Where Have The Eagles Improved on Defense?


Sep 21, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles free safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) returns an interception against Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson (11) in the fourth quarter against the Washington Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles defeated the Redskins, 37-34. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

During head coach Chip Kelly’s tenure as a football coach, he’s found ways to improve his offense each and every year. He’s broken things down into a science for his players, everything from maximizing each second of practice time down to their diets and sleep patterns. He took over last year and improved his offense from the 29th ranked scoring team in 2012 all the way to fourth in the league.

As much attention that their offense has received, has there been any similar improvements on the defensive side of the ball?

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In what areas has the defense improved?

In 2013, the Eagles were the 10th best run-stopping defense. This season, they’ve dropped towards the middle of the pack as they’ve allowed the 18th most rushing yards to date. Their defense however has allowed only one 100-yard running back – Frank Gore back in Week 4. The defense has been very middling against the run, averaging 113.8 yards per game this season. This comes off the heals of allowing 188 rushing yards to the Seattle Seahawks, where the rushing attack led by Marshawn Lynch overmatched Philadelphia’s defense.

The defense has had some performances where they show up to stop the run, but they haven’t been as successful on a per game basis as last year’s team. The Eagles’ offense hasn’t had the same output as it did in 2013 where teams were often abandoning the run to play catch up to Philadelphia’s fast pace. Consequently, teams facing the Eagles this year are rushing the ball much more as they haven’t been forced to abandon their game plans and can further milk the clock to provide their own defense with a breather.

As you may or may not remember, Philadelphia allowed the most passing yards in the league in 2013, allowing 290 yards per game. This year has seen some improvement, as they’ve moved up to the 26th ranked pass defense at 258 yards per game. Adding safety Malcolm Jenkins in free agency provided a boost to the defense as well as some veteran leadership. He’s coming off a poor outing against Seattle, but he still leads the team with three interceptions.

From a scoring perspective, the defense hasn’t changed that much. They’ve gone from allowing 23.9 points per game to 23.8. Their overall yards per game decreased from a total of 394 yards allowed per game down to 371.9. Similarly, the time of possession has been relatively the same, as there’s been less than a 40-second change from last year.

The Eagles’ aggregate numbers, such as sacks, interceptions, tackles, are often hard to extrapolate with accuracy, but the defense has already matched last year’s total of takeaways in interceptions and fumble recoveries. Amazingly, they currently have the exact same numbers that they finished with last year – 24 takeaways and 30 giveaways. The Eagles are second in the league in sacks with 44 to date, an improvement on their 37 from 2013 where they finished 20th in the league.The good news is they have a high probability of improving all of these numbers as they face all three of their NFC East foes in their last three weeks of the season.

Overall given the obscene number of turnovers that Philadelphia’s offense has given up, its pretty remarkable that this defense has found any category to improve as defensive coordinator Bill Davis has had his hands full all year.

Nov 27, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Vinny Curry (75) celebrates a sack in the second quarter with linebacker Connor Barwin (98) against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

From a personnel standpoint, the Eagles starting unit on defense received an upgrade at a few key spots. Nose tackle Bennie Logan has taken over the full year after the midseason trade of Isaac Sopoaga last year. The aforementioned Malcolm Jenkins presence at the back end of the defense has been huge for this defensive unit. Rookie Marcus Smith III has yet to make a substantial impact this year, as the team has been bringing him along slowly while trying him at both inside and outside linebacker.

Nolan Carroll hasn’t provided the immediate spark some Eagles fans had hoped for, but is coming off a great 2013 that showed much promise. He’s been more of a depth guy to date. Resigning Cedric Thornton to a one-year deal was a great move as he’s been a disruptive playmaker forcing four tackles for loss, two passes defensed, and recovered three fumbles while taking one back for a score. The oft-maligned Nate Allen was also resigned for a one-year deal, which the Eagles should be thankful for after losing Earl Wolff for the season.

The outlook for this defensive unit has some key players that general manager Howie Roseman can build around. Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Mychal Kendricks, Connor Barwin, Brandon Boykin, and Malcolm Jenkins are all players that have already carved out a role and are young enough to be a part of the future here in Philadelphia. Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry are two rotational guys that have immense production when given their opportunities and should also be a part of the long term plans.

It will be interesting to see what the Eagles do this offseason. DeMeco Ryans is coming off a major injury, but at the age of 30 are the Eagles comfortable moving on and replacing him with Casey Matthews? Will they restructure Trent Cole‘s contract where he’s set to take a $11.625 million hit against the cap? Bradley Fletcher‘s contract expires this offseason and Cary Williams will be paid as the 13th highest cornerback in the league. Could it be time to move on from one or both of them? Where will first round pick Marcus Smith III end up on this defense?

While this is undoubtedly an early look at the defense and personnel, it can be a useful exercise to find where the defense has come from and where it may be headed with it’s players. A slight improvement in pass defense, which can be attributed to an increased pass rush, has helped this defense progress. Bill Davis and Chip Kelly are still in need of some players to add talent to their defensive squad, and it will be up to Howie Roseman to find these players via the draft and free agency. Adding players to the secondary should remain one of their top priorities this offseason.

The Eagles have the foundation for a playoff caliber team, the only question that remains is whether or not Roseman can find the talent to make them Superbowl champions.