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.

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

The Sixers (4-15) continue their homestand against the Boston Celtics (11-8) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night (7:30 p.m./CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup.

1. A green giant-sized challenge
Just crumple it up and move on.

That's about the only thing the Sixers can do after getting ran out of the gym by the Orlando Magic on Friday. Instead of looking like a team that hadn't played since Monday, the Sixers appeared flat in a 105-88 loss.

Outside of Joel Embiid's first 20-point, 10-rebound game (he had 25 points and 10 boards) and a strong effort from Jahlil Okafor (16 points and 13 rebounds), not much else went right for the Sixers.

Now Embiid will sit the second game of a back-to-back set and Okafor will be thrust into the starting lineup, as the Sixers try to deal with Boston big man Al Horford. 

Horford, the Celtics' prized free-agent acquisition, is coming off his best game so far for his new team. He recorded 26 points, eight rebounds and six blocks in the Celtics' 97-92 win over the Kings on Friday.

2. Little big man
Even with Horford coming off a productive performance, the Sixers' game plan against the Celtics has to focus on slowing down Isaiah Thomas.

The 5-foot-9 guard continues to put up big numbers in the scoring department. Despite his shooting percentages taking a dip this season, Thomas still ranks ninth in the NBA with a career-high 25.7 points per game. 

And even though he is a willing passer (averaging a career-high-tying 6.3 assists), expect Thomas to try and score early and often against the Sixers. After all, the reserve-turned-All-Star has put up 21.5 points per game against the Sixers during his career, his highest mark against any opponent.

3. Dial up the long-distance defense
The Sixers need to be aware of Thomas and just about all of his teammates when they toe that three-point line.

The Celtics rank fifth in the league in three-pointers attempted (31.1), three-pointers made (11.3) and eighth in three-point percentage (36.3) per game.

The C's have four players shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc, and perhaps a bit surprising, three of them are big men. Jonas Jerebko (46.4 percent), Horford (42.4 percent) and Amir Johnson (40.0 percent) have all been on target from long range.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (knee) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are both questionable. Embiid (rest), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

The Celtics have no players listed on the injury report.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost five games in a row overall and eight straight to the Celtics.

• The Celtics rank 25th in rebounding with 42.2 a night.

• Dario Saric had two points Friday against the Magic and has failed to reach double digits in scoring five of his last six games.

Worst loss of the year for excuse-less Sixers against Magic

Worst loss of the year for excuse-less Sixers against Magic

Another new feeling for the rebuilding Sixers: The bad loss with no excuse. For at least one and possibly multiple seasons, there was no real such thing as an inexcusable L, because they were so never the favorite going into any game that their excuse could almost always be "the other team was better." But four wins and one transcendent player into this season, the Ballers actually do need an excuse for dropping a home game against a subpar team by double digits. And if they had one last night in their 105-88 loss to the Orlando Magic, they weren't telling the rest of us.

Really, this game couldn't have been teed up much better for Philly: We were home, well-rested after Wednesday's weird-ass cancellation, against a 7-12 team we nearly beat early in the season, who were on the second night of a back-to-back after ceding a tough one to the Grizzlies -- and we had Joel Embiid for up to 28 minutes. If this one was to be a laugher by early in the fourth quarter, you'd almost have to assume that it'd been the Sixers who put it to bed early. 

Instead, the Sixers slumped horribly from the field in the first quarter, missing bunny after bunny and plenty of open jumpers, as they dug themselves a hole they were never quite able to climb out of. Philly kept it manageable and D.J. Augustin and Nik Vucevic caught fire for Orlando in the third quarter, and the game was suddenly in Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot territory before we could even process what was happening. 

Of course, you can't blame Embiid for this one. Though JoJo was a little out of sorts defensively on this one -- and personally, I really wish he'd stop trapping five feet outside the arc, it may cause panic in the Magic's ball-handlers but it really seems to compromise our own half-court D -- he still finished with a resounding 25-10-4 with three triples, and for the first time in his young career, 0 turnovers. (I coulda swore I saw at least one, but so says the box score, anyway.) Just another game for the Process, though the Sixers (for some reason) needed him to be immaculate last night, and he was merely phenomenal. 

Less phenomenal were the rest of the Sixers' shooters. Our bench in particular was absolutely putrid, going a combined 0-12 from three, with Nik Stauskas's streak of consecutive games with a three snapped at 15 after his scoreless, 0-6 performance. (Five assists for Sauce, at least.) Jahlil posted a dominant stat line of 16 and 13 (on 8-10 shooting) but was again hapless on defense, ending a team-worst -19 for the night. And Dario Saric's slumping continued with a 1-5 shooting outing with no rebounds or assists, likely his worst game of the season. 

It was a surprisingly listless effort from a team that should have looked much sharper, and the most positive non-Joel-related thing to be said about it is that it's (sort of) nice to finally have expectations high enough to have them let down. It'll be a lot harder for Philly to let down tonight against the Celtics, without JoJo, against a pretty good and mostly healthy Boston team. But that's five losses in a row already for the improving Sixers, and it'd be nice to cut off that streak soon, before it starts threatening double digits -- we could certainly do with being done with those for the forseeable future.