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Eagles vs. Washington Football Team Part Two: By the Numbers

The Eagles' defense looks good on paper but context needs to be added and Paul Domwitch gives it to you.


Jalen Hurts throws a pass during the second quarter against the Washington Football Team at Lincoln Financial Field on December 21, 2021. / Photograph by Mitchell Leff / Stringer via Getty Images

The Eagles’ media relations department put out a tweet this week singing the praises of Jonathan Gannon’s defense. It listed eight defensive categories in which Gannon’s unit inhabit the top 10, including yards per game (5th), yards per rush (4th), 3-and-out percentage (4th), and defensive touchdowns (2nd).

But those numbers only tell a very small part of the story about the Eagles’ 2021 defense. While it has shown improvement in recent weeks, most of that improvement has come against offensive-challenged teams. General manager Howie Roseman knows better than anyone that Gannon’s unit is going to have to be rebuilt over the next year or two if the Eagles hope to be in the Super Bowl hunt on a regular basis going forward.

The Eagles have given up more than 18 points in just two of their last eight games, which is nice. But six of those eight games have been against offenses ranked 23rd or lower in scoring. The only teams they’ve faced since Halloween that are in the top 20 in scoring are the Chargers (8th) and the Saints (18th).

Here are some rankings that are a lot more revealing about the Eagles defense right now than the ones provided by the team’s publicists:

They are 31st in sacks (25), sandwiched between the Lions and the Falcons. They are 26th in takeaways (15), 25th in red-zone defense (65.4%), 19th in opponent passer rating (92.3d), and 17th in third-down defense (40.2). Opposing quarterbacks have a 90.0 passer rating and have thrown nine touchdown passes against the Eagles on third down.

The Eagles defense had the misfortune of facing many of the best quarterbacks in the business in the first nine weeks of the season. Everyone knows how that went. The Cowboys’ Dak Prescott (80.8), the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes (80.0), the Bucs’ Tom Brady (80.9), the Raiders Derek Carr (91.2), and the Chargers’ Justin Herbert (84.2) all completed more than 80 percent of their passes against the Eagles.

Since then, well, the quarterback talent the Eagles have faced in their last six games – Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill, Daniel Jones, rookie Zach Wilson, signed-off-the-street Garrett Gilbert, and Jake Fromm – has been considerably easier to deal with. Bridgewater & Co. have a plus-6 touchdowns-to-interceptions differential this season. Prescott, Mahomes, Brady, Carr, and Herbert: plus-92.

  • In the Eagles’ first six games, the defense gave up a league-high 48 points in the first quarter. In nine games since then, they’ve allowed just 32. The defense has allowed just one first-possession score in the last nine games. That was a touchdown against the Jets. In the Eagles’ last six games, the defense has given up just four first-possession first downs and held opponents to 2.4 yards per play.
  • While the Eagles’ success against the pass has largely depended on the caliber of competition, they’ve been fairly consistent all season against the run. They are sixth in first-down run defense, holding opponents to 3.8 yards per carry. In the last five games, they’ve allowed just 3.6 per carry on first down. Washington is 24th in first down rushing (4.0).

Hurts report

  • Jalen Hurts got off to a rough start Sunday, completing just three of 10 passes for 11 yards in the first quarter. But things went much better for him after that. He was 14-for-19 with 188 yards and two touchdowns in the final three quarters.
  • Hurts attempted four 20-plus-yard throws against the Giants and completed three of them. He had 46- and 23-yard completions to DeVonta Smith and a 39-yarder to Quez Watkins. His two completions to Smith traveled 20 and 40 yards in the air. His pass to Watkins traveled 38 yards. In the last two games, Hurts is 5-for-7 for 181 yards on 20-plus-yard throws and 11-for-16 for 280 yards on throws of more than 10 yards. His completion percentage on deep balls is up to 36.1. His completion percentage on 11-to-19 yard throws is 52.8. By comparison, in 2019, Carson Wentz had a 36.1 completion percentage on 20-plus-yard throws and 52.8 on 11-19 yard throws.
  • The Eagles are fifth in third-down efficiency. They’ve converted 45.6 percent of their third-down tries (87 of 191). Hurts has been a difference-maker on third down, but more as a runner than a passer. He’s first in the league in rushing first downs on third down with 21. That’s two more than the Bills’ Josh Allen and three more than the Colts’ Jonathan Taylor. But he’s only 23rd in third-down passing, with an 81.2 rating, and 25th in third-down completion percentage (53.5). He’s 18th in percentage of third-down pass attempts that have resulted in first downs (38.6%).
  • Three of Hurts’ last four interceptions have been on third down. But he has completed 12 of 18 third-down pass attempts in the last two games after going 2-for-7 on third down in the Eagles’ 13-7 Week 12 loss to the Giants.
  • Hurts completed all four of his red-zone passes against the Giants on Sunday, two of them for touchdowns to DeVonta Smith and Lane Johnson. He’s thrown three red-zone TD passes in the last two games after throwing just one in the previous five.
  • Hurts has thrown just one red-zone interception this season. That was in the loss to the Giants.
  • In his last seven starts, Hurts has completed 72.7 percent of his second-down passes and averaged 9.2 yards per attempt.

Opponent report

  • Washington is 31st in third-down defense. Opponents have converted 50.5 percent of their third-down opportunities. The only team in the league with a less productive third-down defense is the Chargers.
  • Opposing quarterbacks have a 108.8 passer rating against WFT on third downs of seven yards or more. Twenty of fifty-eight pass attempts (34.5%) against Washington on third-and-seven-plus have resulted in first downs.
  • The Eagles converted seven of their 13 third-down opportunities against Washington in their Week 15 meeting. Six of those 13 third downs were three yards or less. Just four were seven yards or more.
  • The Eagles held Washington to 63 rushing yards on 21 carries in Week 15. That was Washington’s smallest rushing output of the season. Antonio Gibson had 26 yards on 15 carries.
  • WFT has given up 110 points in the last three games. They gave up just 87 in the previous five games.
  • Washington’s defense has given up a league-high 33 touchdown passes. Twenty-three of them have come in the red zone. They’re tied with the Colts for most red-zone TD passes allowed. Washington is 17th overall in red-zone defense, allowing TDs on 58.9% of its opponents’ trips inside the 20.

More good stat stuff

  • Nick Sirianni used 12-personnel on 30 of 60 offensive plays against the Giants on Sunday. He’s used it on 60 of 130 plays (46.1%) in the last two games. Twenty-one of the Eagles’ 30 rushing attempts against the Giants were with 12-personnel. A breakdown of the Eagles’ run game this season by personnel grouping:
Rushing/Personnel Grouping
11P252-1433 (5.7)
12P168-809 (4.8)
13P57-183.  (3.2)
21P5-22       (4.4)
23P1-1.       (1.0)
TOTAL483-2448 (5.1)
  • J.J. Arcega-Whiteside has found a role as a blocking wide receiver in 11-personnel packages. Given the emphasis the Eagles have put on the run in the second half of the season, that’s a fairly important role. He has played 65 snaps in the last five games, including 13 Sunday against the Giants.
  • In their last seven games, the Eagles have run just 106 of 461 plays (23.0%) from under center. They used it most often in their 33-18 Week 13 win over the Jets when Gardner Minshew started in place of the injured Hurts (38.2%). Minshew was 20-for-25 for 242 yards and two touchdowns overall against the Jets. He was 4-for-5 for 76 yards and one touchdown from under center. In the last three games, Eagles’ quarterbacks are 8-for-10 for 157 yards and two touchdowns from under center.
  • Eighty-seven of the Eagles’ 273 rushing attempts in the last seven games (31.9%) have been from under center. They’ve averaged 4.1 yards per carry from under center and 5.6 from out of shotgun.
  • The Eagles committed 11 penalties Sunday. That was the third-most this season. They drew 14 flags in their season-opening win over Atlanta and had 13 penalties in their Week 3 loss to Dallas. The Eagles committed 44 penalties in their first four games, then were flagged just 43 more times in the next 10 games before drawing 11 against Washington. They are tied for 11th in the league in penalties with 98 and are 19th in penalty yards with 770.
  • The Eagles have committed just 14 false start penalties. That’s tied for the seventh-fewest in the league. Here’s a year-by-year look at the Eagles’ false start and neutral zone and offsides penalties since 2012:
False startsNeutral zone/offsides
20211411
20202519
20191516
2018199
20171620
20162611
2015209
20141813
2013157
2012167
  • The Eagles have attempted 59 screen passes this season and completed 55 of them for 384 yards and one touchdown. Jalen Reagor has a team-high 13 receptions on screens for 83 yards. Dallas Goedert has 10 for 97 yards. Quez Watkins has nine for 35 yards.
  • Rookie wide receiver DeVonta Smith leads the Eagles in third-down catches with 15. Tight end Dallas Goedert is second with 11. Smith’s former Alabama teammate, Dolphins rookie Jaylen Waddle, is tied for the  NFL lead in third-down catches with the Vikings’ Justin Jefferson and the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill. They all have 30.

Paul Domowitch has covered pro football for five decades and has been a Hall of Fame selector since 2001. You can reach Paul at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @pdomo.

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