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Eight things the Eagles' defense has to fix


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Eight things the Eagles' defense has to fix


When you let a team pick up 50 yards on its second play of the season, put together five touchdown drives of at least 70 yards for the first time in at least 20 years, convert 88 percent of its 2nd-half third downs and rush for 180 yards and three touchdowns, something is wrong.

Terribly wrong.

Coaching? Preparation? Execution? Conditioning? All of the above?

Let’s take a look at eight areas the Eagles’ defense struggled big-time Sunday in their 38-35 win over the Lions. Eight areas that have to get fixed ASAP if the Eagles have any hope of becoming the team they hope to be.

PREPARATION: I don’t understand how you spend an entire summer preparing for the regular season, studying film, practicing, meeting with your coaches, lifting, learning the playbook, focusing on fundamentals and then … 33 seconds into the season, give up a 50-yard run. D’Andre Swift is a nice player, but let’s be honest, before Sunday he had four career runs longer than 20 yards on 265 career rushing attempts. He’s got no business running 50 yards virtually untouched and unchallenged on the second play of the season. The Eagles didn’t allow a 50-yard run all last year, and only two runs of 30 yards – none longer than 32 in a meaningful game. And the last time they allowed a 50-yard run this early in a game was 2000 and it was Marshall Faulk. With all due respect to a tough Philly kid, Swift is not Faulk. The Eagles have so much more talent than last year, and allowing a 50-yard run two plays into the opener is pretty clear evidence that this team was simply not ready to play football. And that’s inexcusable. That’s a reflection of Nick Sirianni, Jonathan Gannon and all the other defensive coaches. The Eagles were not ready to play football at 1:04 p.m. Sunday, and it almost cost them a game.

TACKLING: Pro Football Focus credited the Eagles with 15 missed tackles, which is ridiculous. The Lions ran 66 plays, which means the Eagles averaged a missed tackle every 4 ½ plays – although they had multiple missed tackles on some plays. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Avonte Maddox were the biggest offenders with three apiece, but Kyzir White, T.J. Edwards and James Bradberry had two each and Marcus Epps, Javon Hargrave and Haason Reddick had one. We saw way too many attempts at arm tackling, which is just bad defensive football. Swift is a big, strong, tough, physical runner, and you’re not going to get him on the ground unless you wrap him up and get numbers to the ball. The way the Eagles tackled Sunday, pretty much any NFL running back would have gashed them. And I’m not buying the correlation with them not tackling at training camp. They tackled just fine in last year’s opener in Atlanta after the same kind of training camp. That’s an excuse. There’s no excuse for this. Just bad fundamentals.

PRESSURING: Josh Sweat had a couple pressures, but the Eagles’ only "sack” came when Jared Goff fumbled a snap from center Frank Ragnow, picked it up and was almost immediately dropped by Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. It certainly wasn’t pressure that got to Goff. The Eagles, who managed a meager 29 sacks last year, really only pressured Goff when they blitzed. This is supposed to be an elite defensive line, but they sure didn’t look like one Sunday. The Lions have a very good o-line, but when you have Graham, Sweat, Cox, Javon Hargrave and Haason Reddick, you’ve got to do better than one sack on a broken play against the Detroit Lions. The Eagles had six sacks in last year’s win over the Lions. They have 13 in 10 games since. This coaching staff has to find a way to generate some pressure without blitzing.

CONDITIONING: Gannon said Tuesday he doesn’t think conditioning is an issue with this team but conceded that defending three long drives in a short span can wear any team down. The Lions had TD drives of 75, 75 and 72 yards in the second half, but the second one was only six plays, and the Lions only ran 35 plays after halftime and only had the ball for 15:01, so I’m not buying the "three long drives” theory. I saw a team that was simply gassed in the second half.

TAKEAWAYS: Another huge issue that all the newcomers were supposed to fix. Bradberry had the huge pick-6 that made it 21-7 in the second quarter, but that was the Eagles’ only takeaway. Only four teams have forced fewer takeaways than the Eagles over the last two years – the Panthers, Raiders, Jets and Jaguars. You don’t get a lot of opportunities for takeaways, and the Eagles aren't good enough to squander the ones they do get. When the Lions trailed 31-14 in the third quarter, Darius Slay had an interception sail right through his hands in the end zone, and that’s a play a Pro Bowl cornerback has to make. Pick it off, you’re up 17 with the ball. Game’s over. But Slay couldn’t secure it, and a few plays later, Goff threw a TD pass that brought the Lions within 10. Last year’s defense didn’t have the players to force a bunch of takeaways. This roster should. They have to.

ROTATIONS: My colleague Dave Zangaro wrote about this, but it can’t be repeated enough. Jordan Davis has to play more snaps. He can’t play almost half as many as Fletcher Cox and fewer than Marlon Tuipulotu. You don’t draft a guy 14th overall who’s the best run defender in college football and have him play fewer snaps than a second-year 6th-round pick who barely made the roster. You don’t draft the best run defender in college football and play him 32 percent of the defensive snaps. Gotta unleash the kid. Get Nakobe Dean some run while you're at it.

RUN FITS: When a team rushes for 181 yards and three touchdowns, it’s not just poor tackling. The Eagles also struggled with their run fits, or their defensive positioning on running plays. Maybe some of that is having so many new pieces leading to poor communication, but it’s really basic stuff, and the Eagles need to clean that up immediately.

STARS BEING STARS: There are some elite players on this defense, and when things aren’t going well, you turn to the stars – Cox, Graham, Hargrave, Slay, Sweat and Bradberry are Pro Bowlers and Reddick is being paid like one. Of that group, only Bradberry made an impact play Sunday. The Eagles need production from the big names (and salaries) on this unit. They didn't show up Sunday.

PUTTING A TEAM AWAY: This is just basic killer instinct. When you’re up 17 points in the middle of the third quarter and you’ve more than doubled your opponent’s yardage total (364-170), you need to know how to finish a team off. Whether it’s a takeaway, a big hit, a 3rd-down stop, you find a way. Playoff teams don’t let teams come back on them like the Eagles did Sunday. After the Eagles went up 17 on the Kenny Gainwell TD early in the third quarter, the Lions outgained them 216-82 the rest of the way and outscored them 21-7. The Lions went 7-for-8 on third down after halftime. When the momentum starts to swing, somebody has to make a play. Nobody did.


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Tackling tackling tackling oh and yeah tackling. Pressure and blitzing too. They need to trust the secondary more. They are paying those guys a lot of money to cover so sometimes just trust them to do their job. Get pressure and sacks because that changes momentum and games. 

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