Roob's Observations

In Roob's Observations: Eagles' defensive struggles go beyond LBs, DBs

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Why it’s not enough to blame the defensive backs and linebackers for the Eagles’ recent defensive struggles, the four Eagles quarterbacks who’ve beaten the Cowboys twice in a season, a ridiculous Jason Kelce stat and how the Eagles mis-read the Christian Ellis roster situation.

With the Eagles off to Dallas for the latest Game of the Century, here we go with this week's edition of Roob's 10 Random Eagles Observations.

1. It’s easy to place the blame for the recent defensive struggles solely on the Eagles' rickety linebacker group and the ever-changing secondary. But the defensive line, which is loaded with big contracts and Pro Bowlers, deserves its share of the blame, too. The Eagles have allowed an average of 435 yards in their last five games – 3rd-most in franchise history in a five-game period – as well as 29.4 points per game – 2nd-most in the league. They’ve allowed 15 passing TDs – 4th-most in franchise history in any five-game span – and 306 passing yards per game – 5th-most in franchise history over five games. But it’s not just coverage and tackling. The Eagles have not pressured well lately, especially the last three weeks. In wins over the Chiefs and Bills and the loss to the 49ers Sunday, the Eagles faced 121 pass attempts and managed just four sacks. They also had just one in the second Washington game. And they’ve fallen off big-time against the run as well. It’s hard to be too critical of the d-line, but the reality is they haven’t played as well lately as they were early in the season, and with the current state of the linebacker and secondary positions, the Eagles lean so heavily on the guys up front that when their performance falls off, the defense is going to struggle. The rotation has been a lot shorter than last year and the elevated snap counts may be catching up with some of these guys. Jalen Carter and Jordan Davis haven’t been quite so dominating, Josh Sweat has one sack in his last five games and Haason Reddick is up to 9 ½ sacks but has only one 2nd-half sack in his last five games, a sign he may be wearing down as well. If this defense is going to bounce back, it has to start with the guys up front.

2. The Eagles have been outscored 147-143 in their last five games.

3. Through 12 games, the Eagles have used 15 different starters at linebacker and safety, and other than the 1987 strike season, with three games played by replacement players, that’s already the most in franchise history. The linebackers: Nakobe Dean, Christian Ellis, Nicholas Morrow, Zach Cunningham. The defensive backs: Reed Blankenship, James Bradberry, Sydney Brown, Kevin Byard, Terrell Edmunds, Justin Evans, Mario Goodrich, Josh Jobe, Avonte Maddox, Bradley Roby and Darius Slay. The previous high was 14 in 2010. That year the linebackers were Stewart Bradley, Jamar Chaney, Keenan Clayton, Moses Fokou, Omar Gaither, Akeem Jordan and Ernie Sims, and the d-backs were Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Joselio Hanson, Ellis Hobbs, Quintin Mikell, Dmitri Patterson and Asante Samuel. If Shaq Leonard starts Sunday, that’ll make it 16 - five linebackers and 11 defensive backs. 

4. JALEN HURTS STAT OF THE WEEK: Hurts is riding a franchise-record streak of 11 consecutive games with at least two total touchdowns rushing or passing. After he had just one passing TD in the opener in New England, Hurts' streak began in Week 2 with the Vikings, and he’s had 18 passing touchdowns and 12 rushing TDs in 11 games since. The longest previous streak in Eagles history was Randall Cunningham’s nine-game stretch with two touchdowns starting with Washington on opening day of 1987 at the Vet and finishing after the strike with the Giants in December at the Meadowlands. Cunningham had 18 passing TDs and three rushing TDs during that nine-game stretch. Hurts’ 31 total TDs are 2nd-most in the NFL this year, two behind Josh Allen. Dak Prescott is third with 28.

5. Only four Eagles quarterbacks have beaten the Cowboys twice in a season in a series that goes back 64 years. Sonny Jurgensen did it in 1961, Randall Cunningham in 1988, 1989 and 1990, Donovan McNabb in 2000, 2001 and 2004 and Michael Vick in 2011. The Eagles have only swept the Cowboys six times in the last 32 years.

