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Paul Domowitch: One more thing Eagles defense can’t do: stop the run

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Photo Credit by John McMullen/JAKIB Sports

OCR Logo Color 300DPIGiven all of the problems with the Eagles’ pass defense – they’ve already given up the league’s second most TD passes (30), have the fourth worst opponent passer rating (98.2), have allowed the fifth most passing yards (255.4 per game) and have allowed the third most completions of 15 yards or more (91) – it’s easy to overlook the fact that their run defense also has gone to hell in the last two months.

In the Eagles’ first seven games, they held opponents to a league-best 62.8 rushing yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry. Allowed just nine runs of 10 yards or more in those seven games, the fewest in the league.

In the last seven games, with offenses willing to challenge them more on the ground, the small cracks in their run defense have turned into fissures. Opponents have averaged 4.62 yards per carry and 126.0 rushing yards per game since Week 8. The Eagles have been gashed for 27 runs of 10 yards or more in the last seven games, which is the sixth most in the league during that period.

Teams are running the ball more against the Eagles – opponents have averaged 27.3 carries per game against them in the last seven games compared to just 17.6 in the first seven. But the reason they’re running more is because they realize they can.

Opponents are averaging 4.39 yards per carry on first down and a hefty 5.03 yards on second down in the last seven games. In the first seven games, those averages were 3.56 and 3.79. Opponent first-down run percentage has jumped from 39.7 in the first seven games to 46.0 in the last seven. Second-down run percentage has skyrocketed from 24.3 to 38.5.

That first- and second-down run success by opponents has translated to more third-and-short situations. Opponents have had 24 third downs of two yards or less in the last seven games compared to just 12 in the first seven. Third downs of 3-6 yards have jumped from 27 to 37 in the last seven games.

Hit and miss

Missed tackles have been a problem for the Eagles of late, both against the run and the pass. In their five games since the bye, they have 42 missed tackles, per PFF. That’s 8.4 per game. In their nine games before the bye, they had 52 (5.8).

They had 11 missed tackles against the Chiefs, 13 against the Bills, eight against the Niners, three against the Cowboys, and seven against the Seahawks.

Through 14 games, safety Reed Blankenship and linebacker Zach Cunningham lead the team in missed tackles. Each has nine. Cornerback Darius Slay has seven. Linebacker Nick Morrow and edge rusher Haason Reddick each have six.

Third-and-hapless

The Seahawks converted 6 of 14 third-down opportunities against the Eagles. It was the first time in four games that the Eagles held an opponent to a third-down success rate under 50 percent.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Eagles’ defense continued to be abysmal on third-and-long. The Seahawks, who came into the game ranked 26th in the league in third-down offense (33.3%), converted four of five third downs of 10 yards or more, including two on their game-winning drive.

Seahawks quarterback Drew Lock was 4-for-4 for 88 yards, a touchdown, and four first downs on third-and-10 or more. Opponents have converted an astounding 26.3 percent of their third downs of 10 yards or more against the Eagles (15 of 57). Quarterbacks have a 111.1 passer rating against them on third-and-10-plus.

Pressure not equaling sacks

The Eagles are tied for 14th in the league in sacks with 39. That’s not an awful number, but it pales in comparison to the 55 they had last year after 14 games. They had two sacks against the Seahawks Monday night and have just nine in their last five games.

Their overall pressure numbers actually are slightly better than last year when they had a franchise-record 70 sacks. Per PFF, they have 297 total pressures – sacks plus hits plus hurries – including 57 quarterback hits. Through 14 games last year, they had 271 total pressures and 42 QB hits. But, as the saying goes, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

The Eagles have had just 47 total pressures in their consecutive losses to the Seahawks, 49ers, and Cowboys, including just three QB hits.

If you’re looking for hope, both of the Eagles’ sacks against Seattle came on third down. It was the second straight game that the Eagles had multiple third-down sacks. Their 11 third-down sacks are the third-fewest in the league, ahead of only the Panthers and Lions, who both have 10.

