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November 13, 2018

Eagles have been playing with fire with their red zone defense

The Eagles are far from the juggernaut Super Bowl favorites many expected them to be in defense of their world championship.

But their defense has been doing enough to keep them in games, often times lifting up a putrid offense that starts slow week after week (they have a scoring offense ranked in the bottom 10 this year).

All five of the Eagles' losses this year have been by a touchdown or less, and heading into Sunday night's embarrassing loss to Dallas, they boasted the fifth best scoring defense in all of football. It was a defense that had bent plenty, but rarely broke, as they had also been dominant in the red zone.

Here are some of the stats through their first eight games regarding red zone defense and points allowed.

2018 EaglesNFL rank 
Opp. red zone attempts per game3.6 7th
Opp. red zone TD percentage  41.4%3rd
Opp. red zone TD scored per game 1.57th
FG attempts/makes allowed per game 
 2.4/2.0 4th/6th
 Opp. TD scored per game 2.0 3rd

As you can see, the defensive unit has actually been really good in spite of how frequently they have allowed trips inside the 20 (more often allowing a field goal than a touchdown). In their 27-20 Week 10 setback, the Eagles allowed the Cowboys to have five red zone attempts. They held their NFC East foes to field goals in their first two tries, but relented touchdowns subsequently each time after that. 

“We lost the football game," Fletcher Cox said. "At the end of the day in this league, it’s all about winning and losing. I don’t think we made enough plays on defense to win the game.” 

Philly now averages nearly four opposing red zone visits for the offense they are facing — the third most of any NFL team. Last season it was just 2.5, the third fewest.

The defense looked ferocious in the first half on Sunday. It was worn down by Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas run game in the second half.

“It’s tough," linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "We were talking about that. If we could put it together, go up and get a big lead on teams early, it would make things a lot easier. If offense, defense, and special teams could all put it together at one time, it would help a lot. For some reason, it’s just not happening. We have to find a way to make it happen. We have to find a way to get it clicking.” 

This is a trend for the Eagles this year.

Many remember the goalline stands that single-handedly won games against the Falcons (to win their season opener) and the Colts (Michael Bennett sacked Andrew Luck on fourth down), but the Eagles have been surprisingly really reliable and consistent with their backs against the wall. 

At least, that was until Week 10.

It is ultimately a losing strategy for a team to rely on its defense to make remarkable stand after remarkable stand to win games. It didn't work against the Panthers or Titans — and now the Cowboys too.

One might argue it was really only a matter of time before the red zone defense fell apart. The defense can only make stops with their backs against the wall so many times.

New Orleans, Philly's upcoming opponent and one of the biggest Super Bowl favorites through 10 weeks, happens to be the second best red zone offense in the NFL. They average 4.9 red zone trips per game and score a touchdown on nearly 73 percent of those (3.6 red zone touchdowns per game, best in football).

The Eagles defense can't allow the Saints to move the ball as well and at will as they allowed a lesser offense in the Cowboys to last week. Which, lets face it, is much much easier said than done. 

The only other way to beat the Saints? To outgun them. 

Good luck with that — the Saints average a league-best 36.7 points per game. 

The Eagles? Just 22.

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