Eagles' once-stout run defense is suddenly a huge problem

Eagles' once-stout run defense is suddenly a huge problem

At the root of the Eagles’ growing defensive issues is a newfound inability to stop the run.

Coming out of London, the Eagles had the No. 4 rush defense in the NFL. They were allowing just 83 rushing yards per game, which went a long way into keeping the Eagles in every game and keeping an undermanned unit afloat.

Since then?

The Cowboys and Saints both gashed the Eagles for over 170 yards on the ground and for the first time in six years the Eagles allowed 100-yard rushers in back-to-back games.

With just two games, the Eagles have dropped from fourth to 12th in rush defense. And trending the wrong way.

And here come the Giants and Saquan Barkley, who will most likely try to pound it on the ground against the Eagles.

“Quite honestly,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said, “that’s what I would do against us now.”

The disturbing thing is that the Eagles’ defensive front seven has been largely healthy. They're missing Derek Barnett, who gave great effort against the run, and they lost Haloti Ngati for a few games, but the unit has been largely intact while the Cowboys ran for 171 yards and the Saints 173.

The same group that held six of the Eagles’ first eight opponents to fewer than 80 rushing yards. 

When asked what bothered him most about Sunday’s 48-7 loss to the Saints, Schwartz didn’t hesitate to name run defense:

We knew we would have challenges in coverage, we knew it was tough to get turnovers, we knew it was tough to get sacks, but we put ourselves, scheme-wise, in position to stop the run, and we didn't get that done for a second week in a row.

I think that's the most disappointing thing that came out of it.

How bad have the last two weeks been?

 • This is the first time the Eagles have allowed 170 or more rushing yards in consecutive games in 12 years, since the Titans (209) and Colts (237) did it in November 2006.

• Ezekiel Elliott (19-151, 8.0) and Mark Ingram (16-103, 6.4) are the first running backs to go over 100 yards against the Eagles in consecutive games in six years, since Doug Martin of the Buccaneers and BenJarvus Green-Ellis of the Bengals in December 2012.

What the heck is going on here?

“I think that any time you talk about the run game you have to talk about all three levels,” Schwartz said. “I think that there were some (runs) that you can attribute to d-line techniques and some to linebacker techniques and some to missed tackles. 

“We had one — I mean, it was a difficult situation — but we had one where we had some guys get on the field that didn't communicate, and all of a sudden, we just let a guy walk into the end zone when we should have a guy sitting right there.

"Sometimes you miss tackles, but we shouldn't have those miscommunications and just let guys walk in on us.”

Up next? The Giants, who ran for 147 against the Eagles in October, then the Redskins, who are 12th in the NFL in rushing, then the Cowboys again, the NFL’s fourth-ranked rushing offense. Then the high-flying Rams, who are No. 2 in rushing offense (as well as No. 5 in passing offense).

And now the Eagles are going to be without middle linebacker Jordan Hicks indefinitely.

The Eagles have to get this figured out soon or things are just going to continue to spiral out of control.

“Our biggest thing is controlling the run game,” Schwartz said. “If we can do that, then that can go a long way to solving a lot of our problems on defense.”

Much of playing run defense is just want-to. Attitude. 

We’ll find out quickly Sunday if the Eagles have any left.

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How Eagles helped Nigel Bradham by cutting him now

How Eagles helped Nigel Bradham by cutting him now

The Eagles formally released linebacker Nigel Bradham on Wednesday, one day after it was initially reported that the team had decided not to exercise his $8 million contract option and a month before they had to.

Bradham’s contract requires the Eagles to decide by the last day of the 2019 league year — in this case March 18 — whether to extend his deal by a year and pay him $8 million in base salary for 2020 or not exercise the option, allowing him to become a free agent.

But by releasing him on Wednesday — a full four weeks before they were required to — the Eagles give Bradham the opportunity to begin talking to teams and potentially negotiating a new contract before the start of free agency, which is also March 18.

Now that he’s no longer the Eagles’ property, he’s an unrestricted free agent a month before all the other linebackers hit the market.

It's a courtesy that gives him a head start on the mid-March free agency frenzy.

The Eagles and Bradham renegotiated his contract in March of 2018, and that renegotiation ran through 2022 but gave the Eagles an escape clause in the form of option years after the 2019, 2020 and 2021 seasons.

Because there’s no remaining guaranteed money in Bradham’s deal, the cap ramifications are no different if they release him now or formally decline his option next month. 

Bradham will count about $5.3 million in dead money under the Eagles’ 2020 cap, according to Spotrac, instead of the $9 million he would have counted if the Eagles’ kept him.

