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.

One rib still damaged, Carson Wentz won’t play Thursday

One rib still damaged, Carson Wentz won’t play Thursday

It looks like Carson Wentz’s preseason is over.
 
Because one of his ribs isn’t completely healed Wentz won’t play in the Eagles’ preseason finale on Thursday, the rookie quarterback said.
 
According to Pederson, a CT scan revealed that Wentz’s 10th rib on his right side is completely healed but the 11th is just at 60 percent.
 
When asked if that means Wentz won’t play, Pederson said, “If he’s 60 percent with that rib, probably not.”
 
The No. 2 overall pick hurt his ribs when he took a shot late in the first preseason game against the Bucs back on Aug. 11. He hasn’t practiced in full since then, but has worked out and went through a lengthy pregame workout on Saturday. Pederson said Wentz is still sore from Saturday’s workout.
 
For now, the plan is to continue to rehab Wentz by giving him more and more over time.
 
“Obviously, where we are this late in the process as far as training camp goes, it definitely hurts from a young quarterback standpoint, his position to fully grasp and understand the offense,” Pederson said. “But again, I just go back to what I see in the classroom, what I see off the field. His work habit here, his work ethic here, and just what he knows and what he understands.”
 
Pederson also said he’s a little less concerned because of where Wentz is on the depth chart. The plan all along was to have Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel ahead of Wentz.
 
Still, Wentz missed a ton of reps. And it’s not really feasible to replace them.
 
“It’s hard in the regular season to replace those types of reps,” Pederson said, “because our focus is with the ones and the starters, getting them ready to go offensively and defensively.”

Player standing outside NovaCare Complex hoping for shot with Eagles

Player standing outside NovaCare Complex hoping for shot with Eagles

Twenty-four-year-old Troy Beckett found a scrap piece of cardboard in his Willingboro, N.J. home, took a marker to it, and headed across the bridge. 

The former Willingboro High School and Bemidji State defensive back arrived to the NovaCare Complex at around 7:30 on Monday morning with a sign that reads: “Not homeless … But starving for that shot!!!” 

Beckett hopes he’ll get the Eagles’ attention and the team will offer to work him out. 

“I’m nothing special,” Beckett said. “I’m not a big story. I’m just trying to make a living playing the game that I love. I’ve been playing it since I was 5 years old.”

In 2009, Beckett graduated from Willingboro High School, where he played wide receiver and defensive back for the Chimeras. He went to little-known Division II Bemidji State in Minnesota to play football, but has been out of school for two years. 

He said he’s worked out for a few arena teams, including the Philadelphia Soul about a year ago. Nothing came from that workout. 

Beckett’s idea to stand outside the NovaCare Complex wasn’t his own. He said Joe Anderson, a wide receiver who stood outside of Houston’s NRG Stadium with a similar sign last year, inspired him. Anderson was actually signed to the Jets’ practice squad six weeks later. 

Beckett said he had a conversation with a friend last week, when the friend asked him why he never got a shot. So Beckett decided to head over the bridge on Monday. 

For now, Beckett has a job loading trucks. 

“I’m just looking for an opportunity to show this organization what I can do,” Beckett said. “I never got the big shot coming out of college, coming out of high school at the big name school or whatever.”

Beckett said it’s been tough to try to keep his dream alive. 

“It really is, man. It really is,” he said. “I’m 24 years old. I’ve been out of school now for about two years. I’m just looking for a fair shot. I’d be OK with myself if they said no. As long as they give me the chance to workout and showcase my talent, I’ll be OK.”

As of around 9:30 a.m. on Monday – two hours in – Beckett said he hadn’t yet talked to anyone from the organization. 

With temperatures expected to peak in the 90s on Monday, just how long does Beckett plan to stand by the NovaCare gate? 

“As long as it takes,” he said. “Until the parking lot is empty.”

And if nothing happens on Monday? 

“I’ll be out here tomorrow,” he answered. “I’ll be out here every day.” 

Dave Zangaro predicts Eagles' 53-man roster 3.0

Dave Zangaro predicts Eagles' 53-man roster 3.0

The Eagles are down to one final preseason game before they’ll have to figure out their final 53-man roster. 

But no need to wait, I have it right here. Or at least what I think it will look like after watching all of OTAs, training camp and the most important preseason games. The team made it a little easier with several key cuts on Sunday (see story)

Let’s jump right in: 

Quarterback (3): Sam Bradford, Chase Daniel, Carson Wentz 
With apologies to the law firm of McLeod Bethel-Thompson, this was pretty easy. 

