The Eagles’ bye week comes at a really good time for the team. Coaches use the bye week to discuss all areas of the team and consider how the team can get better. I thought I would do the same this week, and try to imagine what the coaches might be looking at this week. So here is my midseason summary of the Eagles’ defense, and what I would be discussing if I was in the meetings! I won’t go into detail on every single point here because some of them are fairly obvious, but I’ll try to find some film or stats to back up my point. All stats that are included in this article are from Sports Info Solution, FTN Fantasy, and ESPN.
PREVIOUSLY: Eagles Film Review: Midseason Offense Review
Development of the defense line
The play of Jordan Davis has impressed me so much this year. He looks a different player compared to the end of last season, and the Eagles coaches deserve credit for developing him as well as Jalen Carter and Milton Williams. By rotating the defensive tackles more, the Eagles have also managed to keep Fletcher Cox healthy and he has had a really good season. The Eagles’ defensive tackles are playing at a very high level.
8) Jalen Carter, my goodness. I still can't quite believe the Eagles got him at 9. He just shrugs aside the guard with ease to avoid the double team, then shoves the center back into the QB. Cox has also had 3 really good weeks and it appears the rotation is helping everyone. pic.twitter.com/VsHSU6fbtB— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) September 27, 2023
I know you can’t trust all these stats, but this is pretty incredible.
I never fully trust these stats, but Milton Williams looks like the Eagles' most important defensive player this year when looking at EPA numbers.— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) November 14, 2023
Eagles EPA with Milton Williams on field: -0.17
Eagles EPA without Milton Williams on field: 0.06
Eagles All22 Defense thread vs Patriots. 1) Eagles run defense was really solid, and it was led by the DL. The Eagles did run more 5 man fronts early on but moved away from them, likely due to being up early. Milton Williams had himself a day, and it was awesome to see him get… pic.twitter.com/IQocEMBj3L— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) September 13, 2023
The starting EDGE rushers
Is there a better duo than Josh Sweat and Haason Reddick right now in the NFL? If there is, they won’t be better by a lot. I think Josh Sweat has gone to another level this season and he is playing really well. Since Reddick got over his early season injury, he has been fantastic. I don’t think anyone makes more clutch plays than Haason Reddick, who always seems to make a huge play when the game is on the line.
13) Let's end with a positive. This looked like the first true form of a bracket on Kupp, and it was nice to see Reddick end the game with a sack. Reddick/Sweat were really good all game and the pass rush definitely bailed the Eagles secondary out in this game. pic.twitter.com/HlkDFI4mAN— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) October 10, 2023
Although, it’s not just Reddick who shows up at the end of games!
Per the game notes, #Eagles DE Josh Sweat is 4th in the NFL in pressures (50) and leads the league with 21 4th quarter/OT pressures.— Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) November 14, 2023
Sweat deserves all the accolades. He’s been tremendous.
The run defense
Without a doubt, this is the biggest improvement from the defense this year. The run discipline is fantastic. Last year, some of the gap discipline on show from the defense was really poor, but it was also a clear coaching issue and wasn’t just personnel-related. The Eagles just didn’t have enough bodies to cover each gap at times last year. This season, it is a different story. The Eagles linebackers are incredibly aggressive at getting downhill this year, whereas last year the linebackers were too passive and looked like they were more concerned about the pass than stopping the run. I have to give Sean Desai credit for improving the run defense so quickly.
Eagles Defense All22 vs. Bucs. 1) I was SO impressed with the Eagles run fits. The team looked so well prepared. Really good team defense here and Cunningham makes an excellent play, avoiding the guard and making the tackle. Desai has improved the nickel run fits so far this year pic.twitter.com/4BdKpM27tQ— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) September 27, 2023
Specific game plans
The Eagles’ defense has had some bad games this year, without a doubt. But I have also been very impressed with some of the specific game plans they have had, and it is clear that Desai is more willing to mix things up on a week-to-week basis. In particular, the Dolphins game stands out as a game plan that was really well executed and designed for that particular offense.
3) Despite the aggressive run D, what I LOVED about this performance was how they didn't bite on motion that often. It was controlled aggression. The defense was disciplined most of the game. Look at Reddick, Scott and Slay here just ignore all the disguise in the backfield. pic.twitter.com/28DWxSiSb3— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) October 24, 2023
The Eagles have had some really nice sim pressures this year, which is something I wasn’t impressed with last year. This does require an edge defender dropping into coverage, which isn’t always great, but it is worth it when you can catch the opposing offense out. The Eagles have had some really cool designs this year.
4) Here's my favourite call all game. It's a great sim pressure on 2nd down. It looks like a Tampa 2 coverage with Sweat dropping into coverage and Dean blitzing. Jordan Davis takes away 2 lineman which leaves the rest one-on-one. Cox and Dean win and get the sack. pic.twitter.com/pqxagV5Pmh— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) November 7, 2023
Areas for Development
Dealing with stacks/bunches
This has been a huge problem for the Eagles’ defense and it has shown up week after week. The Eagles are playing a lot of man-coverage and they are also using 5-man fronts, which means they end up 3 over 3 in bunches and they don’t communicate or pass off routes well enough.
