Eagles’ ‘Best Hope’ on Defense Is Not Really Matt Patricia: Analyst

Matt Patricia

Getty The Eagles are making a coaching change, promoting Matt Patricia.

The Philadelphia Eagles‘ defense is in a tailspin, at the worst possible time.

Sunday, needing significant help from the Washington Commanders just to win the NFC East, the Eagles’ defense aims to bounce back from surrendering four consecutive touchdown drives in the second half of a Week 17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Philadelphia enters its Week 18 clash against the New York Giants having lost four of five, surrendering an average of 31 points per game over that stretch.

If the Eagles fail to reach a second consecutive Super Bowl, few events will define the 2023 season more than head coach Nick Sirianni’s decision to swap Matt Patrica for Sean Desai as Philadelphia’s play-caller on defense.

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell believes not only that Patricia is not the answer for what ails the Eagles’ defense, but Philadelphia’s passing defense is its biggest weakness as the NFL Playoffs loom.

“Things haven’t gotten off to a great start,” Barnwell writes, of Patricia’s struggles at the helm of Philly’s defense. “The Eagles have lost two of Patricia’s first three games as defensive coordinator, including a 35-31 defeat at the hands of the Cardinals on Sunday. Since he took over the defense in the middle of the season, Patricia hasn’t been able to install anything dramatically different. The most notable shifts have been the use of rookie edge rusher Nolan Smith as a linebacker behind a five-man front and, surprisingly, a move toward more zone coverage. Patricia’s Lions had been the league’s most man coverage-heavy defense in football before his firing.

“While a schematic breakthrough probably isn’t coming, the best hope for the Eagles might be the return of missing personnel. Cornerback Darius Slay has missed the past few weeks after knee surgery, but he should be back for the postseason. Slot corner Avonte Maddox just returned after missing most of the season with a torn pectoral muscle, though he struggled in his play. And linebacker Zach Cunningham has been sidelined for most of December, while Nakobe Dean has played just five games.”

The pressure is on Patricia and the defense to turn things around, or else the Eagles’ postseason defense of last season’s NFC title could be short lived.

DeVonta Smith Out vs. New York Giants

As if there wasn’t already enough pressure on quarterback Jalen Hurts and the Eagles’ offense to overcome the defense’s shortcomings, Hurts will be without one of his top playmakers in Week 18.

Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith was ruled out for Sunday’s game due to an ankle injury.

Smith was hurt during Philadelphia’s loss to the Cardinals, and his absence Sunday might equally be due to him being unable to practice this week, and a precaution against playing the 25-year-old on the MetLife Stadium turf that is one of the most universally derided playing surfaces in the NFL.

With his regular season now over, Smith finishes the 2023 campaign with 81 catches for 1,066 yards and seven touchdown receptions.

Haason Reddick the Eagles’ X-factor?

The Eagles’ flickering hopes of winning the division, and finishing as the No. 2 seed in the NFC are predicated on avoiding another shocking upset, for the second consecutive week.

Ahead of Sunday’s game, ESPN’s Seth Walder believes Eagles pass-rusher Haason Reddick has the potential to stem the tide, listing Reddick as Philadelphia’s X-factor against the Giants.

“Eagles edge rusher Haason Reddick has an opportunity for a big game going against Matt Peart,” Walder writes. “Who likely will step in at right tackle with both Evan Neal and Tyre Phillips injured for the Giants. Reddick hasn’t recorded a sack since Week 13, but the Eagles could use a pass-rush spark.”

Reddick was a catalyst for the Eagles’ Super Bowl run last season, and enters Sunday’s game with 11.0 sacks. Might another strong postseason be looming for Reddick?

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