Eagles Defense by the Numbers Through Four Games

Eagles Defense by the Numbers Through Four Games

Lately we've been running Filmroom Friday around this time, but you may have noticed my plate has been a little full this week, so I didn't have a chance to really dig into the coaches' film. I expect my schedule to remain hectic next week as well, so if you've been enjoying those posts, we'll try to get back at it over the bye.

But now that some folks are finally starting to come around on Juan Castillo -- very slowly, I will add -- we thought it would be helpful to look at some of the numbers that explain why.

Truthfully, I don't think Castillo has been given quite enough credit for the Eagles' defensive turnaround yet. Sure, it's only been four games (although really eight dating back to last season), so it's understandable some are still skeptical. Then again, four games into 2011 people were already calling for the man's job, if they ever gave the hire a chance in the first place.

Another dynamic at work here is the Eagles haven't exactly seen many top offenses yet. Cleveland and Arizona have two of the least efficient attacks, and the Giants were banged up. The Steelers, Lions, Falcons, and Saints are the next four opponents, and each figures to test what this unit is made of.

Regardless of competition, nobody can say Castillo's crew hasn't their job though. Here's a rundown on some of the numbers:

POINTS PER GAME

Philadelphia is in a three-way tie for 10th as opponents are scoring 20.8 points per game -- but hold the phone. Two touchdowns against the Eagles this season were opposing defenses taking Michael Vick turnovers to the house. Even if you want insist the point after counts anyway, the Birds' D is actually allowing 17.8 points per game, which would be tied for sixth.

That number is even better going back to 2011. Per Reuben Frank, the Eagles have been the second-stingiest defense in the NFL over the last eight games, allowing 13.8 PPG. Coincidentally, only the Steelers have been better.

YARDS

By the NFL's standard, Philadelphia has the sixth-ranked defense in the NFL -- allowing 298.2 yards per game -- and they're getting it done by being solid all around. They are 12th against the run (91.5), 11th in yards per carry (3.8), and are even more impressively seventh against the pass (206.8), tied for third in yards per attempt (6.2).

Of course, the passing numbers are probably aided by the fact that Brandon Weeden and Kevin Kolb are among the four quarterbacks they've faced, but still solid nonetheless.

THIRD DOWNS

A big difference for the Eagles this year has been their ability to get off the field on third down, especially in a long distance situations. Opponents have converted just 14-of-52 tries on third down, a rate of 27% -- third best in the NFL. They've held strong when the offense goes for it as well, allowing the sticks to move one time in four tries on fourth down.

TURNOVERS

Teams were successful at protecting the football against the Birds last season, but at least quarterbacks are turning the ball over at a higher rate. Philly is tied for fourth with four other teams at six interceptions a piece, with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie owning three of them alone -- which also happens to be tied for the league lead.

Surprisingly the Eagles haven't had much luck with loose balls, recovering just one fumble so far, though they did have a second one called back due to a penalty.

RED ZONE

The Eagles have been horrible in the red zone the past few years, historically bad even. That won't be the case in 2012. Philadelphia is tied for fourth in red zone scoring, allowing a touchdown only 33% of the time. That means two out of three trips will either result in three points, or none at all. Certainly that's made a huge difference in all those tight one- and two-point victories.

Curiously, while the defense has posted some tremendous numbers through four games the defensive line hasn't really gotten it going just yet. They've certainly made an impact pressuring quarterbacks and stuffing the run, but a season ago they finished with 50 sacks. So far in 2012, seven, ranked 21st in the NFL. They're on pace to finish with almost half of last year's total.

So while you might argue the level of competition has helped skew the numbers in the Eagles' favor to a degree, imagine how much better they could be if Trent Cole and Jason Babin start to get hot. My guess is once that happens, and after a few strong efforts against some of the top-flight competition coming up, soon everybody will be happy to admit the Castillo's defense is one of the toughest units in the league.

Penalties the only consistent theme for Doug Pederson's Eagles

Penalties the only consistent theme for Doug Pederson's Eagles

CINCINNATI — There’s one thing the Eagles are very consistent at, and it’s nothing to be proud of.

The Eagles continue to be one of the most penalized teams in the NFL, and with 10 more infractions in their 32-14 loss to the Bengals on Sunday, they increased their 12-game total to 100 — second-most in the NFL this year.

Five times they’ve been called for 10 or more penalties, and that’s one shy of the most games in franchise history with double-digit penalties in a season.

And there’s four games to go.

The Eagles have been cited for penalties seven or more times in all but three games. They’re on pace for the third-most penalties in franchise history.

Earlier this year, the Eagles committed seven or more penalties in four straight games for the first time in six years. The last month, they did that again.

This is not a disciplined football team. Not remotely.

“The penalties are hurting us,” said Brandon Graham, who was called for a personal foul after a low hit on Andy Dalton Sunday. “You kind of get frustrated a little bit and sometimes a lot of stuff starts happening. But we have to clean that up.”

The Eagles are on pace for 133 penalties. The franchise high is 138, set in 1994 by a Rich Kotite team that lost its last seven games. The 2005 team — torn apart by the Donovan McNabb-Terrell Owens feud — committed 134.

