18.8 - That’s the average depth of target for WR John Hightower. It leads the NFL.
It’s not even close, either. Hightower sees targets 1.2 yards deeper than the second-highest WR (Chargers’ Mike Williams) — he’s as far from Williams as Williams is from Calvin Ridley, the seventh-highest player on the list.
The even crazier thing is that Hightower didn’t start out like this. When DeSean Jackson (16.8 air yards/target) and Jalen Reagor (21.7 air yards/target) were healthy, Hightower wasn’t used exclusively as a deep prayer player. He had 8 air yards/target in Week 1, while both Reagor and Jackson were more than triple that number. When the Eagles’ offense turtled in Week 2, Jackson and Reagor both dropped to depth of targets below 10 — Hightower didn’t get a target at all. In Week 3, when DeSean was healthy, he was once again seeing deep targets before Hightower.
But Hightower’s depth of target has exploded in the last two weeks. He saw 31.6 air yards/targets on 7 total looks in the last two weeks, and has fully stepped into the deep role that will once again remain his for Week 6, as Jackson and Reagor are unavailable due to injury.
The problem? The Eagles have yet to complete a pass of longer than 13 yards to Hightower. While he has been successful uncovering on underneath breaking routes, the only deep route on which he opened up was the infamous drop to end the first half against Pittsburgh — his entire tree has been deep posts. He doesn’t get asked to win on pure nine ball patterns, and that’s likely because he can’t.
With the emergence of Travis Fulgham last week and availability of Quez Watkins, it will be interesting to see how the Eagles continue to deploy Hightower. He has been actually workable on underneath patterns, but the Eagles need someone to stretch the field to keep safeties away from Fulgham on deep-breaking routes. Can that be Watkins, or will it continue to be Hightower? Fulgham can win on isolated vertical patterns, both over the top on and on the back shoulder — will the Eagles use him there to give Hightower more underneath looks as well?
Hightower has speed, but he is not built for these deep targets. He lacks the ball-tracking and press releases to be anything more than a prayer player on late heaves. If the Eagles want to start getting something out of him, they have to figure out how to open him up more underneath.
86.4% - That’s the completion percentage of quarterbacks targeting tight ends against the Eagles. It is the highest in the league.
Related stat: Mark Andrews’ 29 targets on the season are Top-10 in the league for tight ends.
It is no secret that the Eagles do not have the personnel to handle tight ends — you didn’t need even a game this season to confirm that. With Malcolm Jenkins, Nigel Bradham and Kamu Grugier-Hill all out the door and no viable replacements acquired for either, the Eagles lost just about every player they asked to cover tight ends last year and shrugged at the problem as it whizzed past them. Will Parks, the Denver free agent, is the best player they’ve got, and he’s finally healthy for this game.
The numbers here are obviously inflated by George Kittle’s 15-target, 15-catch game in the win against San Francisco, but Logan Thomas, Eric Ebron, and Tyler Higbee all had their season-best games against the Eagles. The bad news is that, as a receiver, Andrews falls a lot closer to the Kittle tier than he does the Thomas/Ebron/Higbee tier.
The Ravens led the league in TE target rate last year and are sixth in the league so far this year. With Marquise Brown likely seeing shadow coverage from Darius Slay, and the Ravens without a viable WR2 or 3 to challenge the rest of the Eagles’ defensive backfield, expect the Mark Andrews (and, to a lesser extent, Nick Boyle) show on Sunday.
37% - That’s how many snaps Josh Sweat saw in each of the last two weeks — season lows
Remember when Josh Sweat started for the Eagles and it was good and exciting? Yeah, it’s over now.
Since seeing a start and 70% of the snaps in Week 1, when Derek Barnett was absent, Sweat’s snap counts have dropped in each game, to the point where he is now a rotational player. Across the last two weeks, he has taken only 25 more snaps than Genard Avery. Meanwhile, Barnett’s snap count continues to rise with each week that he’s healthy: 48% in Week 2, 53% in Week 3, 59% in Week 4, 65% in Week 5.
As a big Josh Sweat fan and frequent Derek Barnett detractor, I’m here to tell you that this is the right call. While Sweat is tied with Brandon Graham for the team leaded in sacks with three, Barnett is not only a better run defender, but has more hurries, pressures, and knockdowns than Sweat does on a similar sample size of pass rusher through five games, per Sports Info Solutions.
Especially against a run-heavy, play-action based team like the Ravens, Sweat will continue to lose snaps to Barnett, and potentially even Avery. He has issues defending the run as both a playside defender, where he can struggle to hold a strong edge, and as a backside defender, where he can overpursue and take poor angles. Unless you’re in a clear passing down, which is uncommon against the Ravens’ running offense, Sweat shouldn’t see the field over Barnett.
The Eagles got what they bargained for in Sweat as a rotational edge, and while his flash of starting was exciting, he’s limited to the opportunity he has now until he becomes a more complete player. Until then, he’s destined to remain a pass-rush package specialist.