All 22: What We Learned About the Eagles’ Defense

Here’s what I saw from the Eagles’ defense after reviewing the All-22 footage from this week. If you missed the post on the offense, click here.

Play 1: The Eagles only blitzed Kevin Kolb three times, by my count. But the first one was a huge success. They practiced this look quite a bit at training camp and have been using it on occasion in the first three games. The defensive ends (Trent Cole and Jason Babin) line up like blitzing linebackers, and the defensive tackles (Cullen Jenkins and Fletcher Cox) shift out.

Here, the Eagles show six at the line of scrimmage. And on this particular play, all six (DeMeco Ryans and Kurt Coleman being the blitzers) go after Kolb. Cox is the only player with his hand on the ground.

This is a good example of why football is the ultimate team sport. Cole fights through a double-team to get to Kolb. He and Jenkins free up Babin to loop around and get to the quarterback untouched. Cole had to work harder than Babin on this play, but the pair split the sack. It’s worth noting that Cox did a good job with pressure around the edge too.

Play 2: A similar look this time, except no blitz. The Eagles only rush four, but Cole and Babin are lined up as they were on the play above.

This time, they both loop around the tackles and meet at the quarterback. Babin had Kolb in his grasp, but he flipped the ball to Larry Fitzgerald for 4 yards on third down. The Cardinals were forced to punt.

Play 3: Another blitz to look at. Here, Brandon Hughes enters the game for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Hughes blitzes from the left cornerback spot. Ryans blitzes also. And Cole drops back into coverage. Yes, it appears the Eagles are doing that again – for a couple plays a game at least.

A lot of issues on this one. Considering how quickly Kolb was trying to get rid of the ball, it seemed unlikely from the get-go that Hughes would get to him. And I doubt Cole was thrilled about having to drop back into coverage on third down. As you can see below, wide receiver Andre Roberts finds a big hole in the coverage and makes the 12-yard grab for a first down.

I’m not sure who should have been closing in on him. Brandon Boykin is at the 20. And Mychal Kendricks is in the middle of the field at the 25. Cole is covering the receiver near the 30. But obviously a big hole that allowed Arizona to extend its drive.

Play 4: An issue for Kendricks on this one. He’s initially lined up opposite tight end Jeff King. But the running back is going to go into his route on that side.

Ryans has the back covered, and it looks like Kendricks is supposed to stick with King. But he starts to follow the running back too, leaving the tight end wide open for a 15-yard gain.

Big play. It was 3rd-and-7. Kolb hit Fitzgerald for the 37-yard touchdown on the next play.

Play 5: In the preseason, there were questions about Ryans’ explosiveness following his Achilles injury. But whatever he’s lost in athleticism, it seems he’s made up for with smarts. Ryans has consistently made great reads in the run game through the first three games. Take a look at the first photo. Before the ball’s handed off, he’s already on his way.

Of course, that kind of anticipation can burn you if it’s a play-fake. But I can’t remember that happening to Ryans yet this season. In the second photo, he gets past the offensive lineman. Remember how much we discussed linebackers having to get off blocks because of the wide-nine last year? It seems Ryans hasn’t had to do that as much because he’s been a step ahead in terms of knowing where he wants to go.

And finally, once he’s in position, he finishes. This time, for a 5-yard loss on LaRod Stephens-Howling.

Play 6: I know Babin sometimes takes criticism for being one-dimensional and only caring about sacks, but you have to give him credit for his hustle. On this third-down play in the third, he gets things started by getting good pressure off the edge.

Kolb escapes the pocket, but Babin continues to go all-out and gives chase.

And finally, he’s the one who brings Kolb down. It was 3rd-and-15, and Babin made the tackle after a 14-yard gain. Had he not hustled, that’s a first down, and the Cardinals keep the ball.

Play 7: And finally, Fitzgerald’s 37-yard touchdown. Chris Brown over at Grantland did a great job of breaking this play down so I highly suggest you read his article. I’ll just try to add some thoughts with the All-22. Coverage broke down when Kurt Coleman fell for Kolb’s play-fake.

As Brown explains, Nnamdi Asomugha is playing Fitzgerald with outside leverage because he thinks Coleman is going to have him covered inside. But as you can see, Fitzgerald races past Coleman because of the play-fake.

From there, Fitzgerald finishes his route to the inside and has a touchdown.

Coleman admitted fault after the game, although I wonder if he was just trying to be a good teammate. Cameras caught him and Asomugha having a somewhat animated discussion on the sideline after the play, so clearly this wasn’t a 100 percent “My bad” situation. I’m also surprised at just how much space Fitzgerald created between himself and Asomugha. At some point, didn’t Asomugha notice that Coleman bit on the play-action? If so, he didn’t seem to react. It’s also worth noting that Coleman was helping in run support all game long. So the fact that he bit on the play-fake isn’t too surprising.

Leftovers: Defensive tackle Cedric Thornton had easily his strongest game of the season. The Eagles hadn’t been getting a lot from that second group of defensive linemen, so that’s a good sign. …The same can be said for Darryl Tapp. …Brian Rolle didn’t do much to impress, filling in for Akeem Jordan, who injured his hamstring. …Brandon Hughes, not Curtis Marsh, played in dime. …Tackling wasn’t as crisp in this one. Noticed misses by Boykin, Asomugha and Allen.

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