TO STOP THE RUN, THE BIRDS WILL LEAN ON DAVIS IN 2023
One thing about the Eagles’ 38-35 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII that hasn’t gotten nearly enough scrutiny was their inability to stop the run in the second half.
It wasn’t a new problem. While their pass rush was hogging the headlines with a franchise-record 70 sacks, Jonathan Gannon’s defense struggled against the run much of the season.
Even with the first-round addition of 6-6, 340-pound sun-blocking defensive tackle Jordan Davis, the Eagles finished 17th in rushing yards allowed per game (121.6) and 24th in yards allowed per carry (4.6).
They gave up 56 runs of 10 or more yards, which was the 13th most in the league. After finishing seventh in the league in yards allowed per carry on first down the year before (4.1), they slid to 13th in 2022 (4.5).
As everyone remembers, they had a 10-point lead at halftime. They had the ball for nearly 22 minutes in the first half and ran 44 plays to the Chiefs’ puny 20.
Then, in the second half, Andy Reid threw Gannon a curve. Pass-happy Big Red started running the ball.
He called 17 run plays in the second half. And the Eagles couldn’t stop it.
The Chiefs averaged 7.0 yards per carry on first down and 6.4 on second down in the second half.
Yes, some of that came on Patrick Mahomes’ nifty scrambling. But the Chiefs finished with 158 rushing yards, including 75 on 15 carries by seventh-round rookie running back Isiah Pacheco.
That success on the ground in the final two quarters opened things up for Patrick Mahomes, who completed 13 of 14 passes in the second half.
Bottom line, the run defense needs to be better this season, which means Davis needs to be better. And more durable.
He was doing OK early on as a rookie. But then he injured his ankle against Pittsburgh in Week 8 and sat out four games. He returned, but never looked like the same player, which was evident in the way Gannon used him the rest of the season.
Davis played just 70 snaps in the Eagles’ last six regular-season games. He played 35.7 percent of the defensive snaps in the Eagles’ first two playoff wins over the Giants and 49ers, but then played just 10 of 55 snaps (18.2 percent) in the loss to the Chiefs.
“(The injury) set me back,’’ Davis said. “But I looked at it as a lesson. You’ve got to take care of your body in the NFL. Especially your ankles. Everything goes through your ankles. I don’t care if you’re playing d-line, quarterback or wide receiver. It doesn’t matter.
“I want to be better than I was pre-injury. I definitely think I’ve taken strides towards that. When this year wraps up, and hopefully it will wrap up real late again, hopefully I’ll be able to look back and see that I made a big jump from the first year to the second year.’’
The Eagles hope that as well.
Davis has been reunited with his former Georgia Bulldog linemate, Jalen Carter, who the Eagles moved up and took with the first of their two first-round picks this spring.
Carter was one of three Georgia players the Eagles drafted this year. They took Bulldog edge rusher Nolan Smith with their other first-round pick (30th overall) and cornerback Kelee Ringo in the fourth round. They join Davis and another former Bulldog, linebacker Nakobe Dean, who was taken in the third round last year.
“It’s good,’’ Davis said of playing on the same team with so many of his college teammates. “It’s like being together with your best friends. Yesterday, I was in a store in Delaware. I told them if y’all need some shoes or clothes, you need to come here. Same thing with restaurants. Just being able to help them get acclimated and find a spot to chill at.
“If they need somebody to walk their dog, I got somebody for that that they can use. It just helps make the transition easier. Because it’s hard [being a rookie in the NFL]. You gotta grow up real fast going from college to the NFL. I been there. Nakobe’s been there.’’
Last year, Davis didn’t get a break. Went from his college season, which ended with Georgia winning the first of two straight national titles, to pre-draft training to the draft to rookie camp to OTAs to training camp to a season that didn’t end until mid-February.
Davis said his comfort level heading into his second NFL season is much higher than it was going into his first.
“That’s the biggest advantage for me,’’ he said. “Just knowing what to expect, what it takes. Last year, before the injury, I was starting to feel pretty good. But now, I have a full season under my belt. That’s really important.
“I get on Jalen (Carter) and Nolan about that. They’re going from college football to this back-to-back. They had to spend most of the spring with pre-draft and didn’t really get a break. I had a break. I got my mind, body and spirit right this offseason. The more experience you get, the easier it gets.’’
Davis didn’t really lose any weight in the offseason. He said he’s still in the 340-345 range. But it’s a “skinnier’’ 340-345. He has put a lot of offseason emphasis on conditioning.
“Just moving as much as I can,’’ he said. “If I’m not lifting, I’m on the bike or walking. Nothing crazy, but you want to keep the heart pumping.
“I don’t want to be a weak link in our (defensive line) group. After I’m done here [talking to reporters], I’m going to get some extra work in with Jalen (Carter). I’m going to work on my technique. It’s even better when you have somebody to do it with who you know and love and is like a brother to you. You want to be the best for them.’’
Davis is an athletic freak. At the 2021 NFL combine, he ran a 4.78 forty, including a 1.68-second 10-yard split. He only had seven sacks in 41 games at Georgia. But the Eagles clearly believe both he and Carter can be game-changing pass-rush disrupters inside.
First, though, Gannon’s replacement, Sean Desai, needs to plug the leak against the run so that some other seventh-round rookie can’t destroy their Super Bowl dreams.
“I’m understanding more football every day,’’ Davis said. “Learning from guys like Fletch (Fletcher Cox). Desai has come in and he’s got a great scheme. When I watch the film, I’m understanding more every day. Why we’re playing this play.
"Why we’re doing this. Why we’re playing a certain coverage, which affects our play up front. Obviously we’re still working out the kinks. But that’s what training camp is for.’’ *