The Eagles defense has (deservedly) taken some heat through the first five weeks of the 2018 season. The defensive line hasn’t lived up to expectations while the secondary has been a major liability.
But when you compare the Eagles defensively over the first five games of 2017 and the first five games of 2018, you find some striking similarities.
Check out the Eagles' 2018 defense after five games compared with the 2017 defense on the way to the Super Bowl last year after five games: pic.twitter.com/y6iTHAC4Do
— Reuben Frank (@RoobNBCS) October 10, 2018
The two units gave up the same number of touchdown passes and recorded the same number of interceptions and sacks. Meanwhile the 2018 unit has actually allowed one fewer touchdown and 32 fewer passing yards. The 2018 group conceded 18 more rushing yards and one more point per game. All-in-all the units have been eerily similar.
So how do we account for the difference in perception?
Part of it could be recency bias or the fact that all of 2017 is viewed through rose colored glasses because of how the season ended.
Other factors include the defensive line not being as dominant as expected and high expectations that were raised by the defensive performance in Week 1.
But the biggest difference is the 2018 unit getting gouged by big plays and the defense’s inability to get off the field on 3rd (and 4th) downs.
Last year the Eagles were among the best teams in the league at limiting big plays. So far in 2018, they have allowed 18 plays of 20+ yards (10th worst in the league) and four plays of 40+ yards (6th worst).
The Week 4 loss to Tennessee served as a microcosm of the Birds struggles on 3rd and 4th down, as the team had several opportunities to win the game with one last stop only to allow a first down. The defense has put itself in position to be the defense we expected them to be, but haven’t been able to finish the job.
Yes, the defense has had some issues in 2018. But the numbers tell us that the unit isn’t that far off from where they were during the Super Bowl year, and perhaps a fix is more attainable than the eye test would lead us to believe.