NFC East Reporter
The Philadelphia Eagles are still undefeated. But they are definitely not perfect.
Yes, it’s hard to try to find anything wrong with a team that’s 8-0 and often looks dominant and maybe even unbeatable. And “wrong” is a relative term anyway for a team that’s ranked near the top in nearly every category imaginable in the league.
But the Eagles won’t have to look far past their 29-17 win over the Texans in Houston on Thursday night to find the one thing that could be important going forward.
This Eagles run defense is not good, and they have long stretches of absolutely terrible matchups.
And at some point, a better team than the Texans will make them pay.
The Texans, 1-6-1 and arguably the worst team in the NFL, came pretty close. They were tied 14-14 at the half and only up 21-17 when the fourth quarter began. And of course, it never should have been this close against a Philly team that was a two-touchdown favorite.
But the Texans were able to keep momentum going, including their first scoring drive on the opening possession all season, with rookie running back Dameon Pierce rushing for 139 yards on 27 carries.
The Eagles defense knew Pierce was coming because the Texans don’t have much else. But the first year back in Florida followed them through one after another. He had 88 yards on just 13 carries in the first half alone. That included a 36-yard run where he broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and three more down the field before being forced out of bounds.
Even in the second half, when the Eagles’ matchup on Pierce was better, it looked like they still needed three defenders and a few extra yards to drag him down every time he got the ball.
Part of that was due to the loss of rookie defensive tackle Jordan Davis, who suffered a high ankle sprain last week and will be out for about a month, and who might have been the team’s best stuffer . But not everything can be attributed to the loss of one player, not when they’re missing so many innings as a team.
None of this is new. The Eagles have been one of the worst teams in the league all season, second worst behind only the Jacksonville Jaguars if you believe Pro Football Focus’ grades. And it started in Week 1, when Detroit’s D’Andre Swift carved them up for 144 yards on just 15 carries, a ridiculous 9.6 yards per rush. Philadelphia is giving up 121.4 yards per game on the ground, surprising for a team that has held a lead of at least 10 points in every game it has played.
There are times and games where the Eagles seem to have their problem fixed, where they can stop the run with ease. But there are still too many long stretches where their defenders seem allergic to who carries the ball.
And that includes receivers. In the second half, after the Eagles took a 21-14 lead, the Texans had a 2nd-and-14 at their own 21. Quarterback David Mills threw a quick screen to wide receiver Chris Moore behind the line of scrimmage, and Eagles cornerback Avonte Maddox was right there to stop him. But he didn’t. He ran in front of him and Moore ended up running for 25 yards, starting what turned into a field drive.
Of course, the Texans had no answers for the Eagles’ offense. If it hadn’t been for Philly’s first fumble of the season (by quarterback Jalen Hurts on the second drive), this could have turned into a blowout early.
And regardless of their flaws, the Eagles defense continues to make big plays when they need to. Safety CJ Gardner-Johnson had an interception for the fourth straight game. Cornerback James Bradberry picked off Davis Mills at the 3-yard line with 2:08 left. And that came right after defensive tackle Javon Hargrave had his second sack of the fourth quarter and third of the game.
So all those missed tackles and miscues in the run defense weren’t a big deal Thursday night. But do you know when it can be a big problem? In his two postseason games against the Giants 6-2 and Saquon Barkley, who has the explosiveness to turn every lost tackle into a huge gain. And in their next game against the 6-2 Cowboys on Christmas night in Dallas. The Cowboys had 134 yards on 5.2 carries in their loss at Philadelphia three weeks ago. Ezekiel Elliott had 81 yards on 13 carries, a season-high 6.2 yards per carry. That might have been enough to win the Cowboys if their quarterback that night wasn’t Cooper Rush.
And the Eagles also have to play the Tennessee Titans and Derrick Henry, the New Orleans Saints and Alvin Kamara, the Indianapolis Colts and Jonathan Taylor, and even the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Jones. The Eagles are better than all four teams, and should beat them. But each of those backs can cause problems if the Eagles’ defense is off.
Again, it’s still a problem. Despite all the tackles and rushing yards allowed, no one has beaten the Eagles yet. But they should heed the warning anyway because their goals are much bigger than surviving a midseason game against the Texans.
And before they can raise the championship flag, they’ll have to do something about that big red flag.
Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him on Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.
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