The Disturbing Truth About the Eagles Offense and How It's Making Their Defense Worse

The Disturbing Truth About the Eagles Offense and How It's Making Their Defense Worse

Like statistics? Good, because here's a stat for you: the Philadelphia Eagles are almost as likely to commit a turnover as they are to score a touchdown. Now what does it have to do with defense?

There are a few things we know for certain are true about the Eagles defense. They've blown five fourth-quarter leads this season, which is simply disgusting regardless of anything else. By any conventional measure, they're not particularly good against the run, their 4.8 yards per carry allowed being the sixth-worst in the NFL. Oh, and their defensive coordinator was the offensive line coach the previous 13 years, and he has Jaiquawn Jarrett covering Larry Fitzgerald one-on-one when the game is on the line.

They're also responsible for more than half of the team's scoring the past two weeks. So why does it seem like the offense is still getting a pass?

There is no question this defense is not what it should be, but even though Castillo won't work as a scapegoat for Andy Reid, he does seem to make a perfect human shield for Michael Vick. Since Vick had another one of those Superman performances against the Cowboys, where the Eagles were able to do whatever they wanted en route to scoring on their first six possessions, the offense has not been able to get it going the last two games.

Of the Eagles 41 points against Chicago and Arizona, the Eagles managed a meager 17 on conventional scoring drives starting from inside their own territory. The defense, however, provided a touchdown in both contests. Nnamdi Asomugha's interception in the fourth quarter on Sunday put them in field goal range -- a good thing, because the offense went three and out -- and a fumble recovery on Monday Night Football set up a 33-yard LeSean McCoy touchdown jaunt.

In other words, the defense has actually been CARRYING the offense the past two weeks... and that's only the beginning.

LOSING THE FIELD POSITION BATTLE
As if that weren't enough, the offense sure made life difficult for their D against the Bears. Of the 30 points that were scored, only 10 were on possessions starting from further out than the Chicago 42-yard line -- not to mention the seven DeSean Jackson essentially handed them with that fumble at his own nine.

What's the point? When that 30 pops up on the scoreboard, it looks like the defense did a horrible job. The truth of the matter is, they were set up to fail.

All things being equal, it is the defense's job to stop the opposing team from getting into the end zone no matter where the possession begins. However, it goes without saying that possessions beginning from the opponent's own 40-yard line or closer have a much higher probability of producing points, particularly those that start within field goal range.

The Eagles have defended against 98 offensive series this season. 18 of those, or 18.4%, began at their opponent's own 40 or better. How did the ball get there? The most common result is either via turnover, or the offense conceded the field position with a punt from deep inside their own zone. Those possessions account for 12 of all 33 scoring drives against the Eagles' defense this season, or 36.4%.

To summarize, almost one in five times the defense walks on the field, they are starting with their backs against the wall. Meanwhile, over one-third of all scoring against the Eagles occurred under these circumstances.

45 total drives, or 45.9%, began between the opponents' 20- and 39-yard lines, accounting for 48.5% of all scoring drives. That equates to a 35.6% success rate inside the typical starting point, which admittedly is not great, but still almost twice as good as the 66.7% success rate from the 40 on. For comparison's sake, the other 33.7% of drives that began inside the opponents' own 20 have a much lower 15.2% success rate. The defense is almost twice as likely to create a turnover, and it's nearly four-times as likely they will force a punt from that distance.

One more time, the breakdown:
Scoring from drives starting inside the 20: 15.2%
... from drives starting between the opponents' 20-39: 48.5%
... from drives starting at the opponents' 40 or closer: 36.4%

The Bears game is one example of where field position did a number on the Eagles' chances, but the same thing happened in Atlanta back in Week 2. Three out of the five touchdowns the Falcons scored actually started in Philadelphia territory, at the 38, 24, and 49 respectively. The defense is ultimately accountable for allowing 65 points between these two opponents, but the offense should actually share some of the blame for at least 41 of them.

But wait, there's more!

COMING UP SHORT
So the defense is getting the short end of the stick. Big deal. They're still not very good. The Eagles had leads in five of these games.

Let's talk about turnovers. We all know what those are, and they are very, very bad. They kill drives, and as we just revealed, can give away field position. Looking at it from another point of view though, they have also taken a consequential number of points away from the offense in 2011.

