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.

Best of NFL: Redskins notch 1st win vs. Giants; Cowboys rout Bears

Best of NFL: Redskins notch 1st win vs. Giants; Cowboys rout Bears

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.  -- Dustin Hopkins kicked a 37-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter for his fifth of the game and the Washington Redskins avoid a near-disastrous 0-3 start with a 29-27 win over the penalty- and error-prone New York Giants on Sunday.

Kirk Cousins threw touchdown passes of 44 yards to DeSean Jackson and 55 to Jamison Crowder as the banged-up Redskins (1-2) handed new coach Ben McAdoo his first loss with the Giants (2-1).

Su'a Cravens ended the Giants' final drive with an interception in New York territory. It was Eli Manning's second pick of the quarter, with the other coming in the end zone by Quinton Dunbar after New York got to the Redskins 15 on a big play by Odell Beckham Jr.

This was a wild NFC East matchup that see-sawed the entire second half after Washington rallied from a 21-9 deficit (see full recap).

Prescott, Cowboys rout Bears on SNF
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dak Prescott led scoring drives on all four Dallas possessions in the first half before throwing his first career touchdown pass, and the Cowboys beat the Chicago Bears 31-17 on Sunday night to snap an eight-game home losing streak.

With his second straight win, Prescott doubled the number of victories the Cowboys (2-1) had in 14 games without injured quarterback Tony Romo over three seasons before the rookie fourth-round pick showed up.

Prescott's first TD pass was a 17-yarder to Dez Bryant for a 31-10 lead in the fourth quarter, and he's up to 99 throws without an interception to start his career. Philadelphia rookie Carson Wentz has 102, and those are the two highest career-opening totals in NFL history.

Brian Hoyer had trouble moving the Chicago offense early with Jay Cutler sidelined by a sprained right thumb as the Bears fell behind 24-3 at halftime and dropped to 0-3 for the second time in two seasons under coach John Fox (see full recap).

Vikings stop Newton, snap Panthers' home win streak
CHARLOTTE, N.C.  -- The Minnesota Vikings keep finding ways to overcome injuries --and keep finding ways to win football games.

Sam Bradford threw a touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph, Marcus Sherels returned a punt for a score and the Vikings snapped the Carolina Panthers' 14-game home winning streak 22-10 on Sunday.

The Vikings put the clamps on Cam Newton, intercepting the league's reigning MVP three times and getting eight sacks, one of those resulting in a safety by Danielle Hunter. The eight sacks were the second-most ever against Newton.

"We have a great team -- the best team I have been a part of," said Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, who had three sacks. "We come from every area on the field and we get sacks."

Said Newton: "They were dictating to us after they got the momentum."

The Vikings improved 3-0 despite losing running back Adrian Peterson and offensive tackle Matt Kalil to injuries last week. They lost starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the preseason (see full recap).

Bills bounce back with win over Cardinals
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.  -- LeSean McCoy scored twice and safety Aaron Williams returned a botched field-goal snap 53 yards for a touchdown in leading the Buffalo Bills to a 33-18 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

Quarterback Tyrod Taylor also scored on a 20-yard run at a time the Rex Ryan-coached Bills spent the past week taking the brunt of criticism after opening the season 0-2.

The win also came on the heels of Ryan firing offensive coordinator Greg Roman and replacing him with running backs coach Anthony Lynn.

McCoy scored on 24- and 5-yard runs, and finished with 110 yards rushing after combining for just 117 in his first two games. Taylor had 76 yards rushing, including a 49-yarder, the longest by a quarterback in team history (see full recap).

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Doug Pederson: For the Eagles, 'this was a good benchmark'

Doug Pederson: For the Eagles, 'this was a good benchmark'

On his way to the locker room following his team's stunning 34-3 victory over the Steelers, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson reacted, well, like you probably did.

Pederson had to be surprised by what had just transpired. After all, this wasn't the Browns or the Bears. This was the Steelers, who entered the game with the second-best odds behind New England, per Bovada, of winning the Super Bowl (the Patriots were first). 

And the Eagles didn't just beat them. They clobbered them.

But minutes later, when Pederson met the media for his postgame press conference, he tried his best to act like it was no big thing.

“I told the team way back in OTAs that it just takes a little bit of belief," Pederson said. "Belief in themselves. Trust the process. Believe in the coaches and the coaches believe in one another. That’s what they did tonight. 

"Am I surprised? A little. But at the same time, I know that locker room, I know those guys and I know what they are building. By no means have we accomplished anything yet. The season is still extremely young. But what they did tonight just proves that they are coming together as a football team.”

Yeah, yeah. Sorry, Doug. It's OK to be surprised. Scratch that. Make that stunned. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year. But now? Forget that. 

At least for the next two weeks. The Eagles are on their bye week and don't play again until Oct. 9 at Detroit. 

“It is still a young season, only three games. This was a good benchmark," Pederson said. "That’s a good football team, the Steelers are a great football team. They are going to be there at the end, they always are. Coach (Mike) Tomlin always has those guys ready to play. 

"But for our guys, it is just a little glimpse of that belief that I have been saying since the spring and summer. If they just do their jobs, I just feel that good things can happen. We just protect each other in that dressing room in there and keep coming to work everyday.”

Pederson is the only head coach in team history to win each of his first three games. It's only the ninth time the Eagles have started 3-0.

And of course, a big reason they've done so is their prodigy quarterback Carson Wentz, who became only the second rookie in team history to record a 300-yard passing game (Nick Foles is the other).

More impressively, Wentz now has attempted 102 straight passes without an interception, the longest streak ever begin an NFL career (per ESPN). Dallas'  Dak Prescott is at 99 after the Cowboys beat up the Bears.

But don't ask Pederson to admit he's amazed by Wentz or the fact he had the presence of mind to make plays like the riveting 73-yard TD pass to Darren Sproles (much more on that here).

“You know, you just put on his college film. Just watch him," Pederson said. "We exhausted his college tape and those were the plays that he made at North Dakota State. That play tonight was just a tremendous play by both he and Darren Sproles. Those are the types of things that we know he can do. He just keeps gaining confidence every single week.”

As does the defense, which kept one of the league's most potent offenses out of the end zone

"They just weren’t going to be denied," Pederson said. "They just weren’t going to bow their necks. They weren’t going to let them in the endzone. It just came down to our will versus theirs and I was just so happy with the way the guys played. Just a great team effort.”