Eagles

Looking at the wild, injury-plagued year for Eagles' secondary

Looking at the wild, injury-plagued year for Eagles' secondary

The Eagles overcame a ton of injuries during the 2017 season on their way to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, but the 2018 season was a lot different. 

For a while, all their injuries happened to the same position group. 

By the time the season ended in New Orleans on Sunday, the Eagles had incredibly used 15 defensive backs on defense during the season. No team in the NFL used more and the NFL average was 11.8. 

Of the five starting defensive backs this season, only Malcolm Jenkins remained by season’s end. Three of the five were on IR. 

So here’s a look at all 15 defensive backs the Eagles used this season with their snaps in the regular season and in the playoffs:

Malcolm Jenkins: 1039/141
Jenkins was clearly the glue this season. It’s scary to think about where this team would have been without his play and leadership. He played every single defensive snap in the regular season and playoffs. He was very deservingly named to his third-career Pro Bowl for his efforts this season. He’s under contract for two more seasons. 

Corey Graham: 656/141
Graham was close to retiring before this season, but ended up playing the second most snaps of everyone in this secondary. That was not ideal and Jim Schwartz admitted as much. But after Graham’s fatal error on 4th-and-15 in Nashville, he actually played better. Safe money is on the 33-year-old retiring this offseason. 

Rasul Douglas: 543/118
By the end of the season, Douglas had done enough to warrant serious consideration to be a starting cornerback next season. Sure, he had a shaky start to his season, but ended up leading the team with three interceptions and was a really good tackler. He dealt with some minor injuries too, but played in every game. The defense struggled when he was forced to leave in the divisional round. 

Ronald Darby: 542/0
One of the initial starters, Darby tore his ACL in Week 10 against the Cowboys. The Eagles have an interesting decision to make on Darby. He’s still just 25 and is a free agent, but is also coming off a serious injury. 

Avonte Maddox: 540/135
Maybe Maddox started to get picked on some late in the season, but he had a tremendous rookie season, especially for a fourth-round pick. He played in 13 games as a nickel corner, safety and outside corner. The Eagles missed him when Maddox was out for three games with a knee injury. It’s likely Maddox will be a big part of the secondary in Year 2; we just don’t know where yet. 

Jalen Mills: 457/0
Another starter when the 2018 season began, Mills hurt his foot in London against the Jaguars and was never able to return. In fact, it seemed like his foot kept getting worse and worse. Mills is entering Year 4 in 2019 and is still a Jim Schwartz favorite, so don’t count on him going to the bench. 

Cre’Von LeBlanc: 351/108
Strap was one of the greatest surprises of the 2018 season and the Eagles might have found a hidden gem. They claimed him off waivers on Nov. 5 and he eventually become the Eagles’ nickel corner. He played so well that he ought to be the frontrunner to win that job next season. His INT in the Saints playoff game was incredible. 

Sidney Jones: 322/0 
A really disappointing season for the former second-round pick. After missing most of his rookie season as he recovered from an Achilles tear, he played in just nine games this season because of hamstring injuries. The lasting image of his 2018 season will be from the first Saints game, when Drew Brees kept picking on the injured corner. But it’s too early to call him a bust. Jones is still just 22 and will be in the mix for a job next spring and summer. 

Tre Sullivan: 219/87
Sullivan ended up being another pleasant surprise. He was on the initial roster, but then spent a month on the practice squad before rejoining the 53. By the end of the season, the Eagles felt comfortable enough to use him frequently at safety while Jenkins slid into the box. Big strides from Sullivan this season. 

Rodney McLeod: 162/0
The Eagles lost McLeod to an ACL injury in the third game of the season and he was missed the rest of the year, but stayed as involved as he could. The Eagles might ask him to restructure his contract, but they could definitely use him back next season. 

De’Vante Bausby: 147/0
There was a time in the spring where Bausby was getting first-team nickel reps, but he didn’t make the Eagles’ initial roster and didn’t last long on the practice squad the first time. Eventually in November, the Eagles added him to the practice squad and called him up on Nov. 17. But he was waived on Dec. 24 after a few subpar performances. He started against the Giants along with Chandon Sullivan. That really happened. 

Dexter McDougle: 106/0
Remember this guy? He was actually on the team this season and was briefly the Eagles’ starting nickel corner. He was on the roster for just a month, though, and was released to make room for LeBlanc. McDougle’s performance in London was awful and he was released before the next game. 

Chandon Sullivan: 87/0
Thanks to other injuries, Sullivan was promoted from the practice squad on Oct. 25 and was on the roster until he was waived on Dec. 24. In those two months, he played in five games and had one start. Even Sullivan suffered an injury this season. 

Deiondre’ Hall: 6/0
The Eagles traded a seventh-round pick for Hall, who was primarily a special teams player for the Eagles. It was probably a little telling that the Eagles refused to play Hall at safety even when they had a need for healthy defensive backs. He seemed to be a pretty important teams player though. 

Josh Hawkins: 0/21  
Hawkins was signed to the practice squad on Dec. 11 and was promoted to the active roster on Dec. 24. His only playing time came in the divisional round game, when he was thrust into action against the Saints and Brees immediately threw to his side for a touchdown. Tough spot for the young defensive back. But that’s how things went all season. 

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Eagle Eye Podcast: Any interest in Le'Veon Bell or Antonio Brown?

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Eagle Eye Podcast: Any interest in Le'Veon Bell or Antonio Brown?

On this edition of Eagle Eye, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro discuss who the best quarterbacks were in the NFC East last season. 

Do either see the Eagles making a push for Le'Veon Bell or Antonio Brown?

Who have been the funniest, most underrated and most overrated players the guys have covered throughout their careers? 

1:00 - Rankings the NFC East quarterbacks.
10:30 - Will the Eagles be interested in Bell or Brown?
23:30 - Roob and Dave ask and answer random questions to and from one another.
24:00 - Favorite/least favorite road city.
27:00 - Which player do you want to host a podcast with?
29:00 - Funniest player you've ever been around?
33:00 - If you're in a bar fight, which former player do you want with you?
35:30 - Favorite current Eagle to interview?
39:00 - Most overrated/underrated player you covered?
43:00 - Guys answer questions from listeners.

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Was Carson Wentz the best QB in NFC East last year?

Was Carson Wentz the best QB in NFC East last year?

Carson Wentz returned from a serious ACL/LCL tear in Week 3 in 2018 and then his season ended early with a stress fracture in his back. But in the middle of all that, he actually put together some good numbers. 

This recent tweet from ProFootballFocus grabbed my attention. 

Yeah, they actually ranked Wentz as the best quarterback in the NFC East despite coming back from the knee injury and playing through a back fracture. My colleague Reuben Frank already dispelled 10 myths about Wentz (see story) and a lot of them were about the Eagles with Wentz vs. the Eagles with Nick Foles. I don’t want this to digress into the Foles vs. Wentz debate. 

I just want to take a closer look at how Wentz stacked up against the rest of the quarterbacks in the NFC East. Was he really the division’s best quarterback even with these injuries? 

Here’s a look at their overall numbers from the regular season: 

Carson Wentz: 11 games, 5-6, 69.6%, 3,074 yards, 21 TDs, 7 INT, 102.2 passer rating
Nick Foles: 5 games, 4-1, 72.3%, 1,413 yards, 7 TDs, 4 INT, 96.0 passer rating
Dak Prescott: 16 games, 10-6, 67.7%, 3,885, 22 TDs, 8 INT, 96.9 passer rating 
Alex Smith: 10 games, 6-4, 62.5%, 2,180, 10 TDs, 5 INT, 85.7 passer rating 
Eli Manning: 16 games, 5-11, 66%, 4,299, 21 TDs, 11 INT, 92.4 passer rating 

The thing that stands out there are the records. The Eagles were 5-6 with Wentz at quarterback, but I’ve always been hesitant to use wins as a QB stat. Sure, the QB plays a major role in them, but it’s a team stat that gets transferred to individuals.

Anyway, let’s take a closer look at a few of these stats with help from ProFootballReference: 

Passer rating

Wentz: 102.2 
Prescott: 96.9 
Foles: 96.0 
Manning: 92.4 
Smith: 85.7 

I know passer rating is an imperfect measure, but it’s still generally a really good indicator of quarterback play. It takes into account completion percentage, passing yards, touchdowns and interceptions. 

Wentz actually improved his passer rating from 101.9 in 2017 to 102.2 in 2018. Those two passer rating numbers are the third- and fourth-best passer ratings in Eagles history (minimum 300 attempts) behind Foles in 2013 (119.2) and Donovan McNabb in 2004 (104.7). Wentz is now the only Eagles QB to have two seasons of passer ratings over 100.

Completion percentage

Foles: 72.3 percent
Wentz: 69.6 percent
Prescott: 67.7 percent
Manning: 66 percent
Smith: 62.5 percent 

Foles and Wentz saw huge jumps in their completion percentage. The highest completion percentage Foles ever had in a season before 2018 was when he completed 65.5 percent of his passes as a backup in KC. Even in his 2013 year, he completed just 64 percent of his passes. 

As for Wentz, he had a goal to improve his completion percentage and, boy, did he do that. He had a near-MVP season in 2017 but completed just 60.2 percent of his passes. He improved that to 69.6 percent in 2018. 

Yards per game 

Foles: 282.6 
Wentz: 279.5

Manning: 268.7
Prescott: 242.8
Smith: 218

The Eagles’ two quarterbacks were pretty close in yards per game. The crazy thing is that the Eagles have never had a 4,000-yard passer in franchise history and both of these guys would have been on pace if they played 16 games. Wentz improved his yards per game from 253.5 to 279.5 from 2017 to 2018. He has improved in this category in each of his three NFL seasons. 

For as long as Manning has been in the NFL, he’s had just one season averaging more than 279.5 yards per game. Prescott set his own personal high this season. And Smith’s career high is 269.5 from his time in Kansas City. 

TDs per game 

Wentz: 1.9 
Foles: 1.4 

Prescott: 1.38
Manning: 1.31
Smith: 1.0 

This one is obviously huge. Since the start of the 2017 season, Wentz has thrown a ton of touchdowns. And in his first three seasons, Wentz has thrown 70 touchdowns; ninth-most ever in the first three years of a career. 

INTs per game

Prescott: 0.50
Smith: 0.50
Wentz: 0.64 
Manning: 0.69
Foles: 0.80

This is obviously in reverse order. Foles threw the most interceptions per game, while Wentz was in the middle. After throwing 14 interceptions as a rookie (in 16 games), Wentz has thrown 14 in 2017 and 2018 combined (24 games). Among the nine QBs who have thrown at least 70 touchdowns in their first three seasons, Wentz’s interception percentage (1.93) is the second-best.

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So what does all this mean? Well, it means what we’ve been saying for a while now: Despite the injuries, Wentz was still pretty good in 2018. He’s not absolved for the team’s struggles early in the season, but it would be foolish to pin those struggles and that record entirely on him. Had the Eagles won a few of those close games — Tennessee, Carolina, both Dallas games — perhaps we’d look back on Wentz’s 2018 season much differently. 

Was he the best QB in the NFC East in 2018? I don’t know. But, if he stays healthy, I think he’s going to be the best QB in the NFC East for a long time to come.

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