If there was a key moment in the Eagles' Week 8 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in London, it might have been when rookie safety Avonte Maddox put his helmet on the ball a few steps after Jags receiver Keelan Cole reeled it in, with about a minute and a half remaining in the second quarter.
The ball plopped onto the Wembley Stadium turf, where the other Eagles safety, Malcolm Jenkins, scooped it up and returned it 11 yards, to the Jacksonville 44. Four plays later, Carson Wentz hit rookie tight end Dallas Goedert for a 32-yard touchdown and the Eagles took a 10-6 lead into halftime. They never again trailed, in winning, 24-18.
This hasn't happened enough. You don't have to take an especially deep, arcane dive into the NFL stat package to identify one big reason the 4-4 defending Super Bowl champs have already lost more games than they lost all last year.
In 2017, while going 13-3, the Eagles intercepted 19 passes and recovered 12 fumbles, 31 takeaways. They relinquished nine interceptions and 11 fumbles, giving them a plus-11 turnover ratio that ranked fourth in the league. This season, they have plucked only four interceptions, and the Maddox-Jenkins fumble recovery was just their third in eight games. They have thrown three interceptions and coughed up a whopping nine fumbles, for a minus-five turnover ratio that is tied for 25th in the NFL, with the Jets and Cardinals. That is not a good neighborhood to live in, as you look to show the rest of the NFC East who's still the boss this Sunday night against Dallas.
The Eagles made position coaches available to reporters Tuesday, an off day for the team, so this seemed like a good time to ask the defensive coaches – defensive backs coach Cory Undlin, safeties coach Tim Hauck, linebackers coach Ken Flajole and defensive line coach Chris Wilson – about the lack of takeaways, a factor in giving the Eagles' offense an average starting position that is eighth-worst in the league. (Note that Wentz only needed 44 yards for that touchdown before the half in London. The Eagles got just one first down, on a Wentz scramble, before the TD pass.)
The coaches said you emphasize creating turnovers, but it does no good to redouble your efforts if they aren't coming. That leads to bad gambles.
"We emphasize it all the time … A lot of the drills that I do are turnover-type drills, where we're trying to actively strip a receiver or strip a ballcarrier from the ball," Flajole said. "But when you get those, I think there's some randomness to it … We get three, and somebody's going to go, 'You worked on it this week.' Well we work on it every week. It's just part of our DNA. Around the league, everybody works on creating and getting turnovers. The randomness of when you get 'em is a little bit of what we're talking about.
"You go through a dry spell, then all of a sudden you have two or three games, you have three or four a game, and you say, 'What's different about it?' It's nothing. A guy, when he tackles, happens to put his shoulder pad on the ball … Hopefully this last half of the season, that'll turn around for us."
Hauck said you don't suddenly start talking about generating turnovers in November.
"From the get-go, from OTAs on, you stress the fact that we want to take the ball away and that's gonna help us be successful as a defense," he said. "I don't think you can overdo it, because guys start reaching outside of the box and trying to make plays that they shouldn't be trying to make, and then it's going to go against you – you're gonna give up big plays … If you keep doing the right things, keep doing your job, those plays will come to you without having to reach for it.
"I just think they haven't come our way … Sometimes the ball just bounces your way. And once it starts coming your way, it continues to go your way."
Wilson's group obviously isn't going to get a lot of interceptions, but it can do the sort of thing Brandon Graham did in sealing Super Bowl LII – perhaps you dimly recall, Graham raked the ball out of Tom Brady's grasp, and Derek Barnett recovered it, with two minutes and nine seconds remaining.
"Gang-tackling a lot of times creates turnovers," Wilson said. "The more guys we can get around the ball, the more opportunities we're going to have to create some of those turnovers."
Gang-tackling is something the coaches are emphasizing this week, with Ezekiel Elliott coming to town.
Undlin said the Eagles have let some picks slip through their hands, and he brought up an interesting idea – that the opportunities haven't been as plentiful. This could have to do with the offense not building big leads, as the Eagles often did last season, making opposing offenses one-dimensional. It also could speak to the opposing quarterbacking.
This season the Eagles have seen Matt Ryan, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andrew Luck, Marcus Mariota, Kirk Cousins, Eli Manning, Cam Newton and Blake Bortles, with Dak Prescott on tap. Last season's first eight games, they saw Cousins, Alex Smith, Manning, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, Newton, Cousins again and C.J. Beathard. In the second half of the season, they got a couple of INTs off Brock Osweiler, a couple more from rookie Mitchell Trubisky, and a pair from Derek Carr, in a low-scoring win over the Raiders.
"I think we have left a bunch out there. Sometimes you get some opportunities to make 'em, you gotta make 'em," Undlin said. "The other thing goes to maybe not as many opportunities as we had last year. I don't think there's anything you can do about it.
"What you can't do – as a player at any position – you can't start, 'Hey I want to make a play here.' … You gotta do your job, and if the play comes to you, then we gotta make it."