D-Gaps: Inside the Eagles no-fly zone

Filling you in on what you may have missed on the “other” side of the ball this week.

It will be months or even years before we can definitively say which team got the better end of the deal that sent Donovan McNabb to the Washington Redskins last April, but early returns favor the Philadelphia Eagles.

With two of the league’s seven highest rated quarterbacks on their roster, it’s doubtful McNabb could be doing much for the Eagles that they’re not already getting from Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb.

Nate Allen

AllenAnd while McNabb struggles to adapt to the Redskins offense, rookie safety Nate Allen, taken by the Birds with one of the two draft picks acquired in the trade, is leading a resurgent Eagles secondary. Panthers safety Charles Godfrey is the only player in the league with more interceptions than Allen’s three. Already, Allen is the first Eagles rookie with three picks since Brian Dawkins in 1996.

But Allen is only one part of a unit that has been critical to the team’s early success. Philadelphia is holding opponents to less than 200 passing yards per game this season, ninth in the NFL, and only three teams have more interceptions than the Eagles’ nine.

Eagles Pass Defense
Passes 15 or More Yards Downfield

Philly’s most dramatic improvement has been against deep passes. A year after allowing opposing quarterbacks a passer rating just over 66 on throws at least 15 yards down the field, the Eagles secondary has been stingy against the deep ball in 2010. Opposing QBs have a passer rating of just 47.3 on throws of 15 yards or more against Allen and the Eagles pass defense, the lowest rating allowed in the league this season.

Defensive rankings look nothing like standings

Back in September, we noted that in the 16 games played in Week three, the teams that won combined for fewer yards than the teams that lost. One look at the extremes of the league’s defensive rankings entering Sunday is further confirmation that, at least in 2010, yards and wins have little correlation.

At 3-3, the Redskins are very much in the thick of the NFC East race despite allowing a league-high 420.0 yards per game. Washington is the first team to let up at least 420 yards per game through six games and not have a losing record since the 2002 Kansas City Chiefs.

Then there are the San Diego Chargers, the posterchildren for those who claim that yards are independent of wins. They lead the NFL in both yards per game (432.7) and yards per game allowed (255.2), the first team to lead in both categories this late in the season since the San Francisco 49ers finished the 1987 regular season with the league’s top-ranked offense and defense. Not that it’s doing much good for San Diego, currently tied for last in the lowly AFC West at 2-4.

Umenyiora forcing the issue

More than two years removed from a preseason knee injury that caused him to miss all of the 2008 season, Osi Umenyiora seems to have finally regained the form that made him a Pro Bowler in 2005 and 2007. Umenyiora’s eight sacks are second in the NFL and his league-best seven forced fumbles, three more than any other player, put him on a historic pace.

Forced Fumbles Leaders, 2006-09

Forced fumbles are not an official statistic (no all-time single-season record exists), but we haven’t seen a player knock the ball loose like Umenyiora this season in quite some time. In each of the last two seasons, the league leader in forced fumbles (Shaun Phillips in 2009, James Harrison in 2008) finished the regular season with seven forced fumbles.

With his next fumble forced, Umenyiora will have the highest single-season total since Chris Harris had eight for the Carolina Panthers in 2007.