Eagles-Vikings Film Review: Why the Defense Dominated
Some thoughts on why the Eagles’ defense played so well in their 21-10 win over the Vikings after reviewing the All-22 coaches film:
*It’s up to the players to execute, but Jim Schwartz did a masterful job of game-planning and play-calling on Sunday. He unveiled a lot of new zone blitzes he hadn’t used before and prevented Sam Bradford from getting into a rhythm throughout the game. The Eagles sacked Bradford six times and hit him 16 times, which Schwartz deserves a lot of credit for. Overall, the Eagles held the Vikings to just 3.8 yards per play, allowed only 10 points and forced four turnovers.
*Schwartz did a really good job of dialing up pressure and getting free runners to the quarterback, even when the Eagles didn’t have a numbers advantage. For example, on this Jordan Hicks sack, the Eagles only rush five defenders, but they overload the offense’s right side and drop Vinny Curry into coverage on the left side. Malcolm Jenkins comes flying off the right edge untouched to the quarterback, and even though he doesn’t sack Bradford, he hits him and forces him into the hands of Hicks. Theoretically, the Vikings should be able to block this up with a hat on a hat because they have enough blockers to match pass-rushers. But as you can see, the way Schwartz brings the pressure doesn’t allow for that to happen.
*One thing Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer typically does a terrific job of doing is getting his blitzers matched up one-on-one against running backs, which defenses would take every day of the week. On Sunday, Schwartz took a page out of Zimmer’s playbook and did that himself. On Nigel Bradham’s sack, the Eagles only rushed four defenders, but Bradham still got to Bradford before the quarterback could get the ball out. Fletcher Cox is the defensive lineman to drop back into a shallow zone on this play, but because of the Eagles’ pre-snap alignment and the Vikings’ pass protection scheme, the back is responsible for Bradham. Minnesota has six blockers — plus a tight end chipping Connor Barwin — to take care of Philadelphia’s four pass-rushers, but Bradham still got a quick sack because of how Schwartz drew up the play.
*Schwartz also had a couple of perfectly timed corner blitzes in the first half, which took away Bradford’s intended target and led to Bradford getting pressured and throwing a pair of incompletions. Here’s an example from the first quarter:
*Brandon Graham had a heck of a game. He’s been the Eagles’ best player through seven weeks, and I’ll probably have a longer All-22 look at his impact later this week. Graham landed six quarterback hits on his own — a ridiculous number — while also forcing a fumble, pressuring Bradford into an interception and and recording eight pressures, per Pro Football Focus. Graham now ranks second in the NFL in pressures with 31, just three behind Olivier Vernon. One pressure that was critical against the Vikings came in the first quarter when Minnesota faced third-and-goal after Carson Wentz’s first interception. Graham quickly beat the right tackle and hit Bradford while throwing, giving Rodney McLeod an easy pick in the end zone.
*While Graham has outplayed Cox, it’s not as if the $100 million man has been asleep inside at defensive tackle. Cox was often immovable against the run — including against double-teams — which freed up linebackers to flow to the ball, but he also made plays himself. Perhaps his most impressive play was this four-yard tackle-for-loss when he simply shoved the right guard aside and gave the running back nowhere to go:
*It seemed like everyone on the defensive line played well, including Barwin, who got a strip-sack. Marcus Smith looks much improved against the run this season, which is a nice development. Smith will almost surely never reach the level of play you want out of a first-round pick, but at least he’s proven useful as the fourth defensive end. Beau Allen also did a nice job of stepping in for Bennie Logan while displaying a couple of nice pass-rushing moves, including his best Cox impersonation here:
*Hicks was everywhere against the Vikings. He led both teams with 11 tackles, including eight solo efforts and two tackles-for-loss, while adding two pass deflections, one sack and one quarterback hit. One thing that has given the Eagles some trouble recently is the crack toss, when a tight end or wide receiver executes a down block on an unsuspecting defensive end. Detroit used it effectively to get their running back around the edge, but when Minnesota tried it, Hicks blew up the play for a six-yard tackle-for-loss.
*I also thought Bradham played particularly well, as he did a nice job of plugging holes and attacking down field. In general, the Eagles were much better with flying to the ball and their pursuit to ball-carriers than they were against Washington. Even when the Eagles missed tackles — which happened only six times against the Vikings, down from 11 the week before — there were other defenders to clean up the play.
*Graham bailed out Nolan Carroll early in the game as he pressured Bradford and forced the quarterback to under-throw Carroll’s man, who beat the cornerback deep by a few steps. Still, the Eagles’ secondary did a nice job in coverage, and Jenkins was good against the run. Jaylen Watkins played well at safety when Jenkins rotated down as the slot corner in nickel, and Leodis McKelvin recorded a nice pass deflection in the second half. Here’s the McKelvin PBU, in which he does a nice job of wrapping his arm around the intended target to knock the ball down without going through him and picking up a penalty: