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Paul Domowitch: Reason for concern with Eagles defense despite 4-0 start


Photo Credit by John McMullen/JAKIB Sports

KP Logo1The Eagles’ defense came up small late in the fourth quarter Sunday, allowing Washington to drive 64 yards on 10 plays and score a game-tying touchdown.

While Sean Desai’s unit did force a three-and-out in OT that set the stage for Jake Elliott’s game-winning 54-yard field goal, there are legitimate concerns about a defense that has given up 28-plus points in two of its last three games and has allowed the league’s third most touchdown passes (9).

The Eagles have given up 28 pass completions of 15 yards or more in the first four games. Only the Chargers (31) and the Broncos (30) have given up more. They’re 19th in opponent completion percentage (67.1).

Desai’s defense has really struggled on third down. The Eagles are 26th in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert 46.2 percent of their third-down attempts in the first four games.

Washington converted eight of 17 third downs Sunday, as well as two others compliments of Eagles penalties. In the last three games, opponents have a 51.3 success rate against the Eagles on third down.

The Eagles have been pretty good on third-and-long, allowing opponents to convert just 16.7% (4 of 24) of their third downs of seven yards or more. That’s the eighth-best percentage in the league. It’s from six yards and in that they’ve struggled.

Opponents have converted 71.4 percent of their third downs of six yards or less (20 of 28). That’s tied with the winless Bears for the worst rate in the league. Last season, opponents converted just 54.8% of their third downs of six yards or less against the Eagles.

Opposing quarterbacks have a 64.1 completion percentage against the Eagles on third down (25-for-39). The Commanders’ Sam Howell completed eight of 10 third-down passes against the Eagles for 108 yards and five first downs. Last year, opposing QBs completed 54.7% of their third-down attempts against the Eagles.

The Eagles have given up 17 first downs on 39 third-down pass attempts (43.6%) in the first four games. Last year, that percentage was just 38.7.

Hurts report

Jalen Hurts had his best game of the season Sunday. Had multiple touchdown passes for the first time this season. Also, had zero turnovers for the first time.

He completed four of seven deep balls (throws that traveled 20 or more yards in the air) for 152 yards and both of his TDs after completing just three of 12 deep balls in the first three games.

He had four rushing first downs, including three on the ever-popular tush push play, and another on an impressive 24-yard run.

Hurts got the ball out quickly against Washington, averaging 2.60 seconds snap-to-release. That’s his second-fastest release time of the season. He averaged 2.43 seconds per pass attempt against the blitzing Vikings in Week 2.

Hurts has an 85.1 completion percentage on throws of 10 yards or less this season, up from 81.8 last year. His completion percentage on throws of 11 yards or more has dropped from 53.2% to 45.2%. Hurts already has thrown 19 deep balls in the first four games. That puts him on pace to throw 81, which would be 24 more than he threw last season (in 15 games).

Hurts and teammate D’Andre Swift both have 17 rushing first downs this season, tying them for the fifth most in the league. Hurts and the Eagles have converted 10 of 11 Tush Push QB sneaks, including the one against Washington that Hurts faked and took through another hole for three yards. Five of those 11 sneaks-with-friends have been on third down. Four have been on third down. The other two – against the Vikings – were on second down from the one-yard line. Hurts scored touchdowns on both of them.

Hurts has converted 49 of 54 quarterback sneaks in the last three years.

Inside the 20

The Eagles are 24th in the league in red zone offense through four games, having converted just 46.1% of their trips inside the 20 (6 of 13) into touchdowns. A year ago, they finished third with a 67.8 success rate (40-for-59).

While the Eagles are a multi-dimensional offense that can beat you with either the pass or run between the 20s, they have preferred to run the ball inside the 20. Twenty-seven of their 43 red-zone plays in the first four games have been run plays.

Hurts has completed just five of 12 passes for 14 yards and one touchdown in the red zone. He’s 25th in red-zone completion percentage. Thirty-one quarterbacks have thrown more red-zone TD passes than him this season. He’s thrown just two red-zone TD passes in his last nine starts dating back to last season.

The Pass Rush

–The Eagles had a season-high five sacks Sunday against Washington, including three by linebacker Nick Morrow. Morrow isn’t exactly a sackmeister. he had just four sacks in his previous 81 NFL games. He only had seven pass-rush opportunities against Washington.

