The Defense Lifts Eagles In Rankings
By Lance Epstein
Entering the game against the Jaguars, the Eagles were one of the worst defensive units in the NFL (statistically).
In the first two games of the season, the Eagles manage to give up an eye-popping 59 points to the Packers and Lions. That is nearly 30 points per game at 29.5 points per game. Additionally, the Eagles defense had not held an opponent to less than 21 points since week 15 against the San Francisco 49ers.
However, it was not just the points that had fans worried about their once heralded defense. In the first two games, the Eagles were giving up a ton of yards as teams were averaging 371 total yards per game. Moreover, the Eagles allowed 11 rushes for over 10 yards and three passes for over 25 yards (mainly due to Jahvid Best).
The fans were beginning to get frustrated and tired of waiting for defensive coordinator Sean McDermott to turn this thing around. In fact, many were hoping secondary coach Dick Jauron would take over as defensive coordinator.
Nevertheless, the return of the Eagles’ heart and soul in middle linebackers Stewart Bradley changed everything. The defensive unit appeared to regain the swagger they had at the end of the 2008 season, when they finished as a top three unit statistically.
The Eagles D dominated the game as they gave up no passing plays of over 25 yards to the Jaguars. In addition, the Birds limited Jaguars quarterback David Garrard to 3.5 yards per passing attempt.
Certainly, those stats were extremely crucial in the Eagles 28-3 thumping of the Jags, but the Eagles mended one of their big weaknesses. For much of the past couple years, the defense has always struggled with covering running backs out of the backfield and tight ends as well.
On Sunday, McDermott’s defense completely shutdown that facet of Jacksonville’s offense. Jags tight end Marcedes Lewis and running back Maurice Jones-Drew combined for five receptions for just 16 yards. This marked the first time since week 16 of last season (against Denver) that the Eagles held a tight end and running (combined) to below 50 yards receiving.
More astonishing than that stat, the Eagles jumped all the way to number seven in the league in passing yards per game with 183.3 yards.
A key reason for keeping the explosive Jones-Drew in-check was the relentless pass rush of the Eagles front four. Defensive linemen Trent Cole, Juqua Parker, Trevor Laws and Darryl Tapp were constantly in the backfield making life hard for Garrard. By the end of the game, they registered a combined five sacks and six tackles for loss.
The most important stat coming out of the game had to be the Eagles defense giving up just three points. At the end of the day, yards do not mean a whole lot as long as you win. It is always about the points that go up on the board and not how many yards your opponent gets during the course of the game.
Philadelphia used to be known as one of the best team’s in the league at bending, but not breaking. Last year, the Eagles defense broke down much more often than fans have seen in recent memory.
In just one game, the Eagles lowered their point per game average from 29.5 to 20.7. While giving up 21 points per game is nothing to be happy about, it is much better than being tied for 31st in the NFL in points allowed.
Still there are some major issues that the Eagles need to fix before they can return to being an elite defense. One of those concerns is that the Eagles rank 22nd in the NFL against the run as they are allowing an alarming 125.7 yards on the ground.
Certainly, it was nice to see the Eagles keep Jones-Drew below 100 rushing yards (88 rushing yards for the game), but they gave up three rushes for 10 yards or more to Jones-Drew. All it takes is one run and Jones-Drew goes the distance for a touchdown. The Eagles play a lot of premiere backs this year, so they need to tackle better and not find themselves out of position.
Another cause for concern coming out of the Jags game is the lack of turnovers. A huge issue last year for the Birds reappeared on Sunday. The Eagles created just one turnover, which is OK when you are playing an inferior opponent in the likes of Jacksonville. However against the cream of the crop, the Eagles defense must create turnovers to give their high-powered offense a chance to deliver a knockout blow.
Ultimately, the return of their defensive leader in Bradley should continue to drastically improve the Eagles defense. As he gains more confidence in his surgically repaired knee, the Eagles defense should really begin to soar. Right now they sit at 11th in the NFL in total defense, but they have only had Bradley for 1.5 games.
