Encouraging signs from the secondary, Nolan Smith’s role with Derek Barnett out of the picture and an unbelievable sack stat.
The Eagles keep rolling along – they’ve now owned or shared the best record in the NFL for 29 straight weeks – and so does Roob’s 10 Random Eagles Observations!
1. The Eagles’ pass defense has come under a lot of criticism this year, much of it warranted. With injuries riddling the secondary, players coming and going from the practice squad to the playing field, guys being put in positions they never practiced and rookies getting high-leverage reps they never expected, it’s not surprising the Eagles are 28th in the league in passing yards allowed. But here’s an interesting corollary to that: The Eagles are also 9th in the league in passing yards allowed per play. How do you account for the disparity? Two big reasons. First of all, the Eagles are best in the NFL against the run, which encourages teams to throw. A lot. Eagles opponents are running only 19 times per game –which over a full season would be the lowest in NFL history. Second of all, the Eagles are usually in the lead, which also encourages teams to throw more often. But the Chiefs game illustrates how teams are passing a ton against the Eagles but not for a lot of yards. Patrick Mahomes’ 4.1 yards per attempt last Monday night was lowest of his career and 3rd-lowest ever against the Eagles by a quarterback throwing at least 40 passes (Phil Simms in 1980, Jay Cutler in 2009). And overall this year, the Eagles are allowing 6.1 yards per pass attempt – the same figure as the 2017 Super Bowl-championship team allowed. Total yards are important. But if you’re top 10 in the league in limiting yards per pass, that’s definitely encouraging.
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2. Also encouraging is the way Kevin Byard and Bradley Roby played Monday night, and if they can continue to play at that level it’s going to help the entire secondary big-time. Remember, that was the first time they’ve been on the field together. You saw Darius Slay and James Bradberry play better Monday night and Reed Blankenship continue to do his thing. This was the first time this year the Eagles had what should be their strongest secondary together, and with each passing week – if they can stay healthy – they’ll continue to grow together, get used to each other and develop better chemistry. Secondary play is all about communication. When you look over at the slot and know it’s going to be Roby and not, oh, maybe Mario Goodrich, Mekhi Garner, Sydney Brown, Eli Ricks or Josiah Scott, you can play faster and freer. It’s remarkable that the Eagles got to 9-1 using 15 different defensive backs. Pass defense should only continue to get better as this group learns to play together.
3A. In his 6 ½ seasons with the Eagles, Derek Barnett had 21 ½ sacks for 174 yards and 28 penalties for 202 yards.
3B. Barnett had 2.0 sacks in 987 snaps over his final 29 games with the Eagles.
4. Britain Covey is averaging 14.6 yards per punt return. Only six undrafted players in NFL history have ever averaged 14 yards per punt return for a season (minimum 24 returns) but only two have done it in the last 50 years: J.T. Smith of the Chiefs in 1980 (14.5) and Michael Lewis of the Saints in 2002 (14.2). (That's Michael Lewis the former Eagle who was in camp in 2000, not the former Eagle Michael Lewis who was a Pro Bowl safety in 2004). The only Eagles to ever average more yards per punt than Covey in a full season are Brian Westbrook (15.3 in 2003) and DeSean Jackson (15.2 in 2009).
5. Over the first six weeks of the season the Eagles were 25th in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage at 42 percent, with TDs on just 10 of 24 drives into the red zone. Over the last five weeks, the Eagles are best in the NFL in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on 77 percent of their drives. Since the Miami game, they’ve scored touchdowns on 13 of 17 possessions that went into the red zone. The other four drives were a field goal, two fumbles and an end of game where they weren’t trying to score. So that 77 percent in reality is 81 percent. You knew they’d get better. There was no reason for them not to.
6A. It’s revealing that even with Barnett inactive for the Chiefs game, Nolan Smith’s snaps stayed the same but Brandon Graham’s snaps increased. Smith only played five snaps in K.C. – right around his season average of 6.2 per game – but B.G. played 25, his 2nd-highest total this year and well above his average of 18.2. I want to see Smith. You want to see Smith. Everybody wants to see Smith. But the fact that Josh Sweat and Haason Reddick both recorded their highest snap total in an Eagles uniform Monday night and B.G. was the one whose reps got bumped up tells you it’s probably not going to happen this year. Yeah, it’s concerning when a 1st-round pick doesn’t play, but I think it has as much to do with how well Graham has played in limited snaps as anything Smith has or hasn’t done. B.G. — now in his 14th season — has generated consistent pressure in limited playing time, and the defensive coaches clearly like the Sweat / Reddick / B.G. rotation. Those three guys played 160 of the Eagles’ 165 edge snaps Monday night, and I don’t think that’s going to change the rest of the season.
6B. And I just think this coaching staff really seems to prefer playing veterans than rookies. Whether it’s Sua Opeta over Tyler Steen, Justin Evans over Sydney Brown, B.G. over Smith or even Kyzir White over Nakobe Dean last year, they’re going to go with the veteran if it’s close. And that's understandable with a team trying to win a Super Bowl. These coaches trust veterans.
7. The Eagles have 19 sacks in the first 55 minutes of their 10 games. They have 12 sacks in the final five minutes.
8. Olamide Zaccheaus is the Eagles’ 3rd-leading wide receiver with 87 yards through 10 games. That puts him on pace for 148 yards this year. Last time the Eagles didn’t have three WRs with 150 yards in a season was 1992, when Fred Barnett had 1,083 yards, Calvin Williams 598 and 35-year-old Roy Green was next with 105 yards in nine games. You’d like to see someone take ownership of that third spot, whether it’s O.Z., Julio Jones or even Quez Watkins, who’s eligible to return from his hamstring injury – although the Eagles don’t seem to be in a hurry to get him on the field. Devon Allen? Greg Ward? Joseph Ngata? Anybody? D'Andre Swift has done a nice job catching the ball out of the backfield – he has 33 catches on 38 targets – but especially with Dallas Goedert out, this offense could use a third down-field threat.
9A. JALEN HURTS STAT OF THE WEEK #1: Jalen Hurts had 10 rushing touchdowns in 2021 and 13 last year and has nine so far this year. With one more, he’ll become the first quarterback in NFL history with three straight seasons with double-digit rushing TDs. No other quarterback has ever had two straight.
9B. JALEN HURTS STAT OF THE WEEK #2: Hurts is 32-12 in his first 44 career starts. The only quarterbacks to win more of their first 44 starts are Daryle Lamonica (38-6), Patrick Mahomes (36-8), Kurt Warner (35-9), Lamar Jackson (35-9), Ken Stabler (34-10) and Dan Marino (34-10). Tom Brady, Roger Staubach, Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson also went 32-12.
10. DeVonta Smith had 99 yards vs. the Commanders and 99 yards vs. the Chiefs. He’s the first NFL player with two 99-yard games in the same season since Chad Johnson in 2004. In 785 games from mid-1977 through the Miami game, only two Eagles had 99 yards in a game –Wilbert Montgomery against Washington in 1982 and Fred Barnett against the Cowboys in 1994. Then Smith did it twice in three games.