Being able to disrupt the quarterback doesn't always result in sacks, but the Eagles were able to do both in Sunday's win over the Washington Commanders. The Eagles became the first team this season to record nine sacks in a game, and after going back and studying the tape, I was able to break those sacks up into a handful of buckets.
As would be expected, there were a handful of one-on-one wins up front, where Eagles defenders just won their matchup and got into the backfield. There were multiple sacks where linemen worked together to get Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz off his spot before lassoing him to the ground. The coverage also played a big part on a number of those takedowns as well, with some creative blitz schemes drawn up on top of that.
We will dive into these buckets in more detail, but one of my favorite parts of this performance was that it was dominant right out of the gate. The defense set the tone in the first quarter of this game before the offense got cooking with points on the scoreboard.
For just the third time since 1991, the Eagles posted six sacks in the first half of a game. They had four sacks in the first quarter – the first time they had done that since that 1991 battle where they famously sacked Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman 11 times.
The Eagles had a sack on the first third down of the game, then came back and posted two straight sacks on the ensuing drive as well. In Washington's first 15 snaps on offense, the Eagles had five sacks. This was a tone-setting performance, and one that took Washington's pass game out early in this matchup.
A majority of these sacks came from pure one-on-one wins up front from the Eagles' defensive line. It's not always just as simple as "our guy is better than your guy," however! On several of these reps, the Eagles were able to dictate who got one-on-one matchups with the way they lined up before the snap of the ball.
When you have a number of linemen who are capable of winning their one-on-one matchups, you really can force offenses to pick their poison up front. You can't give help to every blocker! On Sunday, it felt like every time the protection slid one way, the Eagles pressured from the opposite way. Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave were DOMINANT in this game, and when they're both humming like that, it's very difficult for offenses to keep up – especially with both Josh Sweat and Haason Reddick flying off the edge.
To that point, on multiple sacks I took note of what I would call "complementary rushes." I think we sometimes take for granted the strategy and discipline that is required on a basic four-man rush. It's not just a "let's meet at the quarterback" approach! If one rusher goes high, another typically has to go low. If one guy goes inside, another comes outside. This is especially important when you have a quarterback who likes to hold the ball and move in the pocket, because now you have an answer for every escape hatch. Here are a couple of examples from this game.
This is complementary football, and some examples of really sound rushes from the Eagles' defensive front.
When you watch a lot of the sacks in the clips above, you'll see quarterback Carson Wentz pump fake in the pocket or move his eyes as he goes through his progressions. That's because the Eagles' coverage was also very good in this matchup against a very talented Washington receiving corps. This has been a theme throughout the season, and in the last two games especially.
After going through the tape, there were two plays in particular where the coverage had a direct impact on the sack, and these were perhaps my favorite sacks in the game.
The communication has been outstanding on the back end of the defense in each of the last two weeks. As I was writing my notes while studying Sunday's game, I found myself writing down Avonte Maddox's name often. Sometimes it was him making the play, and other times he was more of a complementary piece, doing his job correctly and allowing others to make the play. Then it occurred to me that I felt the same way about Marcus Epps, T.J. Edwards, and Kyzir White as well. All of these players play right up the middle of this Eagles defense, and I think they're all playing very well right now.
Speaking of Edwards, he was in on the ninth sack that we're going to break down in this piece, and it came on a very creative blitz in the second half of this game.
If you remember back to the first half of last season, the Eagles were near the bottom of the league in blitz frequency, relying heavily on their four-man rush. As the year progressed, we saw more pressure, but most of those blitzes came on third down.
Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon has talked a lot about how each game is unique in terms of the approach. Looking at the numbers this year, the Eagles are in the middle of the pack across the board from a blitz standpoint. They are much more even-keeled with how they get after the quarterback, and the extra men are not just blitzing on third down. It's pretty spread out across all downs. This means, as an opposing offense, you have to respect the Eagles' ability to send pressure on any down-and-distance situation.
All in all, six different players were responsible for the nine sacks on the day, with interior linemen, edge rushers, and linebackers all entering the fray. The Eagles' defense won the day on Sunday, and will need a similar effort against a very efficient and potentially dynamic pass game in Week 4 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.