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June 04, 2018

The 2017 Eagles were outstanding on fourth down on defense, too

Eagles NFL
060418JalenMills James Lang/USA TODAY Sports

Jalen Mills takes a victory lap after helping stop the Falcons on fourth down.

The 2017 Philadelphia Eagles, led by Doug Pederson, were the most aggressive team on fourth down in the NFL, which helped lead to their 13-3 regular season and eventual Super Bowl win. 

Back in February, we took a look at all 29 of Pederson's offensive "go for it" fourth down calls, with analysis. On the season, the Eagles were 20 of 29 (69 percent, which is nice) on those fourth down calls. What I didn't notice until today was how good the Eagles' defense was when teams went for it on fourth down against them. On the season, including the playoffs, opposing offenses converted just 6 of 24 fourth down attempts, or a measly 25 percent.

Here we'll look back at all 24 of them, many of which were huge stands.

1) Eagles vs. Redskins, 4th and 2 from the Eagles' 42: Kirk Cousins throws incomplete to Jordan Reed.

This game was already over with only 25 seconds left on the clock, and the Redskins down 13 points. Cousins threw a check down to Reed instead of launching the ball down the field and hoping for the best. At least he kept an extra INT off the stat sheet.

2) Eagles vs. Giants, 4th and Goal from the Eagles' 1: Orleans Darkwa runs up the middle for a loss of 1.

This drive started after Pederson's controversial decision to go for it on 4th and 8 near the end of the first half. On the Giants' 10th play of the drive, they (rightfully) went for it at the Eagles' 1 yard line, but Vinny Curry shot through a gap in the Giants' porous offensive line for a huge stop.

3) Eagles vs. Giants, 4th and 2 at the Eagles' 13: Eli Manning throws incomplete to Sterling Shepard.

Eli had Shepard open for a split second, but when he threw too late, Patrick Robinson had a chance to recover and break up the pass, preserving the Eagles' 14-0 lead. Again, the Giants were right to go for it there, but failed in their execution.

4, 5, and 6) Eagles vs. Cardinals

We'll lump all of these together since they all occurred on the same drive. With the Cardinals trailing by 24 points in the fourth quarter, they were in desperation mode. First, they extended a drive on 4th and 1 from their own 34 yard line with a 4 yard Carson Palmer pass to Larry Fitzgerald. Then they converted again on 4th and 2 from their own 46 when Palmer found Jermaine Gresham for 14. And finally, on 4th and 8 from the Eagles' 38, Palmer completed a 6 yard pass to Jaron Brown that did not reach the sticks.

The two garbage-time conversations above account for 33 percent of the successful fourth down attempts against the Eagles last year.

7) Eagles vs. Panthers, 4th and 12 from the Eagles' 40: Cam Newton throws incomplete to Ed Dickson.

This call occurred with 5 seconds left on the clock in the first half, and what a horrendous call it was. Newton threw to Dickson about 15 yards down the field WAY short of the end zone to a player with no chance of making something happen after the catch even if it had been completed.

I have no idea why the Panthers didn't just try a 58-yard field goal with Graham Gano, who has one of the strongest legs in the NFL.

8) Eagles vs. Panthers, 4th and 2 from the Eagles' 45: Newton to Christian McCaffrey for 4 yards and a first down.

This was the correct decision by the Panthers, and they were rewarded with a new set of downs, however, the drive would eventually end in a Jalen Mills interception.

9) Eagles vs. Panthers, 4th and 1 from the Eagles' 48: Newton throws incomplete to McCaffrey.

On the Panthers' final drive, McCaffrey ran an angle route that left Mychal Kendricks in the dust, but the throw by Newton was off target. After some indecision from the officials, the side judge eventually ran in and emphatically called it incomplete, which earned a hard butt slap from Rasul Douglas.

10) Eagles vs. Redskins, 4th and 10 from the Redskins' 35: Kirk Cousins throws the ball out of bounds.

Not even facing an imminent sack, Cousins just decided to chuck the ball out of bounds with only 21 seconds left on the clock, but hey, again he avoided a desperation INT, so good for him.

11) Eagles vs. Broncos, 4th and 6 from the Eagles' 11: Brock Osweiler finds Demaryius Thomas for 9

Facing a 28-point deficit in the fourth quarter, the Broncos made the obvious decision to go for it, and converted. Thomas scored on an Osweiler pass three plays later.

12) Eagles vs. Cowboys, 4th and 10 from the Eagles' 11: Dak Prescott intercepted by Malcolm Jenkins.

