Last week, I placed the blame for the Eagles' 0-2 start squarely at the feet of the offense. Despite this week's win over the Jets (yay!), Chip Kelly's favorite unit continued to perform woefully.
Yes, Ryan Mathews, subbing in for DeMarco Murray, rushed for 108 yards on 25 carries. But his numbers hide the fact that there were still far too many negative or no gain rushes (10 total). Between Mathews and Darren Sproles, the rushing game averaged just 3.47 yards per carry, a heady improvement from the prior weeks, but nothing to get excited about. Everyone on the offensive line, including Kelce, Peters, and Johnson, are struggling to run block consistently.
Meanwhile, despite being sacked just once, Sam Bradford played another horrible game. His final numbers were 14 for 28 (50% completion rate) for just 118 yards. One touchdown and zero turnovers, if you want to focus on that. But his accuracy was poor, his ball placement terrible, and he has zero guts to throw the ball downfield, one of the only things that might give the running game enough room to breathe. See more at ChipWagon, as always.
All of which leads to...
Really bad. So the question is, until the time the offense recovers (assuming that's in the cards?), can the Eagles defense carry the team? And on that front, at least, there are some promising signs. To the stats!
Through three games, the Eagles have given up the 5th-fewest points per drive (1.42), the 9th-fewest yards per drive (26.9) and the 10th-fewest plays per drive (5.6). The run defense has been fantastic—allowing a league-low of 3.1 yards per rush and zero rushing touchdowns. Most important, they've forced turnovers on one out of every five opposing possessions. To keep it going, we'll need more Walter Thurmond ball-hawking and disruption at the line of scrimmage (Brandon Bair sighting FTW).
The worrisome note is that the Eagles haven't gotten consistent pressure on quarterbacks. The defense ranks 8th-worst in sack rate so far. Overall, this isn't terribly surprising. The two-gapping scheme means players like Fletcher Cox are responsible for the run first, then the pass second. Neither Connor Barwin nor Brandon Graham are consistent man-beaters on the outside. And now the top two middle linebackers are hurt. Billy Davis needs to mix in some good blitz concepts to get pressure if this defense is going to sustain itself.
Three games is also quite a small sample size, especially when about half of that time the Eagles faced Brandon Weeden and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Luckily, due to a combination of easy schedule and injuries, the Eagles aren't scheduled to face many top quarterbacks down the stretch. The next three games match up against Kirk Cousins, Luke McCown, and Eli Manning, with Cam Newton as the pre-bye week chaser.
Still, that we're having this conversation at all is a good sign. The defense was atrocious two years ago, and improved to average or slightly above last year. If it can take another leap, that's a huge deal for this team—especially if the offense can't turn it around.