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Is Eagles' defense fixable after meltdown vs. 49ers?

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On Oct. 9, 1966, the Eagles played the Cowboys at the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys opened the game with touchdowns on their first six drives – Don Meredith TD passes to Dan Reeves, Hall of Famer Bob Hayes and Hayes again, then a short Reeves TD run, then a Meredith TD to Frank Clarke and finally a short run by rookie Walt Garrison – his first career touchdown.

Six drives, six touchdowns.

Why is that game relevant 57 years later?

Because Sunday was the first time since then that the Eagles’ defense allowed touchdowns on six consecutive drives.

This was a historically bad performance by the Eagles’ defense.

The 49ers went 3-and-out on their first two drives, then never stopped scoring until they were taking a knee with their backup quarterback in the final seconds.

From 14:11 left in the second quarter until 5:19 left in the fourth quarter, they reeled off touchdown drives of 85, 90, 75, 77, 75 and 48 yards.

That’s 49 points in 39 minutes.

During that stretch, the 49ers outgained the Eagles 452-153. On two of the TD drives, they never even faced a third down. 

The Eagles had allowed 11 touchdown drives of 75 yards all year. Then they allowed five in a row.

When the game mercifully ended, the 49ers had handed the Eagles one of their ugliest home losses ever, 42-19.

Last time a playoff-bound Eagles team lost by 23 points at home in a meaningful game was 2009 against the Saints. Before that, 1947 against the Cards.

How bad was it?

• The 49ers averaged 8.0 yards per play, the highest figure against the Eagles since Washington averaged 8.6 in that 42-37 Eagles win at RFK in 1989 and the highest figure against the Eagles at home since the 49ers averaged 8.4 yards per play in a 31-3 win in 1971.

• After starting out 0-for-4, Brock Purdy completed 19 of his last 23 passes for 314 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Over the last three quarters, Purdy had as many touchdown passes as incomplete passes. His 148.8 passer rating is 3rd-highest ever by an opposing quarterback in Philadelphia, behind Peyton Manning in 2002 (158.3) and Sammy Baugh in 1940 (149.0). 

• The 49ers gashed the Eagles both running and throwing. They became only the seventh team ever with 300 or more passing yards and 140 or more rushing yards against the Eagles in Philly (but the second in eight days). 

• The 49ers converted 73 percent of their third downs, the 4th-highest figure on record against the Eagles and 2nd-highest in Philadelphia. Third down conversion numbers have been kept since 1991.

• Over the last five games, the Eagles have allowed over 1,500 yards and 15 passing touchdowns for the first time in franchise history in a five-game span. The average opposing QB during that stretch has gone 28-for-43 for 306 yards with half an interception and a 103.9 passer rating.

The breakdowns occurred on every level of the defense.

Haason Reddick sacked Purdy on his third drop-back, then the Eagles recorded just one more sack the rest of the game. For the fourth time this year they didn’t record a takeaway. They missed tackles all over the place. They allowed two 40-yard touchdowns after allowing just one in their first 11 games. 

What’s most concerning is that this didn’t come out of nowhere. This wasn’t an anomaly.

The Eagles have been struggling for a while defensively, they’ve just masked their problems with a late stop here, a takeaway there.

But all the issues that they covered up over the past month bubbled over the top Sunday.

The last team with a winning percentage as high as the Eagles - .909 going into Sunday – to lose a game by 23 points was the 1967 Baltimore Colts, who were 11-0-2 when they lost 34-10 to the 10-1-2 Rams at L.A. Coliseum.

The last team with a winning percentage as high as the Eagles to lose a home game by at least 23 points was the 1961 Chargers, who were 12-1 going into a Week 13 game against the Boston Patriots  but lost 41-0 at Balboa Stadium in San Diego.

This sort of thing just doesn’t happen.

Through seven games - after the win over the Dolphins – the Eagles ranked sixth in the NFL in defense, first in run defense and 17th in pass defense.

Over the last five games, they’re last in total defense, 25th in run defense and last in pass defense.

They’ve allowed 2,175 yards the last five games – the 3rd-most yards they’ve ever allowed in franchise history in a five-game span.

And they should get Zach Cunningham back Sunday and that will help. And maybe they’ll sign Shaq Leonard and that could help. But the reality is since Week 8 this is the worst defense in the NFL, and the Eagles are about to face the top-scoring offense in the NFL Sunday in a critical game in Dallas.

On Sunday, the Eagles’ defense looked old, tired and overmatched. They couldn’t even compete with the 49ers' offense.

There’s a lot to fix and there’s a chance it’s not fixable.

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