Eagles defense deserves credit for taking advantage of limited offenses

Eagles defense deserves credit for taking advantage of limited offenses

You wouldn’t think it just to look at the group on paper, but the Eagles’ defense has played well more often than it has not this season. To reiterate, they’ve had more good games so far than bad.

Yes, I’m aware Philadelphia is ranked 31st overall in total defense and 30th in points allowed. Yes, defensive coordinator Bill Davis has been jamming the square pegs leftover from a bad 4-3 defense into the round holes of a sophisticated 3-4, to varying results.

When you look at what the unit has done on a game-by-game basis though, the Birds actually have demonstrated an ability to handle the more one-dimensional offenses they’ve come across. It’s played a huge role in both of the club’s wins this season, and they arguably should have one more.

Way back in Week 1, the Eagles managed to keep Washington’s offense off the board until late in the third quarter. With Robert Griffin III getting his first live action under center for the burgundy and gold since tearing his ACL in January, the Birds honed in on Washington’s running game. Of the two touchdowns they did score, one was aided by a Jason Avant fumble in Philadelphia territory.

In Week 3, Davis took advantage of the fact that Alex Smith is not the type of quarterback who beats a defense vertically. The Eagles again focused their attention toward shutting down the run, and this time were able to keep Kansas City’s offense out of the end zone until the fourth quarter. Philly surrendered one touchdown in 60 minutes despite the Birds offense committing a whopping five turnovers and losing time of possession 2-to-1.

Then just this past Sunday, the Birds ignored the Giants’ pathetic ground attack altogether, especially once David Wilson exited with an injury, choosing instead to erase big plays through the air. The plan was largely a success, as New York did threaten with three touchdown drives and some good fantasy days for two of their three wide receivers , but the pressure eventually got to Eli Manning who turned the ball over three times.

On the flip side, a pair of signal callers were able to decimate Philly’s patchwork defense. But Philip Rivers seems to be in the midst of a career renaissance, and Peyton Manning must be a cyborg or something.

The key at this point would in fact appear to be the quality of opposing team’s quarterback. Rivers and Manning are both in the zone to start with this season, already franchise quarterbacks that when provided enough time will pick apart any defense. The Eagles haven’t been able to consistently rush the passer, and if he has time to throw, there are matchups in that secondary waiting to be exposed—particularly at safety.

RG3 is probably going to go be an elite NFL quarterback someday, but he was clearly rusty coming off of a light training camp and no preseason. Alex Smith is a quality game manager, but he’s not the guy who’s going to spin the ball all over the field and carry a team to victory. Eli Manning has two Super Bowl rings, but without a running game or much help from the offensive line, he looks less than ordinary.

That seemingly bodes well for several of Philly’s upcoming games. Some of the quarterbacks on the schedule include third-round rookie Mike Glennon this week in Tampa Bay, decrepit Carson Palmer in Arizona, whoever happens to be starting in Minnesota come December, and Eli and Griffin one more time each.

Of course, they have the likes of Tony Romo, Terrelle Pryor, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Stafford to worry about too.

Overall, the Eagles’ defenses has had several games which they can build upon this season. Nothing is going to change the fact that they lack playmakers at safety, or a true nose tackle who can occupy blockers and create push at the line of scrimmage. Yet despite numerous personnel issues, they’ve been able to get the job done the majority of the time.

The points per game stat isn’t even entirely fair to Davis’ unit. The Eagles have conceded 28 points to opponents directly off of offensive giveaways returned for touchdown and special teams miscues. That’s almost one score for each game they’ve played, and if counted separately would reduce the defense’s PPG allowed from 31.8 to 26.2—which still isn’t great mind you, but does separate them from the dregs of the league a little bit at least.

That’s probably about the kindest thing you can say about the defense at this point—they might be closer to league average than out-and-out bad. If they can stay the course against the Bucs on Sunday, and all indications are they will, the Eagles have a good chance to get back to .500 this week.

Eagles mailbag: Carson Wentz's skill, running backs, center spot

Eagles mailbag: Carson Wentz's skill, running backs, center spot

The NFL found a way to prevent the Eagles from winning this weekend: Don't let them play. 

Yup, the Eagles are riding high at 3-0, but an early Week 4 bye has them waiting to play again until Oct. 9 in Detroit against the Lions. 

Thanks to a hot start from rookie Carson Wentz and the defense, the Eagles have been one of the biggest surprises of the NFL so far and have Philadelphia buzzing. 

As always, thanks for your questions. We'll dive right in: 

Wentz's ability to extend plays doesn't make his receivers better, but it certainly gives them more opportunities, which is really just as good. 

This skill is something Wentz really takes pride in. He wants his receivers to know that no matter how broken the play is, it isn't dead until the whistle. In that regard, the comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers make plenty of sense. And his receivers love the idea of having extra seconds to get open. 

During the Chicago game, Wentz really showed this ability. He showed he can move around and out of the pocket while also keeping his eyes downfield. It was just a matter of time before he hit big on one of those plays. 