The only team with more penalties than the Eagles this year is the Raiders with 112. They always lead the league in penalties and at least this year they’re winning anyway.

The Eagles aren’t. Their lack of discipline has contributed greatly to their current stretch of seven losses in a nine-game span.

For the Eagles, it’s been just another part of the season that’s gotten away from coach Doug Pederson and his players.

“Penalties have got to stop,” Pederson said Sunday night. “Obviously, the turnovers and things like that too. It’s just not characteristic of how we coach and how we play.”

But it’s how this team has played. Consistently.

Only against the Bears, Cowboys and Giants have the Eagles committed fewer than seven penalties. When they commit 10 or more, they’re 1-4

“Some of it is focus, and some of it is anticipating the snap count,” Pederson said. “Some of it is a little on the quarterback, because we’re using so many snap counts and cadences to get indicators from the defense to tip their hat a little bit.

“Guys are geared up. We’ve got to focus in on that, because it’s something we work on every single week. Obviously the silent count we work on every week.”

Here’s a breakdown of the Eagles’ 100 penalties:

12 — Jason Peters

8 — Jason Kelce

7 — Nolan Carroll

6 — Zach Ertz, Allen Barbre

5 — Jalen Mills, Fletcher Cox

4 — Dorial Green-Beckham, Brandon Graham, Carson Wentz, Malcolm Jenkins

3 — Nigel Bradham, Rodney McLeod, Najee Goode, Marcus Smith, Brent Celek

2 — Jaylen Watkins, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Isaac Seumalo, Destiny Vaeao, Trey Burton, Matt Tobin

1 — Kenjon Barner, Darren Sproles, Ron Brooks, Jordan Matthews, Wendell Smallwood, Vinny Curry, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Donnie Jones, Bennie Logan, Chris Maragos, Leodis McKelvin, Halapoulivaaati Vaitai.

And here’s a breakdown of the types of penalties the Eagles have been hit with:

22 — False start

16 — Offensive holding

10 — Unncessary roughness

8 — Defensive pass interference, offensive pass interference

7 — Defensive offsides

4 — Delay of game, illegal formation, defensive holding

3 — Roughing the passer, facemask, neutral zone infraction

2 — Chop block, defensive 12 men on the field, encroachment, illegal contact, running into the kicker

1 — Unsportsmanlike conduct, horse collar tackle, illegal block above the waist, illegal shift, offensive 12 men on the field, offensive offsides, illegal use of hands

Resurgent Penn State headed to Rose Bowl vs. USC

usa-brandon-bell-james-franklin.jpg
USA Today Images

Resurgent Penn State headed to Rose Bowl vs. USC

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State players and coaches rolled hopefully back into Happy Valley on Sunday, greeted as Big Ten champions by cheers and honking car horns.

They got off the team bus, filed into a meeting room and huddled around a giant projector screen as the College Football Playoff selection committee made its picks.

As the contenders were announced, it became clear -- this unexpectedly triumphant season was going to fall frustratingly short of college football's biggest stage.

The fifth-ranked Nittany Lions -- winners of nine straight, including a huge comeback against No. 8 Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game -- won't be part of the four-team playoff. Despite a head-to-head win against No. 2 Ohio State, the Big Ten title and a run fueled by one of the country's most explosive offenses, Penn State was ranked fifth by the selection committee.

Instead of playing for a national title, Penn State (11-2) will face No. 9 Southern California (9-3) in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2.

"I would say there were a handful of guys that obviously showed a little bit of frustration and body language and things like that," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "But 99 percent of the guys in there are just excited about staying together as a family and being able to play in such a historic bowl game."

News about the bowl destination quelled a bit of that disappointment, and some, including quarterback Trace McSorley , tweeted their excitement with rose emojis Sunday.

Franklin didn't sleep much on the flight back from Indianapolis and is about to start a six-day recruiting trip, but he was still clearly amped for the Rose Bowl during a phone call with reporters -- even though he believed his team had done enough to go to the playoff by winning what he called "the toughest conference in football."

"Obviously, our guys would've loved to have the opportunity to go to the playoffs and compete for a national championship," Franklin said. "But like I said during the week, I thought our guys would be appreciative of the opportunity to be able to stay together as a family for another week and play the great game of football."

They'll do so against a team that's on a similar trajectory.

The Nittany Lions and Trojans have combined to win 17-straight games and are among the hottest teams in college football. Both have mounted striking turnarounds after ho-hum starts, energizing historically strong programs that had struggled with the weight of NCAA penalties in recent years.

Franklin arrived at Penn State in 2014 and took over a program heavily sanctioned by the NCAA for the university's role in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Although the Nittany Lions have a full scholarship load this season, they're still feeling the impact from reduced scholarship numbers and start just five seniors, with only 17 on the roster.

USC, meanwhile, incurred NCAA penalties, including the loss of 30 scholarships, in the wake of a scandal involving former football player Reggie Bush and basketball player O.J. Mayo, who the NCAA determined accepted gifts in the mid-2000s.

This will be the third time the programs match up in the Rose Bowl -- the first was in 1923 and the other in 2009.

"I think it makes for fabulous TV, that's for sure," USC coach Clay Helton said. "And it makes for a great bowl experience and that's what this time is all about."