The Eagles’ defense must come up big on crucial three game road trip
10 October 2019 Eagles News
For the Eagles to remain among the NFC’s elite heading into November, their defense must continue to come up big as they begin a crucial three game road trip.
Coming off last Sunday’s home win vs. the Jets, in which they became the first defense in league history to record 10 sacks and score two defensive touchdowns, it was the defense that led to their third win of the season.
The Eagles are the first team in NFL history with 10 sacks and two defensive touchdowns in the same game.
Sacks have been an official stat since 1982.
— Reuben Frank (@RoobNBCS) October 6, 2019
Playing away from home until Nov. 3, when they face the Bears at the Linc, the Eagles will play the 3-2 Vikings, the 3-2 Cowboys and the surprising 4-1 Bills, who are a combined 10-5 so far in 2019.
Thankfully, the Eagles come into Week 6 with the league’s best run defense, allowing just 63 yards per game. They will certainly need that to continue, as their next three opponents all rank in the top 10 in rushing yards per game through the first five weeks. The Vikings rank second, averaging 166.4 yards per game, the Cowboys rank sixth at 140.8, and the Bills rank seventh, averaging 139.6 yards on the ground per contest.
The Vikings have two of the top rushers in the league in yards per carry, as Dalvin Cook (5.9) and Alexander Mattison (5.6) have been a lethal 1-2 punch. As for the Cowboys, they have yet to lose head-to-head against the Eagles with Ezekiel Elliott in their lineup, and the Bills feature future Hall of Fame running back Frank Gore, who is always dangerous.
Elliott, having somewhat of a slow start, is still eighth in the league in rushing with 386 yards and a 4.5 average, while Gore, in his 15th NFL season, is still averaging 4.4 yards per carry and ranks 16th in the league in rushing yards.
So far this season, Dallas and the Bills are both in the top 10 in total yardage and red zone touchdown percentage. Dallas has gained the most yards in the league and ranks fourth in the league in scoring inside their opponents’ 20-yard line, while the Bills are tenth in total yardage and are third in red zone touchdown efficiency.
All three of the Eagles’ next opponents are in the top five in rushing touchdowns in the league, which Jim Schwartz and the defense must limit these next three weeks. Denying their opponents’ tailbacks from scoring via the rush must be viewed as a top priority, as all three teams are potent on the ground.
Unfortunately, and only complicating matters, the Eagles’ pass defense has clearly struggled this season, giving up over 330 yards per game through the air. Dak Prescott and Kirk Cousins have both had some success against the Eagles at points in their careers, and it’s imperative that the Eagles put an end to both of these trends.
So, why has the Eagles’ pass defense failed to meet expectations?
First, it stems from their opponents’ inability to run the ball, which has caused the opposing offenses to pass the ball more frequently. It is also partially due to the fact that the Eagles are averaging more than 28 points on offense, forcing their opponents to have to score to keep up (although that has not been the case as much the last 6 quarters).
Most glaringly, the struggles in defending the opponents’ passing game has been the direct result of the somewhat inexperienced and ever-revolving door of the current Eagles’ cornerback group.
No matter what the cause, the Birds need to continue to keep teams out of the end zone, and stopping teams’ aerial attacks will be vital in returning back to Philadelphia atop the NFC East and in the thick of the NFC playoff picture.
It will be a major boost to the whole defense if Sidney Jones plays close to 100 percent Sunday. The defensive line would be able to get after the quarterback and would cause Jim Schwartz to potentially send more blitzes.
This could help to re-energize Fletcher Cox and to get him back to his elite form, as well as to help Brandon Graham remain playing at the All-Pro level he showed he could against the Jets.
Jones’ availability would also contribute to the secondary being able to play more physically, especially having to face the likes of Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Amari Cooper over this challenging three-game trip.
As wins are never easy in the NFL, one must look at the possibilities. Win all three games and they’re 6-2, lose all three and they are looking at 3-5. Aiming for 2-1 on this road trip is a reasonable goal and something that head coach Doug Pederson must stress to his team, as these games have the potential to either make or break the first half of the Eagles’ season.
Two victories over conference foes, Dallas and Minnesota, are key in the playoff standings, and most importantly, beating the rival Cowboys would secure first place in the division.
In addition, beating the Bills would add a nice finishing touch against a potential playoff team in a tough environment, making for a very successful road trip.
Realistically, can the Eagles’ defense answer the bell and help them to take control of the NFC East? It’s a tough task, but Jim Schwartz’s group usually plays at its best when faced with a challenge.