The New York Jets take on the Philadelphia Eagles in the City of Brotherly Love this Sunday. Previewing this matchup, Brandon Gowton, the Manager of Bleeding Green Nation, was kind enough to answer a few questions for me regarding the 2019 Eagles. If you’re interested in my answers to Brandon’s questions regarding the Jets, you can check them out here.
1. The Eagles struggled in pass defense in 2018, and they have continued those struggles so far in 2019, ranking last in the NFL in passing yards allowed and 27th in passing touchdowns allowed, while managing only three sacks so far this season. Conversely, the Eagles run defense has been superb, giving up just 3.2 yards per carry. Should opponents just largely forget about running the football and pass, pass and pass some more?
Please don’t tell anyone this but … yes. Absolutely.
While the Eagles deserve a lot of credit for going into Lambeau and beating the previously undefeated Packers, it must be noted that they had some help from Green Bay’s coaching staff. For some dumb reason, Matt LaFleur kept trying to run the ball when it was apparent the Eagles couldn’t do much to stop the Packers’ passing attack.
Running the ball against the Eagles is a gift to Jim Schwartz’s defense. Especially when it occurs on an early down and knocks the offense off schedule.
The Eagles are especially vulnerable against the pass right now because they only have three healthy cornerbacks: Rasul Douglas, Craig James, and Orlando Scandrick.
Douglas is susceptible to getting roasted but he’s turned in some good performances recently. Unlike other Eagles corners, teams have not been so willing to go right after him again and again.
James, a 2018 undrafted rookie free agent signing by the Vikings, joined the Eagles’ practice squad leading up to Week 1. He then got called up to the roster for Week 2 before being sent down to the practice squad and then called up again. James had never really played on defense in his career prior to coming up with a tipped ball deflection that allowed Nigel Bradham to catch the game-winning interception in Green Bay. So, he’s off to a good start! But he’s still a total unknown.
Scandrick, who turns 33 in February, spent a month with the Eagles in training camp. He looked cooked at times in the preseason so it’s fair to wonder how much he has left in the tank. He figures to start at nickel corner this week with Avonte Maddox out. Jamison Crowder could have a big day going up against him.
It seems like the Eagles are expecting to have Sidney Jones — who is dealing with a hamstring injury — active as well. The latest time Jones played through such an injury was when he was tasked with covering Amari Cooper last year. Cooper often torched Jones and finished with 10 receptions for 217 yards and three touchdowns.
2. The Eagles defense has been a problem in 2019, giving up 27 points in three games and 24 points in one. Is the defense good enough that the offense can carry the Eagles deep into the playoffs, or is the defense going to be an obstacle difficult for this team to surmount?
The defense is definitely going to be an issue. The secondary is struggling and injured. The pass rush hasn’t been good enough.
Is the unit hopeless? I don’t think so.
For as much as the defense struggled against the Packers, they also made some huge, game-changing plays. Derek Barnett stripping Aaron Rodgers was massive. The defense forcing the Packers to turn the ball over on downs after Green Bay had 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line was heroic. And that’s not just a fluke, by the way. The Eagles have always had a good red zone defense under Jim Schwartz. Schwartz has his faults but I still think he’s an above average defensive coordinator, at the very least.
The Eagles’ defense ranks 22nd in DVOA, tied for 22nd in opponent yards per play, and tied for 23rd in opponent offensive points per game. (I use this stat because the Eagles’ special teams unit allowed a kick return touchdown in Week 4, so the defense really “only” allowed 27 in two games.) It’s a below average unit but it’s not an absolutely abysmal one.
I do think the offense can carry the team. Carson Wentz is off to a great start and that’s despite the fact DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, and Dallas Goedert have all missed significant time this season. As the offense gets healthier, that unit should only improve.
3. Alshon Jeffrey has struggled out of the gate, with just eight receptions good for 87 yards on the year. What has been the problem, and do you expect him to return to form as the Eagles top receiver?
Jeffery looked fine in Week 1; he finished with six receptions for 51 yards and two touchdowns. Then he somehow suffered a calf injury during pregame warmups ahead of the Eagles’ Week 2 game in Atlanta. That injury essentially limited him from playing that night and kept him out until Week 4. While Jeffery was able to suit up against the Packers, it was clear he was playing at less than 100%. He didn’t appear to be running at full speed and he had some issues coming down with jump ball catches.
Jeffery’s not listed on the injury report at all this week so that seems like a good sign. He should be more effective when he’s healthy.
4. Is Carson Wentz continuing to develop, or has he hit his ceiling since his breakout year of 2017?
I think Wentz is off to a very good start this season despite the fact he’s been incredibly unlucky.
Wentz has had to deal with a league-leading 12 drops this season. These aren’t just a bunch of dropped check down throws, either. These are impact plays, as noted in this Pro Football Focus article entitled “Carson Wentz has outperformed his box score numbers, leads all quarterbacks in passing grade through Week 4”:
“If just those five passes go Wentz’s way, he goes from a passer rating of 95.3 that ranks 15th in the NFL to a passer rating of 108.5 that ranks fifth. His yards per attempt go from 6.6 (22nd) to 8.0 (8th), and his 11 touchdowns are leading the league.”
Wentz has also had to deal with the aforementioned injuries to Jackson, Jeffery, and Goedert. Those three players combined for 15 receptions, 221 yards, and four touchdowns in Week 1. And somehow they all inexplicably got hurt in pregame warmups and couldn’t play much in Week 2. It shouldn’t be surprising that Wentz looked his worst this season — and threw two picks — when the Eagles had to scrap their game plan just minutes before kickoff against the Falcons. And despite this, Wentz still had the Eagles in position to win. If only Nelson Agholor hadn’t dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass that was right on his hands.
If the Eagles offense can get healthy and Wentz can stop being so unlucky, I don’t think it’s crazy he could enter the MVP conversation this season. Just like he did back in 2017.
5. How would you attack the Eagles offense and how would you attack the Eagles defense?
Eagles starting left guard Isaac Seumalo had a terrible game against the Falcons in Week 2. Grady Jarrett was wrecking him all night long. Seumalo’s been fine in his other games but that was a really bad showing. If I’m the Jets, I’m trying to get Quinnen Williams to destroy Seumalo in an effort to make Wentz uncomfortable with interior pressure.
Defensively, well, I already touched on this. Just drop back and takes shots against these cornerbacks.