2) I also found the Eagles still struggle with stacks, bunches etc. I'm not a coach so can't give answers, but Slay/Bradberry's positioning just feels very deep. This completion seems very easy based on the leverage. pic.twitter.com/oMe4JN7juv— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) October 4, 2023
Personally, what I want to see is more zone coverage to take away these stacks and bunches. I want to see more triangle coverage (3 over 2) or box coverage (4 over 3). This should help take away the issue with stacks and bunches.
7) As well as box, we saw some triangle coverage (3over2) to Kupp's side and that worked! It helps when Jalen Carter just walks past the center... but you can see Stafford have to get off his first read. The box/triangle calls by Desai absolutely worked. I would have done this… pic.twitter.com/I0ZgZgpuRq— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) October 10, 2023
3) 3rd and 14. I'm OK with 2-man. But do we need Cunningham in man coverage like this on 3rd and 14? The pass rush bails out Cunningham. Do we need 2 LBs on the field? Ricks does a decent job on Lamb and it's actually a fantastic throw by Dak but it's a bad matchup again. pic.twitter.com/soLATBMUjS— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) November 7, 2023
Handling star wide receivers
I don’t need to explain this one too much, because I’m pretty sure you all remember CeeDee Lamb going 11-191 just a couple of weeks ago. Yes, Lamb is an outstanding receiver. But the way the Eagles handled Lamb was pretty poor in my opinion. Cooper Kupp went 8-115 in his first game back this season against the Eagles. Justin Jefferson also went 11-159 against the Eagles. All three of these wide receivers are outstanding and it is not easy to stop them, but you can’t give up this many receptions and yards. Especially when you have a fantastic pass rush that can win by rushing 4. There has to be an improvement here.
Eagles Defense All22 vs. Cowboys. 1) Eagles came out early on with Ricks on Lamb on 4th and 1 and it went as expected. It's a great call by the Cowboys as the Eagles are expecting something underneath, but I'd love to know what the Eagles thought would happen with Ricks on Lamb pic.twitter.com/1pNFIq40fF— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) November 7, 2023
Eagles Defense All22 threads vs. Rams. 1) I focused heavily on Kupp in this game. It was an experience. The Eagles started off by just lining up in man coverage with Goodrich one-on-one with him and it went as well as you would expect... pic.twitter.com/gSAGZKSfSa— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) October 10, 2023
The answer could be as simple as allowing Darius Slay to travel with top receivers for the whole game. Slay may not be elite anymore, but he is still a very good cornerback.
11) The final few drives the Eagles had Slay follow Lamb and I thought it was the best the defense looked. They bracket Lamb here and Dak is right to move off Lamb on 4th down rather than force it. But I have no idea how he doesn't see the TE who just walks past Cunningham and is… pic.twitter.com/eFQd9crS2W— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) November 7, 2023
The Eagles’ pressure rate is really good this year when rushing with 4 but I still wouldn’t mind a few decent blitz packages. The Eagles currently rank 27th in blitz rate and also 27th in success rate when blitzing. For a team with a dominant defensive line and linebackers who can blitz, that number should be better.
What is the plan for rotation at EDGE? Is Nolan Smith ready?
Josh Sweat and Haason Reddick are playing a lot of snaps right now. Derek Barnett has not been productive at all as a pass rusher, and Nolan Smith hasn’t looked great at all. Nolan Smith has been doing a number of different jobs, and it might be time to simplify things for him and let him get after the quarterback so he can get on the field. Right now, he looks a little lost in pass coverage and in run defense.
3) Then you got some weird stuff like this. Nolan Smith looks a bit lost dropping, but in his defense it is hard to get depth after faking a blitz. Edmunds is playing SO deep despite no one being around him. The spacing is just off. You don't see many guys this open in the NFL. pic.twitter.com/Ps1fxWSGM5— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) October 4, 2023
I’m not sure if Nolan Smith is ready, but the Eagles might have to give him a chance and find out for themselves.
Should this defense remain a man-coverage unit?
This links heavily to my point from earlier about dealing with bunches and stacks. The numbers are pretty incredible this year when compared to last year.
The Eagles are going to get Bradley Roby back but they need to make a philosophical decision about whether this secondary (and the linebackers) has the required talent to win by playing a lot of man coverage. If the answer is yes, then this team must use different personnel packages and get more cornerbacks on the field in obvious passing situations.
Will Jordan Davis last the season?
This is just a personal concern of mine. I think Jordan Davis has been unbelievable this year, and I’m a little worried the defense is too reliant on him already. When he couldn’t play a lot vs. Washington a few weeks ago the run defense struggled for one of the first times. I also worry about his conditioning and whether he can stay this productive all season long.
3) Eagles run D without Jordan Davis and with a 4-man front looked scarily like last year. Being outnumbered in the box puts more stress on your corners in run support and Slay takes a terrible single despite being unblocked. I saw this exact play a lot last year. pic.twitter.com/eEALSyzlya— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) November 1, 2023
That will do for this one. Any comments or questions, let me know as always! Just a reminder that I am now working with BGN Radio, and I will talking about this article in-depth this week. Please check it out and let me know what you think!