Like the Broncos above, the Cowboys faced a 4th and long with a 28-point deficit in the fourth quarter. Prescott tried to find Terrance Williams, but was picked off by Jenkins in the end zone.

13) Eagles vs. Bears, 4th and 2 from the Bears' 46: Mitchell Trubisky throws incomplete to Tre McBride.

For the third straight week, an Eagles opponent was forced to go for it facing a 28-point deficit in the fourth quarter. The Bears could not convert.

14) Eagles vs. Bears, 4th and 9 from the Eagles' 31: Trubisky is intercepted by Corey Graham.

Again facing that same 28-point deficit and having a Rasul Douglas interception overturned earlier in the drive, Trubisky was intercepted by Graham, leading to a second chance at the Electric Slide by the Eagles' defense.


15) Eagles vs. Giants, 4th and Goal from the Eagles' 11: Manning throws incomplete to Evan Engram.

This was an eventful drive. First, facing a 4th and Goal from the 6, Eagles fans that made the trip up the Turnpike made enough noise to force the Giants into false start, pushing the line of scrimmage back to the 11, thus condensing the Giants' playbook.

On the play itself, Graham had great coverage on Engram and the ball sailed incomplete through the back of the end zone, leading to some Grade A bitching and moaning from Giants players on the officiating.

16) Eagles vs. Raiders, 4th and 2 at the Eagles' 42: Derek Carr throws incomplete to Michael Crabtree.

I applaud the Raiders' aggressiveness to go for it in this situation early in the first quarter, but Carr, finding nobody open, threw the ball away out of bounds. What?!? Awful.

17) Eagles vs. Raiders, 4th and 10 from the Raiders' 36: Derek Barnett returns a fumble for a TD.

Trying a desperation lateral play with no time left on the clock, Barnett scooped up a bad pitch and ran it in for a score, resulting in the Eagles covering the spread!

18) Eagles vs. Cowboys, 4th and 1 from the Eagles' 41: Ezekiel Elliott runs up the middle for a loss of 1.

This is about as aggressive as Jason Garrett will get, but in a meaningless game, I guess he figured, "What the hell, I'll go for it in this extremely obvious 'go for it' situation," and failed, thus likely setting back his fourth down decision making another five years.

19) Eagles vs. Falcons, 4th and 6 from the Falcons' 42: Matt Ryan finds Julio Jones for 20.

This was during the final Falcons drive, and what a wild drive it was. Clinging to a five-point lead, the Eagles needed a stop to put the game on ice, but Ryan converted to Jones with Jenkins in coverage.

20) Eagles vs. Falcons, 4th and Goal from the Eagles' 2: Ryan throws incomplete to Jones.

This was the biggest play of the game. The Falcons ran a rollout to the right with Ryan, who didn't find anyone open initially, then heaved up a prayer to Jones, which fell incomplete.

Jim Schwartz prepped the Eagles on this play all week, with Rodney McLeod diagnosing it pre-snap and alerting the defense to it. We covered this play in depth in a breakdown the week after the game.

21) Eagles vs. Vikings, 4th and Goal from the Eagles' 7: Case Keenum throws incomplete to Adam Thielen.

Initially, it appeared that Thielen made a juggling catch for a touchdown, which is how the officials ruled it. But after review, the ball clearly bounced on the turf at Lincoln Financial Field, and the touchdown was overturned.

22)  Eagles vs. Vikings, 4th and 2 from the Eagles' 40: Keenum throws incomplete in the direction of Stefon Diggs.

With the Vikings facing a 31-point fourth quarter deficit, Keenum was hit by Fletcher Cox as he was throwing and the pass never had a chance.

23) Eagles vs. Patriots, 4th and 5 from the Eagles' 35: Tom Brady throws incomplete to Rob Gronkowski.

Before the Patriots found a groove and started moving the ball at will against the Eagles' defense, they stalled at times in the first half. In the second quarter, the Patriots went for it on 4th and 5 from the Eagles' 35 (a decision I agree with), but Jalen Mills had good coverage on Gronk, leading to an incompletion down the right sideline.

24) Eagles vs. Patriots, 4th and 10 from the Patriots' 9: Brady finds Danny Amendola for 13.

Like a bad guy in a horror movie, Brady just wouldn't go away, even after the Eagles got a strip sack from Brandon Graham and a long field goal from Jake Elliott. The Pats briefly extended the Super Bowl before eventually misfiring on a Hail Mary.


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