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November 05, 2023

Mailbag: Why are the Eagles giving up so many passing yards?

Jimmy Kempski answers fans' questions about the Eagles' pass defense, the succession plan at center and more.

Eagles NFL
110523TerryMcLauirn Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports

Terry McLaurin catches a TD pass vs. the Eagles Week 8.

A few days ago, we solicited questions for an Eagles mailbag via Twitter or whatever it's called now. Thank you as always for doing half the work for me. This is Part II of a two-part mailbag (Part I here). Let's just get right to it.

Question from @llucc10: The Eagles rank 26th in pass defense. It seems to me they should be a lot better as they have Darius Slay, James Bradberry, Reed Blankenship, and a great D-line. What is your assessment for why it’s so poor? Scheme, poor play, LBs, injuries? All?

The Eagles' pass defense needs to be better during the back half of the season. That is clear. But I do think that their 26th-ranked pass defense is a little misleading.

To begin, they're also the No. 1 run defense. They're allowing 65.5 rushing yards per game. The No. 2 run defense, the Lions, are more than 10 yards per game off that pace (76.8). But also, opposing offenses aren't even bothering to run the ball against them, because they know it's just not a very good idea. They're facing 17.4 rushing attempts per game, which again, is the lowest in the league, by a significant margin.

So if teams aren't running the ball against them, what are they doing? They're throwing it! #Analysis. The Eagles are facing 39.8 pass attempts per game, which is the second-most in the NFL, behind only the Jaguars. When you're facing that many pass attempts, of course you're going to give up a lot of yards.

They are only allowing 6.2 yards per pass attempt, which is 10th best in the NFL.

Also, as you mentioned, injuries are certainly part of the reason opposing offenses are choosing to attack the Eagles' defense through the air. We posted the below chart in the Hierarchy this week, but here's a look at the Eagles' starters in their secondary in each game this season.

Opponent CB1 CB2 CB3 
Patriots Darius Slay James Bradberry Avonte Maddox Reed Blankenship Justin Evans 
Vikings Darius Slay Josh Jobe Avonte Maddox Justin Evans Terrell Edmunds 
Buccaneers Darius Slay James Bradberry Josh Jobe Reed Blankenship Justin Evans 
Commanders Darius Slay James Bradberry Josh Jobe Reed Blankenship Terrell Edmunds 
Rams Darius Slay James Bradberry Mario Goodrich Reed Blankenship Justin Evans 
Jets James Bradberry Josh Jobe Bradley Roby Reed Blankenship Terrell Edmunds 
Dolphins Darius Slay James Bradberry Josiah Scott Terrell Edmunds Sydney Brown 
Commanders Darius Slay James Bradberry Sydney Brown Reed Blankenship Kevin Byard 

That would be eight different starting combinations in eight games. The Eagles have had good games against the pass, and bad ones. It's hard to be consistent without continuity.

And finally, it's also worth noting that they have played some of the NFL's best receivers this season already, like Justin Jefferson, Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Cooper Kupp, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Terry McLaurin, and I could go on. Those guys, put simply, are going to get theirs.

Again, the pass defense needs to be better. There are too many occasions in which guys are running wide open through the secondary (most notably last Sunday in Washington), but there are good reasons why they have given up the seventh-most passing yards in the NFL.

Question from @PreMoveObserver: I don't hear enough about Tracy Rocker, how big of a part does he play with the development of the young D-lineman?

Good question. Rocker has only been here since 2021, so he doesn't have the same name recognition as Jeff Stoutland, who has been here since 2013. But in the two-plus years Rocker has been the D-line coach, the Eagles have certainly gotten good results from their young players on that unit. 

  1. Josh Sweat had a breakout season in Rocker's first year, and has continued to develop into a star-caliber player.
  2. Jordan Davis made a big leap from an injury-dulled Year 1 to Year 2.
  3. Jalen Carter is the favorite to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.
  4. Milton Williams is an NFL starter who is producing in his role on a deep line.

We'll see how 2023 rookies Nolan Smith and Moro Ojomo progress.

Of course, Rocker has the benefit of the front office's dedication to stacking the D-line with talented players (Stoutland does too), but he does seem to be getting good results.

Question from @ThatRumSnob: Love Brandon Graham but haven't heard his name much so far this season. Is he slowing down or just getting fewer opportunities to get after the passer?

After eight games, Graham has played 146 snaps. Through eight games in 2022, he had played 203 snaps. So, yes, he is seeing fewer opportunities.

In 2022, in the first eight games, he had 18 tackles, 3 sacks, 7 QB hits, and a forced fumble. 2.5 of those sacks and 5 of those QB hits came in the sack party game against Carson Wentz. In the back "half" of the season, his production really picked up, as he had 8 sacks, with at least a half-sack in 6 games.

So, if that pattern holds, maybe BG's season is about to take off? (I think it's more likely his age is catching up with him, but we'll see.)

Question from @fishergrady8: What does a world post-Kelce look like? Who moves where? Will the Eagles draft further in the trenches per usual?

I think it's pretty straightforward. Cam Jurgens moves to center, and if Tyler Steen looks the part, he's the starting RG. They drafted Kelce's replacement far in advance, and they'll likely do the same next offseason in anticipation of a post-Lane world.

Question from @killakow: Why do you think NFL teams don’t add protections to high-end picks like NBA teams do in trades? You see conditional 3rds that can become 2nds but never like a top 5 protected 1st.

I don't know this for certain — and my apologies but I try to keep my league inquiries to a minimum — but my guess is that the NFL wants nothing to do with those types of trades, as they would only invite more opportunities to tank. For example, say it's Week 18 and a team's projected draft position is fifth (in the NFL they know it's fifth because there's no lottery, unlike the NBA and NHL). That pick has been traded, but is top-5 protected. That team has every incentive in the world to lose their final game and keep their pick instead of having it fall outside of the top 5 and cough it up. My guess is that protection trades are not allowed.

Question from Michael (via email): Is Carson Wentz's NFL career over?

I thought he'd find a job somewhere this season, but... nope. A list of some of the quarterbacks that are scheduled to start games in Week 9:

  1. Jaren Hall, Vikings
  2. Taylor Heinicke, Falcons
  3. Clayton Tune, Cardinals
  4. Tyson Bagent, Bears
  5. Aiden O'Connell, Raiders
  6. Zach Wilson, Jets
  7. Brett Rypien, Rams

And Wentz will be watching games from home, or maybe killing animals. Who knows? 

I don't know if Wentz's career is over, but it's not looking good.

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