PHILADELPHIA – Every day during these ongoing spring workouts, Eagles coaches have stressed turnovers.
How much difference that makes this season, with a new coaching staff, than in previous seasons when turnovers were far and few between, is unclear.
Whatever the messaging is, it’s pretty obvious – the Eagles have to do a better job at taking away the football than they have since their Super Bowl-winning season in 2017.
That year, the Eagles had 19 interceptions, with Patrick Robinson leading the way with four and Rodney McLeod and Jalen Mills notching three apiece, with 12 fumble recoveries for a total of 31 takeaways.
Their plus-11 in the giveaway/takeaway category was the fourth-best in the NFL.
It’s the last time they’ve been in plus territory.
“You have to take a look at what wins games,” said safety Anthony Harris who wasn’t around during the last three years of negative numbers in the giveaway/takeaway department. “What categories can you get better in, which categories can you improve to get extra possessions, to try to limit points and give your offense more possessions. Turnovers are one of them.
“In terms of how you do that, it’s just coaching guys up on what to look for in terms of opportunities, being in the right position to force a turnover or just get a guy on the ground and knowing when to do that is key.”
Interceptions have been the most glaring deficiency.
Last year, their defense had eight. Only three teams had less, with the Panthers and Lions getting seven and the Texans an embarrassingly low three.
The Eagles had hoped importing Darius Slay from Detroit would lift that number higher, but Slay had only one the lowest output since his rookie year when he didn't have any, and the one he did get didn’t come until the next-to-last game of the season.
“We do feel confident (it’ll increase),” said Slay. “We’ve been preaching. A lot of us guys in this offseason, that’s all we’ve been talking about. Just being a turnover machine. That’s our main goal … We want to win, but as a defense, as a whole, we want the ball, and that’s what’s going to happen.”
The Eagles defense did a good job at forcing fumbles last season, recovering 11 of them, more than 25 other teams.
Still, Carson Wentz’s penchant for throwing interceptions left them at minus-10 in takeaways/giveaways. Only the Raiders (11), Niners (11), and Broncos (16) were worse.
“I think a lot of teams talk about it,” said linebacker Alex Singleton. “It’s something everybody knows in this game - if you win the turnover battle, you’re going to have a pretty good chance of winning.
“This staff, every day, we’ve talked about turnover fundamental. It’s something that’s harped on, something we practice … When camp rolls around, you guys (reporters) are out there, you’re going to be like, ‘These days only work on turnovers and tackling.’ It’s something that I think, as a defense, we’re going to pride ourselves on it.”
Singleton had one of the Eagles' eight picks in 2020, returning it for a touchdown in one of the Eagles’ four wins, this one against the 49ers.
Linebackers Duke Riley and T.J. Edwards also had an interception, which left the other five to the secondary, with Marcus Epps leading the team with two.
In 2019, the Eagles had 11 interceptions, but were still minus-6 in takeaway/giveaway and had to win their final four games to make the playoffs.
Rodney McLeod had two that year, but he is the lone player left who had an interception that season, with Sidney Jones, Nathan Gerry, and Ronald Darby, each of whom had two, having moved on.
A year after their Super Bowl season, in 2018, the Eagles had 10 interceptions and were still minus-6. Rasul Douglas led the way with three and rookie Avonte Maddox had two. It was the last season, and the only one in his career, that Maddox had an interception.
“It’s something we talk about Day 1, as one of our goals,” said Edwards. “One of those things we want to do for this team. So, each day, no matter what drill we’re doing, the emphasis is always on the ball. I think that’s important that a defense can get turnovers, help the offense and flip the field. You can definitely sense a heavy emphasis on taking the ball away.”
Maybe it’s a message that will sink in and will help the Eagles get into plus territory when it comes to takeaways/giveaways.
Of course, the offense and quarterback Jalen Hurts has to do their part in bringing that number out of the negative range, but the defense must do better than just eight interceptions.
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.