Big plays killed the Eagles last year. They allowed the second-most 20-yard plays in the NFL, the third-most 30-yard plays and the third-most 40-yard plays.
Those plays have largely evaporated this year, and the Eagles' ability to reduce — and lately eliminate — big plays has contributed tremendously to their eight-game winning streak and NFL-best 9-1 record.
“We're just all doing our job, nothing more, nothing less," Patrick Robinson said. "When the plays are presenting itself, we make those plays. It’s been huge for us so far. Make them throw it down in front of us."
After last year's barrage of long passes and big runs, the Eagles this year rank third in the NFL in 40-yard plays allowed, third in 30-yard plays and second in 20-yard plays.
The improvement is astonishing.
It's been a month and a half since an opposing offense last hit a play longer than 32 yards against the Eagles — the Chargers game, to be specific.
That's six straight games without allowing a big play.
That's the Eagles' longest stretch without an opposing play longer than 32 yards in at least 25 years.
“Last year, it was something we wanted to correct going into this year," Malcolm Jenkins said. "Big plays, it’s a group effort. And that’s the D-line included in that, linebackers, DBs.
"I think one of the factors when it comes to passes down the field, I think the corners and the guys on the outside are doing a good job challenging down the field and quarterbacks don’t have a lot of time to throw it down the field, so we get hit with a lot of quick plays, and we’re tackling well, so we don’t have those missed tackles and plays going for 20, 30 yards.
"All those things are contributing to it. And we’re doing a great job on third down, so we’re giving ourselves an opportunity to get off the field, and we’re not allowing them to score quickly. They’ve got to dink and dunk it, and eventually, we win on third down."
Let's take a look at the longest plays the Eagles have allowed in each of their last six games:
Cardinals [34-7 win]: Passing - 28 yards, Rushing - 14 yards
Panthers [28-23 win]: Passing - 20, Rushing - 20
Redskins [34-24 win]: Passing - 32, Rushing - 15
49ers [33-10 win]: Passing - 24, Rushing - 12
Broncos [51-23 win]: Passing - 32, Rushing - 9
Cowboys [37-9 win]: Passing - 19, Rushing - 22
During that same span, there have been 233 offensive plays league-wide longer than any play the Eagles have given up.
Like Jenkins said, it's going to be difficult to drive 80 yards down the field against the Eagles without hitting any big plays. They're ranked second in the NFL on third down conversion rate at 29.1 percent, behind only the Vikings (28.5 percent).
And during these last six games, the Eagles have allowed only eight offensive touchdowns. Three of them came on short fields. So they've only given up five TD drives longer than 52 yards since Week 5. Just one in the last three games.
Limiting big plays means limiting touchdowns. And that wins games. It's a pretty simple formula.
"Defensively, there are a lot of different things you want to do, but the very first thing you want to do is stop a drive," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said.
"The thing that correlates the highest to scoring plays, whether it's a field goal or ends up being a touchdown, are plus-20 [yard] plays. You don't want to play conservative. There's a fine line there, too. You [might] not give up [a 20-yard play] the whole time and just let somebody matriculate down the field.
"I think we're a good tackling team. I think we're a good communicating team, and we've had a lot of different guys get experience. Our lineup was a little bit different just about every game early in the season. Some guys got hurt early in games, and they were filling roles. I think as the season has gone on we've settled down. I think that's probably the biggest part of that."
Of the eight plays of at least 35 yards the Eagles have allowed this year, three were Philip Rivers passes, two were Alex Smith passes, one was an Eli Manning pass and the other was a 35-yard run by Austin Ekeler of the Chargers on his first carry of the year.
When you tackle well and communicate well, those big plays just aren't going to happen.
For the sake of comparison, since the Eagles last allowed an offensive play longer than 35 yards, the rest of the NFC East has allowed 27 of them.
“I’d say communication (is) definitely a big factor," Nigel Bradham said. "And also chemistry. Guys understand the scheme and how to play together with one another and have a good understanding of the scheme. It’s our second year in the scheme, most of us, some guys in their first year contributing, but we’re learning and everybody’s just feeding off each other.
"We just motivate ourselves. We trying to get off the field and get our offense on the field. We know what we have on the offensive side of the ball. Their ability to put up points is unbelievable. So we’re just trying to get them on the field as much as we can."