Bradham, who turns 31 in September, spent four years with the Eagles and started 64 of a possible 70 games, including the postseason.

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NFL trade rumors: Why Stefon Diggs makes sense for the Eagles

NFL trade rumors: Why Stefon Diggs makes sense for the Eagles

On Tuesday night, receiver Stefon Diggs sent the internet into a tizzy when he apparently erased any mention of the Vikings from his Instagram account. 

We’re taking a bit of a leap here (gotta love 2020) but if this is Diggs’ somehow voicing his frustration with the Vikings it wouldn’t be the first time. And it would also basically be a Bat Signal to the other 31 NFL teams: “Come and get me!” 

The Eagles should. 

It’s funny. Before all those rumors began to swirl on Tuesday night, I was on NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Quick Slants and was asked for one potential trade target for the Birds. The name I gave was Diggs. He made sense even before this. While there’s no guarantee the Vikings trade him, it’s worth finding out. 

If you haven’t noticed, the Eagles are in desperate need of help at receiver. It’s why about 85 percent of mock drafts have them taking one in the first round of the draft in a couple months. But any player they pick in the draft is an unknown. Diggs is not. 

There are three big reasons why Diggs should be attractive to the Eagles: 

1. He just turned 26 back in November

The Eagles are committed to getting younger this offseason and getting Diggs now would kind of be like signing a free agent after his rookie deal. The Eagles have been getting older but Diggs would help them get younger. No, he’s not a 21-year-old anymore but he is arguably entering his prime. 

2. Diggs is already one of the best receivers in the NFL

Despite his targets dropping from 149 in 2018 to 94 in 2019 (ostensibly one of the reasons for his displeasure), Diggs still managed to have more receiving yards this past season. Since the 2016 season, Diggs has 313 catches, 3,903 yards and 26 touchdowns. There are just six players in the league with better stats in those four seasons: DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, Travis Kelce and Michael Thomas. 

What has been impressive about Diggs is that he’s been successful in different ways. After averaging 10.0 yards per catch in 2018, he averaged 17.9 (a career high) in 2019 and was a tremendous deep threat. Just three players in the NFL had a higher yards-per-catch average in 2019. 

The Eagles certainly saw what he can do. In Week 6 against the Birds, he had his best game of the 2019 season. He caught seven passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns. That was the only time this season he was targeted over 10 times in a game. 

3. Diggs is relatively cost-controlled for another four seasons

While trading for Diggs will cost draft equity (we’ll get to that soon), his salary will be cheaper than that of a free agent of the same caliber because he’s already locked up. While multiple teams will out-bid each other for free agents and end up over-paying, Diggs has a contract that runs through the 2023 season and it’s a very reasonable contract. By the end of it, there’s a very good chance he’ll be extremely underpaid. Even though he just signed the five-year extension in the summer of 2018, he’s already just the 13th highest-paid NFL receiver in terms of APY, according to OverTheCap. 

Check out his base salaries for the remainder of the contract: 

2020: $10.9M
2021: $11.4M
2022: $11.4M
2023: $11.4M

No, that’s not exactly cheap like a rookie contract would be but it’s very manageable. And once the new CBA is eventually worked out, those prices will probably look even better. And there are some performance escalators written in, but if Diggs hits them, both sides would be happy. 

So what will it take? 

This is the big question. I think we all agree that Diggs is a good player and the Eagles would love to have him. But what would they have to give up in a trade? 

Well, the Vikings are going to start any negotiation with a first-round pick at minimum. They should. All those reasons I listed above are reasons why they should have teams lining up for Diggs. It’ll be interesting to see just how bad things really are between Diggs and the Vikings, though. There was definitely frustration during the 2019 season but he finished out the year. Is it bad enough that it’s an untenable situation? If so, then the Vikings would lose some leverage. 

If it’s a second-round pick, this is an easier conversation. The real question is whether or not the Eagles would be willing to give up a first-round pick. I kind of doubt they’d be willing to but you can make a real case for it. It’s easy to say the Eagles should just focus on the draft and take one of the many talented options with the 21st pick but there’s no guarantee they’ll hit. In fact, their history picking receivers, especially in the last decade, shouldn’t instill much confidence. They have drafted four Day 1 or Day 2 receivers since 2010: J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Nelson Agholor, Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff. 

None of them ever became what Diggs is right now. And there’s a good chance any player taken at 21 won’t become what he is either. 

Maybe GM Howie Roseman and the Eagles will be worried about Diggs’ fit in the building; after all, he has created enough drama in Minnesota to bring all of this up in the first place. Would that eventually happen here? Hard to say. This isn’t a no-brainer but it’s worth a call or two. 

Pick up the phone, Howie. 

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