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November 29, 2016

There's no defense of Eagles' awful defense vs. Aaron Rodgers, Packers

Eagles NFL
112916_Eagles-Packers-Rodgers_AP Matt Rourke/AP

Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers probably picked up a first down on this play.

There was no reason for the Packers to respect the Eagles defense on their final drive Monday night. Not with the way Jim Schwartz’s unit played throughout the 27-13 loss at Lincoln Financial Field.

They certainly didn’t look like a team that had been holding opposing defenses to an average of 9.5 points per game at home, a number the Packers eclipsed on the first play of the second quarter. 

Nor did they look the team that held the NFL’s top-scoring offense, Atlanta, to just 15 points in their win two weeks ago, the most points they allowed at home prior to facing Green Bay. And they most certainly didn’t look like the defense that was among the best in the league at getting off the field on third down, holding their opponents to a 35.2 success rate.

But enough about who they didn’t look like. They looked awful. Plain and simple.

Aaron Rodgers has been known to make a defense look bad, but with an injury-plagued offensive line and no running game to speak of, it seemed like this matchup would go the way of the home team. 

Not quite.

Rodgers finished 30-of-39 for 313 yards to go with a pair of touchdown passes, and a 116.7 passer rating. He was having his way with the Eagles secondary, in large part because he didn’t see much pressure from what was supposed to be one of the best front sevens in the NFL. They finished with zero sacks and zero turnovers (for the second straight week), something they haven’t done at home in quite some time.

“Yeah, it was a tough day," head coach Doug Pederson said following the loss. "You're not going to be in a position to win many games without the pass rush, and on the same side the pass protection. Obviously, it starts with both offensive and defensive lines. Just too much time. You can't let a guy like Aaron Rodgers stand back there; he's going to pick you apart. 

"You just can't hold up in the back end that long. Something we got to look at hard, try to get it fixed. We still got five weeks left. It comes down to just each guy, it's a pride factor, the next five weeks. But it's something we got to seriously evaluate.”

The Packers punted just once the entire night and their only other two drives that ended without them scoring points came at the end of each half with Rodgers taking a knee.

It wasn’t like the Eagles gave up a ton of points — or even a ton of yards, at least by current NFL standards — in the loss. No, it was death by a thousand cuts for the Birds. Or, if you prefer, death by a thousand third down conversions.

"Yeah, I think so," Malcolm Jenkins said when asked if this was the most frustrating defensive performance of the season. "We're one or two plays here and there on every drive where [if we make the stop] we're off the field. It was just one of those things where we knew we had to be patient. We knew [Rodgers] was going to run around and make plays. We would just have to hunker down and eventually make a stop, so we knew the drives would be long but we just couldn't find a way to get that one play."

As Jenkins said, the Eagles defense just couldn’t get off the field, allowing the Packers to go 10-for-14 on third down. That’s not just bad, that’s the worst performance by any team in the league this season.

And, suddenly, something that had been a strength became a glaring weakness for the Birds.

"It was frustrating for us because they were just moving the ball down the field and just dinking and dunking," cornerback Nolan Carroll said after the game. "We have to try and get them in third-and-long situations, but when we look at the sticks, it is 3rd and 4, 3rd and 2, 3rd and 1. There are only so many things you can call in those situations. We got on our heels and it was hard the rest of the game."

Three of the Packers' first downs came by penalty, but none was as disappointing as Fletcher Cox’s roughing the passer penalty in the third quarter. Just when it looked like the Birds would finally get the third-down stop they so desperately needed, Cox decided to clothesline Rodgers after the throw, extending the Packers drive and ultimately costing the Eagles seven points. Where have I heard that before?

“I mean when you play as hard as I play and aggressive as I play, stuff like that happens," Cox said after the game. "I did talk to the referee, he said it was just one of those things where it was close so he had to call that, that’s how they’re protecting the quarterbacks.”

While we're on the subject of Cox: Where the hell has he been the last two months? The team's best defensive player – and one of the top defensive tackles in the league – hasn't had a sack since Week 5 and has just four total on the season. I mean, Marcus Smith (1.5) has more sacks than Cox since the bye week. 

Even in the rare instances when the Eagles would seemingly do all the right things on Monday night, the Packers figured out a way to convert.

That’s why it’s no surprise that Green Bay opted to go for it on fourth down with three minutes left to play in an 11-point game. 

After the Eagles stopped them on a 3rd and 18 from their 48-yard line, forcing a 4th and 10 from the 40, it happened again. Another dumb penalty. They were flagged for having 12 men on the field, suddenly making it a 4th and 5 from the 35. Packers coach Mike McCarthy liked those odds against a defense that hadn’t been able to stop his team all night, so he sent Rodgers and the offense back on the field.

Any guesses what happened next?

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin