Before Tuesday's practice session, Eagles coordinators Bill Davis and Pat Shurmur spoke to reporters about Sunday's 20-19 loss to the Miami Dolphins and the team's upcoming meeting with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here are a few takeaways from their press conferences…
Third-down Issues Hurting Eagles
While answering questions from the media on Tuesday, Davis noted that the biggest statistical goal he has for his defense is to become the top-ranked unit in terms of points allowed per drive. The Eagles are close as it is, ranking fifth in that category at 1.6 points allowed per opponent possession. He also puts a great deal of emphasis upon forcing turnovers, and Philadelphia currently ranks second in takeaways per game, at 2.2.
Indeed, Davis has a good deal to be happy about so far this season, but something that has troubled him has been the play of his unit on third down. So far this season, the Eagles rank 19th in the league in third-down conversion rate allowed, giving up a first down by air, ground, or penalty 39.5% of the time on third down.
"The two places that affect the point allowed per drive the most are turnovers, [and] the third down is a turnover," he said. "We have to get better at getting the ball back for our offense."
Alonso Inching Closer To Full Strength
Coming off a stellar rookie season with the Buffalo Bills in 2013, Kiko Alonso suffered a torn left ACL during an offseason workout and was forced to miss the entirety of his second NFL season. After being traded to the Eagles this past offseason, the third-year inside linebacker was looking to put together a bounce back season, but another injury in Week 2 threatened to derail those hopes.
The initial fear was that Alonso would miss another season because of a torn ACL in the same knee, but further testing revealed that his injury was in fact only a Grade II sprain. After missing the Eagles' next five games, he returned to action on November 8 in a 33-27 overtime win over the Cowboys. The 25-year-old played 37.2% of the team's 78 snaps in that game and 44.8% of the team's 67 snaps in Sunday's 20-19 loss to the Dolphins.
Before practice on Tuesday, Bill Davis talked about the status of Alonso moving forward, expressing excitement about the progress he's seen thus far.
"I think he's getting closer," Davis said. "We were really excited with him coming out of that game with no setbacks at all, so we're going closer and closer to more reps. So we've got to see how [his] body responds to that kind of work load."
Alonso finished with four tackles against the Dolphins after notching just one against Dallas.
Quarterback The Focus In Wake Of Injury To Bradford
With Sam Bradford going down with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder and also suffering a concussion in Sunday's game, reserve signal-caller Mark Sanchez was called upon to close out the game. Bradford was unable to practice on Tuesday, and his status moving forward remains up in the air. But no matter who starts at quarterback against the Buccaneers on Sunday, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur doesn't expect the offense to change much."
"It'll be the same offense," he said. "We'll kind of just veer towards the things, with whoever's in there, that they might do better. But it's virtually the same."
If Bradford can't go, reserve Thad Lewis would step into Sanchez' role as backup. The 27-year-old hasn't been active for a game since 2013, when he started five games for the Buffalo Bills, throwing for 1,092 yards with a 59.2% completion percentage and tallying four touchdowns and three interceptions. This is Shurmur's fourth season coaching Lewis, as Shurmur was the quarterback's offensive coordinator with the Rams in 2010, his head coach in 2011 and 2012 with the Browns, and now is his offensive coordinator again with the Eagles.
"He gets it, he understands the game, he has a live arm, and he can move around well," said Shurmur. "He's really taken to what we've done offensively. Given a situation where he has to go in and play, we'll trust what he does."
Kelce's Recent Struggles Not A Huge Concern To Shurmur
Center Jason Kelce is having perhaps the most trying season of his five-year career with the Eagles, racking up eight holding calls through nine games despite tallying just 10 in the four seasons prior combined. But Pat Shurmur knows what he has in the 28-year-old, who earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl last season.
His struggles are a microcosm of larger problems along the offensive line that have existed for much of this season, and like those issues Shurmur believes it's only a matter of time before Kelce and the rest of the group turn things around.
"To me, I think that's what makes Kelce a great player. He can self-analyze, and probably was overstating maybe a handful of plays, because he does a lot of really good things too," Shurmur said. "That's why guys will tend to have long careers and be really good players, because they're hard on themselves when a few bad plays happen."