Let’s see where the Eagles rank in this week’s power rankings…
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (Previous week: 3)
The Good: The Steelers were hoping that they would go 2-2 in the absences of Ben Roethlisberger. Now they have a legitimate chance at being 4-0 with Ravens running back Ray Rice spraining his knee and their defense being as dangerous as ever with the return of Troy Polamalu.
The Bad: The Ravens have a defense that can match the Steelers defense. This is the one game the Steelers wish they could have Big Ben. His size and strength makes him tough to bring down and can wear on a defense.
2. Indianapolis Colts (Previous week: 5)
The Good: Peyton Manning could win football games if he had a man in a walker at wide receiver. He is just that good. Unless a team has an offense that is able to put up close to 30 points on the pedestrian Colts defense, then they will have no shot at knocking off the Colts.
The Bad: While the Colts offense is one of the best in the league, the Colts defense is just as bad. They are giving up 20.3 points per game, which is 18th best. Additionally, they have the 24th ranked defense in the league.
3. New Orleans Saints (Previous week: 1)
The Good: The Saints could very easily be 0-3 to start the season since they have taken everyone’s best shot. Instead they are 2-1 and have managed to squeak out victories. The offense is not sizzling yet, but the their next opponent is Carolina which should change that.
The Bad: The kicking game is a major cause for concern for the defending champs. It is the only thing that stands between them being 3-0. However, their defense is not a good as last year. They are 30th in run defense, which is a recipe for disaster. Teams will run the ball to keeping their explosive offense off the field.
4. New York Jets (Previous week: 10)
The good: After the first game of the season and a bad preseason, many were about to jump off the Mark Sanchez bandwagon. Over the past two games, Sanchez has thrown for 476 yards and six touchdowns. Moreover, he has had no interceptions and an average QB rating of 122.4.
The Bad: In last year’s magical postseason run, running back Shonn Greene exploded onto the scene. This year was supposed to be his coming out party, but instead it has been a dud. LT is old and he cannot do this well all year. Greene needs to step his game up if they expect to be the best.
5. Chicago Bears (Previous week: 17)
The Good: Over the past two weeks, the Bears have beaten two teams that everyone had as Super Bowl contenders in Green Bay and Dallas. They are only one of three teams to be 3-0. Currently, the Bears are the best team record-wise in the NFC.
The Bad: The Bears are not going to continue winning games rushing the ball for 72 yards per game. Quarterback Jay Cutler showed why that would not happen against Green Bay. If it were not for multiple Packers penalties, Cutler could have thrown three interceptions. Teams will watch the film and see that they cannot run due to the porous offensive line.
6. Atlanta Falcons (Previous week: 12)
The Good: Matt Ryan has finally gotten over his sophomore slump. That might be because running backs Michael Turner and Jason Snelling have been bulldozing their opponents. If the Falcons can beat the Saints at home to complete the season sweep, then they could be looking at a first round playoff bye.
The Bad: Beating the Saints is great. However, they gave their best shot and still should have lost that game if not for a botched field goal by Garrett Hartley. The Falcons have a chance to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, but the defense cannot give up 141 yards per game and expect to win.
7. Green Bay Packers (Previous week: 2)
The Good: Does anyone question the move to go forward with Aaron Rodgers as quarterback anymore? Rodgers has the best QB rating of All-time at 96.8 (minimum 1,000 passing attempts). The Packers could very easily be 3-0 right now if not for WR James Jones fumbling the ball at mid-field. More importantly, Rodgers has the offense gelling even without a running game.
The Bad: Do not know which is worse, the penalties or the bad offensive line play. Both seem like reoccurring themes for the Green Bay Packers. The penalties can be fixed, but the offensive line woes might not be fixable.
8. Houston Texans (Previous week: 4)
The Good: Arian Foster leads the league in rushing with 435 rushing yards (135 yards per game average). His ability to run the ball should make life easier on Texans QB Matt Schaub. Moreover, he hangs onto the ball unlike Steven Slaton.
The Bad: Most people would complain about the passing defense of the Texans. While that is a problem, Schaub has been mediocre for two out of the first three games. He needs to be better to outduel the Colts and win the division for the first time in Texans history.
