Bill Davis: Eagles' third-down defense ‘has been terrible'


It’s the long ones that really hurt. The 3rd-and-13s. The 3rd-and-15s. The 3rd-and-19s.

The Eagles have been bad on third down the last couple weeks, in particular on third-and-long.

The Eagles beat the Saints on Sunday but not before New Orleans converted three third downs of 10 or more to go.

That matched the most 3rd-and-10s or longer a team has converted in a game against the Eagles in 15 years, since the Cowboys converted four in a game the Eagles won 41-14 at Texas Stadium in 2000. All four came on Randall Cunningham passes to Joey Galloway and Rocket Ismail.

The Eagles allowed both the Redskins and Saints to convert at least 50 percent or more of their third downs, dropping from ninth to 22nd in the NFL in third-down conversion.

That is so bad it convinced defensive coordinator Bill Davis to change the practice routine this week to include more of a focus on defending third down.

“Yeah, the last two weeks our third down has been terrible,” Davis said. “It is a combination of things. If it was one thing, you could change it. But, we've looked at it hard. It's individual. Sometimes it's technique. Sometimes, we could have been in a different coverage. Sometimes it's the pass rush wasn't there.

“So it's different breakdowns. We'll get it right. … When it happens one week it happens, but two weeks in a row? You have to really throw some extra reps and time into it.”

Measuring only third downs of 10 or more yards, the Eagles rank 27th in the league, allowing eight of 26 to be converted into first downs. That’s 31 percent. The league average is 21 percent.

This isn’t a new problem. Last year, the Eagles ranked 25th against 3rd-and-long, and in 2013 they were 28th.

During Davis' three years as defensive coordinator, the Eagles rank 31st at 25.5 percent, allowing 48 conversions on 188 3rd-and-longs. Only the Vikings have been worse.

Curiously, during the same three-year span, the Eagles are second-best in the NFL on third down and three or less at 51 percent. This is a direct reflection of the Eagles' strength up front and inconsistency in the back end.

“It’s just staying attention to the details and making a play on the ball,” linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. “I feel like we’re there in a lot of those situations, we just have to make a play on the ball. 

“Those guys have been making plays on us in 3rd-and-long, we just haven’t been getting the ball out.”

With Eli Manning and the Giants coming to town Monday, this is definitely an area the Eagles need to get better in.

The Giants rank eighth in the NFL, converting 44 percent.

“It's been the same every week,” Chip Kelly said. “It’s just like we were offensively when we weren't successful — we need to execute. And playing really good third-down defense is critical to being a good defensive football team.

“You put them in a situation where it is third down, now we need to get a stop and we need to get off the field. You know, it's been an emphasis. We always have a third-down period every day in training, whether it be in 7-on-7 or in our team sessions, but I think our guys are kind of understanding what we have to do.

“A lot of times it's really — the ones that really are the back breakers are the 3rd-and-longs because you put them into a 3rd-and-long. That means you've executed on first and second down, and now we need to kind of finish it. We need to not allow them to stay on the field, so we can turn the ball back over to our offense.”

And all three long Saints conversions came in the second half, all on medium-range Drew Brees passes.

It marked the first time the Eagles have allowed first downs on three 3rd-and-longs in a half since 2002, when the Colts did it in the first half of a blowout win in the old RCA Dome on Peyton Manning passes to Reggie Wayne and Troy Walters and a long James Mungro touchdown run.

“It’s hard because when it’s 3rd-and-10 (or more) plays, the sticks are in our favor,” Ryans said. “So defensively, we should win that battle most of the time and we’ve been coming up on the short end of that stick a lot, which is unfortunate and not good and that causes us to go out there and play extra plays, which is really self-inflicted.”

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