The Eagles’ defense did an impressive job Sunday against the Dolphins’ Greatest Show on Surf. It held Tua Tagovailoa to his lowest passer rating (87.5) of the season and held him to a season-low in passing yards (216). The group also held speed demon Tyreek Hill to 8.0 yards per catch, which equaled his lowest reception average of the season.
But it needs to be mentioned that Sean Desai’s unit also did a superb job against a Dolphins ground game that arrived at the Linc ranked first in the NFL in rushing yards per game (181.8) and first in rush average (a whopping 6.3).
The Eagles held the Dolphins to 45 rushing yards on just 12 carries in their 31-17 win. Thirty-six of those 45 yards came on back-to-back 21- and 15-yard runs midway through the third quarter. On their other 10 carries, the Dolphins gained just nine yards.
One of the things that has been overlooked about the Eagles’ defense since Desai replaced Jonathan Gannon is the dramatic improvement in the run defense.
Last year, the Eagles finished 17th in run defense (121.6 yards per game) and 24th in opponent rush average (4.6). Through seven games this season, they are first in the league in rushing yards allowed (62.9 per game). While there still are 10 regular-season games left to play, that 62.9 number is the best in franchise history.
The Eagles have given up just nine 10-plus yard runs in seven games, which is the fewest in the league. They’re tied for fourth in opponent rush average (3.6) and tied for fifth in opponent rushing touchdowns (just 3).
On Sunday, they held the Dolphins to minus-7 yards on four first-half carries.
Yes, teams aren’t running the ball very much against the Eagles – they’re averaging a league-low 17.6 opponent rushing attempts per game. Part of that is because teams have had success attacking the middle of the field in the passing game – the Eagles have given up an NFL-high 45 completions of 15 yards or more. But a bigger part is that the Eagles just aren’t letting teams run the ball, particularly on first down.
The Eagles have held opponents to 3.5 yards per carry on first down. That’s nearly a yard better than the 4.4 they allowed last season. The Eagles have held opponents to three yards or less on first-down runs 65.3 percent of the time this season compared to 53.2 percent in 2022. That means opponents are facing a lot more second-and-longs. Opponents’ second-down pass-play percentage this season is 75.7. Last year it was just 58.7.
Red Zone Improvement
The Eagles converted four of six red-zone opportunities into touchdowns Sunday. Really, they were 4-for-5 if you throw out their final red-zone possession, which amounted to three Jalen Hurts kneel-downs to run out the clock.
They’re 6-for-9 in the red zone in their last two games after converting just 8 of 19 chances into touchdowns in their first five games. In the last three weeks, they’ve moved up from 27th to 23rd to 19th in red-zone TD percentage (50.0).
Hurts had just two red-zone pass attempts against the Dolphins, but completed both of them for 33 yards and two touchdowns. One was a 19-yard screen pass to tight end Dallas Goedert. The other was a 14-yard catch-and-run to A.J. Brown.
Hurts has thrown four TD passes in the red zone in the last three games after throwing just one in the first four games. He had just nine red-zone touchdown passes last year in 15 starts. He has completed 12 of 24 red-zone passes for 71 yards, five TDs and no interceptions in the first seven games. Those numbers are fairly similar to the first seven games last season, when he completed 12 of 25 passes for four TDs and no interceptions.
Third Down Problems
The Eagles managed to beat the Dolphins and hold them scoreless in the second half, even though the Dolphins converted 4 of 8 third downs of eight yards or more Sunday. Miami converted a third-and-18 (29-yard completion to Cedrick Wilson on a second-quarter touchdown drive), a third-and-12 (12-yard completion in the fourth quarter to Jaylen Waddle), a third-and-9 (16-yard completion to Waddle on first-quarter FG drive) and a third-and-8 (27-yard TD pass to Tyreek Hill).
The Eagles are ranked 16th on third-and-7 or more, allowing opponents to convert 10 of 44 opportunities (22.7%) into first downs.
They are even worse on third-and-six or less. Their 64.1 opponent success rate on third-and-6 or less is the second-highest in the league. Overall, they are 21st in third-down defense (40.9%).
Opposing quarterbacks have a 93.3 passer rating against the Eagles on third downs of seven yards or more. They are averaging 7.2 yards per attempt with a 55.3 completion percentage. Last year, opposing quarterbacks had a 39.3 passer rating against the Eagles on third-and-7-plus, averaged just 5.9 yards per attempt with a 47.7 completion percentage.
Pass rush report
The Eagles had four sacks against the Dolphins and have notched 18 in the last four games after having just six in the first three. They are tied for third in the league in sacks now with 24, one behind Buffalo and five behind Baltimore.