Running back (4): Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Kenjon Barner, Wendell Smallwood
I toyed with the idea of taking Smallwood off the roster. I thought perhaps the team will try to stash him on IR — that quad could always act up again — and instead take Byron Marshall on the 53. But I just couldn’t pull the trigger. For now, the team will have to hope Mathews and Barner can carry the load while Smallwood gets caught up. 

Wide receiver (5): Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Josh Huff, Dorial Green-Beckham, Paul Turner
I’m taking only five because the unit hasn’t been very strong. The team’s decision to cut Rueben Randle and Chris Givens on Sunday wasn’t very surprising to me. They were on prove-it deals and had only proven what the Eagles probably feared. Instead, the rookie Turner is on the roster, which is an important message for the team: Effort matters. Still, expect the Eagles to keep a watchful eye on the waiver wire here.  

Tight end (4): Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton, Chris Pantale
Pantale isn’t nearly as good a tight end as the other three, but Doug Pederson seems determined to have him on the roster as a fullback and special teamer. Four tight ends and four running backs is tough to swallow in terms of roster spots available, but I think that’s the way it’s going. Look for Burton to have an increased role in the offense this year too. 

Offensive line (9): Jason Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Allen Barbre, Stefen Wisniewski, Matt Tobin, Halapoulavaati Vaitai, Josh Andrews
I left Lane Johnson off this list because he’ll probably be suspended by the season opener and won’t count against the 53-man roster. Wisniewski will be the backup at all three interior line positions. After cutting Andrew Gardner on Sunday, the Eagles will keep Tobin and Andrews as reserve linemen. Andrews played guard on Saturday — likely a chance for him to prove he’s not just a center. Keep an eye on tight end-turned-tackle Dillon Gordon too. He has an outside chance to make the roster and a very good shot to stick on the practice squad; very athletic and versatile player. 

Defensive end (6): Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham, Steven Means, Marcus Smith, Bryan Braman
Six defensive ends is a lot, but at this point, Braman isn’t really a defensive end. He’s just a special teams ace. And with the rotation at DE, I think it’s more important to have ends than it is to have extra players in the secondary. If the team is able to trade either Means or Smith, then this number could be down to five. 

Defensive tackle (4): Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Beau Allen, Taylor Hart
During training camp, Jim Schwartz said to not count out Allen and Hart just because they didn’t seem to be scheme fits. Both have proven him right this preseason. Sure, undrafted rookies Destiny Vaeao and Aziz Shittu have looked good, but they won’t be able to contribute as much this season as the veterans. At least one of those rookies should hold down a practice squad spot. Mike Martin was the third defensive tackle for a long time but was released on Sunday, after a few weeks of a knee injury. 

Linebacker (6): Jordan Hicks, Mychal Kendricks, Nigel Bradham, Stephen Tulloch, Najee Goode, Quintin Gause
Tulloch will be the primary backup at the MIKE, while Goode and Gause, the undrafted rookie from Rutgers, get the nods at the backup outside 'backer positions for now. But expect the Eagles to take a good look at the waiver wire for linebackers. 

Cornerback (5): Leodis McKelvin, Nolan Carroll, Ron Brooks, Jalen Mills, Eric Rowe
If the Eagles keep five, I think these will be the five. Rookie C.J. Smith has been impressive but could use a year on the practice squad. I thought Denzel Rice, thanks to his special teams contributions, had an outside shot, but he was cut on Sunday. 

Safety (4): Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Chris Maragos, Jaylen Watkins
A little light at safety, but Mills or Rowe could probably move back there if needed. Really, Jenkins and McLeod aren’t going to come off the field much as long as they’re healthy; there won’t be a rotation. If five safeties were to make the team, sixth-rounder Blake Countess would be the next one up. I think Ed Reynolds is a longer shot at this point.  

Specialists (3): Donnie Jones, Jon Dorenbos, Caleb Sturgis
After an impressive training camp, Sturgis takes down Cody Parkey for the kicker job. 

Practice squad: DT Destiney Vaeao, CB C.J. Smith, G Dillon Gordon, WR David Watford, WR Marcus Johnson, G Darrell Greene, LB Myke Tavarres, S Blake Countess, CB Aaron Grymes, RB Byron Marshall