While the Philadelphia Eagles are still tied for the best record in the NFL at 8-1 after a 32-21 loss to the Washington Commanders on Monday Night Football, a glaring weakness has been exposed that could haunt the Birds in the playoffs. It might cost them a couple more games in the regular season, as well, but they can live with that and still contend for the top seed in the NFC and home field advantage. However, if the Eagles don’t find a way to improve their run defense, their Super Bowl hopes could die in a playoff game that plays out a lot like last night’s defeat.
The Commanders rushed for 152 yards on 49 attempts, for a mediocre 3.1 yards per attempt average overall. However, they were far more effective in the first half, rushing 29 times for 100 yards. In particular, Brian Robinson Jr. carried the ball 16 times for 59 yards in the opening half.
The Eagles expect to see this approach used against them from here on out.
“Obviously, we have to go look at this tape,” head coach Nick Sirianni said in his post-game press conference. “We’ll look at this tape and see what went down on this game, knowing that, hey, when you show that a team attacks a place, we’re going to see it again, right, and then we’re going to see that again. So, we’ll work like crazy to get it fixed, and we understand that that will be the narrative of how to beat us. We have to own that and fix it, and we will.”
The Eagles were able to adjust defensively in the second half, giving up just 52 yards on 20 attempts for an average of 2.6 yards per carry. That did include three carries for -2 yards by Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke, though. Without those, the average was 3.2 yards per carry.
“Second half I thought the defensive coaches did a nice job of adjusting and held them to really three points there,” Sirianni said. “I do think the adjustments we made were good, but we can’t start off flat. We can’t let them get 20 and then go in and then go from there. So, we have to do even better. Sometimes when the offense is — I think we had one where we turned it over, so the defense was out there a lot, and that’s hard, too.”
It’s worth noting that with a high powered offense and a highly ranked passing defense, the Eagles will often be playing with the lead and forcing teams to throw the ball against them. That’s especially true in the regular season, but when they’re facing tough opponents each week in the playoffs, they’re going to have to be able to win closer games in which opponents may be able to stick to the ground game. That’s cause for concern.
Eagles Have Struggled Against the Run Before
This isn’t the first time the Eagles rushing defense has appeared less than stellar. They’re ranked 25th out of 32 teams in the league, allowing 4.74 yards per carry, and 20th with opponents gashing them on the ground for nearly 125 yards per game, according to the NFL Game Statistics and Information System.
They also allowed 168 yards on 32 carries the week prior in a 29-17 win over the Houston Texans.
“We saw it on film against the Texans that they were getting after them a little bit [running the ball],” Heinicke said during his post-game press conference. “We felt like we had a good offensive line and running backs to do the same thing.”
Despite Heinicke’s confidence, Washington ranks 29th in the NFL in rushing yards per play and 20th in rushing yards per game. Clearly, the Eagles have a vulnerability if the Commanders were able to exploit it.
Absence of Jordan Davis is Impactful
Rookie defensive tackle Jordan Davis has been arguably the Eagles best run defender this season, and he’s been out the last two weeks with an ankle injury. Davis won’t be eligible to return from the injured reserve until their December 4 contest against the Tennessee Titans, but it appears promising that he’ll be back sooner rather than later according to Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Davis grades out at 78 against the run, according to Pro Football Focus, with only Josh Sweat earning a higher mark among Eagles defenders. Going by grades, it appears the Eagles primary weakness is up the middle without Davis on running downs.
Javon Hargrave grades out at 57 against the run, while Fletcher Cox grades out at 50 – a notable drop off that’s been a trend over the last few years. Cox graded out at 84 against the run in 2018, and has dropped off significantly each year since.
Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon may choose to increase the snaps on rushing downs for other defensive tackles, or perhaps the Eagles look towards free agency or raid a practice squad for a run stuffing lineman.