The Eagles are 8-0 and, right now, the best team in the NFL. But if there is a fissure in their undefeated veneer, it looks like it’s their inability to consistently stop the run and wrap up when tackling.
Entering Monday night’s national TV game against Washington, those issues will be tested again.
The Eagles are crushing it in every other aspect of their game. Currently, they’re second in scoring (28.1 PPG), third in total offense (391.0 YPG), sixth in rushing offense (148.8 YPG), ninth in (242.3 YPG), fourth in third-down efficiency (45.9%), third in total defense (299.0 YPG), fourth in scoring defense (16.9 PPG), fourth in passing defense (177.6 YPG)—and glaringly 20th against the run (121.4 YPG).
The only chance Washington will have against the Eagles is to get running back Brian Robinson Jr. going, taking stress off the streaky Taylor Heinicke and in turn keep the Eagles’ potent offense off the field.
Against Houston, the Eagles were shredded by Dameon Pierce, who rushed for a career-high 139 yards on 27 carries, tearing holes through the Eagles’ defensive front. Some of that could have been due to the absence of Jordan Davis in the middle. Part of that could have also been due to Pierce being a load to bring down. The Eagles’ dubious tackling contributed to that.
Will that make teams feel that think they can run the ball down the throat of the Eagles?
It’s what Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon addressed this week.
“It’s a blend of how I’m calling the game,” he said. That’s what I’m talking about, what goes into that. If the team is trying to pound you, you want to get another hat in the box. You make sure that you’re not check mated by the number count. With saying that, there’s some give and take to that, too, in the pass game. I think we’ll continue to work on, improve when we are in a light box, how we can be a little bit better, and then when we are in post close to really knock those runs down a little bit quicker and not have some yardage that kind of — you know, I always say, what doesn’t show up on the stat sheet is a three-yard run that goes for six, because it’s now 2nd and 4, not 2nd and 7. It’s a whole different game calling the game like that.
“Our guys know that, and we’ll work to continue to improve it.”
As for the tackling, which was bad in the Houston game … “Just wrapping up,” Gannon explained. “Seems likes a long time ago, but good win on the road, battled hard, did some good things in that game, got some things to clean up as always. We’ll work on improving those things, and I thought our guys in a 14-14 game in the third quarter made some big plays to step up and help our team have a chance to win.
“I believe in the players that we have, and when we’ve needed to make it an emphasis to improve that part of our game, we have. I think it’s really – there are points in certain games, in every game, and there are different times throughout the season, that’s just got to be on our mind, and we have to improve it and we have to coach it better.
“It’s just consistency you’re looking for with everything, not just the tackling, with covering and execution and situational ball. It’s just being consistently sound and good at what we’re doing. I think, too, like a lot of that in that last game, we knew that was a really good back. That’s a challenge on a short week going down there, not to make an excuse because everyone has to do it. But I think getting back to a normal week of practice and going through our normal routine will help us with that part of our game.
“I talked about it with the team, with the defense. There were some things that I could have done a little bit better to get us in some better spots to make some easier plays for our guys. There were a couple calls in there that I didn’t love that I was really kind of honestly putting our guys at a disadvantage because I was thinking one thing and it wasn’t happening, and that makes it hard for the players.
“I think we’re all collectively working to improve that, and we’ll get better at it.”
Washington is woeful offensively. The Commanders are 21st in total offense (323.4 YPG), 26th in scoring offense (17.7 PPG) and 21st in rushing offense (108.0 YPG).
Robinson, a rookie third-round draft pick out of Alabama, has made a remarkable recovery from multiple gunshot wounds in August. He rushed for a career-high 73 yards on 20 carries in Washington’s 23-21 victory over Green Bay on Oct. 23 and scored the game-winning touchdown in the Commanders’ 12-7 win over Chicago on Oct. 13. The Commanders have won three of their last four and had Minnesota in trouble late, before the Vikings took advantage of Washington mistakes for a 20-17 victory. The Commanders’ offense also seems to be moving much better under Heinicke, since Carson Wentz was lost to a fractured ring finger.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written features for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, and his breaking story on Carson Wentz for PhillyVoice on January 21, 2019. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.