All-22: What We Saw From the Eagles’ Defense

I had a chance to take a look at the All-22 footage again this week. Today’s post will focus on the Eagles’ defense, and Thursday’s will take a look at the offense.

Here are the plays that stood out.

Play 1: Under Jim Washburn, the defensive ends are taught to get upfield and attack the quarterback. Most of the time, that’s a strength for this group. But sometimes, it hurts them, specifically against the run. One example is Vonta Leach’s 5-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. The Eagles did a good job in the middle of the line, where it looked like Leach was initially trying to run. But there were no holes, so he decided to go outside. The Ravens actually left defensive end Jason Babin completely unblocked on the play, but his eyes were on quarterback Joe Flacco, not Leach. Look at where Babin is when Leach sees the opening to his side. He takes an easy lane to the end zone for the score.

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Jason Babin.

Play 2: The Eagles gave up a 43-yard run to Ray Rice in the first half. So what went wrong for the defense? The first photo shows the design of the play. Sometimes we take for granted the sheer athleticism of some of these linemen. For example, Ravens right tackle Kelechi Osemele (No. 72) is 6-5, 333. On this play, he’s asked to pull around the left guard and get to safety Nate Allen.

Ray Rice's 43-yard run.

As you can see below, Osemele does that successfully. Meanwhile, left guard Ramon Harewood (No. 70) gets a good block on Derek Landri, opening a running lane for Rice.

Ray Rice's 43-yard run.
I’m sure some of you will disagree, but the way I see it, sometimes you have to give the other team credit. Landri gave Harewood problems all day, but the offensive lineman got the best of him here. And Osemele did a great job of getting to Allen.

Of course, this turned out to be a 43-yard gain even though it could have been stopped about 30 yards earlier. But Kurt Coleman wasn’t able to bring Rice down when he had a chance one-on-one in the open field.

A couple other quick notes on this play: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie switched to full sprint mode, cutting Rice off and slowing him down. And Mychal Kendricks hustled to get downfield, eventually making the tackle.

Play 3: By my count, the Eagles blitzed nine times in this game, which is a healthy amount for a team that generally relies on its front four. On a few occasions, the defense showed a look where Babin and Trent Cole line up as blitzing linebackers, while the defensive tackles shift outside to end. They used this last year too. Cole and Babin are circled in red. DeMeco Ryans, who was the Eagles’ most frequent blitzer Sunday, is circled in blue. He focused his attack between the center and the left guard.

DeMeco Ryans blitz.

Mychal Kendricks also came off the edge (to the left side of the offense). In all, the Eagles sent six defenders at Flacco. But they weren’t quite able to get home. Why? Take a look below. Ryans bursts through the middle and looks like he’s in great position to bring Flacco down.

While it’s probably tough to tell here, Ryans’ right foot gets tangled with left tackle Michael Oher (No. 74), who is trying to hold Cullen Jenkins off. Instead of chasing Flacco, Ryans had to lunge at him as he was falling, and he ended up on the ground. Flacco, meanwhile, felt the pressure and made a nice subtle movement to his right, eventually finding Jacoby Jones for the 21-yard touchdown. Had Ryans not gotten tripped up, this very well could have been a sack. It’s amazing how little things here and there can truly change the game.

Play 4: One guy who stood out when watching the coach’s tape was Fletcher Cox. Cox played more snaps than any other Eagles defensive lineman, and he was disruptive all game long. There were a couple plays in particular where his athleticism was on full display. I’m not sure if it will fully show up with photos, but let’s give it a shot.

Take a look at the first image. He is going up against Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, who delivers a cut block that slows Cox down.

Philadelphia Eagles DT Fletcher Cox.

It looks like the Rice has a huge running lane, but as Lee Corso would say, not so fast, my friends. Before Rice can shoot up the middle, Cox hustles and somehow gets to him, bringing the running back down after a gain of just 2 yards.

