I have some shocking news for you... are you sitting down? The Philadelphia Eagles’ defense was unhealthy in 2018. If you don’t believe me, believe Football Outsiders.
Each year their “adjusted games lost” metric measures just how banged up each team and unit was compared to the league. So far we’ve covered the Eagles’ unlikely run in the playoffs, the offense’s missing pieces, and now we come to a close with a look at the defense.
A refresher in what adjusted games lost (AGL) accounts for:
“For those unfamiliar with AGL, we do not simply add up the number of games missed. We are able to quantify how much teams were affected by injuries based on two principles:
(1) Injuries to starters, injury replacements, and important situational reserves (No. 3 wide receiver, receiving backs, nickel corner, etc.) matter more than injuries to benchwarmers; and
(2) Injured players who do take the field are usually playing with reduced ability, which is why AGL is based not strictly on whether the player is active for the game or not, but instead is based on the player’s game status that week (out, doubtful, questionable or probable/Blank).”
Eagles AGL Rank: 30th
Timmy Jernigan and Derek Barnett make up the bulk of the score, only playing 4% and 23% of the defensive snaps respectively. Jernigan’s mysterious back injury was the cause for his vanishing act, while Barnett picked up his torn rotator cuff early in the season. Barnett tried to give it a go, but ultimately shut it down after Week 7.
Adding to the pain was Haloti Ngata’s midseason calf injury and Brandon Graham’s recovery from ankle surgery. Graham gutted it out throughout the season while notching 73% of the teams snaps. Still, Graham said himself that he wasn’t the same until deep into the second half of the season.
The multiple hits to the Eagles’ rotation led to heavy snap counts for the rest of the squad. While no defensive lineman clocked more than 65% of the snaps in 2017, Graham’s 73% and Fletcher Cox’s 80% reflected the ravages of the season. There were instances late in games where the defense looked gas, but the Eagles lacked the reinforcements to give them a proper stretch of rest.
Chris Long announced his retirement over the weekend, thinning out the ranks. With inside depth secured, the Eagles will need quick development from it’s young contributors. Graham and Barnett’s health will determine how much that factor plays a role.
Eagles AGL Rank: 13th
Jordan Hicks being hampered by a calf injury throughout the second half of the season and represents the only significant hit to the group. The Eagles tried to supplant his coverage snaps with Nigel Bradham, but that proved to be a roller coaster. After two years with 78.2 and 77.7 coverage grades from PFF, Bradham fell off considerably (58.3).
With Hicks gone, it’s up to the combination of Kamu-Grugier Hill and Nate Gerry along with newcomers Zach Brown and LJ Fort to fill his void. The concern over the third linebacker spot was always overblown as the Eagles are rarely in base, but Brown’s arrival brings proven depth. Overall the unit is more equipped to deal with injuries, even if the high points of the group aren’t as dynamic.
Eagles AGL Rank: 30th
It’s hard to imagine a more banged up unit than the Eagles defensive backfield. Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers scored worse, and neither could sniff the playoffs. Despite not checking in last, the Eagles score was still historic, only hidden by a massive spike in defensive back injuries league-wide.
“The Philadelphia Eagles (40.9) had the fifth-most defensive back AGL we have ever measured. Here’s a look at their season-ending injuries:
S Rodney McLeod: torn MCL, Week 3
CB Jalen Mills: foot sprain, Week 9
CB Ronald Darby: torn ACL, Week 10
On top of all that, cornerback Sidney Jones and safety Corey Graham missed 10 combined games with hamstring injuries.”
Hoping the Eagles get '18 Rodney McLeod in '19 because we tend to forget how well he was playing before he went down - pic.twitter.com/s5LbNfw6nD— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) May 17, 2019
Things got so bad in the playoffs that Josh Hawkins ended up covering Michael Thomas for a stretch of the Divisional Playoff game. Can Darby return to form and put together a full, healthy season? Will Jones silence the critics and hold up? Can the Eagles avoid another catastrophic string of losses to their secondary? I won’t say they’re in a better position to avoid disaster, but it can’t get any worse... right? Right?!
Overall, the Eagles defense ranked 31st in adjusted games lost. It’s a wonder that they only allowed the 12th most points per game (21.8). Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz faces some, at times, deserved criticism, but even with a lack of game-changing turnovers, it could’ve been a lot worse.