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Eagles’ run defense could be a problem down the road

Eagles' run defense 

Photo Credit by John McMullen/JAKIB Sports

The Eagles are 8-0, but that doesn’t mean they’re perfect. If you look hard enough you can find a few pimples on the face of their first-half play, including Thursday night’s 29-17 win over the Houston Texans.

You can start with their run defense, which gave up 168 yards to rookie Dameon Pierce and the Texans. Pierce, a fourth-round rookie, had 139 of those yards, including a whopping 102 after contact.

In their last four games, the Eagles have given up 570 rushing yards and have allowed 5.3 yards per carry in those games.

That’s potentially worrisome because the Eagles are going to be facing some fairly formidable rushing attacks in the next few weeks, including Saquon Barkley and the Giants, Derrick Henry and the Titans, Jonathan Taylor and the Colts, and the Packers’ 1-2 running punch of Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon.

Pierce is the second back to put up 100-plus yards against the Eagles. The Lions’ D’Andre Swift had 144 yards in the Eagles’ closer-than-it-should’ve-been 38-35 Week 1 win in Detroit. The Cowboys’ tandem of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard also combined for 125 yards against the Eagles in Week 6. The Eagles had a season-high 15 missed tackles against the Lions. They had their second-highest number of whiffs – 14 — against Pierce and the Texans.

The loss of rookie defensive tackle Jordan Davis, who was placed on injured reserve earlier this week with an ankle injury and will miss at least the next three games, weakens them significantly in the middle against the run. He was pretty much immovable. Making matters worse, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox injured his leg against the Texans. He returned to the game but was basically playing on one leg.

“Any time you have a player of Jordan’s caliber and how he is against the run, and you’re without him, of course, that makes you not quite as good against the run,’’ Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said Friday.

The Eagles have given up 31 runs of 10 yards or more this season. That’s the eighth most in the league. Nineteen of them have come in the last four games.

Maybe it turns out to be a bug on the windshield. Maybe it turns out to be a bigger problem.

Third-down Defense

–The Eagles’ last two opponents – Houston and Pittsburgh – converted just 3 of 21 third-down opportunities. The Texans were 2-for-9 and the Steelers 1-for-12. Just two of Houston’s third-down situations were six yards or less.

–Davis Mills completed just 2 of 5 third-down passes against the Eagles for 15 yards. He threw two interceptions and was sacked twice on third down. Steelers rookie Kenny Pickett had one interception and was sacked three times on third down. He completed just 2 of 7 passes for 10 yards on third down.

–The Eagles are 11th in third-down defense (37.9%). But opposing quarterbacks only have a 43.0 passer rating against them on third down, including a 49.2 completion percentage and 5.7 yards per attempt. Six of the defense’s 12 interceptions have come on third down, including the two Thursday night. Last year, they had four third-down picks the whole season. Twelve of their 26 sacks also have come on third down.

Hurts report

–Jalen Hurts has thrown eight touchdown passes and no interceptions in the last three games. He hasn’t thrown an interception in the last four games. That’s the longest string of interception-less games in his young career.

–Hurts has a 139.0 passer rating in his last two starts, including a 72.7 completion percentage and 9.6 yards per attempt.

–One hundred seventy of Hurts’ 243 passing yards against Houston came on throws between 11 and 19 yards. He completed 7 of 8 passes from that distance. He was 1-for-2 on deep balls (throws of 20 yards or more).

–Five of Hurts’ 12 touchdown passes have been on deep balls this season. He had just three to go with five interceptions last year.

–Hurts has completed 73.2% of his pass attempts with 11-personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR) in the last four games (63-for-86).

–Hurts has 88 rushing attempts in the first eight games. That’s the most by any quarterback in the league. He had 139 rushing attempts last season. He’s on pace for 187 this year. He had nine carries against Houston. It was the seventh time in eight games that he’s had nine or more rushing attempts in a game.

Miles and miles and miles

–Miles Sanders has 21 runs of 10 yards or more. That’s tied for the third most in the league behind only the Browns’ Nick Chubb (27) and Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (23). Sanders is tied with the Titans’ Derrick Henry.

–He’s sixth in rushing first downs with 18. He had five of the Eagles’ nine rushing first downs Thursday night.

–Sanders is fifth in rushing attempts with 131. He’s had 15 or more carries in six of the Eagles’ eight games. That equals his previous career high in 2020. He’s on pace for 278 carries, which would shatter his previous season-high of 179 in his rookie year in 2019.

More good stat stuff

–Eagles have given up 17 points or less in six of their last seven games.

–Jonathan Gannon sent five or more rushers after Davis Mills on six of 25 pass plays (24.0%). One of Javon Hargrave’s three sacks was on a five-man rush.

–Hargrave has a team-high six sacks. Five of them have come in the last two games.

–The Eagles have 26 sacks, the second most in the NFL. Thirteen of them have come in the fourth quarter. Fourteen have been on third or fourth down.

–A.J. Brown’s 718 receiving yards is the second most in franchise history in the first eight games of a season. Terrell Owens had 750 yards in the first eight games in 2004.

–The Eagles averaged 6.7 yards per carry with 11 personnel against the Texans. They used 11P 72.6% (45 of 62 plays) Thursday. That was their second-highest use of 11P this season. Used it 88.2% of the time against the Vikings in Week 2.

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