–Sean Desai cranked up the blitz against the Commanders’ young quarterback, Sam Howell. He sent more than four rushers after him on 14 of 46 pass plays (30.4%). That was the defense’s highest blitz percentage of the season. The Eagles had sent five or more rushers after QBs 19.4 percent of the time (25 of 129 pass plays) in the first three games. Sixteen of the Eagles’ 39 blitzes this season have been on first down, 14 have been on second down, eight have been on third down and one was on fourth down.

–Just two of the Eagles’ 11 sacks have come on third down in the first four games. Last year, they had a league-high 32 on third down and another three on fourth down.

–The Eagles had a season-high 30 quarterback pressures against Washington. Haason Reddick, who registered his first sack of the season, and rookie Jalen Carter each had five pressures, per Pro Football Focus. Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham had four, and Milton Williams and Fletcher Cox each had three. Graham’s four pressures came on just 16 rush opportunities.


–In their first four games last year, the Eagles outscored opponents 92-35 in the first half. That’s a plus-57 point differential. In their first four games this season, they have only a plus-11 first-half point differential (52-41).

–For just the fourth time in the last 21 games, the Eagles trailed at the half Sunday (10-17). They’re 2-2 in those four games.

–Washington scored touchdowns on both of their first two possessions Sunday. Last year, the Eagles didn’t allow game-opening back-to-back TDs a single time.

Flying With 3-Wides

–Sixty-one of the Eagles’ 67 offensive plays (91.0%) against Washington were with 11-personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR). That’s the highest percentage of 11-personnel use in a game by the Eagles since Nick Sirianni became the head coach in 2021. The previous high was 88.2 percent (60 of 68 plays) against the Vikings last year in a Week 2 win.

–The Eagles have used 11-personnel 72.2 percent of the time in the first four games (203 of 281 plays). They’ve used 12P 22.0 percent (62 plays) and 13P 5.6 percent (16 plays).

–D’Andre Swift is averaging 5.1 yards per carry with 11P (38-195) and 8.0 with 12P (21-169). Kenny Gainwell is averaging 3.4 with 11P (15-51), 5.9 with 12P (8-47) and 1.4 with 13P (9-13).

By the Numbers

–Forty-three of the Eagles’ 281 offensive plays in the first four games were RPOs, per pro-football-reference.com. That’s the most RPOs in the league. They are averaging just 3.8 yards per play on RPOs this season. Last year, they averaged 8.1. Twenty-nine of their 43 RPOs have been run plays.

–This is the seventh time in franchise history that the Eagles have gotten off to a 4-0 start. They also did it in 1954, 1981, 1992, 1993, 2004 and 2022. They failed to make the playoffs just twice the previous six times they started 4-0 – in ’54 when they finished 7-4-1, and in ’93 when they lost eight of their last 12 and finished 8-8.

–Nick Sirianni has a 27-11 record (.711) as the Eagles’ head coach. That’s the third-best winning percentage by an NFL coach since the start of the 2021 season. Only the Chiefs’ Andy Reid (28-9, .757) and the Bills’ Sean McDermott (27-10, .730) have better winning percentages.

–A.J. Brown’s fourth-quarter taunting penalty after his second touchdown catch Sunday forced Jake Elliott to kick from the 20-yard line, which ended a streak of 22 straight touchbacks for Elliott. He hadn’t had a kickoff returned before that since Week 1. Just three of Elliott’s 25 kickoffs have been returned this season. League-wide, only 17.3 percent of kickoffs have been returned in the first four weeks. That’s the lowest percentage in league history.

–Tight end Dallas Goedert has been targeted 19 times in the first four games, which is just one fewer target than he had in the first four games last year. But he is only averaging 6.8 yards per catch, including a puny 2.2 yards after the catch. Last year, Goedert finished fourth among tight ends in yards per catch (12.8) and led all tight ends in YAC average (7.8).

–In their last three games, the opponent drive start against the Eagles has been the 24.6-yard line. In those three games, their opponents have started at their 40-yard line or better just twice in 29 possessions. And yet, the Eagles have given up 28-plus points in two of those three games.




















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