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4 areas Eagles need to improve coming back from bye


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4 areas Eagles need to improve coming back from bye


The Eagles are back from their bye week and are the NFL’s only undefeated team with a 6-0 record.

They come back with four straight games against teams without winning records. Their next four opponents have a combined win-loss record of 9-16-2.

What’s even more encouraging is that despite the Eagles’ 6-0 record, they still have plenty of areas to get better. Despite the perfect record, they haven’t played a perfect game yet. The Eagles have done a ton really well over the first six games but there’s room for improvement.

Here are four areas that stand out:

Special teams play

The weakest of the three units on this 6-0 team has been special teams. That’s not to say there haven’t been bright spots because there obviously have been. Zech McPhearson was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week in Week 1 and backup kicker Cameron Dicker took the honor in Week 5. Beyond that, Jake Elliott has been solid, Arryn Siposs has been fine and the Eagles are getting decent individual performances from a few players. But there have also been some mishaps. There was a blocked field goal vs. the Vikings, a fake punt conversion from the Cardinals, a couple muffed punts against Washington and Arizona.

The Eagles have escaped major disaster from one of these blunders but you get the feeling that eventually it’s going to cost them a game. What makes it difficult to fix is that these are all very different problems from a unit that encompasses players from just about every position group. Still, there’s no question that Michael Clay’s unit has been the weak link at times.

On paper, the Eagles are starting their drives on average at the 29.7-yard line (5th in the NFL) and their opponents are starting at the 24.6 (2nd). That sounds good but a big reason for that is the Eagles’ incredible turnover differential of +12, which is probably not entirely sustainable. They’ve been OK covering punts (opponent average of 6.7 per return) and slightly worse at covering kickoffs (25.6), which includes a scary 63-yard kick return against the Cowboys.

But where the Eagles need to be better is in the return game. Britain Covey has been OK at kick returns, averaging 23.0 yards per attempt, but hasn’t been great as a punt returner. He’s averaging 6.5 yards per attempt (ranked 20th) and has muffed a couple. It’s not all on Covey, but he needs to be better and the entire unit is a part of that.

Run defense

By the raw numbers, the Eagles haven’t been that bad against the run. They’ve given up an average of 109.8 rushing yards per game, which ranks 12th in the NFL. But they’re also giving up 5.0 yards per rushing attempt, which ranks 28th in the NFL. So there’s some work to be done here.

What has been working for the Eagles is getting ahead of teams early. Because of that, some teams have been forced to abandon the run early. That’s why the Eagles have seen just 132 rushing attempts this season (second-fewest in the NFL).

The Eagles have played some pretty good rushing offenses this season and have struggled against them. They were hurt on the ground by the Lions in Week 1 and the Cowboy got them before the bye. Some of it is just execution. The Eagles have 57 total missed tackles and 25 of those are in the run game, according to PFF. By the way, PFF ranks the Eagles as the 30th-ranked tackling defense in the NFL. So that’s something that just needs to change.

And some things schematically could help too. The Lions caught the Eagles off guard by running deeper into that game despite being down. For the most part, the Eagles have been able to stuff the run in their bear front and have been gashed more in their four-man front. It’ll be up to Jonathan Gannon to marry those fronts a little better coming back from the bye.

Answers to the blitz

The Eagles saw a really heavy blitz rate against the Cardinals a few weeks ago and their answer was really simple. They had Jalen Hurts get rid of the football and they threw a million screens. The Eagles won the game so it worked but that’s a tough way to play offensive football. It wasn’t a bad philosophy to have: Just don’t let the blitz beat us. But there have to be other answers too.

When asked about the Eagles’ answers for dealing with the blitz back on Oct. 12, head coach Nick Sirianni was understandably guarded.

"The answer is going to be a little bit — sometimes it's going to be an inside thing and sometimes it's going to be an outside thing,” he said, "and sometimes it's going to be a shot down the field and sometimes it's going to be a screen like we had some last week. It's never the same against the blitzes that they bring, right. It's always going to be a little different because when you're the same, it's the same thing we always talk about. You give tells to the defense, right. And so if it was always a short thing, then they are going to play off of that as well. So, there's got to be variety to it. And we are very conscious of that, and we're thinking about that a lot.”

Take a look at Hurts’ passing numbers this season, per PFF, when he’s blitzed and when he’s not:

Not blitzed: (147 drop backs) 71.7%, 1,111 yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT

Blitzed (74 drop backs): 57.8%, 403 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Teams are going to keep blitzing Hurts this season. Why wouldn’t they?

The Eagles have to be able to use that to their advantage. Hurst has gotten better at seeing these blitzes — it’s still a process — and I think the shot play is coming. On a third down against the Cowboys, they had one ready but the protection broke down on the blitz pickup.

Just take a look at A.J. Brown at the bottom of your screen. The Eagles are going to hit one of these soon.

Finishing stronger

The Eagles have scored 161 points through six games but nearly 70% of them have come in the second quarter:

First quarter: 14

Second quarter: 112

Third quarter: 17

Fourth quarter: 18

What the Eagles have been doing is clearly working on some level. They’re 6-0. But 35 second half points is the third-lowest total in the NFL behind the Broncos and Titans. It hasn’t all been bad in the second quarter and I give the Eagles credit for going on those marathon fourth-quarter drives that bleed clock and pretty much end games. But finding a little more balance between playing with the lead and keeping aggressiveness would go a long way.

In all six games this season, the Eagles have had a 14-point lead at some point. That can sometimes be tricky. But the Eagles have had their opportunities to keep the foot on the gas early second halves of games and haven’t done it.

In each of the last four games, the Eagles have gotten the ball first after halftime and their offense has sputtered. In the Washington, Jacksonville and Dallas games the result has been the same: The Eagles got a first down and then stalled and punted. At least in the Arizona game they went on a 5:03 field goal drive to extend the lead.

In fairness, the Eagles put together a touchdown drive after halftime in the opener in Detroit, but that was a while ago.

The Eagles like to defer when they win the coin toss, which has probably helped them pile up so many points in the second quarter. But that also gives them a chance to really put teams away early in the third. So far, they haven’t really capitalized on that.


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