Remember last year? When the Eagles had the top-ranked pass defense in the NFL?
They don’t anymore.
That defense doesn’t exist anymore, and the Eagles have some work to do after allowing Mac Jones to have a career day Sunday.
The Eagles did some good things defensively Sunday in their season-opening win over the Patriots. They shut down New England’s running attack, they forced two turnovers that led to 14 points, they only allowed six points in the second half, and they were able to generate pressure with the game on the line in the final minutes.
But they also allowed Mac Jones to throw for 300 yards and three touchdowns for the first time in his three-year career, and he became the least accomplished quarterback with a 300-yard, three-TD performance against the Eagles since Austin Davis – remember Austin Davis? – did it in his third career start for the St. Louis Rams in 2014.
Jones was a 1st-round pick a couple years ago, but he’s not a guy you expect to light up your secondary to the tune of 316 yards and three TDs.
“We got the win, that’s all that matters, but we’ve got to go out there and put out a better tape,” said Darius Slay, whose pick-6 gave the Eagles a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.
“We need to go out there and fix our mistakes. Overall, we got the win and that’s what it’s all about. But as a leader on this defense I know we need to go out and execute better 'cause we’re better than that.”
The Eagles lost a lot of pieces from last year’s back seven – T.J. Edwards, Kyzir White, Marcus Epps, Chauncey-Gardner Johnson as well as Jonathan Gannon and secondary coach Dennard Wilson – and on opening day they looked like a new unit that was still trying to find its way.
The only other quarterback to throw for 300 yards and three TDs against the Eagles since Nick Sirianni became head coach was Dak Prescott last year on Christmas Eve.
The Eagles allowed an NFL-low 179 passing yards per game last year and Jones nearly doubled that. They only allowed four passing TDs in their first five games. Jones put up three in one game.
This was only the second time since 1984 the Eagles allowed a 300-yard, 3-TD passer on opening day. Washington's Case Keenum of all people did it in 2019.
“Obviously, there is a lot we need to work on, but I felt like our effort was there,” safety Reed Blankenship said. “We showed the character of who we are and who we are as individuals.”
The Patriots not surprisingly attacked the middle of the field and newcomers Zach Cunningham, Nakobe Dean and Justin Evans. Dean hurt his foot and was replaced by Christian Ellis, and Evans rotated in spots with Terrell Edmunds. But Cunningham and Evans in particular struggled in coverage, and James Bradberry didn’t have his best game either.
And let's be honest: The Patriots don’t really have any big-time offensive skill guys. But undrafted veteran receiver Kendrick Bourne, running back Rhamondre Stevenson, tight end Hunter Henry and rookie 6th-round pick Demario Douglas combined for 21 catches for 224 yards.
It’s not like the Eagles were facing Tom Brady, Stanley Morgan and Gronk here.
The Eagles as a rule don’t make their coordinators available to the media after games, but Sean Desai will be available on Tuesday.
Sirianni said he was happy with the defense in general, pointing to the takeaways, three 4th-down stops and outstanding pressure from the front late in the game.
And the defense along with Jake Elliott really won the game when the offense couldn’t get anything going after the first quarter.
“Anytime you create two turnovers that lead to 14 points, that's big time,” he said. “That's the difference in the game.”
But there is work to do in the back seven, and it will be interesting to see if there are any lineup changes going into the Vikings game Thursday night at the Linc.
Will Sydney Brown get a shot at safety? Will Ellis replace Cunningham if Dean is healthy enough to play? Will Nicholas Morrow get a call-up from the practice squad to help out at linebacker? On top of all that, Bradberry left the game in the fourth quarter and would be replaced by Josh Jobe if he can't play Thursday night.
Mac Jones is a nice player, but the Eagles face some pretty high-powered quarterbacks over the next few months: Kirk Cousins Thursday, Prescott twice, Patrick Mahomes, Brock Purdy, Josh Allen, Matt Stafford and Tua Tagovailoa, to name a few.
If Mac Jones can throw for 316 yards and three touchdowns ...
The Eagles did enough to get a win Sunday, but they know they’ve got to play better in the back end to beat the high-powered offenses looming on their schedule.
“Obviously, we have a lot to clean up in all phases,” Sirianni said.