Sure enough, he did it in the third quarter against the Steelers. I broke down that play using the tape and it showed a unique skill set out of a quarterback (see story)

https://twitter.com/faux_micahGreg/status/781171954241851392

We had a few questions about running backs, so we'll let this one speak for them all. 

On Monday, Doug Pederson said that once Ryan Mathews ankle is completely healed, Mathews is still the lead back who will get most of the team's carries. I think Pederson means it. 

Still, Mathews has had injury problems for a long time and it looks like this year is no different. It had to be encouraging for the Eagles to see how well Kenjon Barner and Wendell Smallwood played against the Steelers. While Mathews is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry, Barner is at 6.1 and Smallwood is at 4.8. 

Sproles, who has 19 carries this year, shouldn't be getting as many carries as he has, but he's still going to get some. He's averaging just 2.7 yards per attempt.

That's a long answer to say this: For now, Mathews is the guy. But if he can't stay healthy, one of the other guys could and should earn more carries. 

https://twitter.com/ATONAMIS317/status/781174071400755200

I thought Stefen Wisniewski looked OK in camp as the primary backup at right guard. 

Sure, Jason Kelce hasn't looked like a Pro Bowler in 2016, but he might not be as bad as you think. Here's Andrew Kulp's film breakdown of Kelce from the Bears game, where to the casual observer, it looked like Kelce got worked (see story). We see Kelce looks bad when he's asked to block a nose tackle 1-on-1. That's never been his strength and never will be his strength. His strength is getting to the next level to block and use his athleticism. 

One more reason to not expect a change at center unless things start to go really bad is that Kelce has been really good for Wentz. Sure, there was a bad snap against the Steelers (something Wisniewski has had his troubles with) but Kelce is a veteran and has helped the rookie out plenty during the first three weeks. 

And besides, with Lane Johnson's suspension looming, the Eagles are likely going to use Wisniewski to fill it at left guard. They could put him at center and Isaac Seumalo at LG, but that would be a pretty big offensive line shakeup for a team that hasn't yet lost a game. 

No. 10 Washington dominates No. 7 Stanford in rout

usa-washington-christian-mccaffrey.jpg
USA Today Images

No. 10 Washington dominates No. 7 Stanford in rout

SEATTLE -- Jake Browning threw for 210 yards and three touchdowns, Myles Gaskin added 100 yards and two scores, and No. 10 Washington was dominant on both sides, overwhelming No. 7 Stanford 44-6 on Friday night.

After months of hype that Washington (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) was on the verge of a breakout, the Huskies showed they were ready for their return to the national stage.

And they did it emphatically, handing Stanford (3-1, 2-1) its worst loss since a 41-3 setback against Arizona State in 2007.

The Huskies raced to a 23-0 halftime lead, scored early in the second half to go up 30-0 and coasted to their biggest victory over an AP Top 10 team since beating No. 5 Southern California 31-0 in 1990. That game 26 years ago announced Washington as a national contender and the Huskies went on to share the national title a year later with Miami -- taking the coaches' version while Miami topped the AP media poll.

Browning was the leader of an efficient offense that scored on six of its eight drives. He threw touchdowns of 3 yards to Dante Pettis, 19 yards to John Ross and capped the night with a 3-yarder to Aaron Fuller with 5:30 remaining. Browning was 15 of 21 and did not commit a turnover.

Equally important was Washington's ability to establish a running game. The Huskies rushed for 214 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry.

Meanwhile, Stanford star Christian McCaffrey saw his Heisman Trophy aspirations hit a major speed bump. McCaffrey was held to 49 yards rushing on 12 carries, five catches for 30 yards and continued his streak of never scoring an offensive touchdown in a road game.

It was McCaffrey's fewest yards rushing since 2014 at California when he had 19 yards on three carries.

Stanford's only TD came late in the third quarter on a 19-yard pass from Ryan Burns to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.

Burns was 15 of 22 for 151 yards, but Washington controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides. Stanford quarterbacks were sacked eight times, six in the first half. Stanford had allowed only four total sacks in the first three games combined.

Stanford was playing short-handed without starting cornerbacks Quenton Meeks and Alijah Holder, starting wide receiver Francis Owusu and starting fullback Daniel Marx. Starting right tackle Casey Tucker limped off with an apparent leg injury late in the fourth quarter.

Takeaways
Stanford: The Cardinal were unexpectedly sloppy. Stanford committed 11 penalties after entering the week as the least penalized team in the Pac-12. There were communication issues in part due to the roaring Washington crowd, but also a lack of sharpness not normally seen from David Shaw's team.

Washington: The defense was up to the task of keeping McCaffrey under control and forcing Burns to beat them through the air. McCaffrey had 34 yards on 10 carries in the first half and forced the Cardinal into numerous long third-down situations. That allowed Washington to bring extra pass rushers to get to Burns.

Up Next
Stanford: The Cardinal head home after two straight weeks on the road to host Washington State.

Washington: The Huskies travel to Oregon looking to snap a 12-game losing streak to the Ducks.