9. New England Patriots (Previous week: 7)
The Good: What a difference a year makes for Tom Brady. He had an OK season after coming back from a torn ACL. This year, he seems to have his vintage 2007 form. He has thrown for eight touchdown passes and just two interceptions.
The Bad: Just when you thought head coach Bill Belichick had turned the defense around, they implode. Over the past two games, they have given up 28 points to the Jets and 30 to the lowly Buffalo Bills. In a very competitive AFC, the defense might have the Pats watching the playoffs on TV.
10. Baltimore Ravens (Previous week: 8)
The Good: The Anquan Boldin deal looks like a success. Versus the Browns, he pulled in eight balls for 142 yards and three touchdowns. His presence forces opponents to respect the Ravens passing game and not stack the box against Ray Rice. Boldin’s acquisition could be the best move of the entire offseason.
The Bad: The Ravens seem to have lost their identity. While it is grand that they have the weapons to throw the ball, they have forgotten what has made them great over the past decade. The Browns nearly pulled off the upset because the Ravens refused to run the ball against one of the worst rush defenses.
11. Cincinnati Bengals (Previous week: 9)
The Good: After a horrendous week one, the defense has really put it together. Dick LeBeau’s defense has held their last two opponents to ten and seven points. More importantly, they are limiting teams to just over 100 yards per game on the ground.
The Bad: What has happened to QB Carson Palmer? The Bengals go out during the offseason and get him in weapons. Yet, he looks like a shell of his former self. Against Carolina he had a 22 QB rating in the first half and two interceptions. Palmer must regain the form that made him an elite QB otherwise the Bengals will be in trouble.
12. Miami Dolphins (Previous week: 6)
The Good: Chad Henne is developing into quite the impressive NFL quarterback. Against one of the better defenses in the NFL, he put up 363 yards through the air. Of course, Darrelle Revis didn’t play, but he finally understood to get the ball into the hands of his playmaker Brandon Marshall.
The Bad: The Dolphins have a must win game against the Pats on Monday night. Over the past couple of seasons, RB Ronnie Brown and the wildcat offense has given New England headaches. Still, if the Dolphins lose this game, it would mean they have lost two divisional games at home already.
13. Philadelphia Eagles (Previous week: 14)
The Good: Michael Vick is still killing teams from the pocket. He is going through all of his progressions and making the right decision with the ball. Moreover, the return of Stewart Bradley has significantly upgraded the defense. This is a very scary team if they can stay healthy.
The Bad: The offensive line is still a major issue for the Eagles. Reggie Wells was better than Nick Cole at right guard on Sunday, but Mike McGlynn is still struggling at center. It is only a matter of time before the Eagles are forced to make a move to replace him. Also, the Eagles cannot afford to give up huge returns on punts.
14. Tennessee Titans (Previous week: 16)
The Good: Running back Chris Johnson continues to torture teams. He has the explosiveness to take any carry the distance. Plus he is a receiving threat out of the backfield.
The Bad: Every week it comes down to which Vince Young will show up. Will it be the good Young? Or will it be Young with the restless? If he becomes consistent like Vick has done, then he could vault this team into the top 10.
15. Dallas Cowboys (Previous week: 19)
The Good: They finally won a game. Dallas could not afford to fall to 0-3 and expect to make a playoff run. The defense somehow found what made them great towards the end of last year. Playing with desperation will do that to a team.
The Bad: The Cowboys still are not able to get the running game going. They were more committed, but not effective. Eventually teams are going to get to Tony Romo with that line especially if defenses know the Cowboys have to throw the ball. Also, it is hard to play with desperation like that for the next 13 weeks.
16. Kansas City Chiefs (Previous week: 20)
The Good: Perhaps the biggest surprise this year has been the Chiefs. Rookie Dexter McCluster gives the Chiefs a rare type of weapon that defenses must account for and respect. Matt Cassel is showing the signs of what made him successful in New England. Plus defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has the defense play extremely fast and well.
The Bad: At some point in this season, head coach Todd Haley will need to make Jamaal Charles the No. 1 back. Thomas Jones is not as explosive and does not give them the best opportunity to win. Maybe he is keeping Charles fresh for the second half of the year, but they will need him with the schedule getting tougher.
17. Minnesota Vikings (Previous week: 18)
The Good: Adrian Peterson is determined to carry this team until wide receiver Sidney Rice gets back. He is also out to show that he can run the rock without fumbling the ball. So far this year he has zero fumbles in 70 carries.
The Bad: Doesn’t it seem like bringing back Brett Favre was a mistake? Pretty sure Tavaris Jackson could do a better job of running this offense right now. Favre has six interceptions and just two touchdown passes. Moreover, he had seven interceptions all of last year.
18. Seattle Seahawks (Previous week: 24)
The Good: No one wants travel to the Great Northwest and play the Seahawks. At home they are a dangerous team that can beat almost anyone. Their defense seems to transform playing in front of 12th man.
The Bad: The Seahawks actually have to play seven more road games this year. None of them are easy either. The Rams were thought to be pushovers, but have made significant progress with QB Sam Bradford in only three weeks. Again, if the Hawks can go 7-1 at home and just 2-6 on the road, they could get into the playoffs.
19. San Diego Chargers (Previous week: 12)
The Good: Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates are off to great starts this season. Rivers has already put up 1,087 yards and seven touchdowns in three games. Out of those seven touchdowns, four have gone to Gates. If RB Ryan Mathews comes back and gives some balance to the offense, look out…
The Bad: A.J. Smith is still the GM and is still not budging on moving disgruntled wide receiver Vincent Jackson. While he did manage to get (LT) Marcus McNeil to sign his tender, Smith prevented the team from having him for six weeks. Jackson is not going to return and they are not getting anything in return for him. This is hurting the Chargers now and in the future.
20. New York Giants (previous week: 15)
The Good: The Giants were a sleeper team to start the season, but look more like a bust each week. One player that has emerged through all the turmoil has been running back Ahmad Bradshaw. In 2010, he has rushed for 253 yards and touchdowns. He has also taken over the starting role from Brandon Jacobs.
The Bad: A sleeper team for many people ahs turned into a disaster waiting to happen. The chemistry between head coachTom Coughlin and his team seems to be eroding. Moreover, the offensive line is in shambles and is getting Eli Manning beat up. Additionally, the secondary, which was thought to be upgraded with the return of Kenny Phillips and the signing of Antrel Rolle has been dreadful.
21. Washington Redskins (Previous week: 13)
The Good: Mike Shanahan has his team competing hard week in and week out. Before he arrived, the Redskins would show up when they felt like it. Now, they are always in the games even when they get behind. Of course, they have big issues, but they are on their way to being a vastly improved team.
The Bad: Switching to a 3-4 defense might not have been the best move for the Redskins. Since the Dallas game, they have given up two 30-point games. The Texans are understandable, but the Rams did it with a rookie quarterback and without RB Steven Jackson for the second half.
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Previous week: 21)
The Good: Before the blowout loss to the Steelers, the Bucs were an up and coming team. They have nice weapons on offense and defensively, they are a year away from being a very very good unit. If you asked Tampa fans before the season began, if they would be happy being tied for first place after three weeks they’d be thrilled. Also, good for the fans for actually attending their games.
The Bad: The Steelers game was a measuring stick for the Buccaneers. They have a ways to go. QB Josh Freeman must learn to read defenses better and not telegraph his passes. Still, this team is on the upswing.
23. Arizona Cardinals (Previous week: 28)
The Good: Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. The Cardinals are 2-1, but they realistically should be 0-3. Still, good teams find ways to win. Meanwhile bad teams find new interesting ways to lose. Also, running back Beanie Wells looked good in limited carries. He should get better as the year goes on and his knee gets stronger.
The Bad: The Cardinals have no quarterback and Derek Anderson is getting worse as the weeks go on. They might be tied for first place, but they have a brutal schedule coming up. They might be forced to see what rookie Max Hall can do.
24. Oakland Raiders (Previous week: 26)
The Good: Bruce Gradkowski reminds a lot of people of former 49er great Jeff Garica. He just does everything he needs to do to win. If that means running and taking a big hit, he’ll do it. More importantly, he is getting wide receivers Louis Murphy and Darius Heyward-Bey involved. Plus he has a great running game to rely on in Darren McFadden.
The Bad: Every week it seems that the Raiders find new and interesting ways to lose. This week it was on a 40-yard field goal attempt. Until the Raiders get over this losing mentality stuff like that will happen.
25. Denver Broncos (Previous week: 23)
The Good: How good has Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton been this season? He has thrown for the second most yards in the NFL (1,078), has the eighth highest completion percentage (66.4) and the seventh best QB rating (97.4).
The Bad: Even though Orton has been spectacular, the defense has been average. In addition, the running game has been non-existent and doesn’t appear to be getting any better with Knowshon Moreno out with a hamstring strain.
26. St. Louis Rams (Previous week: 29)
The Good: The Rams could be higher on this list if not for Steve Breaston’s miracle strip in week one. The Rams sit just a game back in the division with the first place Seahawks coming to town. What is even more incredible, they have the best quarterback in the division.
The Bad: It is going to hurt the Rams offense to lose running back Steven Jackson for a week or two. He took a lot of the less pressure on rookie QB Sam Bradford. Bradford has all the tools to be a very successful QB, but not the experience.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars (Previous week: 25)
The Good: This week there is not a whole lot to be excited about. However, this week Maurice Jones-Drew gets to face a team he has gone off against in the past in Indianapolis. Without a doubt the Colts will be a heavy favorite, but the Jaguars always seem to surprise the Colts.
The Bad: Jack Del Rio and QB David Garrard could be on their way out of Jacksonville. Both have been terrible this season and have lost the fan base. Unless Del Rio and Garrard turn it around fast, they are likely done in Jacksonville.
28. Buffalo Bills (previous week: 31)
The Good: Making the switch to Ryan Fitzpatrick might have sparked the Bills. C.J. Spiller scored two touchdowns: a receiving touchdown and a kickoff return for a touchdown. Moreover, Marshawn Lynch showed glimpses of being the back they envisioned when they drafted in the first round out of California.
The Bad: It is going to be a long season when you have the Pats, Jets and Dolphins in your division. The Bills have some weapons and should keep games close against their divisional foes.
29. San Francisco 49ers (Previous week: 22)
The Good: About the only thing that has gone right so far this season for the 49ers is Frank Gore being a beast. Gore has rushed for 193 yards and has 203 yards receiving. Other than that, Alex Smith, the defense and Michael Crabtree have been major busts.
The Bad: Firing the offensive coordinator will help for a game, but long-term it not make a difference. Mike Singletary resurrected the career of Vernon Davis, but it is doesn’t look like he cannot do the same with the entire franchise.
30. Detroit Lions (Previous week: 27)
The Good: The Lions are not nearly as bad as they have been in the past. They came close to beating two first place teams in Philadelphia and Chicago with Shaun Hill as quarterback. Certainly, they will finish in last place, but next year they could be a 9-7 team.
The Bad: It is a shame that Jahvid Best has developed a toe injury. While the Lions say it is not too bad, a big toe injury to a running back is never good. He will not be as explosive without being able to push off his big toe.
31. Cleveland Browns (Previous week: 32)
The Good: Cleveland has moved out of the cellar. Not only are they not the worst team in football, Peyton Hillis has been a pleasant surprised for their offense.
The Bad: LeBron James is in Miami. The Indians season is over. The Browns are still in last place in the hardest division in football.
32. Carolina Panthers (Previous week: 30)
There is too much talent on this squad to be down too long. The offensive weapons are there in DeAngelo Williams, Steven Smith and Jonathan Stewart. Once rookie QB Jimmy Clausen develops, the team should be a decent squad.
The Bad: There is no reason that this team should be the worst club in football. It shouldn’t even be in the bottom five.