When looking at the numbers, it's difficult to find much to like about the Eagles' defense through the first five games.
They are allowing 26.4 points per game, tied for sixth-worst. Opponents are scoring touchdowns at a rate of 78.57 percent in the red zone, worst in the NFL, and even worse than last year's mark.
Quarterbacks have a rating of 104.3 (third-worst) against the Eagles, and they have allowed 11 passing touchdowns (second-worst). Against the run, they are allowing 5.0 yards per carry (sixth-worst).
Football Outsiders has the Eagles' defense ranked 26th overall - 20th against the pass and 31st against the run.
The only area where the Eagles have had any kind of success is rushing the quarterback with their front four. The Eagles are tied for second in sacks with 16, and they are third in adjusted sack rate. All 16 sacks have come from defensive linemen.
I took a look at sacks and hurries, compared to last year. In 2010, the Eagles had 31 sacks and 82 hurries by defensive linemen. So far in 2011, they have 16 sacks and 55 hurries. Here's how that looks on a per-game basis:
|Sacks per game||Hurries per game|
Keep in mind that those hurry stats come from the Eagles. And remember, these are just for defensive linemen.
With more sacks per game and more than twice as many hurries, it's clear the pass rush with the front four has improved greatly from a season ago.
And really, that's what all the defensive changes this offseason were about: getting to the quarterback without having to blitz. That's why they added Jim Washburn. That's why they signed Jason Babin. That's why they stocked up at cornerback.
I'm not sure switching out of the wide-9 would really help this defense. They would still struggle covering opposing running backs (30th in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders). Babin's weakness (defending the run) would be exposed. And the Eagles' best run-stuffing defensive tackle, Antonio Dixon, is out for the season. The linebackers would be less likely to have offensive linemen in their face against the run, but opponents would still have success on the ground against the Eagles.
If the Eagles dump the wide-9, I'm really not sure where they'd go. It's not as if Juan Castillo has coached and implemented a different system of his own in the past.
Last week was actually a little different than the first four. Eagles defenders were in positions to make plays on several occasions. They didn't make them, missed tackles, and the result was a fourth straight defeat.
Kurt Coleman returns to the lineup this week after being benched against the Giants a few weeks ago . I don't know that he's going to give you much in coverage, but if he can make even half the plays against the run that Jarrad Page missed against Buffalo, maybe the system will work a little better against Washington.
Now, on to the weekly breakdown, starting with snap counts from a week ago:
|Player||Pct. of snaps vs. Bills|
Babin is still playing a lot of snaps, and that will continue until Trent Cole returns.
Hunt also played quite a bit, and while Parker returned, it was in a limited capacity. Landri saw his first action of the season and had some good moments early.
Let's start with just last week. You can find sacks and QB hits in the box score, and the Eagles' coaching staff keeps track of hurries, so those are the three categories we'll go with:
Jenkins had the Eagles' only sack, while Babin led the team with three hurries. Hunt and Patterson each contributed a pair of hurries also.
And here are the season totals:
Babin leads the Eagles with seven sacks, 11 QB hits and 15 hurries. Jenkins has been the best interior pass rusher with five sacks, seven QB hits and five hurries. Babin, Jenkins and Cole have combined for 15 of the Eagles' 16 sacks on the season.
As always, it's good to look at opportunities. Below are percentages on how often each defensive lineman has notched a sack or hurry, based on number of chances to rush the quarterback (provided by Pro Football Focus).
|Sacks+Hurries||Pass-rushing opportunities||Pressure Pct.|
Good illustration here of why it's important to look at opportunities. Patterson and Laws both have a 5 in the first category, but Laws' number comes on significantly fewer opportunities. He's actually been their second-best interior pass rusher behind Jenkins.
Tapp's numbers are still skewed since he's only played in two games. And Landri only had five chances to rush the passer on Sunday.
Hunt's been OK in limited opportunities too.
WHAT ABOUT THE BLITZ?
The Eagles blitzed on four of 27 dropbacks, or 14.8 percent of the time, last week. And they had success. Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 3 of 4 passes for just 14 yards (3.5 YPA) against the blitz. Castillo seemed to catch the Bills off-guard with back-to-back blitzes in the fourth quarter. Fitzpatrick threw incomplete on one, and Nate Allen made a nice play for a 3-yard loss on the second as Buffalo went three-and-out.
On the season, the Eagles have blitzed on 26 of 162 pass plays, or 16.0 percent of the time.
Opposing quarterbacks are 11-for-23 for 213 yards (9.3 YPA) against the Eagles' blitz, but the Birds didn't allow any big plays with extra pressure last week.
As I mentioned in my 10 things breakdown, Rex Grossman has not been great against the blitz, and considering the Eagles will likely once again be without Cole, it wouldn't surprise me if they sent extra pressure a little bit more against the Redskins.