Eagles-Bears Rewind: Defensive Breakdown
Here are some position-by-position thoughts on the Eagles’ defense after re-watching their 29-14 win over the Bears:
*Jim Schwartz did a few quirky things I thought were interesting. One was his five-man defensive line grouping, when he had Connor Barwin, Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham and Bennie Logan in the game at the same time. Schwartz didn’t use it much, but he did generate some pressure with it. He had Cox line up over the center, Graham and Logan shaded to the outside of the guards and Barwin and Curry were on the edges in the wide-9.
*On another play, Schwartz had both Ron Brooks and Rodney McLeod blitz off of the defense’s right edge, while dropping Graham on the left side into coverage. However, Graham slipped as he dropped into his zone, which may have led to the reception on that play. I liked the design, though, because while McLeod was clearly blitzing, Brooks disguised his well coming out of the slot. The Bears didn’t see Brooks coming, leaving him with a clear path to the quarterback.
*One more Schwartz quirk: He had Cox and Graham line up right next to each other on one play so they were both shaded outside of the right tackle. I’m not sure the purpose of that, but I imagine it may have been to present a new look and potentially confuse Chicago’s offensive line. I assumed pre-snap there would be a stunt coming with Cox going inside and Graham going outside, but they both executed a normal pass rush, with Graham on the right guard and Cox on the right tackle.
*Let’s start out with my favorite play of the game: Destiny Vaeao’s first NFL tackle, which also happened to be his first NFL sack and first NFL forced fumble. He was initially double-teamed and he was also held, but he still took out the running back going out on a route (although that was probably inadvertent) and he showed an impressive motor to fight for the sack and force the fumble. Here’s the play:
*One of my biggest takeaways when watching the film was Cox played better than I initially thought after the game. He pressured Jay Cutler on Nigel Bradham’s interception, he pushed back interior offensive linemen to make the running backs cut into teammates’ arms (which Logan also does) and he obstructed blockers who double-teamed him from leaving and getting to the second level. His stats weren’t great (two tackles and one quarterback hit), but he played better than his numbers indicate.
*Overall, Graham had another good game. He had four tackles, including two tackles-for-loss and one sack, and three hurries, per Pro Football Focus. He also generated a good pressure early in the game which contributed to moving Cutler off of his mark, and Logan drawing a holding call. Later, he did a nice job of beating a block by a tight end, who had inside leverage and a perfect angle on Graham.
*One linebacker play that stood out to me was Mychal Kendricks’ tackle on first-and-goal from the 5-yard-line for no gain. He did a good job of shedding the fullback’s block and tackling the running back at the line of scrimmage. The Bears ended up scoring a touchdown on the next official play after Nolan Carroll’s pass interference penalty in the end zone, but Kendricks still made a nice play on this snap.
*Nigel Bradham quietly played well against the Browns, and he had similar success against the Bears. One snap that stood out was actually a missed tackle, but he did a very good job of quickly diagnosing and attacking the run play. He didn’t finish, but he hit the running back behind the line of scrimmage, so Malcolm Jenkins was able to make the tackle for a short two-yard gain. He also made a good play on his interception, but Cutler made an awful decision to throw that ball.
*Jordan Hicks and Stephen Tulloch didn’t do anything too noteworthy to me, but linebacker is the toughest defensive position for me to break down without talking to players about their assignments, so that note probably doesn’t mean much.
*Similar to Cox, my opinion improved of Jalen Mills’ play after getting a look at the All-22 film. He clearly had a bad first quarter when he was beaten badly on Alshon Jeffery’s 49-yard catch and when he missed a tackle that allowed Eddie Royal to gain eight yards, but he improved as the game went on. I’ll probably have some type of longer look at Mills’ performance later in the week.
*Nolan Carroll didn’t have a great showing, but he’s not a rookie like Mills. Carroll was in good position on his pass interference penalty, but drawing a flag in the end zone and giving the Bears the ball on the 1-yard-line is a costly mistake. The points didn’t matter in the end, but the Bears would’ve faced third-and-goal from the 5-yard-line instead if Carroll hadn’t been flagged.
*I thought Ron Brooks had the best game of all of the cornerbacks. He dropped an interception, but he was in great position to break up the play. He also did the best job of all of the corners in jamming Jeffery and getting physical with the big target, including on Graham’s coverage sack. Brooks shed a block on a screen, too, to tackle the receiver for a short gain.
*As for the safeties, Rodney McLeod continued to show how quickly he can make his reads and how good his range is. He was also good in pursuit.