All-22: How the Eagles Limited Odell Beckham
The first drive of the game Monday night couldn’t have gone much better for the Giants. They traveled 80 yards in eight plays and finished it with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Odell Beckham Jr.
Manning completed all five of his passes to four different receivers for 59 yards.
The Eagles answered by going three-and-out, before the Giants again drove the ball into field goal range. Then, DeMeco Ryans intercepted Manning, and New York went scoreless the rest of the game.
“I love the way our guys respond, to be honest with you,” Bill Davis said. “I’ve been a lot of places where those miscommunications happen and people turn on each other and there’s a huge argument, and our guys are really together.
“It’s a tight unit because they knew a mistake was made and they were real mad that a touchdown happened. We got to the sideline, we solved it and it didn’t happen again, and it won’t happen again. But, it’s really a testament to the camaraderie we have and the chemistry we have on defense right now.”
One reason the Eagles’ defense dominated was because they limited Beckham after that first drive, and completely shut him down in the second half. Manning targeted his star receiver only once in the last two quarters, and completed zero passes to him.
The Eagles did that not just because of their secondary, but because their front seven too.
“When you got a player that’s playing like he is and getting the amount of targets he gets, you got to take him out of the game,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “We wanted to make them beat us with other players. That’s where he won this game, is the ability for the other guys to win one-on-one matchups. Making Eli hold the ball gave us the chance to pressure the ball with four-man rushes, and we did a great job of stopping the run in a split-safety defense the whole game.
“When you’re a [defensive] coordinator and you can do that, it makes it so much easier to call the game. When you can still keep two high safeties, stop the run, and double-team somebody and everybody else wins their one-on-one matchups the entire game? That doesn’t happen too often. It’s a great team win, especially defensively all around.”
The Giants had a lot of success in their first drive, partially because they surprised the Eagles with how much 12 personnel they used, which Davis responded to by calling zone coverages.
They also had a couple of miscommunications, including on the touchdown, which Manning took advantage of.
“If you sit in zone all day and show him what you’re going to do pre-snap, he knows where his read is,” Jenkins said. “He’ll deliver the ball under two seconds, the rush has no chance to get there and he has guys running through zones.”
Davis quickly adapted, however, as he called more man-to-man coverages and disguised a lot of his plays. Soon after, the Eagles consistently confused Manning, which was evident on Nolan Carroll’s interception returned for a touchdown.
“We did a good job of switching the coverage around a little bit and we started to match some of the routes with a little more man-to-man,” Jenkins said. “We sprinkled in some coverages where we passed things off. I think between those two looks, it kind of gave Eli a little bit of confusion and at least made him hold the ball a second longer to figure out what we were in. That gave time for our pass rush to get home.”
The Eagles sacked Manning three times, nearly doubling the quarterback’s season total. Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham were each credited with one sack, and Graham forced a fumble on his fourth quarter takedown.
“He just bull-rushed the sh-t out of that guy,” Connor Barwin said. “He’s getting chipped so he decides to take the move inside. He just whooped him.”
Because the Eagles consistently generated a good pass rush with only four guys, the secondary was free to double-cover Beckham. One tool they often used was bracket coverage, which they implemented in different ways.
One option is what Jenkins calls a “true bracket,” where one defender has inside leverage on the receiver and the second defender has outside leverage. Another is “two-man,” in which the corner plays all underneath routes and the safety helps over the top.
An example of the two-man is above, with Carroll on Beckham and Thurmond helping on deep routes. Manning has nowhere to fit the ball into, and doesn’t have time to scan the entire field because the pass rush quickly got to him.
“That [pass rush] allows us to take out one player, and then everyone else can still play basically man free,” Jenkins said. “When you can get a four-man rush, it’s a great thing to have from a secondary’s standpoint because all you have to do is cover for a few seconds and the next thing you know he’s getting uncomfortable and getting hit.”
Although successful four-man rushes gave the secondary flexibility to bracket, the corners winning one-on-one matchups against receivers outside of Beckham also helped.
In the play above, Beckham is in the slot with Jenkins covering him and Thurmond nearby. However, Manning targets his outside receiver, who Carroll is on. Carroll sticks with the receiver stride-for-stride and earned one of his two pass deflections in the game.
“On the release, Nolan does a good job of staying pretty square,” Jenkins said. “He’s got the receiver probably two yards off of the sideline, and that’s where we want to have him as a defender because now the margin of error is really slim. Basically, the quarterback has to throw a perfect ball to complete this.
“Receivers are taught on this release to not get too wide and to stay about four or five yards away from the sideline to give the quarterback some room to fit it in. But if a corner does a good job, like Nolan does pinning the guy to the sideline, it’s really hard for the quarterback to complete this.
“So Nolan leans, he doesn’t slow down as he looks back for the ball and he has his body on him so he’s pinning the receiver. He lost the ball in the lights, but if he didn’t, that’s an interception.”
Although he didn’t receive recognition in the box score, Jenkins says Thurmond also did a great job on this play disguising whether or not he was in bracket coverage.
“Honestly, I can’t even tell if he is on this play. That’s how good he is at making it look the same,” Jenkins said. “Sometimes Walt is just free and looking at the quarterback; sometimes he’s doubling. That’s what we do to mess with quarterbacks. He’ll see Walt and think he’s helping on the slot and then they go somewhere else but Walt is there too to make a play. Other times, he is doubling.”
STOPPING THE RUN IN DIME
The back end covered the Giants’ receivers well, and the front seven consistently pressured Manning, but neither of those would’ve mattered much if the Eagles couldn’t stop the run. Philadelphia held New York to just 3.5 yards per carry, and stuffed the run sometimes even in dime, when E.J. Biggers was in at linebacker.
On the play above, the Giants have the chance for a good gain on the draw because they have six blockers on six defenders. However, Fletcher Cox makes a great play by shedding the blocker and tackling the ball-carrier in the backfield.
“On that play, he’s patient,” Bennie Logan said. “He got inside-out. Once the center bumped him off, he understood he could go outside because both guys would be in the ‘A’ gap. He got rid of the blocker and made a great tackle for loss.”
Jordan Hicks, who has had a spectacular start to his career with Kiko Alonso and Mychal Kendricks sidelined with injuries, also made several great plays against the run. In the snap above, he records one of his game-high ten tackles.
“One good thing Jordan does is he stays square to the line of scrimmage and he’s quick on his feet,” Najee Goode said. “That’s what makes him a good linebacker: he’s quick on his feet, he’s elusive and he has a knack for the ball. He knows how to play off his guys and on that play, he just sheds the lineman that came out to him. He kept his feet moving and kept his eyes on the ball, which is huge on that play.”
However, Hicks did get some help. Although you won’t find his name in the box score, Marcus Smith deserves an assist.
“Football really is a team sport,” Goode said. “Marcus does a good job of constricting the running lane. As soon as he sees the ball go up field, he retraces and that gives Jordan time to read the running back. Sometimes elusive guys make too many moves, which is good because it gives us extra time to get to them. You can also see there that if Jordan doesn’t make the tackle, Bryan Braman is there to make the play too.”