Why do the Eagles struggle on third down?
On Sunday, the Eagles allowed the Cardinals to convert three long third downs. (USA Today Images)
The Cards on Sunday converted a 3rd-and-9 for a touchdown, a 3rd-and-12 from deep in their own territory and a 3rd-and-20 for a touchdown.
This drives Billy Davis crazy.
Those are downs where the Eagles should be stopping people. Not letting Carson Palmer throw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Michael Floyd on 3rd-and-9, letting Palmer hit on a 12-yard pass to Floyd on a 3rd-and-12, not letting Palmer toss a 43-yard touchdown to Larry Fitzgerlad on a ridiculous 3rd-and-20.
“It's upsetting, to be honest with you,” said Davis, the Eagles’ defensive coordinator.
The Eagles hung on to beat the Cards 24-21 Sunday despite allowing the Cards to convert three long third downs.
They won the game, but the issue remains: The Eagles are giving up way too much on 3rd-and-long.
Fitzgerald’s 43-yard TD on a 3rd-and-20 was particularly frustrating. It was the longest play against the Eagles on a 3rd-and-20 or longer in 13 years -- since Jeff George hit a 50-yard pass to James Thrash for the Redskins on a 3rd-and-21 back in 2000.
The game Sunday was the Eagles’ first in which they allowed two touchdowns on 3rd-and-9 or longer in at least 15 years, or as far back as available records go.
Not surprisingly, the Eagles rank well below average this year in virtually every 3rd-and-long situation.
Here are the defense’s numbers in specific 3rd-and-long situations:
3rd-and-7: 5 for 10 [50 percent]; 26th (NFL average 39 percent)
3rd-and-8: 5 for 7 [71 percent]; 32nd (37 percent)
3rd-and-9: 5 for 18 [28 percent]; 16th (31 percent)
3rd-and-10: 6 for 19 [32 percent]; 21st (28 percent)
Overall 3rd-and-7 and longer: 27 for 86 [31 percent]; 25th (26 percent)
So overall, the Eagles rank 25th out of 32 NFL teams defending all third downs of seven or more yards to go.
“That's an advantage defense, and we should be making those plays,” Davis said. “The 3rd-and-4s, the 3rd-and-3s, the 3rd-and-5s are where they should be, but the 3rd‑and‑longers are where we have the advantage and we need to hold onto and get ourselves off the field.”
The numbers demonstrate Davis is right.
The Eagles rank 13th in the NFL on third downs with anywhere from 1-5 yards to go.
In fact, on 3rd-and-1 and 3rd-and-2, which should be the toughest third downs to defend, the Eagles are third-best in the NFL at 49 percent, trailing only the Texans and Lions, who come to the Linc on Sunday for a crucial showdown of seven-win NFC playoff hopefuls.
Most importantly, on 3rd-and-goal, the Eagles are fourth-best in the NFL, allowing just one touchdown in eight chances.
How can a team get off the field more than half the time on 3rd-and-1 and 3rd-and-2, yet allow first downs 37 percent of the time on 3rd-and-8?
Normally, you can’t. That’s what drives Davis crazy.
“I've gone back and forth from max drop to pressuring like I did on that particular play (Fitzgerald's 43-yard TD) and trying to mix it up to where we are keeping them off balance,” Davis said.
“And right now, the execution of the 3rd‑and‑longs has to increase. It’s a turnover down, it's when we turn the ball back over to our offense and let them do our thing, just like we have to.
“Our third down and 3rd-down-and-long has to get better.”