The Eagles have 21 turnovers this season, which out of 97 total possessions means they've given it away 21.6% of the time. Now, we can't assume they would have scored on all 21 drives, since they only come away with points 38.1% of their possessions. However, nearly one-third of those turnovers we can state pretty emphatically that, yes, they should have scored.

Seven is the number of turnovers the Eagles committed from inside the red zone, or one-third of all turnovers, and 7.2% of all possessions. That means seven times when they were all but assured of netting at least three points, they gave the ball away without scoring any. Even if we were to assume three is all they got, that's 21 points they left on the field... but hold the phone. They didn't merely lose 21 points -- three of those turnovers went for 17 points the other way, causing the total point swing to be closer to 38.

Not only are they fortunate to have only allowed 17 points off red zone turnovers, we are being generous in saying they only erased 21 from their own pocket. These aren't meaningless, either. For instance, three points instead of Ronnie Brown's backward-pass fumble would have made the difference against the 49ers. These plays add up.

There's another type of turnover most people aren't even talking about -- turnovers on downs. Another seven Eagles drives ended from their failure to convert on fourth down. On the season, they are 5-for-12. Only three teams have gone for it as many or more times, and none has a lower rate of conversion.

When you add it all up, the Eagles are almost giving the ball away as often as they score. 22.7% of drives end with a touchdown, while 21.6% end with a turnover. 38.1% end with some type of scoring play, and 28.9% end with the offense giving the ball back without so much as a field goal try or punt. It's not just inconsistent. It's completely inefficient.

All told, opponents have scored 56 points off of interceptions and fumble recoveries, which accounts for 27.6% of all scoring against the Birds this year. We're at the home stretch.

LOOKING AT IT PLAINLY
13, 35, 29, 24, 24, 13, 7, 30, 21 -- these are the total number of points the Eagles defense gave up in every game this season. The only games they've won all season are where the defense held the opponent to 13 or less.

Think about that for a second. Even if the defense is terrible, this means their offense hasn't outscored anybody in a tough game all year. The offense that's third in the NFL in yards per game, and returned all their starting skill position players from last season, hasn't been able to go out and
simply put more points on the board than the other team to put themselves in a position where the defense couldn't possibly let them down.

And these aren't all extremely high totals. 35, 29, and 30 are on the larger end, but 46 points off turnovers were scored in those three contests alone versus the Falcons, Giants, and Bears. The rest of them -- 24, 24, and 21 -- two of those were against the 22nd and 23rd ranked defense in the league! The Eagles couldn't manage more than three touchdowns against any of them?

At least the defense has an excuse. They have a new defensive coordinator, who may very well be as incompetent as his press clippings would indicate, not to mention six new starters. They tried to throw this collection of new coaches, free agents, and inexperienced players into a blender during a shortened off-season, and it's certainly shown.

What's the offense's excuse? Okay, play calling has been curious at times, never moreso than on Sunday against the Cardinals, when LeSean McCoy had 14 carries while Vick struggled mightily. I agree, that doesn't make sense.

When has Vick carried this club on his back this season though? When has the passing game functioned properly at all? When have these star receivers produced in the clutch? When has the offense been able to get one or two yards when they needed it most?

The only thing more brutal than watching this season go up in smoke is knowing that the explanations for why this is happening don't make much sense. Yes, the defense hasn't been able to secure leads -- but how many times should they have actually been counted on to do so, knowing the offense basically has been pissing into the wind?

The defense isn't good. The offense is the reason the Eagles are 3-6.

* All mentions of "possessions" only counts possessions where the offense would attempt and legitimately could be expected to score. Any possession that ends with a kneel down, or where the distance to be traveled to get into a scoring position was highly unlikely with the given time remaining on the clock, were not counted. All facts and figures regarding possessions compiled by the author.

Another struggling pitcher gets well against the Phillies' feeble hitters

Another struggling pitcher gets well against the Phillies' feeble hitters

BOX SCORE

MIAMI -- For struggling pitchers, facing the Phillies has become like a pilgrimage to Lourdes.
 
Another rival pitcher searching for a cure got it Monday night when the Phillies suffered their 23rd loss in the last 29 games. This time it was Miami Marlins right-hander Edinson Volquez. He pitched six shutout innings and allowed just three hits in leading his club to a 4-1 win over the Phillies, who fell to 6-20 in May (see Instant Replay).

Volquez had gone 16 starts between wins.
 
