PHILADELPHIA (CBS Philly)- Two straight losses have the Philadelphia Eagles sitting at 1-2, a full two games behind the division-leading Dallas Cowboys.
Injuries have decimated the offense, with wide receivers Alshon Jeffery, Deseason Jackson and tight end Dallas Goeddert missing most of the past two games. While those injuries certainly play a part in the difficult start, the defense has also been a concern. In particular, two areas stand out: the secondary and pass rush.
“The Eagles secondary has always been a concern, so whenever they go against a team that can really spread it out, it’s difficult for them,” said Inside The NFL analyst Brandon Marshall. “They’re a tough team, a talented team, but over the past four or five years, the question has always been their secondary.”
The Eagles defense ranked 23rd by Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric heading into the Detroit Lions game in Week 2. The Birds have allowed 11 explosive pass plays already this season (plays of 20+ yards), ranking 17th in the league in explosive play prevention. Part of that can be placed on the secondary, without question. But, in addition, the Eagles rank among the worst in the league in pass rush to this point.
Through three weeks, the Eagles have picked up just two sacks, one each from Tim Jernigan and Andrew Sendejo. They rank above only the Denver Broncos in that category so far. This is a departure from previous seasons under Jim Schwartz, in which the front four pressured on the quarterback by themselves, allowing the secondary and linebackers to drop in coverage.
But, this season that hasn’t been the case. Of the team’s two sacks, only Jernigan’s came from pressure by the front four. Sendejo’s came on a blitz during the Atlanta game, in which the defensive coordinator turned up the pressure on Matt Ryan throughout the second half, continuously sending blitzes. It burned them in the end, when Julio Jones romped 53 yards to the end zone on 4th-and-3.
Injuries have hit the defensive line as well, with both Malik Jackson and Jernigan sidelined by foot injuries. With the departures of Michael Bennett and Chris Long in the offseason, the team was relying on young defensive ends Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat, along with free agent signing Vinny Curry, to step up. That hasn’t happened, and Marshall says that offenses have also adjusted to negate the Eagles’ strength.
“They have been doing a great job over the past couple of years, and teams are now starting to figure them out. They’re setting the protections up front the right way, getting the ball out quick. It’s going to be tough for them to turn this thing around, but they have the talent to do it.”
Marshall and the front office appear to agree on that last point, with general manager Howie Roseman telling The Athletic in the preseason: “We have to bet on our young players. We have to bet on our scouting. We have to bet on our coaching, and we are going to take that bet at that position.”
That bet hasn’t paid off yet, but there is some hope in the fact that the team has produced 17 quarterback hits, which would usually translate to higher sack production. Derek Barnett leads the team with six, and Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Hassan Ridgeway all have two. With the team heading to Green Bay to face Aaron Rodgers and a Packers offense that seemed to find its stride last week, fans will have to hope the pass rush can begin to generate a spark to help the defense overall.
The Eagles and Packers kick off on Thursday night, September 27th at 8:20 p.m. Eastern Time.
You can catch Brandon Marshall along with Ray Lewis, Phil Simms and host James Brown when Inside The NFL airs tonight at 9 p.m. Pacific Time on Showtime.