Philadelphia Eagles DT Fletcher Cox.

Take a look at where Cox got to from the first photo to the second photo. And remember, this was not a 5- or 6-yard run. He got to Rice when he was just 2 yards past the line of scrimmage.

There were multiple plays like this one. Numbers do not tell the whole story with Cox. He was outstanding in his second professional game.

Play 5: I’m not sure it’s possible for a middle linebacker to make more plays than Ryans made in the second half of Sunday’s game. Let’s start with his performance in the run game. I showed this last week, but so many plays in his scheme come down to a linebacker or safety making a tackle near the line of scrimmage.

Philadelphia Eagles LB DeMeco Ryans.

Here, it’s up to Ryans to make the one-on-one tackle. As you can see, no other defenders are even close to the ball-carrier. If Ryans doesn’t wrap up, or gets juked, Rice could very well scamper into the end zone. But Ryans makes the play, and it ends up being just a 1-yard gain. Baltimore ended up settling for a field goal on the drive.

Play 6: Ryans also had an interception in the second half. While he made a good play reading Flacco and getting into his drop, check out the rest of the Eagles’ coverage.

Philadelphia Eagles LB DeMeco Ryans.

The Ravens had five receivers in pass routes, but they were all covered. Nnamdi Asomugha’s at the bottom of the screen. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is at the top. Kendricks has Rice near the Ravens’ 48. And Brandon Boykin is right around midfield. Everyone’s covered, so Flacco tries to force one to Dennis Pitta, but Ryans (blue circle) drops back and makes the play.

Play 7: Ryans also had a sack. And again, while he certainly deserves credit, the Eagles’ coverage was outstanding, as Flacco had nowhere to go with the football.

DeMeco Ryans Sack.

Kendricks and Boykin did a great job inside. Asomugha has his receiver at the top of the screen. And Rodgers-Cromartie hasTorrey Smithto the bottom. While it looks like Smith might have a step, the Eagles have two safeties deep who can help. The coverage gives Ryans time to blitz Flacco’s front side and sack him for a 13-yard loss.

Play 8: Sometimes, you have to get a little lucky. Rodgers-Cromartie was outstanding all game. But playing cornerback is tough. You can have 68 really good snaps, get beat twice and still be criticized. It’s just the nature of the position. Against Cleveland, we showed how Rodgers-Cromartie got beat a couple times, but Brandon Weeden misfired on throws to open receivers.

This week, Rodgers-Cromartie shadowed Smith all game and played really well. The only deep ball he gave up was this 40-yard completion.

Philadelphia Eagles CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

As you can see, this very well could have been a 76-yard touchdown. There’s no safety over the top to help Rodgers-Cromartie. But Flacco’s throw was towards the sideline. Smith had to turn his head around and actually fell down as he caught the ball. A little thing, but a huge play. The Ravens ended up settling for a field goal on the drive and went up 20-17, instead of 24-17 in the fourth quarter.

Play 9: Let’s finish up with the final drive and Boykin. I caught up with the Eagles rookie after the game, and he said he knew Flacco was going to go after him with the game on the line. And he was right.

On the Ravens’ first play of the drive, Flacco looked for Boldin, who was Boykin’s responsibility.

Philadelphia Eagles CB Brandon Boykin.

Boldin ran about a 10-yard out. But look how close Boykin was to the line of scrimmage. He knew that Boldin was unlikely to go vertical and didn’t give him much of a cushion. Boykin covered him well and forced the incompletion.

Flacco went after the rookie on the next play too. This time, though, Boykin was opposite Jones, who is more of a vertical threat. Boykin said after the game that he knew Jones was going deep, and he was right. This time, look at how Boykin played off of the receiver.

Philadelphia Eagles CB Brandon Boykin.

Boykin is only 5-9, and Jones is 6-2, but look at who gets to the ball first.

Philadelphia Eagles CB Brandon Boykin.

The rookie can get up.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

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