36 attempts. 185 yards. 5.1 yards per carry. One touchdown.
Those numbers broke the back of hope in the playoff loss for the Philadelphia Eagles this past season. The New Orleans Saints were able to get what they wanted in the run game, as the Eagles defense eventually wore down. As valiant an effort as the defense put up, not only in that game but for most of the season, the fact is that when it mattered most they were unable to stop a team from physically imposing their will on them.
It would be unfair to pin that loss strictly on the defensive line, as there were missed tackles and poor run fits by linebackers, and terrible pursuit angles by safeties and corners. But it is alarming how much movement New Orleans was able to get without utilizing many double teams at the point of attack. This allows the offense to get to the second level easier, thus making it harder on the linebackers to scrape and plug holes. In the 3-4 scheme that Philadelphia runs, it is absolutely critical that the front line occupy as many blockers as possible. At key moments last year that wasn’t the case.
Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Bennie Logan showed some promise at nosetackle as a rookie, but he is 10 pounds lighter than the average 3-4 nosetackle in the league today. I like his motor and mobility (especially on stretch runs where his ability to string it out is fantastic), but he struggles to anchor on power plays. Eagles defensive end Cedric Thornton was also played at nosetackle which gives their defensive coordinator Billy Davis some versatility with his front, but again he is undersized and was accounted for too easily in the run game.
It is possible that Logan could fill out his frame this off-season and improve in his ability to hold down the fort. But it is also possible that the Eagles front office could shore up a deficiency by getting a big body, space-eating nosetackle through either free agency or the draft. Either way, whether from inside or outside the organization, it is imperative that the Eagles defensive front command double teams. Outside of Eagles defensive end Fletcher Cox that typically wasn’t the case.
The rushing defense looks better on paper than it does on film. The Eagles actually ranked 10th in the NFL in rushing, and only allowed 3.8 yards per carry. Those numbers are above respectable, however they can be deceiving too. Teams averaged 121 yards on the ground in the seven Philadelphia losses last season. The inability to control the line of scrimmage will eventually rear its ugly head and cost you games. Playoff games. The road to a championship could possibly include detours through the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco Forty Niners, Carolina Panthers, or the New Orleans Saints; all power running teams that can dominate the line of scrimmage. All four of those teams also have defenses that can make it difficult to get out to a big lead, thus making it easier for them to stay in their game plan of pounding the rock. January is where great run defenses are able to dig in and make offenses one-dimensional. Can the current Eagles front get that done? Only time will tell.