The Eagles defense is not as bad as it played out on Sunday against the Lions or in the second half against the Steelers. They did start to slip up facing the run, especially against a Lions team whose season average running the ball was less than 90 yards. I also think their secondary gets a bad rap. Of course, Nnamdi Asomugha has famously gotten burned in his two seasons as an Eagle, but he and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have made some great plays covering some high-profile receivers.
The one part of the defense that has long been the strength of this team is the part that is letting the team down. The defensive line even has been playing admirably against the run, but it’s the pass rush where they have failed. The team has not generated a sack in three games, and no matter what happens in other facets of the game, if a team cannot pressure the quarterback, then the opposing offense is not going to have too many problems going up and down the field.
An effective pass rush can do a lot to mask deficiencies in a mediocre defense and make a good defense turn suffocating. The Eagles defense was able to hold the Browns to 9 points on opening day because they were able to sack Brandon Weeden twice. Trent Richardson never got going, and Rodgers-Cromartie got two picks (almost a third too) because the wide receivers never got a chance to get open. They were able to keep an explosive Ravens’ offense from going too bonkers because they got to Joe Flacco a couple of times. However, against the last three teams, including in two losses, the defense played well but got overwhelmed at times.
This tidal crush can be tied directly to having no pass rush. They were lucky to keep the Giants in check three Sundays ago. Two weeks ago, Ben Roethlisberger felt almost no pressure, and he was able to stand in the pocket and deliver when he needed to. Matthew Stafford was able to do the same, especially later in the game. When the quarterback feels no pressure and has all day to throw, then his receivers can get open. Even the best cornerbacks can’t cover a receiver forever. The Steelers have two above-average wideouts. The Lions have the best one in the league.
Furthermore, when the quarterback completes passes at will, it’s the same effect as if they could run the ball. Defenses that can’t get off the field get tired, and even good linebacking corps can get tired and not be able to stop the run, even to guys like Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell.
So, we know the Eagles can’t sack the passer, but what can they do TO get to the quarterback? Last year, their defensive line got pressure, but this year, they’re not even getting close on a regular basis. From my observation, they seem to call fewer blitzes than before. A longtime Eagles fan like myself is used to defenses that would send two to five extra men on a play under late former defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. Those defenses would give up chunks of yards, but they defined the phrase “bend but not break.” Drives would often end in field goals instead of touchdowns, and more often than not, there would be turnovers and big sacks that would make those field goals harder to get.
Juan Castillo seems to be content trying to get pressure with the defensive front, but it’s not working. Luckily, they have a bye week either to find out what the defensive front has been doing wrong or to find out for themselves that blitzing more often could be the answer. Either way, something has to be done. Too much money has been invested in the secondary and these linebackers are way too good to be demoralized because the quarterback has all day to throw. Eagles defense to me is all about killing the quarterback. If they can start doing that after the bye week, then it won’t matter how many turnovers the offense commits, because they’ll be able to generate their own.