Who sucked the soul out of the Eagles defense?

PHILADELPHIA, PA – DECEMBER 13: Philadelphia Eagles Defensive Tackle Fletcher Cox (91) heads to the locker room before the game between the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles on December 13, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

The Philadelphia Eagles lost 33-22 against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday. The game was not as close as the score indicated, largely because the Philadelphia defense failed to put up a fight against quarterback Derek Carr and the Raiders offense. 

The scheme of first-year defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon has done very little to inspire confidence in the unit as a team strength or in his future as a coach in the league.

Eagles Torched for 33 by Raiders, Carr

The Raiders methodically moved the ball right through the Eagles defense all afternoon with no need to try for the flashy play. Their running game during the first half was effective in helping them sustain drives. They executed plays in the intermediate passing game with ease. They dominated in the screen game.

Carr effortlessly completed 31/34 passes on Sunday. He didn’t miss his best offensive weapon, and arguably the best tight end in the NFL, Darren Waller. The Eagles have allowed the worst opposing completion percentage in the league this season at 74.4%. According to Bo Wulf of The Athletic, five of their last six opposing quarterbacks have had fewer than 10 incompletions.

During the first quarter, head coach Nick Sirianni accepted a holding penalty on third down even though the Eagles had forced a 4th and 3. He based his decision on a lack of confidence in his defense to stop the Raiders if they went for it on 4th down. However, Carr threw a 43-yard pass to Zay Jones to convert the 3rd and 15 anyway. It was an appropriate microcosm that demonstrated the ineffective approach of the defense in all realms of the game.

Carr threw a touchdown to Bryan Edwards on 4th and Goal from the 1-yard-line during the third quarter with little resistance from the defense. The play justified Sirianni’s lack of confidence in the defense’s ability to stop the Raiders on 4th and short under the previously mentioned circumstances.

The Eagles forced a field goal and two punts on the final three drives, which padded statistics that are not indicative of their overall performance. When Jalen Hurts and the offense began their weekly attempt to make a blowout game look closer than the score indicates, the defense couldn’t get a stop to keep the minimal shred of hope for a victory alive early in the fourth quarter. Even while the defense held the Raiders to a field goal, they still allowed their opponent to execute and achieve their desired result by milking the clock and going ahead by three scores.

Gannon Taking Criticism

Seth Joyner criticized the “stationary” and “stagnant” defensive approach on the NBC Sports Philadelphia postgame. He went on to say that Gannon’s scheme has fallen “woefully short” of expectations through the first seven games. 

“They’re lined up in predictable defenses all the time. They don’t disguise. They don’t move.”

-Seth Joyner

Wulf assessed that Gannon intends for his defense to “sit back, prevent the big play, dare the opposition to stay patient.” The strategy failed miserably against Pat Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4 when the Eagles failed to force a punt all game, and it failed again on Sunday. Their style throughout the entirety of both games resembled a prevent defense that teams switch to when they have substantial leads in the fourth quarter.

The attempts to limit big plays and the lack of an aggressive approach, at a certain point, become just a way to save face by avoiding embarrassing, highlight-reel touchdowns. Even if big plays from their opponents are completely eliminated (which they are not), it won’t lead to defensive stops when they allow such easy gains underneath.  

The defense performed solidly in each of the team’s two wins, but they’ve given very little reason to think they are building towards a strong future. Fletcher Cox expressed his frustration with the defensive scheme after the game.

What to Expect from the Eagles Defense

The Eagles will face a less daunting opponent, the Detroit Lions, next week. Their best performances have come against quarterbacks Sam Darnold, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Matt Ryan. Detroit starter Jared Goff falls closer to that tier of signal-callers than he does to Mahomes, Carr, Dak Prescott, and Tom Brady, who have had their way with the Eagles this season. 

Most early lines have the Eagles as minimal road favorites against the winless Lions. However, if they make things as easy on their opponent as they did in Las Vegas, they won’t be getting many defensive stops. 

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire