Are Eagles' Offensive Woes More Troublesome Than Issues on Defense?

Are Eagles' Offensive Woes More Troublesome Than Issues on Defense?

Let's make one thing perfectly clear right up front: the Philadelphia Eagles' defense is not where it needs to be. They are a sieve against the run, allowing 140.2 yards per game on the ground, and Swiss cheese through the air, permitting opposing quarterbacks to post a passer efficiency rating of 104.3. Both are the third-highest totals in the NFL.

We could rail on and on about the dearth of linebackers, the state of the safeties, the unit's collective inability to tackle or create turnovers, the absence of leadership, the failings of the wide nine technique, or the decision to promote Juan Castillo to defensive coordinator. Each would be a fair critique after five games.

Yet for all the well-documented inadequacies on defense, somehow the Eagles have had an opportunity to win every week this season. And while it's true the defense has surrendered three fourth-quarter leads so far, it's arguably been mistakes on offense that have proven to be the most debilitating aspect in all four of this team's losses.

Isn't it about time the guys on the other side of the ball are held up to the flame?

This might be a difficult concept to fathom initially, considering we are talking about statistically one of the best offenses in the league (third in yards with 445.6 per game) versus statistically one of the worst defenses. However, the simplest explanation is we can measure how ineffective the defense has been with some ease, while the offense continues to pile up big numbers that tend to hide some of their flaws.

And no, this isn't merely aimed at the litany of dropped passes and turnovers that ended comeback bids in three of the last four contests. Jeremy Maclin's drop in Week 2, his fumble in Week 4, and Jason Avant's drople-ception on Sunday were backbreakers, but the team was already behind in each situation, with no guarantee they would successfully punch it in to the end zone.

Those all contributed to losing efforts, but in every instance, the offense long before had not executed up to their potential. We'll delve into the reasons why, but first, believe it or not, there is evidence that suggests the defense isn't quite as horrible as you probably think.

HOW BAD IS THE DEFENSE REALLY?
The Eagles are conceding 26.4 points per game, tied for sixth-worst. Taken at face value, it's just more ammunition against the defense.

Except that number doesn't tell the complete story.

The league average is 24.8 points per game, which is a difference of just eight points total, or one possession. And although there are still some very good defenses in the NFL that are far superior, a whopping 16 teams -- that's half the league -- are averaging between 24 and 28. It's not entirely bad teams, either. Six are .500 or better, while Buffalo and New Orleans are in first place.

Even using an example that falls outside that range, 15 spots ahead of the Eagles are the defending champion 5-0 Green Bay Packers, ranked 11th and averaging 22.2. The real difference is only three touchdowns, or less than one per game. One of the touchdowns against the Birds was a pick-six, which isn't on the defense at all, so in terms of points on the board, Philly's defense is only two touchdowns worse over a full five games than the consensus best team in the NFL.

A difference that is supposed to be negligible with the high-powered Birds' offense.

Again, by no means does this let the defense off the hook in any way. They still reside toward the bottom of the league, where most of the teams were destined to finish with losing records before the season even began. This only indicates they have not performed so poorly that the rest of the club's efforts could not have been salvaged.

WHAT DO WE EXPECT OF THE OFFENSE?
Look at the game-by-game point totals allowed in each loss: 35, 29, 24, 24 (minus the INT returned for TD).

Working our way backwards, if somebody told you coming into this season that the Eagles' defense would hold their opponent to 24 points every week, how many games would you have anticipated them winning? Keeping in mind of course that they set a franchise record for scoring in 2010 with essentially this same cast, the third-most prolific offense in the league averaging 27.4 points per game.

Not only did the defense hold the 49ers and Bills to 24 points each, they did it while the offense committed eight turnovers between those two games. That's three fumbles, and five interceptions. That's eight times a drive ended without points, in many cases handing their opponent excellent field position, forcing a porous defense to defend a short field.

All things considered, 24 points doesn't sound so terrible. These were winnable games.

29 points versus the Giants are a lot to spot one team, but again, struggles on the other side of the ball complicated matters. The Eagles only scored 16 themselves, after averaging 32.2 during their six game winning streak against New York -- whose defense, by the way, has been decimated by injury. Philly also turned the ball over three times, two leading to touchdowns the other way.

The 35 points to the Falcons are much easier to pin on the defense, but again, Mike Vick turned the ball over three times here. That brings the offense up to 14 turnovers in four losses.

SO HOW MUCH OF THIS IS THE DEFENSE'S FAULT AGAIN?
How many defenses can survive when their teammates are giving the ball away 3.5 times per game, altering the field position battle and momentum?

How many defenses can survive when the offense puts six on the board less than half the time they reach the red zone? Only four clubs have made more trips inside the 20-yard line than the Eagles, but only four clubs have come away with a lower percentage of touchdowns than 49.2%.

How many dropped passes can one team overcome? What is an acceptable amount of drive-killing penalties by the offensive line? Is the defense to blame when Mike Kafka has to replace an injured Vick? Or when the kicker misses chip-shot field goals?

Remember, this unit is supposed to be the cornerstone of this team.

Everybody knew the defense, with a first-year coordinator, and inexperienced linebackers and safeties, could struggle out of the gate. Everybody knew there were weaknesses, or at the very least serious question marks.

However, with the exception of an offensive line which certainly got no worse, the offense is constructed almost exactly the same as last season. There are a few new faces who have had their hands in devastating mistakes, like Steve Smith and Ronnie Brown, but most of the trouble spots have been their core players -- Mike Vick, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant.

For all their Pro Bowl talent on that side of the ball, they have fallen miserably short of the standard they set over the previous few seasons. But Juan Castillo? Sure, blame the new guy, even though his defense has been forced to shoulder the burden of the offense's plentiful miscues, and are still just a few stops away from being merely average rather than pathetic.

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

CHICAGO -- Chris Sale returned from his jersey-trashing suspension and threw six effective innings, but John Lackey outpitched him and Aroldis Chapman got the final four outs to save the Cubs' 3-1 victory over the White Sox in Chicago's rivalry series Thursday night.

Sale (14-4) was greeted with smiles and hugs from his teammates following a five-day ban for tearing up 1976-style uniforms he didn't want to wear before his previous scheduled start. He had command issues, but worked out of trouble while allowing two runs and six hits.

Lackey (8-7) allowed one run in six innings for his first win since June 8. Chapman, in his second appearance since being acquired from the Yankees, struck out two and consistently hit 102 mph in his first save for his new team.

Kris Bryant, who homered against Sale in the All-Star Game, hit an RBI double off the center field wall in the first inning (see full recap). 

Diaz's homer helps Cardinals beat Marlins and Fernandez, 5-4
MIAMI -- Aledmys Diaz homered, doubled and drove in three runs against childhood pal Jose Fernandez, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Miami Marlins 5-4 Thursday.

Fernandez gave up five runs in five innings and fell to 26-2 at Marlins Park.

Miami's Dee Gordon, the 2015 NL batting and stolen bases champion, returned from an 80-game suspension for failing a drug test and went 0 for 4. Ichiro Suzuki doubled as a pinch hitter in the seventh for Miami and needs two hits for 3,000.

Diaz and Matt Holliday homered in the third inning against Fernandez (12-5), who had never previously given up more than one homer in a home game. His only other loss at Marlins Park came on opening day this year against Detroit.

Michael Wacha (6-7) allowed three runs in six innings, and three relievers completed an eight-hitter. Seung Hwan Oh pitched around a one-out single in the ninth for his seventh save (see full recap). 

Familia falters again, Rockies rally for 2-1 win over Mets
NEW YORK -- Mets steady closer Jeurys Familia stumbled for a second straight game, allowing two runs in the ninth inning as the Colorado Rockies beat New York 2-1 Thursday for their seventh win in eight games.

Less than 24 hours after Familia's streak of 52 consecutive regular-season saves was snapped, the right-hander entered in the top of the ninth with a 1-0 lead, and couldn't hold it.

Trevor Story had a leadoff single and stole second. After fellow rookie David Dahl walked, Daniel Descalso bunted up the first base line. Mets catcher Rene Rivera watched as the ball spun toward foul territory but it stopped fair, loading the bases with no out.

