NFC East Champions for the second time in the past three seasons, the Eagles are set to host a divisional-round playoff matchup against the Seahawks this Sunday. Just as they were the last time the Eagles secured the division and hosted a playoff game at the Linc, the defense has been a huge catalyst for the team this season. Per usual, the talented, stout Philly defensive line continued to stonewall opposing rushing attacks, allowing the third-fewest yards per game on the ground, their third consecutive campaign in which they finished in the top ten in fewest rushing yards allowed.
Although not as proficient as they are at stuffing the run, the Eagles have been serviceable against the pass, despite a continued spin of their cornerback carousel. Even though they faced the 11th-most pass attempts per game (35.7) and total pass attempts (517) this season, the Philly defense boasts the fifth-lowest allowed completion percentage in the league (60.9). Additionally, their 348 allowed receptions is fewer than all but four- Patriots, 49ers, Ravens, Packers- of the twelve playoff teams this season. The relatively low total is tied with the highly-regarded Tre’Davious White-led Buffalo Bills pass defense and 14 less receptions allowed than the vaunted Bears defense.
Despite grading out fairly well across the board, the Eagles pass defense isn’t without flaw. The unit has surrendered the 11th-most touchdowns through the air (27) and the 2nd-most plays of 40+ yards (15). Considering teams have virtually no shot of scoring against the Eagles on the ground, it makes sense they’ve let up a few scores in the passing game as their opponents are forced to turn to an aerial attack.
The high total of 40+ yard plays allowed, however, is much more concerning. A seemingly recurring issue during the Schwartz era, the defense still tends to be extremely susceptible to speedy wide receivers and the vertical passing game.
Though it obviously hasn’t hindered the team too bad, as they prepare for their third straight postseason, it is something they will have to be especially mindful of in their home playoff matchup against the Seahawks. Despite being constructed as a run-first team, as evidenced by their third-highest rushing attempts and fourth-highest rushing yards regular-season totals, Seattle could challenge Philly vertically.
Not only will they have MVP-caliber signal-caller Russell Wilson under center, the Seahawks also boast a pair of starting wide receivers with elite, blazing speed. That duo, of course, being Tyler Lockett and D.K Metcalf. The more seasoned veteran Lockett is coming off his first season of over 1000-yards receiving and seems to have found his footing at the NFL level. Metcalf- who famously recorded a mind-boggling 4.33 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine- has been nothing short of dominant in his rookie season. Towering at 6’4, 229 pounds of pure muscle, Metcalf has quickly proven to be the athletic marvel scouts thought he was coming out of college. Along with his 900 regular-season yards, the rookie has 8 TD receptions as well.
Against an Eagles unit that has been prone to damage via the long ball, Jim Schwartz simply can’t allow Lockett and Metcalf to get loose. Fortunately for Philly, this isn’t their first tango with Wilson and Eagles DC Jim Schwartz seems to have a firm grasp of what to expect this Sunday.
“We have a pretty long history. We played out there (in 2016 and 2017, losing both games). At this point of the season, you sort of are what you are when it comes to a lot of your stuff. … It just sort of turns into no real surprises,” Schwartz said.
Yielding just 13.3 points at home since Week 5, the defense will need to be sharp once again against a quarterback in Wilson that makes very few mistakes. Schwartz will need to once again game plan effectively and mask his unit’s achilles heel of deep threats a bit more than usual, but it’s nothing he hasn’t done before. Additionally, he’ll have a near fully-loaded deck on defense this time around after getting slot corner Cre’Von LeBlanc back in the lineup in recent weeks, something the injury-riddled Eagles aren’t accustomed to this season.
His return makes for a much-improved Eagles backfield, one that already limited Wilson to a forgettable 200-yard, 1 touchdown performance earlier this season. It will take another inspired, group effort to smother the Seahawks attack on Sunday, but if they are able to prevent anything over their head, Jim Schwartz and the Eagles No Phly Zone defense may prevail yet again in the postseason.
Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports