Eagles Outlook: Five areas Gannon’s defense needs to improve entering Week 2
The Eagles managed to escape Detroit with a victory in Week 1. That’s the good news. That bad news is, Jonathan Gannon’s defense left a lot to be desired on Sunday.
With all the added talent scattered across every level of the Eagles defense, there’s no reason the group should have allowed 386 total yards and 35 points to a Jared Goff-led offense. There are simply no excuses for that.
Heading into Week 2, Gannon and Co. will have their work cut out for them facing Justin Jefferson and the potent Minnesota offensive attack. If the Eagles defensive unit gives the same lackluster effort we saw in Detroit, the home opener on Monday night could get ugly.
Here are five areas Gannon’s unit needs to improve upon in their Week 2 matchup.
First and foremost, the Eagles need to tackle better moving forward. Per Pro Football Focus, Philly missed 15 total tackles in Detroit. The only other team who recorded more missed tackles on opening weekend was Carolina (16).
As a defense, Philadelphia posted a PFF tackling grade of 29.3, the worst mark of any defensive unit in Week 1.
Fans and local pundits have pointed to the lack of padded practices during training camp or the lack of any real exposure during the preseason as the main causes. At the end of the day, these guys are professional football players. Each and every one of the defensive starters knows how to tackle, it’s not like they need extra practice to perfect their tackling form.
They just need to go out there and do it. Plain and simple.
I’m sure the entire defensive unit is hearing about their subpar tackling during every film session this week. I don’t expect this to be a trend all season. This group should come out with a chip on their shoulder next week, ready to smack someone in the mouth.
Give Jordan Davis a chance to shine as a run defender
A lot has been made about Jordan Davis’ lack of playing time during the Eagles’ Week 1 matchup. He only saw 22 defensive snaps on the day, 32 percent of the total snap count.
While we all want to see Davis hit upwards of 30-35 snaps per game, low snap counts have been the norm for the former Georgia Bulldog.
He only averaged 25.2 snaps per contest during his final collegiate season. Davis had his biggest workload in 2021, hitting a total of 378 defensive snaps, but that’s not the standard for starting interior lineman by any means. Davis’ 2021 snap count was surpassed by 98 NFL interior defenders and 240 FBS defensive tackles last season.
Nevertheless, Howie Roseman traded up to snag Davis for a reason.
The team may have believed with Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, and Milton Williams along the interior, they’d have the luxury of bringing Davis along slowly.
After just one game, it’s apparent that Gannon and his defensive coaching staff need to take the training wheels off the 340-pound lineman and let him eat.
Whenever Davis was on the field this past Sunday, the Eagles defense allowed 2.9 yards per carry. When Davis was sidelined, the defense surrendered 10.0 YPC. That’s not a typo.
In total, Gannon’s unit gave up 181 rushing yards on 28 attempt against the Lions. Now that it’s clear what kind of impact Davis can have against the run, Gannon ought to give him a chance to shine with Pro Bowl back Dalvin Cook coming to town next week.
Marcus Epps and CJ Gardner-Johnson must improve their coverage on the backend
The safety position was arguably the biggest question mark for the Eagles entering the 2022 season. With one game in the books, it appears those concerns were somewhat justified.
Marcus Epps and CJ Gardner-Johnson were not complete liabilities on Sunday. Epps led the team with eight tackles and CGJ had a nice pass breakup in the second quarter. But their overall numbers in coverage left a lot to be desired.
On the day, the duo combined to allow an 80 percent completion percentage, a passer rating of 117.5, and one touchdown on 10 targets. Against Jared Goff, mind you; a quarterback the Lions will almost certainly look to replace next offseason.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Kirk Cousins and Vikings HC Kevin O’Connell are going to try and expose the Eagles safety duo early and often through the air. Whether it’s sending Jefferson streaking down the seam, or giving Adam Thielen opportunities across the middle, Minnesota has the weapons to take advantage of Epps and CGJ if they don’t step up in coverage.
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Getting off the field on third down, forcing field goals
The Eagles defense just couldn’t seem to come up with a third down stop at all on Sunday. They allowed Detroit to convert 64 percent of their third downs, the third-highest conversion rate given up by any team in Week 1.
It got even worse once Detroit reached the red zone. Gannon’s defense allowed the Lions to score on each of their four red zone trips on Sunday.
Forcing an opponent to settle for three near the goal line and getting off the field on third down can be the difference between winning and losing in this league. If Philly’s defense is truly as good as advertised, they’ll have to clean this up.
Generate more sacks
The Eagles front office has always prioritized building a stout defensive line that can create havoc for opposing quarterbacks.
They went out and signed pass rusher Haason Reddick to a massive deal this offseason and brought in Davis to eat up double teams. Neither Reddick nor Davis recorded a single QB hit, hurry, or sack on Sunday, and the defense as a whole managed just one sack.
Gannon even dialed up some blitzes to generate more pressure this past Sunday, but the Eagles still couldn’t get home.
Creating pressure on a consistent basis is arguably the most important facet of defense in the NFL today. If your defense is among the league leaders in sacks, more often than not they’re one of the better defensive units in the league.
To Detroit’s credit, their offensive line is much improved this season. But that shouldn’t matter when you’re pouring $47.3 million into your defensive front. Per Spotrac, the Eagles defensive line accounts for more than 21 percent of the team’s total cap hit this year.
At some point, we have to stop making excuses for the front-four. They need to start producing.
Mandatory Credit: Getty Images