The surprising reality of the Eagles' defense


The Eagles are ninth in the NFL in points allowed and 11th in yards allowed, which is pretty amazing considering that they’re only 23rd in sacks per pass play and 23rd in takeaways.

They're keeping points down despite an absence of big plays.

Let's take a look at what that means.

Other than the first half in Tampa, this defense actually hasn’t been terrible. The Eagles have allowed 10 touchdowns in five games, and only three NFL teams — the Titans, Ravens and Jaguars — have allowed fewer than two TDs per game.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was asked Tuesday specifically about defensive tackle Destiny Vaeao but used the opportunity to talk about the defense in general.

“I think just across the board I would say we need more production from our D-line in general, our entire defense in general," Schwartz said. "We're playing a lot of games that come down to one play, and we have been one play short. We need somebody, whether it's Destiny, whoever, Fletch, Jordan Hicks, Nigel Bradham, Malcolm Jenkins, we need to find a way to get that one more play.

“We're worried about our whole defense being efficient, not really the production of one player. If our defense can make that one extra play a game that will put us over the top, that's what we're looking for.”

It’s actually encouraging that the Eagles are keeping teams out of the end zone without the benefit of sacks and turnovers.

The Eagles have only allowed six touchdowns on the last 35 drives they’ve faced over the span of about 14 quarters of football.

And for the season, they actually have the seventh-best ratio in the entire NFL of points allowed per defensive possession. Here’s what that list looks like:

10.9 percent Jaguars [6 / 55]

12.3 percent Ravens [8 / 65]

14.7 percent Browns [11 / 75]

15.1 percent Titans [8 / 53]

17.7 percent Jets [11 / 62]

17.8 percent Bears [8/45]

18.2 percent Eagles [10 / 55]

19.2 percent Cowboys [10 / 52]

20.0 percent Giants [10 / 50]

20.4 percent Dolphins [11 / 54]

That’s really not that far off last year’s figure of 17.0 percent, which was fifth-best in the league.

Are they allowing too many big plays? Definitely. Are they underachieving in terms of sacks and takeaways? Absolutely. Are they allowing too many extended drives? No question.

But the bottom line is touchdowns, and this defense somehow is keeping people out of the end zone despite the perception that it's struggling badly.

The Eagles’ offensive disparity in terms of touchdowns per possession between 2017 and 2018 is massive.

The Eagles were third last year in terms of TDs per drive at 26.7 percent, behind only the Patriots (29.7) and Saints (27.8). This year they’re 20th at 19.3 percent. That’s an enormous drop.

There's a sense that the Eagles as a team have been terrible, and when you’re sitting 2-3 with three losses the last four weeks that’s understandable.

But these figures show that the defense has been doing its job to a much greater extent than the offense.

The Eagles are fourth-best on third down, sixth-best in the red zone and fifth-best in first downs allowed.

There’s still work to do, but if this unit can get back to its playmaking ways of last year and start getting those sacks, interceptions and fumbles, this will be an elite defense.

They’re closer than it may seem.

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