The Achilles heel stopping Eagles Defense from being great

The Eagles Defense has been outstanding for the most part this season. After putting the Offense on their backs in the opening weeks, the Defensive line has shown great pressure whilst the emergence of stars like Jordan Hicks are a huge reason to get excited. But there’s one problem, the Defense still has a huge Achilles heel and it’s a problem all too familiar.

Last season, the Eagles Defense’s biggest downfall was giving up the dreaded X-Plays. For the most part, that’s been rectified..but only so far. Because now the problem has transformed into a slightly more worrying third down issue.

The Eagles often find themselves forcing opponents into third and long. Whether it be through penalties or through a huge hit on the Quarterback..opponents have faced third and long constantly against the new look secondary..but keep finding ways to convert when they really shouldn’t.

Against the Saints, the Eagles allowed Drew Brees to convert three third downs of a distance over ten yards..the highest number in fifteen years according to an article from CSNPhilly. Not only that but in the last two weeks the team allowed both the Redskins and the Saints to convert over 50% of their third down attempts.

The birds rank 27th in the league on third down stops over 10 yards with a lonely 31% allowed, 10% above the league average. The problem here is that the Giants have converted 44% of their third downs this season. Perhaps more worryingly is that they have already achieved 72 first downs this season, averaging over 14 per game.  The Eagles have allowed opposing teams to make 42.1% of their third down attempts this year so far, ranking them 25th in the NFL.

In Davis’ three year tenure, the problems have only amplified when it comes to holding teams on third down. This chart shows the average passing yards conceded on third’s progressively risen each season for the last few.

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But why is this a problem? A lot of it falls to the Yards made after the catch. The Eagles allow on average 125.8 yards after the catch per game which isn’t terrible but it certainly isn’t great. These two clips highlight the improvements to the Secondary..but also a weakness. Maxwell is seen covering Snead insanely well here. The footwork demonstrated is brilliant and there’s simply no room to make a throw.

However here…when the Corners aren’t pressing, there is simply way too much space. Allowing plays like this to occur. In Zone coverage, or plays where the Corners are placed further down the field..they struggle in making the big stops. Coverage on receivers when playing man-to-man? Excellent. Coverage when starting ahead of the receiver? Worrying.

But in third and short scenario’s, the team are among the best in the league..further highlighting both how strong the front seven are in contrast to the Secondary.

The Eagles Secondary may well have taken some big strides this season and the X-Plays are no longer a huge problem. The issue now is consistency and finding a way to iron out these big yard losses. If the linebackers and the front seven are able to push the Offense back to a 3rd & 13 for instance, the Eagles should be making that stop at least 70% of the time and they’re not. If they can find a way to prevent opposing Offenses from converting third downs, then they may become one of the best Defenses in the NFL.