Just seven of their 24 sacks (29.2%) have come on third/fourth down. That’s a departure from last year when 35 of their franchise-record 70 sacks came on third/fourth down.
A week after blitzing a season-high 34.2 percent in their loss to Zach Wilson and the Jets, the Eagles sent more than four rushers on just five of 35 pass plays (14.3%) against Tagovailoa and the Dolphins. It was their lowest blitz percentage of the season. All four of the Eagles’ sacks against the Dolphins came on four-man rushes. For the season, just six of their 24 sacks have been on blitzes.
The Eagles are one of just three teams in the league that has two pass-rushers with five or more sacks. Josh Sweat and Haason Reddick both have 5 ½ sacks. The other two teams are Washington (Montez Sweat 5 ½, Chase Young 5) and the Los Angeles Chargers (Khalil Mack 7, Morgan Fox 5).
Sweat leads the Eagles in total quarterback pressures with 33, per Pro Football Focus. Jalen Carter is second with 27 and Reddick is third with 26. Carter’s 27 pressures have come on just 151 pass-rush opportunities compared to Sweat’s 231 and Reddick’s 223.
According to PFF, Carter has the second highest pass-rush “win’’ rate among the league’s interior defensive lineman (22.2%). Only the Bills’ DaQuan Jones has a better win rate, but Jones is out indefinitely with a pec injury.
Tush Push Update
The Tush Push continues to be an important offensive weapon for the Eagles. They were 4-for-4 on Tush Pushes against the Dolphins. Three of them were on fourth-and-1, including two on the Eagles’ final scoring drive when they used it on their own 26 and again on their own 37 to produce first downs. The fourth one was on Hurts’ one-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
Hurts and the Eagles are 18-for-19 on Tush Push tries this season. The only time they’ve been thwarted was in Week 3 against the Bucs. They’re 7-for-7 with it on fourth-and-1 (one TD), 7-for-8 on third-and-1, 2-for-2 on second-and-1 (both for Hurts touchdowns) and 2-for-2 on first-and-1 (two TDs). Five of Hurts’ six rushing touchdowns are on Tush Pushes.
Last year, the Eagles converted 29 of 33 sneaks with the Tush Push. Hurts was 28-for-31 and Gardner Minshew was 1-for-2.
Eagles coach Nick Sirianni clearly is growing weary of people trashing the Tush Push and suggesting it needs to be banned.
“You’ve seen across the league that people can’t do it like we can do it,’’ he said after Sunday’s win. “If everyone could do it, everyone would. Where is the camera? If everybody could do it, everybody would do it.’’
Sirianni and run-game coordinator Jeff Stoutland are starting to tweak the Tush Push. A few weeks ago against Washington, they had Hurts slide to another gap after the snap. He gained three yards on that play. On Sunday, he moved right tackle Lane Johnson over to the left side between left tackle Jordan Mailata and left guard Landon Dickerson. After the ball was snapped, Johnson moved behind Hurts and became one of his pushers.
Because they usually run the Tush Push as a hurry-up weapon, they typically run it with the same personnel that was on the field for the previous play. So, they have run it with 11-personnel, 12-personnel and 13-personnel.
By the Numbers
–The Eagles ran 48 of 68 offensive plays against the Dolphins with 11-personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR). Hurts was 22-for-28 with 254 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT with 11P. That was his highest completion percentage (78.6) and yards-per-attempt average (9.1) of the season with 11P.
–Hurts is tied for first in the league in rushing first downs with the 49ers’ Christian McCaffrey. Both have 34. Hurts finished third last season with 67. The Eagles’ D’Andre Swift is fourth with 27.
–Hurts has completed 10 of 19 deep balls (throws that travel 20 yards or more in the air) in the last four games. That’s an impressive 52.6 completion percentage. For the season, he has completed 13 of 31 deep balls (41.9). Last year, Hurts was 23-for-57 (40.3%) on deep balls.
–Tua Tagovailoa averaged 2.24 seconds getting the ball out on his dropbacks against the Eagles, per PFF. That’s the fastest by any quarterback they’ve faced this season. The Rams’ Matthew Stafford averaged 2.26 seconds, followed by the Patriots’ Mac Jones (2.38), the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins (2.57), the Jets’ Zach Wilson (2.62), the Bucs’ Baker Mayfield (2.72) and the Commanders’ Sam Howell (2.99).
–NFL defensive coordinators spent a sizeable chunk of the offseason trying to come up with an antidote for the Eagles’ RPO (run-pass option) game, and are having some success. Last year, the Eagles averaged 8.1 yards on RPO plays, according to pro-football-reference.com. This year, they’re averaging just 4.6. Their yards per pass attempt on RPOs has dropped from 9.4 last year to 5.4 this year. Their rush average has dropped from 4.4 to 3.6.