All-22 Review: How the Eagles’ Defense Dominated the Falcons
Some position-by-position thoughts on the Eagles’ defense after watching the All-22 coaches film from their 24-15 win over the Falcons:
*Jim Schwartz turned in another terrific game calling the shots, and while the Eagles have plenty of talent on defense, he’s a big reason the Birds rank third in the NFL in points per game allowed, sixth in yards per game allowed and sixth in takeaways. Against Atlanta, Schwartz’s unit held the Falcons to season lows in points (15), yards (303), first downs (11), offensive plays (48) and time of possession (21:50). Before the game on Sunday, Atlanta ranked first in the NFL in points per game (33.9) and second in the league in yards per game (429.2).
*Schwartz dialed up blitzes at the right time, consistently giving Matt Ryan trouble in the first half on third downs (Atlanta was just 2-of-11 on third down in the game). Schwartz’s blitzes caused quick throws, forcing Ryan to miss open receivers, throw the ball downfield before the play developed or hit shallow targets behind the chains. Schwartz often called on Mychal Kendricks to bring the pressure, which is what the linebacker does best. Kendricks had perhaps his best game of the season against Atlanta, in part because of how Schwartz deployed him.
*One small thing Schwartz does that I like and haven’t seen much elsewhere is his six (or sometimes seven) across alignment. He uses it in third-and-very long situations, and it hasn’t failed yet. Schwartz tells all of his linebackers and defensive backs to line up at least 10 yards off of the ball, keeping all of the action in front of them and far away from the first down marker. According to NFL Game Statistics Information System, the Eagles’ defense has been in nine situations where it’s third-and-16 or longer this season, and they haven’t given up a first down. Last year, they were in those situations 14 times, and they gave up a first down four times. Here’s an example of the defensive formation when the Falcons faced third-and-18 with 3:08 left in the second quarter (the result was an incompletion):
*If you look at the box score, Bennie Logan had a pretty bad showing against Atlanta. He recorded zero tackles and zero sacks, but the film shows how dominant he was. He constantly set up his teammates for big plays, like on this Brandon Graham tackle at the line of scrimmage on second-and-short (the Falcons didn’t convert on third down and had to punt the ball):
Here’s Logan setting up Connor Barwin for a tackle-for-loss:
And here’s Logan forcing an intentional grounding penalty, which is as good as a sack but doesn’t show up in the box score:
*Fletcher Cox’s numbers weren’t much better than Logan’s — one tackle and zero sacks — but the film also reflected how well he played. Even with Logan back, Cox battled a lot of double-teams and he consistently pushed the pocket. According to Pro Football Focus, Cox recorded six hurries against Atlanta, which is an incredible number for a defensive tackle. He also set up Graham for a sack by dominating the right guard off of the ball:
*As for the defensive ends, Barwin, Graham and Vinny Curry all played well. Curry did a nice job of setting the edge, but one of the plays that impressed me the most was Graham’s pressure on the last play of the first half. The Falcons tried to take a shot to the end zone from around midfield as the clock expired, but Graham single-handedly pushed Ryan out of the pocket. Atlanta, who kept in six blockers against three pass-rushers, couldn’t even get the ball down the field as Graham forced Ryan to throw it away.
*Jordan Hicks continues to play at a high level. He’s playing much more like a first-round pick than a third-round pick, and much more like a guy who’s been in the league for a few years than someone who has only played in 17 career games. Hicks is a good sideline-to-sideline middle linebacker, but he also does plenty of damage in between the tackles because of how well he sheds and evades blockers. Here’s Hicks’ tackle on the first play of the game against Atlanta:
*As I mentioned up top, Kendricks played very well against the Falcons. He was an effective blitzer, a sure tackler and he covered a lot of ground. Nigel Bradham also turned in another good performance, and he’s proven to be a steal on his reported two-year deal worth $7 million, with $4.5 million guaranteed. One play that stood out was Bradham’s pass break-up early in the game, because of his awareness and discipline:
*Julio Jones racked up plenty of yards — 135 on 10 receptions. Jones tallied three catches for 57 yards against Nolan Carroll in the first half, and four catches for 48 yards against Jalen Mills, who trailed him for most of the second half. Still, the pair of cornerbacks actually played about as well as you could hope. Carroll held his own on plays without much safety help over the top, and he was in good position on Jones’ 29-yard catch, but Ryan just made a heck of a throw along the sideline over Jones’ outside shoulder. As for Mills, he fared much better than I expected. He was never badly beaten and even on a pair of Jones’ receptions, he challenged the receiver on the catch. Leodis McKelvin bit hard on a double move and allowed a 76-yard touchdown pass, but he only gave up one reception outside of that.
*Rodney McLeod played well on Sunday, but Malcolm Jenkins was even better. Jenkins displayed his versatility by making plays against the run in the box, as well as in coverage against Jones. He also led the Eagles in tackles (eight), including three that came on third down while stopping the ball-carrier short of the sticks. Here’s Jenkins’ tight coverage against Jones on fourth-and-5 in the fourth quarter, which was a crucial play in the game: