How Eagles need to fix their struggling 3rd-down defense

·3 min read

How Eagles need to fix their struggling 3rd-down defense originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Jonathan Gannon’s bend-but-don’t-break defense only works if the Eagles get off the field.

They haven’t been doing that nearly enough through six games.

In fact, the Eagles have the NFL’s third-worst 3rd-down defense through six games, giving up conversions on 46.2% of those plays. They’re behind just Washington (56.5%) and Miami (52.4%).

At least there’s an easy fix. Kinda.

They just need to make their lives a little easier in these situations.

“How do we get better on 3rd down?” defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said on Tuesday. “Well, let’s get better on 1st and 2nd down.”

Yeah, that would help.

Because the Eagles have been facing far too many 3rd-and-shorts this season. In fact, they have given up a league-high 22 conversions on 3rd downs when the offense has 1-3 yards to go.

Here’s a closer look:

• The Eagles’ defense has faced 78 third downs this season and 27 of them have been 3rd-and-shorts (third-most in the NFL).

• The average distance to go against the Eagles on 3rd downs is 6.6 yards. There are 20 teams with a higher average, which is where the Eagles would like to be.

• Overall, the Eagles have given up conversions on 36 of 78 plays on 3rd downs but they’ve given up 22 of 27 (81.5%) on 3rd-and-shorts. Only the Chiefs have been worse at 82.6%.

• That means that of the 36 conversions the Eagles have given up this season, 22 of them (61.1%) have come on 3rd-and-shorts. That’s the third-highest percentage in the NFL behind just the Chiefs (63.3%) and Packers (62.1%).

So how do the Eagles get in more 3rd-and-long situations?

Obviously, they need to perform better on 1st and 2nd downs, but there are different factors that lead to that success. One of them is obviously execution. The players have to make tackles on early downs and not take stupid penalties to change 3rd-and-longs into 3rd-and-shorts, which has happened a few times.

But Gannon is culpable too.

“That really falls on me how I call the game because when I'm aggressive and I call it aggressively, our guys perform,” Gannon said. “It seems like looking at the three – for the three days, when we have been aggressive early downs, there's a pretty good clip where we're getting it to – where we want it to be on 3rd down. So, that was part of the reflection for myself, is, ‘Hey, let's maybe call the game a little more aggressively.’”

For the most part, Gannon’s defense has been pretty passive through six weeks. He has been OK with giving up chunks as long as the Eagles don’t give up explosive plays down the field — and they haven’t — but that strategy has allowed offenses to drive down the field. Overall, it’s a valid strategy, but perhaps the Eagles could use a little more balance.

We’ll see pretty soon if they find it.

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