All-22: Strong Start For Eagles Defense
Billy Davis is expecting improvement on the defense to come from two separate areas.
One is that players from last year are more comfortable in the Eagles’ 3-4. And two is that he’s now able to add more layers to the scheme.
“Looking at last year, a lot of things we did, we were growing into this,” Davis said. “And it’s nothing more than a progression of growth from the end of last year to again a couple pieces we added and a couple schematic things we added to it and just threw it all at them. We will continue to grow that and hopefully continue to grow that way with both the understanding they have in our scheme and the scheme itself.”
Sunday’s Week 1 win against the Jaguars was a good start. It must be noted that Jacksonville could end up being one of the five worst offenses in the league. But after a couple lapses early, the Eagles’ defense dominated in the second half. Jacksonville was held scoreless on eight second-half possessions: five punts, a turnover on downs, a fumble and the end of the game.
The pass-rush, a question mark going into the season, looked like a strength against the Jaguars’ below-average offensive line. And players like Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks turned in outstanding individual performances. Below is a look at what we saw in Week 1.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Eagles blitzed (five rushers or more) on 15 of 46 snaps. On those plays, Chad Henne was 5-for-13 for 50 yards. He was also sacked twice.
One of those sacks was by safety Nate Allen in the first quarter. Take a look at the pre-snap look.
The Eagles have eight men in the box as possible blitzers. And they are showing A-Gap pressure between the center and guards on either side. Whether those players blitz or not, they have to be accounted for.
“The reason why it [can be] confusing is because they’re as close as they can get to the ball, so you have less time to establish what’s going on,” said Jason Kelce. “When people blitz from depth, you have more time to process who’s coming, who’s not, why a specific person’s slanting, you have more time. That’s why when everybody’s walked up on the line of scrimmage, it’s so much harder because there’s less time dictated.”
You can see the advantage for the Eagles is on the left side of the Jaguars’ offensive line. It looks like Nate Allen is going to be a free rusher since the left tackle, Luke Joeckel, is occupied by Trent Cole.
Cole ends up dropping back, but he’s done his job. Joeckel can’t recover to get a hand on Allen, who does a fantastic job of targeting Henne’s right arm and forcing a fumble.
“I think the guys did a great job producing pressure and moving the quarterback off his spot, giving him different looks,” said Davis. “I thought we did a nice job executing the plan that we had on third down. Took everybody, took the secondary and their presentation, it took the front and their presentation, it took some great pass rushes. They worked together as a pass rush unit.”
Check out the coverage as well.
The Eagles have no deep safety: four guys in man coverage and Cole lurking underneath. If a guy gets beat or Allen doesn’t get home, the Jaguars would have had a shot at a big play. But everyone did their job, and the result was positive.
Per PFF, Kendricks rushed the passer on 16 of 48 snaps, or 33 percent of the time. No inside linebacker in the NFL rushed the quarterback more in Week 1.
On this third-quarter play, Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans are once again threatening the A-Gaps, with Cox lined up directly over the center.
Ryans ends up dropping back into coverage, but the center tries to get his hands on both Kendricks and Cox. That doesn’t end well.
Kendricks shoots right past him, pressures Henne out of the pocket and gets a hit on the quarterback. Henne actually did an excellent job of throwing on the run and completing a pass near the sideline, but still, the scheme up front worked.
“In a 3‑4, you have the luxury of bringing an inside backer more because you are training your outside guys to drop, and sometimes Mychal is just a fourth rusher, he’s not a blitzer,” Davis explained. “He’s just our fourth, and the outside guys are dropping. That’s part of the beauty of a 3‑4. So to have him have the skill set of rushing and as being a 3‑4, I think it’s advantage us as far as using his talents.”
Kendricks was all over the place Sunday, notching a sack, a team-high three hurries and a batted pass.
The biggest sign of encouragement Sunday was the play of Kendricks and Cox. Both third-year players have high ceilings. If they can make the leap this season, the Eagles’ defense has a chance to show real progress.
Cox was fantastic against the run, but he flashed as a pass-rusher too. Davis seemed to make a concerted effort to get his best pass-rushers on the field on third down. Here’s a look from a fourth-quarter play.
Cole and Vinny Curry are the defensive ends. Connor Barwin is freelancing. Cox is over the center, and Ryans and Kendricks are in positions where they can blitz.
Cox gets matched up one on one against the center and dominates him.
The scheme set up a one-on-one matchup for Cox, and he took full advantage.
“I think he’s comfortable with the two‑gap alignment,” Davis said. “I think it takes awhile to learn that, and what you can do off of it and how quick you go from your run gap to your pass rush. I think the conversion of a run to pass is quicker now for him. So I think you’re seeing a little bit of that.”
One of the early miscues came in the red zone when Allen Hurns got behind the Eagles’ defense for a 34-yard touchdown.
Matt Bowen of Bleacher Report has done a great job of breaking down the “scissors” concept, which features an inside receiver running a corner route and an outside receiver running a post:
The idea is to force the strong safety to chase the 7 (corner) route (from a trail position) while removing any inside help for the cornerback playing with outside leverage versus the post.
That’s pretty much exactly what happened with the Eagles:
Cover 4, also known as quarters, splits the deep part of the field into four zones.
On this play, Allen bites on the corner route, while Cary Williams is expecting inside help.
As Bowen explains in the link above, defensive backs can make a pre-snap call if they’re expecting this route combination. In other words, they can pre-determine that Williams is going to stick with the post, or they can pre-determine that Allen is going to carry the post.
Neither of those things happened, and the result was a 34-yard score.