The template has been created to beat the Eagles. It was a rather in-your-face, smashmouth introduction on Monday when Washington slammed the Eagles by doubling them on the time of possession (40:24 to 19:36) and pounding them for 152 yards rushing. The last time the Eagles gave up less than 100 yards to an opponent came in their Week 4 29-21 victory over Jacksonville. Since then, opposing teams are averaging 144.4 yards a game on the ground against Philadelphia.
In the last five games, the Eagles have given up 124, 134, 144, 168 and 152 yards.
Now they’re tasked with trying to stop former South Jersey high school star Jonathan Taylor, who just snapped a five-game slump in which he did not rush for over 100 yards by ripping through the Las Vegas Raiders for 147 yards on 22 carries, for a season-high 6.6 yards per carry, and he scored one rushing touchdown. He rushed for 110 before contact, so the Eagles will need to get as many hats as possible on him before his considerable speed takes over and leads to consecutive Eagles’ losses. Gap integrity will be a huge factor.
Picking up defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph may help. But can they get off their couch and be effective in an NFL game? What kind of endurance do they have?
Washington hit the Eagles in bits and pieces. A five-yard run here; a three-yard run there. Those brush fires translated into havoc for the Eagles when the Commanders were looking at third-and-one and third-and-two a good portion of the night. Washington had 21 third downs on Monday night and converted 12.
Here’s another big problem: Commanders’ running back Brian Robinson Jr. rushed for a game-high 86 yards on 26 carries, though only 36 yards came before contact, with the bulk of his yardage (50), coming after the Eagles had hit him, meaning missed tackles. The Eagles were often there to meet Robinson. They just failed to bring him down.
The Eagles also did more catching blocks than penetrating.
When asked this week how pleased he was with his run defense, Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon admitted “Yeah, it’s one of the things we’ve been working on. I think that it should be better. We have to coach it better and I have to call the game a little bit better to help our guys out. I don’t know the yards per carry and where we are and all that stuff, but if a team is going to run the ball on first and second down, first and second down, first and second down, and try to get it to third and short, we have to do something to combat that.
That’s what we’re working on and that’s what we’ll do.”
Dealing with Taylor is far different. He is coming off an MVP-like season last year, although he has been slowed this season with a nagging ankle injury.
“Every challenge that you would have with a good running football team,” Gannon said. “They’ve got a good O-line and he’s one of the premier backs in the league. I was with him — I told our guys a story — the first two or three days of training camp he broke a run and literally just ran away from all our defensive backfield. Guy has major gas. He’s big, physical. He has really good vision.
“So, it’s like any week, but this week he presents a different challenge because of his skillset, and we have to do a good job, all 11 of us, to stop him.”
Another area that needs to be cleaned up is communication. The Eagles had 11 days to prepare for the Commanders and on two plays only had 10 players on the field on defense. Gannon took the blame, saying “My fault both times,” but various things go on during a football game, especially when there is an injury substitute who may not know what personnel package they belong to, which is up to the player to know.
Fletcher Cox hasn’t been Fletcher Cox since the Eagles’ Super Bowl 2017 season. The more he’s out on the field, the more exposed he becomes. He took 70 snaps against Washington, his most in two years, and it showed. He was often manhandled, shoved off the ball and clearly gassed late in the game.
“He’s been fantastic,” Gannon said of Cox. “I don’t like that the game got — the known pass got the number count out of whack a little bit, and that’s why we played that many plays. Then who we had up for that and how they decided to play us, he played a lot of snaps. So did all those guys. I don’t like that. He’s played extremely well. He’s one of our best box defenders that you could ever ask for, and he’s super versatile and playing good football for us. When you ask these big guys to play that many snaps, it’s hard duty on everybody. So hopefully he’ll get his body ready to go for this week, but I don’t want to see that again.”
If Suh and Joseph, or whatever tread they have collectively left, can spell get a combined 20 snaps to alleviate some stress on the Eagles’ defensive front, the Eagles stand a very good chance to rebound from the debacle Monday night against a vastly inferior team .
It won’t get any easier, either. Two weeks from now, a runaway bulldozer visits Lincoln Financial Field in Tennessee’s Derrick Henry.
A template was created on Monday night on how to beat the Eagles. This Sunday, maybe the Eagles will create a new template on defense in stopping the run and making tackles.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written features for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler AJ Detwiler in February 2006, and his breaking story on Carson Wentz for PhillyVoice on January 21, 2019. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.