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Paul Domowitch: No lead is safe anymore for the second-half-folding Eagles

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Photo Credit by John McMullen/JAKIB Sports

OCR Logo Color 300DPIIn their last five games, four of which they’ve lost, the Eagles have been outscored in the second half, 105-50. Opposing quarterbacks have feasted on the Eagles’ hapless defense in the second halves of those five games, stringing together a 126.5 passer rating that includes a 67.5 completion percentage, 9.4 yards per attempt, eight touchdown passes, and one interception.

On Sunday, the Eagles led the Cardinals by 15 points at the half. A year ago, that would’ve been game, set, and match. But this isn’t a year ago.

Kyler Murray and an Arizona offense that is 24th in the league in scoring and total yards, put up 29 second-half points on the Eagles for a shocking 35-31 comeback win at the Linc on Sunday. Murray completed 13 of 14 passes for 133 yards and three TDs in the second half. Running backs James Conner and Michael Carter averaged a collective 6.4 yards per carry in the second half.

A week earlier, Tyrod Taylor got the Giants within five points of the Eagles in the fourth quarter with a 69-yard touchdown pass to Darius Slayton. The week before that, Drew Lock – Drew Lock – threw for 144 second-half yards and engineered a game-winning 10-play, 92-yard drive that featured a 29-yard touchdown pass to Jaxon Smith-Njigba. And the week before that, Brock Purdy completed 10 of 12 second-half passes for 196 yards and three TDs in the 49ers’ surprisingly easy 23-point win.

But the Eagles’ second-half collapses aren’t strictly on the defense. The offense also hasn’t done enough to prevent them. Their second-half scoring average has plummeted from 15.6 in the first 11 games to 10.0 in the last five.

In the Eagles’ first 11 games this season, Jalen Hurts had a 102.9 passer rating in the second half and was a legitimate league MVP candidate. Averaged 8.4 yards per attempt and threw 12 touchdown passes and five interceptions in the second halves of those games. D’Andre Swift averaged 5.3 yards per carry. The Eagles had a plus-68 second-half point differential and the Eagles were 10-1.

In the last five games, Hurts’ second-half passer rating has been a Mitch Trubisky-ish 71.2. He has averaged just 6.5 yards per attempt and has thrown just two touchdown passes and four interceptions.

AJ Brown and Devonta Smith, who combined for 10 second-half touchdown catches in the first 11 games, have just one (by Smith) in quarters 3 and 4 of the last five games. Swift, one of the league’s better pass-catching backs, has three catches for four yards in the second half the last five weeks.

And then there are the turnovers. Six of them in the second half of the last five games, though one was Hurts’ Hail Mary at the end of the Cardinals collapse.

The Eagles have given up 27 opponent touchdown drives of 75 yards or more this season. Fourteen of them have been in the last five games. Twelve of those 14 have been in the second half.

How ‘bout them special teams!!

I don’t want to make this column a total Eagles downer, so how about we talk about the Eagles’ special teams, which is the one notable bright spot on this team at the moment.

Jake Elliott is having one of the best seasons of his career. He’s converted 29 of 31 field goal attempts, including a career-high seven of eight from 50-plus yards. That includes four of 54 yards or more. He’s made his last 13 attempts.

Punter Braden Mann, who was signed by the Eagles in mid-September to replace inconsistent Aarryn Siposs, is third in the league in net average (44.0) and seventh in gross average (49.7). Twenty-one of his 40 punts have traveled 50 yards or more, including 12 that have been 55 yards or longer. He also has a 28-yard pass completion on a fake punt against the Cowboys.

And then there is punt returner Britain Covey. As a rookie last year, he averaged an unremarkable 9.3 yards per return. This year, his 14.6-yard return average is the second-best in the league to the Chargers’ Derius Davis (16.0). To give you an idea of how impressive that is, Darren Sproles’ best return average during his career was 13.2 in 2016. He averaged 13.0 in 2014 when he led the league in punt return average in his first season with the Eagles.

Sixteen of Covey’s 40 returns this season have been for 10-plus yards. He has eight returns of 20 or more yards.

The Eagles only have 11 kickoff returns in 16 games. That’s tied for the fifth-fewest in the NFL. They’re averaging just 19.6 yards on those 11 returns, which is the fourth lowest in the league behind the Rams (16.1), Falcons (16.9) and Giants (19.2).

Twelve is trending

Twenty-six of the Eagles’ 47 plays against the Cardinals (55.3%) were run with 12 personnel (1RB, 2TE, 2WR). One other play was run with 13 personnel. In the last two games, the Eagles have used 12/13P on 67 of 121 plays (55.4%). That’s a notable change from the first 14 games, when they used 12/13P just 21.4 percent of the time (198 of 926 plays).

