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Who needs to blitz? Eagles making sack history with a four-man rush


Photo Credit by John McMullen/JAKIB Sports

OCR Logo Color 300DPIThe NFL has officially been keeping track of quarterback sacks since 1982. During that time, just three teams have racked up more than the 68 the Eagles take into Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Giants at the Linc: the ’84 Bears (72), the ’89 Vikings (71), and the ’87 Bears (70).

That they have done this just a year after finishing with the second-fewest sacks in the league (29) is remarkable. So too is the fact that they have amassed most of those 68 sacks with a four-man rush.

The Eagles blitzed on just three of 31 pass plays in Sunday’s loss to the Saints but still collected seven sacks. All of those seven sacks came with a four-man rush.

In their last eight games, the Eagles have blitzed on just 14.2% of opponent pass plays and amassed 42 sacks. For the year, they’ve blitzed just 19.9%, which is the 12th-lowest blitz percentage in the league.

The defense has notched 32 sacks in the last five games. Just three of them came on blitzes. Of their 68 sacks this season, only 13 have been with extra rushers.

Third-down defense

Thirty-two of the Eagles’ 68 sacks have come on third down. That is far and away the most in the league. No one else has more than 22. A league-high nine of Haasan Reddick’s 16 sacks have come on third down. Eight of the defense’s 17 interceptions also have been on third down. That’s the second-most third-down picks in the league.

That said, third down has been a problem lately for the Eagles, and it goes beyond the third-and-30 the Cowboys converted against them two weeks ago.

The Eagles have slipped to 18th in third-down defense (39.2%) after allowing the Saints to convert seven of their 16 third downs Sunday and the Cowboys eight of 15 the week before.

The Saints converted five of their first six third downs last week, including four on their game-opening 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.

All six of those third-down situations were four yards or less. Ten of the Saints’ 16 third downs were four yards or less. They converted seven. That included a 58-yard Andy Dalton-to-Rashid Shaheed completion on a third-and-four that set up Wil Lutz’s second field goal and gave the Saints a 13-0 second-quarter lead.

Opponents have converted 48 of 60 third downs of four yards or less (60.0%) against the Eagles. That’s the 11th-highest percentage in the league. Opposing quarterbacks have a 100.7 passer rating and have averaged 8.1 yards per attempt against the Eagles on third-and-four or less.

Opponents are averaging 4.1 yards per carry against the Eagles on third-and-four or less. Twenty-seven of their 38 rushing attempts on third-and-four or less have produced first downs.

Gannon’s defense was even worse last year in third-and-manageable situations. They finished 30th, allowing opponents to convert 68.3% of their third downs or four yards or less.

When the Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2017, they held opponents to a 47.5 conversion rate on third-and-four or less. That was the fourth-best in the league that year. They finished seventh in 2018 (50.7), second in 2019 (45.6), and eighth in 2020 (56.0).

The good news is the Giants aren’t a very good third-down team even when they’re playing all of their starters, which they won’t be Sunday.

The Giants’ offense is 21st in overall third-down efficiency (37.4), though they’re a much more respectable ninth on third-and-four or less (61.3). Quarterback Daniel Jones has a 65.5 completion percentage on third-and-four or less.

The Giants have run the ball on 30 of 62 third downs of four yards or less. Jones has carried it 15 times for 68 yards. Backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor has three carries for 30 yards on third-and-four or less. Interestingly, Saquon Barkley has just seven carries for 11 yards on third-and-four or less this season. The Giants typically take him off the field on most third-down situations.

The turnover situation

The Eagles have a plus-nine turnover differential, which is the second best in the league (Cowboys’ are first at plus-11) and their best since the plus-11 put up by the 2017 Super Bowl team.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that number was built in the first eight games of the season when the Eagles had a league-best plus-15 turnover differential.

In their last eight games, three of which they’ve lost, they have a minus-six turnover differential. They’re tied for second in takeaways with 27 and have the league’s seventh-fewest giveaways (18).

But 15 of those 18 giveaways have been in the last eight games, including eight in the last three games and four more in their Week 10 loss to Washington.

They won the turnover battle in each of their first eight games. Since then, it’s happened only twice – in their 40-33 Week 12 win over the Packers (plus-1) and in their 48-22 Week 14 win over the Giants (also plus-1).

Personnel groupings

–Even though they were starting their backup quarterback for the second week in a row, even though their All-Pro right tackle was hurt and they had to start a backup (Jack Driscoll) against the Saints’ seven-time Pro-Bowl defensive end Cam Jordan, and even though the Saints are ranked 22nd in the league against the run, the Eagles curiously went with 11-personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR) on 45 of their 53 offensive plays (84.9%) and ran the ball just 15 times Sunday.

The week before against the Cowboys, the Eagles used 11P on 56 of 69 plays (81.2%). So, that means 101 of their 122 plays (82.8%) in the last two games have been run with 11P.

The Eagles ran the ball on just 32 of those 101 plays with 11P the last two weeks and averaged just 3.8 yards per carry. In their first 14 games, they averaged 5.4 yards per carry with 11P.

The Eagles used 12P on those eight plays against the Saints that they didn’t use 11P. Interestingly, six of those eight plays were pass plays. Minshew was 4-for-5 for 110 yards with a touchdown and one sack with 12P.

More numbers that matter

–Running back Kenny Gainwell was targeted six times in Minshew’s two starts and had six catches for 58 yards (9.7 yards per catch). In the first 14 games, he was targeted just 21 times and had 16 catches for 104 yards (6.5 per catch).

–The Eagles, who lead the league in red-zone offense, didn’t have a single red-zone opportunity against the Saints. It was the first time that has happened since Week 13 of the 2020 season in a 30-16 loss to the Packers.

–The Eagles have given up just three touchdown passes to tight ends this season and none in the last eight games. That’s a significant improvement over last year when they gave up 13.

–The Saints’ average drive start against the Eagles last week was the 34.2-yard line. The Eagles’ average drive start was the 18.8-yard line. In their loss to the Cowboys a week earlier, the Eagles’ average drive start was the 24.6 and the Cowboys was the 38.0. None – zero – of the Eagles’ 22 possessions in the last two games started at their 40-yard line or better. The Saints and Cowboys started eight of their 21 possessions at the 40 or better.

–The Eagles are 24th in opponent rush average (4.6) and 18th in rushing yards allowed per game (121.2). They’re tied for seventh in opponent rush average on first down (4.4), tied for 18th on second down (4.7), and tied for 19th on third down (4.8). They’ve given up the 11th most rushing first downs on third down in the league (30).

–The Eagles have given up 52 runs of 10 yards or more. That’s the 12th most in the league. They gave up 45 last year, 52 in 2020, 41 in 2019, 39 in 2018, and 36 in 2017.

–Saints quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Taysom Hill completed 83.3% of their passes against the Eagles (20-for-24) last week. That was the highest completion percentage against the defense since Week 9 of last season when the Chargers’ Justin Herbert completed 84.2% of his passes against them (32-for-38).

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