After Sunday's win over the Dolphins, Juan Castillo got a lot of questions about the defensive line and blitz that came up with nine sacks. Castillo took time to mention that the pass rush wouldn't have been successful if not for good coverage on the back end. After re-watching the game closely, he was dead right.
The secondary and linebackers had a very good game. There were a couple of breakdowns, but for the most part receivers were bracketed by a couple of guys or locked down by blanket coverage. It wasn't as much fun as watching the guys up front hit people, but I really appreciated just what a good job the coverage guys did.
The best part is that this was a group effort. Nnamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel are the big names, but everyone did their job. Casey Matthews and Keenan Clayton did a very good job of covering tight ends in the nickel defense. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie covered Brandon Marshall several times and kept him largely under wraps. Nate Allen had good downfield coverage on a couple of throws to Marshall. Maybe my favorite guy was Akeem Jordan. There was one play where he jammed the tight end who tried to get a clean release while going upfield. Then Jordan peeled off him and ran to the flat, where the running back had moved. Jordan ran up and floored the back. No pass had come that way, but it was a legal move since contact is allowed within five yards of the line of scrimmage. That was a smart play by Jordan.
Safety Kurt Coleman picked off a pass and ran it back to the 1-yard line. Coleman got good depth on the play so that the ball and receiver would be in front of him. Safeties are taught "stay deeper than the deepest." Coleman did just that. He was able to see the receiver and pass. He broke on the ball and made an impressive grab up high. That was a clean hands pick.
I also liked the awareness the Eagles back seven showed in coverage. There was a short pass in Joselio Hanson's area. He peeled off his guy and got to the ball instantly to make a hit. Rodgers-Cromartie did the same thing and tackled Marshall on a third-and-2 pass play that got just 1 yard. That awareness and quick reaction proved to be very important. The front line stuffed the Dolphins on fourth down and got the ball back for the offense.
Now let's talk about the pass rush. Ends Trent Cole and Jason Babin each had three sacks. They were expected to have some success. Three other Eagles got their first NFL sack - Phillip Hunt, Brian Rolle and Casey Matthews. Hunt played his best game of the year. He got pressure a few times and also drew a holding call. Fans finally got to see the potential the Eagles had talked about for a while. Hunt showed a good burst and also was very good at rounding the corner to get by the blocker and to the passer.
|Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He was a finalist for Philadelphia's Most Influential Blogger Award and is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com |
The young linebackers got their sacks on blitzes. Each guy blitzed twice that I noted. Rolle had a sack and a hit. That hit actually knocked Matt Moore out of the game. Matthews got the sack and got good pressure on his other attempt. Matthews got his sack on a really well-designed blitz. Only two linemen were down on the play. Cole and Babin lined up like inside linebackers. They went different ways at the snap. The blockers focused on them and left Matthews alone as he flew in and leveled Moore. Jim Johnson would be proud of that blitz, both in design and execution.
Back to the line for a second. Babin, Cole, Hunt and Darryl Tapp were relentless off the edge. They attacked wide. They attacked inside. They used bull rushes and occasionally stunted to the middle. Those guys really wore out the blockers and punished the Miami quarterbacks. There were seven sacks by them, but also lots of hits and other pressures. One of Babin's sacks also caused a fumble that the Eagles recovered. Hunt's sack gave the team a safety. Those two extra points weren't needed, but it was calming to have a 16-point lead instead of just 14.
The edge rushers wouldn't have been as effective without help up the middle. Cullen Jenkins was as disruptive as ever. He just missed a sack on one play, but won his battle with blockers on many plays. Mike Patterson did his part. My man Derek Landri had another outstanding game. He simply makes things happen. While Landri was on the field Coleman had his interception, Hunt got his safety, Babin had his strip sack and the Eagles made some crucial short-yardage stops. Landri wasn't the key to those plays, but good things seem to happen when he's out there. I jokingly called him the Tim Tebow of defensive tackles.
The short-yardage defense was outstanding. Once again, it wasn't one guy. This was a group effort. Patterson held his ground against a double team on one play. Jenkins basically tossed aside two blockers on another play. Landri fired into the backfield for a tackle-for-loss on one. Another time he drove his blocker into the runner. Cole crashed down inside to get J.P. Losman on quarterback sneak where he fumbled the snap. The linebackers came up quickly on these plays to help make sure the runners were stopped.
I wish I could write as many positives on the offense, but that's not the case. From the late first quarter through halftime the offense was very good. The group had started slow, but the coaches made some adjustments and that settled Mike Vick down. Once he got into a rhythm and the offense got some confidence, things went well. The team piled up 24 points in the second quarter alone. Unfortunately, these would be the only offensive points of the game.
The second half was a combination of things. The offense started off well, driving across midfield. Then Vick got pressured and forced a pass to Brent Celek that was picked off. That interception was killer. For some reason, it fired up the Miami defense and they were outstanding from then on out. They were pretty good to that point as well. I think the Dolphins have the best defense the Eagles have faced. Miami has an athletic front seven that can rush the passer and play the run.
Miami did a great job of shutting down LeSean McCoy. They won the battle up front and had the linebackers to chase him down. Most defenses have one or the other, but not both. At halftime, McCoy had 13 carries for 30 yards. In the second half, he had 14 carries for 8 yards. Think about that for a minute. McCoy did run for two touchdowns and that was huge. On a day when both offenses were largely shut down, the Eagles were able to score touchdowns and not just settle for field goals. Jason Peters and Todd Herremans were the key blockers on the scoring runs. Danny Watkins and Owen Schmitt also had good blocks.
One thing I did like is that when the offense was struggling, the coaches made Brent Celek a primary target. He and Vick connected for some good gains and that got Vick back in the flow of things. It also brought some confidence to the offense. I just wish Celek had been more involved in the second half.
Special teams had a rough day. Chas Henry had one punt blocked (that led to Miami's only touchdown) and the Dolphins came close to another. The Eagles tried a trick play by having DeSean Jackson field a punt and then throw across the field to rookie Curtis Marsh. That sounds like a good idea, but Marsh had defenders near him and fumbled the ball. Miami recovered. Luckily, the defense bailed out the special teams unit. Babin sacked Moore and knocked the ball loose. Patterson recovered and the crisis was averted. All too often this season the Eagles have not handled adversity well. Was that a sign things have changed or just an anomaly? Wait and see, I guess.
The Eagles remain alive in the hunt for the NFC East title. In what has been such a disappointing season, it’s great that the team can still right the ship and make a playoff push. It’s a down year for the NFC East, but at least it plays in the Eagles favor. Now we just need to see if the team can take advantage of that. If the defense can repeat Sunday's performance, December might prove to be an interesting month after all.
For more dead-on analysis from Tommy Lawlor, check out the Fan-Demonium archive.