All-22: The Good And Bad Of the Eagles’ Defense
Eagles defensive players – well, most of them anyway – know by now not to make excuses.
The offense wants to play fast every week, regardless of opponent, situation or anything else. The defense’s job is always to get off the field and give the offense another chance to score. Since Chip Kelly took over, that formula has worked pretty well. But there are games, like Sunday’s, when the offense is stagnant. And that puts the defensive players in a bind.
For example, to start the game, the defense gave up a 10-play, 43-yard drive that took 6:35 off the clock. The offense went three-and-out in 25 seconds. And Billy Davis’ guys were right back out there.
That is just how it is. It’s why the Eagles train the way they do. And it’s why in a perfect world, they’d like to rotate players on defense even more.
“I think they are fine,” Kelly said Monday. “I don’t think it had anything to do with the fourth quarter. I just think that they are built for it. They are in great condition. They train at a really high level. They practice against us. They understand what it takes. We didn’t come out of it with any injuries or anything like that. I would imagine they will all be ready to go.”
The defense played 85 snaps overall and was on the field for 41 minutes, 56 seconds. While this was far from a perfect performance, those guys deserve some credit. With the game still within reach in the third and fourth quarters, the defense forced three punts and a turnover in four possessions before Seattle finally ran the clock out.
The problem was the Seahawks converted 7 of 16 third-down chances. Russell Wilson went 22-for-37 for 263 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also gained 50 yards on eight rushes (not counting kneel-downs). The Seahawks produced eight plays of 20+ yards (including a pass interference call) and had five drives of nine plays or more, including four in the first half.
Below is a look at what went right and what went wrong.
DEFENDING THE ZONE READ
Any 8-year-old kid with working knowledge of the basics of football would probably have an easy time describing the Seahawks’ offense after watching Sunday’s game:
They like to run the ball with that guy who is difficult to tackle, and they let No. 3 run around and do things.
Yup, that’s pretty much it. A heavy dose of Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson doing Russell Wilson things. On some weeks, the plan doesn’t work. But as we’ve seen during the past three seasons, the Seahawks’ offense usually does enough to win.
The Eagles knew they faced a challenge against Wilson, Lynch and Seattle’s zone-read attack. The coaches felt they had an advantage because most of the guys on staff arrived straight from college and had schemed against it before.
But with 14:24 left in the second quarter, Wilson got Trent Cole to crash inside, and he scampered 26 yards to the end zone.
Here’s the pre-snap look.
The Seahawks have double-stacked receivers to each side. This is a look Eagles fans should be familiar with. Kelly has called this exact play a bunch over the past two seasons. The quarterback has the option to throw the ball to the perimeter with screens set up to either side. He can hand it off to the running back on an inside zone, or he can keep it himself.
On this particular play, Wilson was reading Cole, who started inside. That gave the QB all the space he needed to get to the alley for the touchdown.
Right after the game, Davis took responsibility for the score. Today, I asked him to provide more detail.
“If I had to do it again, I would not have made that call,” he said. “When you blitz everybody and leave one-on-ones outside, if one man makes a mistake, there’s nobody to fix it. And I had nobody to fix Trent taking a step and the quarterback getting outside. I didn’t have a post safety who could rally. I didn’t have a linebacker in coverage who could rally.
“So what happened in a zero blitz and why I didn’t like that call and would like to have it back is because there’s no room for error when you blitz. I still like the all-out blitzes. [They] put a lot of stress on offenses. But I just didn’t find the right spot to call [it] is what I’m trying to say.”
Overall, the Eagles held Lynch to 86 yards on 23 carries (3.7 YPC). But in a low-scoring game where the offense was struggling, this touchdown was costly.
SAFETIES HAVING ISSUES
Because the Seahawks like to run the ball, Davis opted to often use his base defense against 11 personnel. That meant safeties getting matched up against slot receivers, and Brandon Boykin on the field for only 19 plays.
“A lot of times in our base, that’s why we have the safeties we have so they cover that slot,” Davis said. “Big running game out of their 11 personnel on the first and second down, the read option in particular. So we choose to stay in our base package and play the run. The one touchdown [Malcolm Jenkins] gave up was an all-out blitz. No room for error on that one. There’s no help.”
Seattle clearly liked its matchup of Doug Baldwin against Eagles safeties. Jenkins had a rough game trying to defend Baldwin in the slot. By my count, Jenkins gave up three completions of 20+ yards, including the touchdown you see below.
It’s zero coverage, meaning no safety help over the top, just Jenkins against the receiver one-on-one. Baldwin ran a really nice route, made a double move, got Jenkins to bite, and the throw was on the money.
Jenkins wasn’t alone though. Nate Allen had a rough day as well. The 15-yard TD pass to Lynch was on him.
The Seahawks ran a play-fake to Lynch and rolled Wilson out to the right.
Lynch did a good job of sneaking down the sideline, and Allen ended up in no man’s land.
“He just let him go and was chasing it from behind,” said Kelly. “But he’s got to plaster on the back side.”
The word plaster is used often among Eagles coaches. It references the way the defense operates in zone. When the quarterback buys time – either by design or through improvisation – players are taught to find a man and plaster to him because the ball is likely about to come out. In other words, zone eventually turns to man.
But on too many occasions last week, Wilson bought time, got out of trouble, and the defenders failed to plaster.
Good play design by the Seahawks, and Allen didn’t get to where he was supposed to be.
COX, KENDRICKS STAND OUT
Before the season, we wrote that the Eagles’ best chance for an improved defense was for guys with high ceilings like Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks to make the leap. And that’s part of what has happened in 2014.
Both players were fantastic against the Seahawks. Cox was credited with 13 tackles by the coaches. That’s (unofficially) a career high and the most by any Eagles defensive lineman in the past two years. He was dominant against the run and a big reason why the team was able to keep Lynch in check.
Here’s Cox against a stretch run (outside zone) in the first quarter.
Cox is set up as the four-technique directly across the left tackle. He takes on the left guard, stays square to the line of scrimmage so that he can control the gaps to either side, drives the lineman back, sheds his block and makes the tackle for no gain. Cox made plays like this all game long, and he’s really been making them all season long.
“It was tough to block him this past weekend,” Davis said. “He was a big part of us playing well against their inside run game and Marshawn Lynch. Fletcher Cox is getting better and better every week, and he is a force in both the run and pass.”
Kendricks, meanwhile, had a season-high 16 tackles. He was at his best when spying Wilson.
On this play late in the first half, Kendricks shows patience, attacks up the middle and wraps up. Wilson was called for intentional grounding.
“His pass rush has really, I think, grown in the last year,” Davis said. “OK, now we’re going to blitz him. Well he’s a pretty good matchup on a back. The total package of Mychal Kendricks is why you can use him in spies or coverage or blitz or in zone. He’s a very well-rounded athlete.”
Sunday was as animated as we’ve seen Kelly with the officials since he’s been the Eagles head coach.
One particular play that drew his ire was a 25-yard completion in the first half. The reason? Seattle’s left guard was ineligible downfield.
The 2nd-and-16 play ended up going for 25 yards. And the Seahawks scored a touchdown on the drive.
Obviously, this one play did not decide the game, and refs miss calls all the time, but the tape shows why Kelly was so irate.