"Every loss stings, I don’t care who's pitching," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We're just in a rut. We've got to battle our way out of it. We have to show up tomorrow and get after it. We've got to get more than three or four hits in the game."
 
The Phillies had just four hits in the game. It was the fifth time in the last nine games that they've had four or fewer hits. Only one of the hits was for extra bases and one of the singles was an infield hit.
 
"Once again, we need more offense," Mackanin said.
 
Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson completed a difficult month of May by allowing six hits, including a two-run homer, and four runs over six innings.
 
Hellickson surrendered a two-run homer to Derek Dietrich with two outs in the sixth and that was basically the ball game. Dietrich hit a high changeup. Back in April, that pitch would have been at the knees. But Hellickson has misplaced the pitch command that he needs to succeed.
 
Hellickson went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts in April. In May, however, he went 1-3 with a 7.04 ERA in six starts. He was tagged for 35 hits, including nine homers, in 30 2/3 innings.
 
"Command in general," said Hellickson, describing his problem this month. "The biggest thing is not getting strike one, falling behind too much. I'm not getting the quick easy outs I was getting early in the season. I'm trying to get ahead, just missing."
 
Volquez signed a two-year, $22 million deal with the Marlins over the winter, but it wasn't until this game that he delivered his first win. He entered the game 0-7 with a 4.82 ERA in nine starts.
 
The win was Volquez's first since Aug. 25, 2016, when he was a member of the Kansas City Royals.

Volquez isn't the first struggling pitcher to shine against the Phils recently. Eight days earlier, Pittsburgh's Chad Kuhl took a 6.69 ERA into a start against the Phils and pitched five shutout innings. In the series against Colorado, the Phillies were dominated by a pair of rookies. In the only game they won (in a late rally), they were held to one run over six innings by Tyler Anderson, who had entered that game with an ERA of 6.00. On Friday night, Cincinnati Reds right-hander Tim Adleman pitched eight shutout innings against the Phils and gave up just one hit in the best start of his life. He had come into that game with an ERA of 6.19.
 
So Volquez had to be heartened when he saw the Phillies on the schedule.
 
They are the get-well team for pitchers in need of a pick-me-up.
 
It's actually kind of sad.
 
With Odubel Herrera locked in the throes of the worst slump of his life and on the bench and Maikel Franco mired in a 2 for 21 slump and hitting .209, Mackanin is trying to push things a little. He gave Aaron Altherr the green light to steal with one out and runners on the corners in a one-run game in the sixth inning. Altherr was out at second on a close play and Tommy Joseph struck out to leave the runner at third.
 
The Marlins salted the game away in the bottom of the inning on Dietrich's homer.
 
"With our offense, I have to take chances," Mackanin said. "I can't sit around and wait for three hits in a row. We haven't been doing that."
 
The Phils have the worst record in the majors at 17-32.
 
They have lost eight of their last 10 and scored just 15 runs in the losses.
 
"It sucks," catcher Cameron Rupp said. "There's really no other way to put it. It's frustrating. But the only people that are going to help us are ourselves. Nobody's going to go out there and play for us, swing the bats, pitch, play defense. That's on us and we have to do a better job all around.
 
"We all want to be successful and get the job done. We just haven't been hitting the ball. There's no other way to put it. But the good thing about baseball is we play every day so we turn the page and come back tomorrow and try to get it done."

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins come alive late in third to steal Game 1 vs. Predators

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins come alive late in third to steal Game 1 vs. Predators

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins rarely tested the hottest goaltender in the playoffs in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against Nashville.

They beat Pekka Rinne anyway.

Rookie Jake Guentzel fired the puck past Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a back-and-forth 5-3 victory on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Matt Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in Final history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37 minutes at one point without a shot.

"I think at the end of the day we're up 1-0," Bonino said. "We had a good first, we had a terrible second and we were terrible in the third. I don't think it's Xs and Os. We've got to work harder, compete a little harder, but we got some timely goals."

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions, trying to become the first repeat winner since Detroit in 1998.

All the guys from "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

"The impact of that moment and then the chain of events that happened after that with the penalty kills I think changed the course of the game," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said.

The decision gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge. Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead, they rallied and took over the game.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second and Nashville kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history -- and the first such period by any team in a Final game since the NHL began tracking shots on goal in 1958.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

"We didn't do a great job of (shooting), but we made them count," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "But it was a good finish there to get that one from Jake."