Tush Push update

The Eagles were 3-for-3 with the Tush Push against the Seahawks. That included some Tush Push trickeration involving a handoff to D’Andre Swift who gained three yards on a third-and-one in the third quarter.

The Eagles have converted 32 of 34 Tush Push plays this season, including 29 of 31 by Hurts. Marcus Mariota converted his one and only Tush Push sneak against the 49ers, and Swift is 2-for-2.

Hurts’ lone two Tush Push failures came on a third-and-one at the goal line against the Bucs in Week 3 (they ran it again on the next play and he scored), and another goal-line Tush Push in Week 8 against Washington when he fumbled the snap.

Hurts has 14 rushing touchdowns this season. Ten of them have been on Tush Pushes. He is 13-for-14 on third-and-1 Tush Pushes and 9-for-9 on fourth-and-1 Tush Pushes.

Sputtering screen game

The Eagles ran five screens against the Seahawks on Monday night and gained a grand total of two yards on the five plays.

Last year, the Eagles were one of the league’s better screen teams. They ran 67 of them, averaging 6.09 yards per screen. Sixteen of tight end Dallas Goedert’s 55 receptions last season came on screens. He averaged an impressive 10.9 yards on screens. Wide receiver DeVonta Smith had 21 of his 95 catches on screens and averaged 8.38 per screen.

This year, it’s been a different story. The Eagles have run 48 screens in the first 14 games and are averaging just 4.33 yards per play. Goedert, who missed three games with a fractured arm, has just nine catches off screens for 46 yards (5.1). Smith has the identical screen numbers as Goedert.

Running back D’Andre Swift has been the Eagles’ main screen weapon. Sixteen of his 38 catches have been on screens, but he’s averaging just 5.0 yards on screens.

Tale of the turnover

One other thing the Eagles’ defense can’t seem to do is force turnovers. They’re tied for 24th in the league in takeaways with just 15. They have just seven takeaways in their last 11 games.

Their six interceptions are tied for the second-fewest in the league. Only the Titans, with four, have fewer. Since the NFL went to a 16-game season in 1978, the Eagles never have had fewer than eight interceptions in a season.

The Eagles have a minus-6 turnover differential. That’s the 10th worst in the league. They were third last season (plus-8). When they won the Super Bowl in 2017, they were fourth (plus-11).

The Eagles’ 21 giveaways are the 10th most in the league. Jalen Hurts has 17 of them – 12 interceptions and five lost fumbles. He’s tied with the Bills’ Josh Allen, the Vikings’ Josh Dobbs, and the Commanders’ Sam Howell for most individual turnovers. The Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence and the Falcons’ Desmond Ridder both have 16.

Five of Hurts’ 12 interceptions, including both of his picks against Seattle, have been on deep balls (passes that travel 20 or more yards in the air). One has been on an 11-19-yard throw, four have been on throws of 0-10 yards and two have been on tipped passes.

Hurts is just 2-for-12 on deep balls in the last three games. In the Eagles’ first 11 games, he was 20-for-44 (44.5%).

By the numbers

–The Eagles had a league-best plus-121 first-half point differential last season. A big reason for that was Hurts’ impressive play in the first two quarters. He had a 103.6 first-half passer rating last season. He averaged 8.5 yards per attempt, had a 66.9 completion percentage, and threw 14 of his 22 touchdown passes in the first half. This season, Hurts has an 85.4 first-half passer rating and is averaging just 6.7 yards per attempt with six TDs and five interceptions.

–Brandon Graham played a season-high 51 percent of the defensive snaps two weeks ago against the Cowboys. But with Matt Patricia taking over the defense from Sean Desai, Graham played just 18 snaps (30%) against the Seahawks.

–If you were looking for Patricia to blitz a lot in his first game as the Eagles’ defensive play-caller, you were disappointed. He sent extra rushers after Seahawks quarterback Drew Lock just twice on 35 pass plays (5.7%). And yes, that’s the Eagles’ lowest blitz percentage of the season. He sent five rushers on a third-and-10 that resulted in a 12-yard completion and a first down. Sent six on a third-and-seven in the red zone. Lock completed the pass, but only for three yards, which forced the Seahawks to settle for a field goal.

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