6. Eighteen years after he last played for the Eagles, Terrell Owens set a franchise record earlier this year for most receiving yards per game. When the season began, T.O. was the Eagles’ career record holder for most receiving yards per game at 93.5, and A.J. Brown was second with 88.0. Nobody else was over 70. But when Brown went on his tear earlier this year, he caught T.O. and passed him. It was his 131-yard game against the Jets that gave Brown the franchise record for receiving yards per game. He jumped up from 92.6 to 94.3 that day, relegating T.O. to second in Eagles history. A week later, Brown had 137 yards vs. the Dolphins, which nudged him up to 96.0 and then his 130 yards in Washington got him all the way up to 97.4. He had 66 yards in the first Dallas game, which dropped him a bit to 96.2, but still ahead of T.O. But his eight yards in Kansas City left him at 92.9 and returned the franchise record for yards per game to Owens. Brown dropped further to 90.9 with 37 yards vs. the Bills but his 114 yards vs. the 49ers got him back up to 91.7. For those of you keeping track at home, Brown needs 146 yards in Dallas to pass T.O. on Sunday. Hey, somebody has to keep track of this stuff.

7. It’s not like Christian Ellis was an all-pro, but the Eagles will miss him as a depth piece at linebacker and an outstanding special teamer. What really hurts is that the Eagles just don’t have many young linebackers, and Ellis is a guy the Eagles liked enough to give 1st-team reps to early in training camp and start Sunday against the 49ers. Zach Cunningham has played well, but he’s 29 and on a one-year contract. Nicholas Morrow has played well – not so much Sunday – but he’s 28 and on a one-year deal. Shaq Leonard is an interesting addition, but he’s also 28 and on a one-year deal. The only off-ball linebackers the Eagles have under contract for next year are Nakobe Dean, who’s presumably out for the rest of this year with a foot injury and struggled before he got hurt, and special teamer Ben VanSumeren, who hasn’t played an NFL snap on defense. The thing about losing Ellis is that it wasn’t necessary. It’s always a risk when you try to waive a player onto the practice squad, and the Eagles had other options. They could have cut Albert Okwuegbunam, who’s played 57 snaps since he got here and doesn’t have a catch and isn’t necessary now that the Eagles’ tight ends are all healthy; they could have cut Sua Opeta, who would have been more likely to clear waivers and less of a loss if he didn’t; or maybe IR’d Julio Jones, who’s dealing with a groin injury and hasn’t been a factor since he caught that touchdown in Washington. Ellis will be an exclusive rights free agent at the end of the season, so the Patriots have no reason not to keep him. The Eagles just don’t have many promising young linebackers and they just gave one away when they didn’t have to.

8. Lane Johnson is already one of only 16 offensive tackles in NFL history with four Pro Bowls, two 1st-team all-pros and a championship. Three of those 16 aren’t eligible for the Hall of Fame – Johnson, Andrew Whitworth and Jason Peters – and of the other 13, eight have already been enshrined in Canton. The five others are Stew Barber, who played for the Bills in the 1960s; Joe Jacoby from the Hogs in the 1980s; Dick Schafrath, who played for the Browns in the 1960s; Jim Tyrer, who has been omitted from the Hall for non-football reasons; and Bartram High’s Erik Williams with the Cowboys in the 1990s. If Johnson picks up a third all-pro honor and a fifth Pro Bowl this year – and he very well could – now he becomes one of only 11 tackles with a championship, three all-pros and five Pro Bowls. And seven of nine tackles who have met those benchmarks and are eligible are in, with the exception of Schafrath, who should be a Hall of Famer, and Tyrer, who never will be. Johnson has been the best right tackle in the NFL for quite a while now and it seems like he’s finally gotten past the two suspensions early in his career and is widely perceived league-wide as the elite player he is. Johnson is 33 and I don’t know how much longer he wants to play, but I believe he is getting very close to being a legit Hall of Fame candidate. 

9. The Eagles have lost three road games by 20 or more points since 2019. All three have been at AT&T Stadium – 37-10 in 2019, 37-17 in 2020 and 41-21 in 2021. Their last 20-point road loss to a team other than the Cowboys was 48-7 in New Orleans in 2018. The Eagles also lost by 20 or more points in Dallas in 2005 (33-10), 2009 (24-0 and 34-14 in the playoffs). Over the last 20 years, the Eagles have lost 16 road games by 20 or more points – six to Dallas

10. Jason Kelce has started 102 consecutive regular-season games since his 30thbirthday, which is the 9th-longest streak of consecutive starts in NFL history by an offensive lineman after turning 30. He can’t move up on that list the rest of this year – Frank Gatski, who played for the Browns in the 1940s and 1950s, is next at 108, and the Eagles only have five more games this year. If Kelce does return in 2024, he’d be in range of Gatski, Chris Gray (111), Matt Birk (112) and Randall McDaniel (113). The only other o-linemen ahead of him on that list are Bruce Matthews (160), Casey Wiegmann (144), Mick Tingelhoff (128) and Gene Hickerson (124).

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