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What the heck has happened to the Eagles’ ground game?

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Photo Credit by John McMullen/JAKIB Sports

OCR Logo Color 300DPI 2Five games into the season, the Eagles had the league’s most prolific ground game. They were averaging a league-high 164.0 rushing yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry.

Since then, well, the Eagles no longer have the league’s most prolific ground game. They have fallen to eighth in rushing and 18th in rush average. In their last seven games, they have averaged just 98.8 rushing yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry. They’ve rushed for more than 115 yards in only one of the last seven games (185 v. Buffalo in Week 12). Take out the Bills game and they’ve averaged just 3.2 yards per carry in the other six games.

There obviously are some contributing factors to the precipitous drop in the Eagles’ ground numbers. Quarterback Jalen Hurts suffered a bone bruise on his knee early in the season that has hampered his effectiveness as a runner, with the notable exception of the Tush Push. And right guard Cam Jurgens was sidelined for five games with a foot injury.

But Jurgens has been back for the last three games, and is only the line’s fifth-best run-blocker when he’s healthy anyway. And while Hurts’ knee clearly isn’t 100 percent, it’s been good enough to allow him to run the ball 43 times in the last four games, including 14 times against the Bills for 65 yards.

Hurts is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry compared to 4.6 after 12 games last year. But he’s second in the league in rushing first downs with 50 and is tied for second in rushing touchdowns with 12.

Bottom line: the Eagles’ run struggles the last seven games go a lot deeper than Hurts’ knee and Jurgens’ five-game absence.

In the first five games, Eagles running backs averaged 5.0 yards per carry. In the last seven games, they have averaged just 3.8. D’Andre Swift got just one carry in the season-opener against the Patriots but still averaged 86.8 rushing yards and 5.7 yards per carry in the first five games. In the last seven, he has averaged just 49.8 per game and 3.8 yards per carry.

Pro Football Focus gave the Eagles’ offensive line a 75.4 run-blocking grade through the first 12 games. That’s the highest in the NFL. So what’s going on?

Opposing defenses clearly are doing a much better job of defending Hurts on zone reads than they did last year, which has had a ripple effect on the rest of their run game. In the last five games, not including Buffalo, Hurts has averaged just 2.5 yards per carry.

Last year, the Eagles averaged 4.9 yards per carry on first down and 4.8 on second down. This year, they’re averaging 4.5 on first down and 4.1 on second down.

The biggest drop in the last seven games has been on second down. They’re averaging just 3.4 yards per carry on second down in the last seven games, compared to 4.9 in the first five. Swift’s second-down rushing average in the first five games was 5.8. In the last seven, it’s 3.8.

Nightmare On Third Down Street

That thump you heard this week was the Eagles dropping to the bottom of the league in third-down defense. After allowing the 49ers to convert eight of 11 third-down opportunities in Sunday’s ugly 42-19 loss, the Eagles have a 48.5 opponent success rate on third down. That’s their highest since the league started tracking third downs 43 years ago.

In the last three games, opponents have converted a whopping 58.0 percent of their third down tries (29 of 50). Niners quarterback Brock Pursdy completed 8 of 10 third-down passes for 105 yards, two touchdowns and seven first downs. The Eagles have given up 27 touchdown passes this season, which is the second most in the league. Thirteen of them have been on third down. Eight teams have given up 13 TD passes or less on all downs.

Sunday’s opponent, the Cowboys, owns the second-best third-down offense in the league. They’ve converted 48.5 percent of their third-down tries. In their last four games, they’ve converted 51.9 percent (27-for-52). Dak Prescott has a 114.1 third-down passer rating in the last four games, including a 67.6 completion percentage, 9.2 yards per attempt and just one sack.

But the Eagles did a fairly decent job against them on third down in their 28-23 Week 9 win at the Linc. The Cowboys converted just 6 of 15 third-down opportunities in that game, though that included a third-and-14 and a third-and-10.

Opposing quarterbacks have a 115.5 third-down passer rating against the Eagles, including a 63.5 completion percentage, the aforementioned 13 TD passes, and just two interceptions. Last year, the Eagles had a 69.3 opponent passer rating on third down, including a 54.7 completion percentage, seven TD passes, and a league-high eight interceptions.

(Not) Stopping the Run

The 49ers rushed for 146 yards on 28 carries against the Eagles. In their last three games, the Eagles have given up 487 rushing yards on 98 carries. That’s 162.3 yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry. In their first nine games, the Eagles had held opponents to 66.3 rushing yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry.

The Niners had six runs of 10 or more yards Sunday, including three by Christian McCaffrey and two by Deebo Samuel. That equaled the total number of 10-plus yard runs that the Eagles gave up in their first nine games.

In their first nine games, the Eagles held opponents to 3.6 yards per carry on first down and 3.7 on second down. In their last three games, they’ve allowed 4.6 on first down and 5.0 on second down.

Pass Rush Report

The Eagles are tied for 12th in sacks with 34. They have just 10 in their last five games, and five of those came in the win over the Cowboys. They’ve had three or more sacks in just five of their 12 games, and only once in the last five games (Dallas). Last year, when they finished with a franchise-record 70 sacks, they had three or more sacks in 12 of their 17 games.

Their pressure on opposing quarterbacks has been fairly consistent. They had a 34.9 pressure percentage in their first six games this season and 35.9 in their last six.

Breaking Down The Blitz

The Eagles sent extra rushers after the Niners’ Brock Purdy on 11 of 29 pass plays. Their 37.9 blitz percentage Sunday was the highest of the season. It wasn’t very effective, though. Purdy completed 10 of 11 passes for 213 yards and three touchdowns against the Eagles blitz.

The week before in their win over the Bills, the Eagles blitzed Josh Allen on 17 of 52 pass plays (32.7%), including a season-high six with six or more rushers. Allen was 13-for-17 for 164 yards when the Eagles blitzed.

The Eagles have a 25.0 blitz percentage through 12 games. That’s the 14th-highest in the league. But opposing quarterbacks have sliced and diced it. They have a 114.6 passer rating v. the Eagles’ blitz, including a 67.8 completion percentage, 8.2 yards per attempt, eight TDs and zero interceptions.

Last year, under Jonathan Gannon, the Eagles had a 20.3 blitz percentage. They had a 77.3 opponent passer rating (58.7 completion percentage, seven TDs, five interceptions) when they blitzed.

By The Numbers

–Jalen Hurts has a 104.9 third-down passer rating this season. That’s a dramatic improvement over last season (93.0). His 71.9 third-down completion percentage is second to Dak Prescott’s 72.8. His 9.2 yards-per-attempt average on third down is the third-best behind the Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa (9.9) and Prescott (9.6).

–Hurts has a 104.6 red-zone passer rating, up from 88.7 last year.

–For the first time since Week 1, Hurts did not have a deep-ball completion against the 49ers. He was 0-for-3 on throws of 20 yards or more. In the Eagles’ previous eight games, Hurts completed 17 of 32 deep-ball throws (53.1%).

–The Cowboys are fourth in the league in pass plays of 20 yards or more with 48. Twenty-three of them have been to CeeDee Lamb. The Eagles are 10th with 40.

–AJ Brown has 19 receptions of 20 or more yards, including three for TDs. Last year, he had 23, with seven TDs.

–The Eagles have 29 throwaways this season, all of them by Hurts. Only the Carolina Panthers, with 38, have more.

–The Eagles have trailed at the half in their last five games.

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