With one out, Familia (2-3) got pinch-hitter Cristhian Adames to hit a slow grounder to the right side. First baseman James Loney booted the ball and Story scored to make it 1-all. Familia then threw a wild pitch, allowing Dahl to cross the plate with the go-ahead run (see full recap).

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Aaron Nola picked up his first win since June 5 as the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field on Thursday night.

Nola was supported by some strong offense. After scoring just one run in losing the previous two games in Miami, the Phils erupted for five runs in the first inning. They hit three homers in the game.

The Phillies had been winless in Nola’s previous seven starts.

The Phillies are 47-57.

The Braves have the worst record in the majors at 35-67.

Starting pitching report
Despite leaving with a 7-3 lead after five innings, Nola was not particularly sharp. He gave up eight hits (one was a fly ball that was lost in the twilight sky), walked three and hit a batter. He needed 95 pitches to get through the five innings.

Nola is 6-9 with a 4.78 ERA in 20 starts.

Atlanta’s Matt Wisler gave up seven hits and seven runs in five innings. Five of the runs came in the first inning when the Phillies batted around. Wisler allowed two homers, two singles and walked two in the inning.

Bullpen report
David Hernandez was the first Phillies reliever out of the bullpen. He struggled. But Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez combined to close it out.

Gomez allowed two hits, a walk and a run in the ninth, but earned his 27th save.

At the plate
Aaron Altherr, activated off the disabled list earlier in the day (see story), had a big night in his first game of the season with the big club. He hit the ball hard all night and had three hits, including a two-run homer in the fifth.

Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph hit back-to-back homers in the first inning. Franco’s was a three-run shot. He leads the club with 19 homers. Joseph has 14 homers in 57 games.

Adonis Garcia had two hits and two RBIs for the Braves.

Transaction 
Peter Bourjos was placed on the disabled list and Altherr was activated (see story).

Up next
The series continues Friday night. Vince Velasquez (8-2, 3.34) pitches against Atlanta right-hander Tyrell Jenkins (0-2, 6.17).

As Aaron Altherr's audition begins, Pete Mackanin says Cody Asche 'needs to step it up'

As Aaron Altherr's audition begins, Pete Mackanin says Cody Asche 'needs to step it up'

ATLANTA — Nearly four months late, Aaron Altherr is finally getting his shot to show the Phillies he deserves to be part of their future outfield plans.

Altherr, 25, was activated from the disabled list before Thursday night’s game against the Braves and was in the lineup, batting fifth (see story). Altherr will see a lot of playing time over the final two-plus months of the season. He’s essentially auditioning.

“We want to see him play as much as possible,” manager Pete Mackanin said before the game. “So if he stays healthy, I’m going to keep running him out there. That’s what this year is all about. We’re finding out about the guys that are here. He is a potentially important part so we want to see what he does. I’m anxious to see what he does.”

Altherr, a ninth-round draft pick in 2009, played in 39 games for the Phillies last season. He hit just .241, but 20 of his 33 hits were for extra bases and he had a .827 OPS. He was slated to be the team’s everyday rightfielder before suffering a wrist injury that required surgery early in spring training.

Altherr is healthy now and eager for his chance.

“I’m good to go mentally and physically,” he said Thursday afternoon. “I’m definitely excited to be back up.”

Altherr took Peter Bourjos' spot on the roster. Bourjos was placed on the disabled list with a sprained right shoulder two days after running into the outfield wall in Miami.

With Mackanin committed to giving Altherr playing time, it will be interesting to see how the skipper divides up playing time with the remaining outfielders, especially when Bourjos recovers. Bourjos was a trade candidate before his injury. He could still be moved in a waiver deal once he’s healthy in August. Tyler Goeddel, Cody Asche and Jimmy Paredes also play corner outfield spots and much heralded prospect Nick Williams is expected to be here at some point (see Future Phillies Report).

Asche is walking a tightrope. He entered Thursday night’s game mired in a 4-for-51 skid and Mackanin seems to be losing patience.

“As I said earlier in the season, this is a very big year for Cody to prove that he can be part of the future and he needs to step it up,” Mackanin said.