With each passing snap, the narrative surrounding Carson Wentz looks less and less favorable. It’s impossible to ignore the relationship between Nick Foles and the success of our offense with the greater success of the team.
Is it possible that the timing of Wentz’s injury has coincided with the defense getting right? Sure, that’s fair. But nonetheless, here we are—our offense, defense, and special teams are peaking at the right time.
Liberated from the burden of high expectations, the Eagles are once again embracing the underdog mentality that characterized last season’s Super Bowl run. And as long as we take care of business in Washington and Chicago takes care of business against Minnesota, the Eagles will find themselves in a position to defend that Super Bowl title.
Much like last season, however, they’re being discounted as a team that would simply be happy to get to the playoffs, and maybe steal a win. If it was Foles who wasn’t getting the respect he deserved last season, it’s the rest of the roster that isn’t getting their due this time around.
Despite struggling on both sides of the ball for large portions of the year, the Eagles are starting to play their best football of the season. The NFL is all about getting hot at the right time, and momentum is building behind the Birds in a way that is hard to ignore.
Defensively, the front four has quietly gone from good to great in the past few weeks. After hemorrhaging 5 yards per carry over the first 13 weeks of the season—including a three-game span that saw them give up nearly 6 yards per carry—the Eagles run defense has only given up 3.9 yards per tote in the past three matchups (two of which came against Zeke and Gurley).
The shift in run-defense can be attributed to two areas; better tackling from the secondary (limiting big plays), and more negative-plays created by the front four. Once upon a time, opposing running backs reached the second-level with ease where a slew of arm tackles awaited—that’s no longer the case.
On top of stopping the run, the front four has shown more juice when rushing the passer. After putting Jared Goff under pressure for four quarters a week ago, Schwartz’s bunch did a good job of making sure Deshaun Watson didn’t have a clean pocket to throw from. There’s only so much you can do to get after Watson given his mobility, but I think the Birds struck a nice balance of pressuring him while also not allowing him to completely burn you with his legs.
Additionally, despite a bevy of injuries, the Eagles secondary has gone from a huge liability to not much a liability at all. In fact, you could argue that all the injuries (aside from McLeod) have been a blessing in disguise.
Jalen Mills is bad in coverage and overrated as a tackler (just because he’s a willing tackler doesn’t mean he’s good), Sidney Jones got picked on and humiliated by Dak Prescott, and Da’Vante Bausby, who admittedly never had high expectations, surrenders a QB rating over 140 when targeted.
On the other hand, Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, and Cre’Von LeBlanc have formed the most competent trio of corners that Schwartz has started all season. Maddox is fluid, quick, and instinctive in coverage, Douglas has been an outstanding open field tackler with a nose for the football, and LeBlanc has come closer to replacing Pat Robinson at nickel than any of the previous options.
Don’t get me wrong, this secondary is still average (if not slightly below-average) but it’s a far cry from the porous group that allowed 400 yards and 4 touchdowns to Ryan Fitzpatrick, or that got man-handled by Amari Cooper to the tune of 217 yards and 3 touchdowns. In that context, 9 catches for 104 yards and no touchdowns from Deandre Hopkins is almost a ‘win’ for Schwartz’s unit.
All those improvements aside, the secret sauce to the Eagles recent success (other than Nick Foles) has been the defense’s ability to create turnovers. Over the past three games, the Birds have taken the ball away from their opponent 7 times after forcing just 10 turnovers in the previous thirteen weeks combined.
Despite their recent uptick in play, the Eagles defense isn’t the same elite unit that it was in 2017, and any hope of stringing together three road playoff wins will rely on their ability to continue turning over some of the best teams in the league.
With a defense that is beginning to re-establish its identity, and newfound offensive life under Nick Foles, the Eagles have their swagger back. Make no mistake about it, this is the team that nobody wants to play come January.