Complaining about an 8-1 football team is peak NFL fan privilege, but this is what we do.
What happened to the Eagle defense Sunday afternoon was alarming. It’s pretty evident opposing offenses are forcing the Eagles safeties and/or linebackers to line up in coverage. Reed Blankenship is probably the Eagles best cover safety and he’s not very good at it. I don’t think it’s unfair to say the Eagles don’t have a linebacker who can get out and cover a receiver down after down. It’s also no coincidence that these are the positions Howie Roseman and the Eagles refuse to pay. I’m not criticizing the philosophy, especially because it’s hard to argue with the results, but teams have begun to expose the glaring weakness.
Roseman is a great GM, maybe even the best in the sport. On the other hand, we have to stop blindly praising every deal he makes simply because he’s Howie Roseman. He hit a home run with the AJ Brown acquisition. The Jalen Hurts pick when many didn’t understand it (myself included) was another home run. The Kevin Byard trade? Not looking great. I think Howie went bargain shopping here instead of addressing the need with a legitimate fix like Justin Simmons or Budda Baker. The Robert Quinn trade was another that fell flat. It happens. While I understand it’s only been two weeks, Byard does not look like any kind of solution at the back end of the Eagle defense.
On the other hand, Howie’s attempted to solution is null if the pass rush gets home. That was the issue for a large portion against Dallas. The pass rush was simply ineffective at getting to Dak Prescott or at the very least, making him uncomfortable. When some pressure did get home, the Eagles did a poor job of forcing Prescott to his left, where he’s not nearly as effective.
I don’t know if the answer is more zone, more blitzes or less turnover in the secondary. It’s probably a combination of all three. It certainly doesn’t help that James Bradberry has been a shell of his 2022 self or that Avonte Maddox went down. Eli Ricks had filled in nicely in recent weeks, but Dallas clearly watched his tape and did an excellent job getting him matched up with CeeDee Lamb. The results of that matchup were disastrous for the Eagles as Dallas beat Ricks like a drum until the Eagles finally pulled the plug. Much like an offensive line, turnover in the secondary makes it tough for the unit to gel. That slot corner has been a revolving door of practice squad corners, rookie corners, free agents and the occasional safety.
Personally, I’d rather the Eagles just give Ricks the job and adjust sooner if one of the league’s top receivers starts going off. And at safety, I like Sydney Brown more than Byard. I don’t necessarily believe doing either of those things improves the secondary, but it does give them the best opportunity to grow and develop over the second half of the season. However, when you boil it all down, we get to the same end point; it’s up to the pass rush. It’s where the Eagles invest heavily. The biggest stars are there. They can’t no show for quarters at a time. They eventually came through against Dallas, but most of Philadelphia had already passed out, died from a heart attack or broken their TV by that point.
The offense needs to stay aggressive. After taking a 28-17 lead late in the 3rd quarter, the Eagles offense went to sleep. On their final three drives, the offense ran 9 plays for a total of 14 yards, zero first downs. and burned only 3:41 of game clock.
Let’s start with the goal line drive after the defensive stand. Why not run the screen short of the sticks on 2nd down if you’re going to throw the ball there? I understand the thought process of throwing on 2nd down in that situation, but make sure it’s a completion and maybe not to your 3rd or 4th receiver. Going conservative with an 11 point lead and backed up to your own goalpost is fine, but then at least run the football. Last year this offense would’ve bullied its way to a first down or two and maybe even marched the length of the field to put the game away. They haven’t done that this season. If they could, the Eagles would be 9-0 not 8-1.
On their next possession, the Eagles faced a 3rd and 3 and threw a go to AJ Brown. I’ve never loved that play call in that scenario, but coaches around the NFL love it because of the man-to-man matchup. It worked for the Eagles against Washington last week, so while it’s difficult to criticize the call, I’m going to do it anyway. Jalen Hurts just scrambled for five yards on 2nd down. While he’s clearly not healthy, he finds a way to move when necessary. I’d rather him drop back and read and react to the defense rather than hitting that back foot and just letting it rip. Maybe this is a product of the Jets fiasco. I don’t know. I do know that Dallas loved that play call because it mostly eliminated the Eagles greatest threat from the play; Hurts.
The only criticism I have of the final possession is simply how ineffective it was at ending the game. Would I have loved if they ran an RPO play on 3rd down with Brown leaking out after streaking down the line of scrimmage? Yes. It’s a great play because if it’s not there, you eat it and still burn clock or force a time out. If it is there, it’s wide open for an easy pitch and catch and you seal the game. Again, not a huge criticism here because the Eagles forced Dallas to empty their time outs even though is was sloppy and panic inducing.
One final thought, and this isn’t groundbreaking: The Eagles need a more mobile Hurts to get back to the Super Bowl. As I pointed out last week, the Eagles are not running the football well. Philadelphia is currently a better version of Buffalo’s offense. Buffalo needs Josh Allen mobile and aggressive to be potent. The Eagles are approaching that point if they can’t generate a more effective ground game. Anyway, if Hurts can run like he did last year, the Dallas game is over much earlier. Hurts had an open lane to a 1st down on the Eagles second to last possession and just could not get there fast enough. He was also reluctant to challenge the defenders by cutting or running them over. The Eagles offense is good, but to be great, they need Hurts healthy.