasis is to get the ball back,” linebacker Nate Gerry said. “They don’t come easy, so you’ve just got to keep at it and hopefully they’ll start coming.”
Since Doug Pederson and Jim Schwartz got here in 2016, the Eagles have played 71 games. When they don’t force a turnover, they’re 5-11 (.313 winning percentage. When they force one or more, they’re 37-18 (.673).
So force a turnover and you're more than twice as likely to win the game.
On Sunday, the Eagles had two great chances for takeaways.
Early in the second quarter of the Eagles' opening-day loss in Washington, Avonte Maddox got in front of a Dwayne Haskins pass intended for Logan Thomas and had the ball in his hands but dropped it.
“He (Thomas) came right through my right arm, the one that was gripping it, and just knocked it out,” Maddox said. “It’s definitely not an excuse, I need to grab those. I’ve got to just, as soon as it hits my hand, I need to grab it and bring it down.”
And early in the third quarter, Josh Sweat strip-sacked Haskins deep in Washington territory. If the Eagles recover, they’re six yards from a 24-7 lead. Ballgame. But Washington offensive tackle Geron Christian recovered at the 6-yard-line.
“I wish we would have picked up that fumble” Malik Jackson said. “That would have been a huge play.”
Going back to the middle of last year, the Eagles have just three interceptions in their last 11 games. Their 21 INTs since the 2018 opener are 5th-fewest in the league. They had 19 just in 2017.
In their last 22 games, they’ve only recorded three or more takeaways once and that was in a win over a horrible Jets team last year facing a quarterback – Luke Falk – who was released a week later and hasn’t been on a roster since.
The Eagles don't really have any turnover machines (no Carson Wentz jokes, please).
Darius Slay has 19 career interceptions, although only five since opening day 2018. Rodney McLeod has 13 career INTs but only eight since joining the Eagles in 2016. He’s the only player on the roster with more than four INTs in an Eagles uniform.
Brandon Graham has forced 17 fumbles in 10 seasons and Fletcher Cox has forced 11.
No Eagles defensive back has had more than four INTs in a season since Brandon Boykin in 2013.
Schwartz always says they come in bunches, but lately those bunches haven’t happened.
And for this Eagles’ defense to really become one of the league’s best, that has to change.