Well, if you’re going to have a weakness in today’s NFL, it’s better to be softer on defense than offense.
After their 33-13 shellacking at the hands of the Cowboys, both sides of the ball gave fans and analysts plenty of ammunition with which to smite them. Nick Sirianni’s offense, which featured all 11 starters healthy and on the field for the entire game, scored six points.
Defensively, Dallas cruised to 24 easy points by halftime before settling for field goals in the second half. It was an awful performance by everyone on the field, the second straight week both units embarrassed themselves on national television.
With four weeks left in the season, a 10-3 record, and four winnable games remaining, the Eagles should finish the season with a ridiculously good 14-3 record. There’s absolutely no excuse to lose to the Seahawks in Seattle, two games against the Giants and a game against Jonathan Gannon’s Cardinals.
(Can you imagine the Eagles losing to their former defensive coordinator in this current environment? We may just have to shut the whole thing down.)
Both sides of the ball need fixing, but that may be an impossible task for the defense.
Outside of what is supposed to be a ferocious pass rush, the Eagles are woefully short on playmakers in the back-seven. Filled with older, slower players who have lost the ability to tackle in space, it’s hard to see how defensive coordinator Sean Desai can get this unit to play better outside of asking Josh Sweat, Haason Reddick, Jalen Carter, Fletcher Cox, Milton Williams, Brandon Graham and Jordan Davis to win their individual battles more than they are right now.
If the pass rush is getting to the QB, the defense will likely be fine, and if the run defense can get back to being the No. 1 unit in the league, the defense will likely be fine. But overwork and a rookie wall has seemingly sapped the energy from this unit, exposing the linebackers, safeties and corners on a weekly basis.
Whether you like or dislike Desai’s Vic Fangio-inspired bend-but-don’t-break defense (and I definitely hate it), off-season miscalculations appear to be coming home to roost, seemingly make it difficult to change things on the fly.
You can’t un-injure Nakobe Dean, upon whom the team pinned so much of their hopes at linebacker coming into the season. You can’t turn back the clock on Darius Slay and James Bradberry’s speed. Both appear a step slower than last year, and neither is making splash plays with any regularity. You can’t make aging veterans like Kevin Bayard, Bradley Roby and Shaq Leonard, all acquired in the middle of the season, to play like Pro Bowlers, and you can’t expect younger players with limited experience to suddenly shut down the best offenses in football.
With so much uncertainty on the defensive side of the ball, it’s become clear that if the Eagles are going to go on a late-season run and regain their footing as a Super Bowl favorite, Jalen Hurts and the star-studded offense are going to have to lead the way.
The Eagles must score 30+ points a game if they want to see this thing through, and with a roster littered with Pro Bowlers and a supposed offensively-minded head coach in Sirianni, there is no excuse for this healthy offense not to put up big numbers the rest of the way.
Today’s NFL is an offense-first league. The old axiom “you win with defense” doesn’t really apply anymore, although having a good defense is certainly better than not. But recent Super Bowl champions have won with substandard defenses.
The 5 worst defenses to win a Super Bowl were: 2011 Giants 25th, 2006 Colts 23rd, 2009 Saints 20th, 2007 Giants 17th, and [last] year’s Chiefs with a rank of 16 were the 5th worst defense to win a Super Bowl.
Right now, the Philly defense is one of the worst in the league.
Eagles defense over last 3 games giving up 61% on 3rd down. By far worst in NFL— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) December 11, 2023
Worst third down defense in the NFL giving up 48% conversions
Eagles redzone Defense is giving up TDs 92% last 3 games. Only the Bears and Panthers are worse in the redzone this year pic.twitter.com/c0WK05mRB0
It is possible to win in January if the offense is putting up points. And for most of the season, they have.
Success rate on offensive plays -- #Eagles offense— Jeff Kerr (@JeffKerrCBS) December 12, 2023
Overall -- 48.8% (4th in #NFL)
TD per drive -- 27.0% (6th in NFL)
Points Per Possession -- 2.38 (5th in NFL)
3rd down -- 47.7% (3rd in NFL)
4th down -- 71.4% (1st in NFL)
Turnovers Per Drive -- 13.9% (22nd in NFL)
But it’s been a different story lately. NBC’s Ruben Frank posted some absolutely ridiculous numbers regarding the offense’s anemic offensive production, specifically in the first half of games.
The last time they led at halftime was the Miami game back in Week 7 and the last time they scored more than seven points in a first quarter was opening day in New England.
They’ve been outscored 38-12 in the first half of their back-to-back losses to the 49ers and Cowboys, and they’ve been outscored 106-50 in the first half going back to the second Washington game.
It’s clear Sirianni’s game plans simply haven’t good enough, and our Shane Haff recently rattled off a number of areas in which the team needs to improve.
The good news is, moreso than the defense, the offense has the pieces to do all of it. There is no limit to how good they can be. They truly are that talented.
For two years, they’ve been one of the league’s most effective units thanks to the best offensive line in the league, two elite talents at wide receiver, and a decent mix at running back. They have won with a basic offense that has taken advantage of their superior talent, so it’s reasonable to assume that if Sirianni and Brian Johnson can come up with some wrinkles, they can recover their mojo over the last four weeks heading into the playoffs.
But on Sunday night, Hurts threw the ball to only three players: Brown, Smith and Dallas Goedert.
While it’s good to get the ball to your three best players, that level of exclusivity absolutely cannot happen again. Sirianni must also reconcile himself to the fact that Hurts is going to be a one dimensional player this year — the running aspect of his game is gone (enough slides behind the line of scrimmage!!!) and there’s no sign it will return this season.
Much of what’s hampered them this year are turnovers, led by Hurts’ 10 interceptions and five lost fumbles. An incredible 14 of their 19 offensive turnovers have been in opponents’ territory, a ridiculously large number of points left on the field. That really shouldn’t continue.
All that can be rectified with a more creative game plan and an actual scheme designed to get players the ball.
It’s also fair to demand more from the offensive line, whose age may be starting to catch up with them. On Sunday night, Lane Johnson had one of the lowest PFF grades on the team, and Cam Jurgens wasn’t much better.
While we’re all hoping Desai and the defense has some tricks up their sleeves or that the defensive line can catch a second wind and dominate some of these late-season foes, it’s possible they simply may not be good enough to allow the offense to take a breath for the rest of 2024. It’s possible, if the Eagles are going to go anywhere in January, it’ll be on the back of a bunch of 35-30 games.
So be it. Your MVP candidates and offensive line superstars are going to have to carry this team across the finish line.
They can do it, but only if the CEO head coach and his QB get more creative.