Three things the Eagles need to do on defense to stop the bleeding

PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 27: Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Derek Barnett (96) looks on during the game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Philadelphia Eagles on September 27, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

The Eagles need to change their defense approach; otherwise, teams will continue to complete long back-breaking drives successfully. Below I’ve listed a few things that must evolve for this defense to improve.

Be aggressive…Be BE…Aggressive.

If you’ve ever been to a high school or local college football game, you’ve likely heard that chant. It is not something the Eagles seem willing to do as they continue to protect the deep ball while allowing an absurd amount of space in underneath zones. 

It is hard to explain why Jonathan Gannon doesn’t adjust more during a game. Derek Carr was 16 of 17 on passing attempts and making it look effortless, its probably time to try something different. Yet, the Birds stayed committed to a passive defense that doesn’t do anything to stop opposing offenses. 

The philosophy behind the scheme is to force teams into running the ball. The Eagles are playing so soft in coverage that they allow the short and intermediate throws to be wide open. That is a massive problem because it’s one thing to invite the run to prevent a team from passing, but realistically, the Eagles are only shutting down plays of 18 or more yards. I cannot believe I have to say this, but it’s just not good enough. NFL teams will eat you up if you choose to be passive, which is exactly what is happening on defense. 

Stop protecting the corners

Gannon’s scheme is very defensive back friendly, but corners are not the problem this year…for once. This scheme might have been helpful during Jim Schwartz’s tenure when the Eagles corners could not stay in phase with receivers. 

To everyone’s surprise, Darius Slay, Steven Nelson, and Avonte Maddox have played well for the most part. They are not elite by any stretch of the imagination, but they are not the reason why this team is getting brutalized each week. 

Teams are now aware of the dearth of talent in the linebacker room and are picking them apart. Even on circumstances where the LB’s make the correct read (which is not often at the moment), they get dragged for 3-4 yards after contact. The linebackers do not have the size or ability to anchor or push players backward. 

The only way to prevent this group from being singled out each week is to have the corners and safeties play a little closer to the line of scrimmage. This can be done without needing to abandon two-high safety looks or a zone scheme. Against Carolina, the corners played closer to the line of scrimmage with a more physical style of play while maintaining their overall philosophy of stopping the deep ball. 

Simply put, the Eagles need to get more bodies in or around the box to make underneath throws more challenging. Playing the secondary a little closer will allow the Eagles to rally tackle more and not force linebackers to make tackles in space. 

Marry coverage with pass rush

This is painfully obvious, but the Eagles continue to line up Josh Sweat and Fletcher Cox in ways not suited to their strengths. 

The only chance the Eagles have on defense is for their defensive line to win in the trenches. So it’s time to allow them to play a more attacking style D-line play as opposed to almost doubling their duty up with coverage responsibilities. On that note, they need to stop trying to force each lineman to cover two gaps. 

If the rush isn’t getting home, one problem that will continually be pointed out is how quickly the quarterback is getting the ball out of his hands. This is an important note because the defensive line and secondary alignments/styles are closely tied together. If the secondary is passive, the offense can get the ball out quickly to neutralize a strong pass rush. If the Eagles want to play to the strength of their defensive line, then opposing teams mustn’t be given easy underneath throws. 

The Eagles secondary is an experienced group that has played in more aggressive schemes throughout their careers. The Eagles need to marry the coverage philosophy with the pass rush for the defensive line to get home. If the secondary can effectively throw off the timing of short to intermediate routes, the defensive line will put pressure on opposing QB’s. 

Final Eagles thoughts

The Eagles are in desperate need of a win. In theory, the Lions, with Jared Goff at the helm, should allow this defense to bounce back. However, if they continue to play a soft/passive coverage scheme, even bad teams will be able to score. The Eagles must make a stand against the Lions to gain any positive momentum to salvage this season.

Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire