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Aug 8, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) catches a pass and is tackled by Philadelphia Eagles strong safety Nate Allen (29) in the first quarter during a preseason game at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Eagles Third-Down Defense A Concern

There were a lot of things to be concerned about after the Philadelphia Eagles opened the preseason in disappointing fashion against the Chicago Bears.

Quarterback Nick Foles looked terrible, the offense took too many penalties, most of the rookies didn’t make a positive impression, etc.

A lot of that will – hopefully – be cleaned up. This Friday when the Eagles take on the New England Patriots, we hope Foles will be sharper. We hope the offensive line will be able to perform without penalties. We’d like to see some of the rookies show us flashes of what’s to come.

But the biggest thing I’ll be looking for is on the defensive side of the ball, because if the Philadelphia Eagles don’t figure out how to get off the field on third down it could be a very long season.

The starting defense had two series against the Bears and faced four third-down plays. They stopped the first, leading to the field goal block by Damion Square. The next three, however, were all converted by Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who capped the drive with a touchdown toss on a third-and-10 play.

That means the starting Eagles defense allowed the Bears to convert 75 percent of their third-down chances. For the game, the Bears were 10-of-17 (58 percent).

While the Eagles won 10 games in 2013 and reached the playoffs, they did it firmly on the back of the offense and shoulders of Nick Foles. Looking inside the numbers, the Eagles really should have been far, far worse.

Consider while the Eagles were in the top half of the league in terms of allowing the fewest points per game, they were dreadful when it came to actually getting off the field. The defense was on the field for more plays than any team in the league, allowed the fourth-most yards against, third-most first downs against, and third-most successful third-down plays (93). Opposing teams were successful on 40 percent of their third downs against the Eagles, the ninth-worst percentage in the NFL. Of the eight teams behind them, only the New England Patriots made the playoffs.

Getting off the field on third down is a big piece in the puzzle that is NFL success. Remember last year’s Wild Card loss to New Orleans, when quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints marched to the game-winning field goal? New Orleans converted two third downs on that drive, and was 7-of-13 for the game.

The Eagles? They were 3-of-12. And they lost, which given those numbers comes as no surprise.

Looking at the numbers as a whole, the most surprising thing is that the Eagles won as many games as they did. They shouldn’t have. Over time, though, things tend to average out.

The only way to avoid that is to change the dynamic, which means the Eagles need to figure out a way to get off the field on third down. Here’s to hoping they take some steps in the right direction against Tom Brady on Friday.

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