Twenty of their 23 rushing attempts against the Cardinals were with 12P, including all 13 of D’Andre Swift’s rushing attempts. Swift rushed for 61 yards against the Cardinals. In the last two games, Swift has averaged 4.7 yards per carry with 12P.

In Week 2 against the Vikings, Swift rushed for 114 yards on 14 carries with 12P. The next week in a win over the Bucs, he had 55 yards on seven carries with 12P. But in next 10 games, he had just 40 carries with 12P, gaining only 78 yards.

In the Eagles’ last three games, Jalen Hurts has completed 19 of 20 passes for 204 yards with 12/13P. Kenny Gainwell’s 17-yard fake Tush Push pass to DeVonta Smith Sunday also was with 12P. Hurts has completed just 30 of 72 passes (41.6%) and has averaged only 5.7 yards per attempt with 11-personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR) in the last three games.

Tush Push Update

For just the third time this season, the Eagles failed to convert a Tush Push sneak against the Cardinals. Jalen Hurts was stopped for no gain on a third-and-one sneak at the Arizona 16-yard line. The Eagles used the Tush Push again on fourth-and-one and made the first down.

Hurts has converted 33 of 36 sneaks this season with the Tush Push. The two other times he was stopped was in Week 8 against Washington when he fumbled the snap at the one-yard line, and in Week 3 against Tampa Bay when the Bucs stopped him for no gain on a third-and-goal at the one-yard line. The Eagles went for it again on fourth down, and Hurts scored a touchdown.

Eleven of Hurts’ 15 rushing touchdowns this season have come on Tush Push sneaks. Hurts is now 13-for-15 on third-and-1 with the Tush Push and 10-for-10 on fourth-and-one. Marcus Mariota converted a fourth-and-one Tush Push against the 49ers.

By the numbers

–The Eagles ran just 47 plays against the Cardinals. That equaled their lowest play total since 2014 when they had just 45 plays in a 24-14 loss to Seattle. The Eagles also had just 47 plays last year in a 32-20 Week 10 loss to Washington, and in a 28-22 loss to Tampa Bay in 2021. The Eagles currently are 10th in the league in time of possession average (30:54) and seventh in plays per game (65.4). They averaged 66.1 plays per game last season when they went to the Super Bowl.

–The Eagles gave up 221 rushing yards to the Cardinals. That’s the most they’ve given up in a game since 2016 when Washington gashed them for 230 in a 27-20 loss. It was just the second time in the last seven years they’ve given up 200 or more yards in a game. The Chiefs rushed for 200 against them in 2021.

–The Eagles had 13 missed tackles against the Cardinals, which tied their season-high. They also had 13 in their 37-34 Week 12 win over the Bills.

–All three of Hurts’ touchdown passes against the Cardinals were on throws of 11-19 air yards. He has eight TDs in 79 attempts from that distance in 16 starts this season. Last year, he had just two in 69 attempts (15 starts). He had 12 deep-ball TD passes last season (throws of 20 yards or more). This year, he’s got nine.

–One of the few things the Eagles defense has managed to do well this season has been not giving up any touchdown passes to running backs, though, given the 34 touchdown passes the Eagles have allowed, that might only be because there have been so many wide receivers and tight ends also open. Regardless, the running back shutout ended Sunday when the Cardinals’ Murray had a pair of touchdown passes to running backs Conner and Carter.

–Those 34 touchdown passes the Eagles have given up are the second most in the NFL (Washington has allowed 35) and the most allowed by an Eagles defense since 2015, when they gave up 36.

–The Eagles’ eight interceptions are tied for the fourth-fewest in the league. Their minus-26 opponent TD passes-to-interceptions differential is the second worst in the league (Washington has a minus-28 differential). The Eagles are the only team in the bottom seven in OTDP-to-INT differential with a winning record. The combined record of the other six is 34-55.

–Their minus-26 OTDP-to-INT differential is the worst over 16 games in franchise history, surpassing 2012’s minus-25 (33 opponent TD passes, eight interceptions). That Eagles team finished 4-12.

–D’Andre Swift has 38 runs of eight yards or more this season, and 37 for zero or negative yards. His 38 eight-plus-yard runs are the eighth most in the league. The 49ers’ Christian McCaffrey has the most (59). Swift’s 37 runs for zero or negative yards are tied for the 14th most in the league, well below Travis Etienne’s 64 and Saquon Barkley’s 57.

–Jalen Hurts’ rushing average has dropped from 4.6 last year to 3.9 this year. A slight increase in Tush Pushes – Hurts was 28-for-31 last year and is 33-for-36 this year — has been part of it. But a bigger part has been the fact that defenses have focused on not giving up the big run to him. He has just 30 runs of eight yards or more in 16 games this season. He had 39 in 15 starts last season.

–Hurts’ 155 rushing attempts are the most by an NFL quarterback. The Ravens’ Lamar Jackson is second with 148. Justin Fields is third with 116.

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