The Eagles' offense got running back DeMarco Murray rolling on Monday night against the Giants, but I was just as excited (if not more) by the defensive performance in prime time. After surrendering points on the opening possession, they blanked an offense that had been operating at a high level throughout the course of the season. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans got things going on an interception in Eagles territory when he read a stick route by tight end Larry Donnell, then took the football away from him at the catch point. That was without question a huge turning point, and the defense rallied afterwards. On the very next drive, the Giants again moved the ball across the 50-yard line, but after a third-down stop they faced fourth-and-1. The Giants decided to go for it, and called a running play behind fullback Nikita Whitlock. It was THIS play that made me feel like it was the Eagles' game to lose.
After initially lining up in the I-formation, Whitlock shifts out to an offset-I and starts his path to the outside at the snap of the ball. It would be linebacker Brandon Graham who would make this play late in the down, but I think it starts very early because some players may have gotten greedy here. There's a lane for Graham to try to shoot this gap between the tackle and the fullback, but Graham doesn't do that. Instead, he trusts his teammates and does his job setting the edge. Defensive end Fletcher Cox creates a one-man wall to the play side, forcing the running back to carry it outside into the waiting arms of Graham, who makes contact and brings the back down for a loss in what was a huge play for the Eagles' defense.
Last week, I highlighted one of the Giants' favorite plays in the pass game, the Slant-Flat concept. New York tried numerous times to run this play on Monday night. The Eagles were ready for it every time, defending it in a number of ways. Sometimes it was man coverage, but a lot of the times we saw a version of Cover 2, with the cornerbacks sitting in the flat.
Watch this play a couple of times back and you'll see Malcolm Jenkins shout out to Nolan Carroll in the flat, letting him know that the route is coming. Carroll reads it, jumps the route and takes it back for the touchdown in what was a pivotal play in the first half.
While the Eagles were ready for the Giants in the secondary, I thought the pass rush was excellent up front. New York's offense was predicated on getting the ball out quickly, and it prevented some blitz-heavy teams on the schedule from sending extra men in fear that they wouldn't get there in time to pressure the quarterback. The Eagles consistently created pressure on Monday night with just four rushers, and it started with this sack from Vinny Curry.
Curry times the snap perfectly, blowing past the right guard and is in Eli Manning's face at the top of his drop to bring him down for the sack. Curry is the best pure pass rusher on this defense. His ability to get after the quarterback will be invaluable down the stretch, especially with the offense hitting its stride and the Eagles playing with more leads late in games.
It wasn't just Curry having fun on Monday night, though, as outside linebackers Connor Barwin and Graham both did a great job collapsing the pocket. Graham was able to generate a consistent pass rush against Ereck Flowers, and Barwin worked Marshall Newhouse for most of the night.
On this pressure on Manning, both Barwin and Graham are able to shrink the size of the pocket with speed-to-power moves against the Giants' offensive tackles. Manning gets called for intentional grounding, the Eagles' defense gets off the field and the Giants are forced to punt.
Here again on this play, both Barwin and Graham get great pressure, forcing their blocks back into Manning's lap to get the sack. Let's look, however, at the coverage on the back end.
Carroll is lined up over Odell Beckham Jr. in man coverage. At the snap of the ball, watch safety Walter Thurmond go to that side with eyes on him as well. The Eagles utilized double coverage principles against Beckham on multiple occasions in the game, especially on third down, and a lot of those plays resulted in sacks for the Eagles' defense.
Beckham is doubled on the outside again, and Graham gets to Manning with the help of Cox inside, resulting in an intentional grounding on third-and-10.
This time it's Thurmond and cornerback Byron Maxwell shadowing Beckham on the outside. Manning holds the ball, the T-E stunt from Curry and Barwin gets home for a loss of 8 yards on the play. The Giants are forced to punt yet again.
One more time for good measure in the fourth quarter, the Eagles appear to double Beckham again. The man coverage across the board holds up without issue. Remember, doubling Beckham means that your other defenders are matched up one-on-one with just a single-high safety as help. The rush gets home, and down goes Manning.
It's rare to see a receiver actually "doubled" during an NFL game. It's not a common occurrence. But the Eagles made sure that when they did it on Monday night, that it counted, and it came through for them in the second half in a big way.
Outside of the scheme, a number of individuals had great performances once again on the defensive side, and it all started once again with the man in the middle, Fletcher Cox.
Cox was once again stout against the run, disruptive against the pass and physically manhandled the Giants' offensive line at the point of attack on a consistent basis. Don't forget to notice nose tackle Bennie Logan on the last play, helping to force the runner back inside toward Cox. Logan was strong against New York as well.
At linebacker, Jordan Hicks led the team in tackles once again, flying all around the field and making plays from sideline to sideline both in the pass game and against the run.
Look at him slip the block on this play and make the tackle on the back. I showed this play to former Eagles linebacker Ike Reese in preparation for this week's "Eagles Game Plan" show and his eyes got wide before he said, 'Wow, that's a veteran move.'
There are plenty of examples of Hicks displaying a veteran presence at the position, where traits like his athleticism and physicality aren't always the reason why he makes the play. Hicks is instinctive. He's patient. He's always playing under control. He doesn't overpursue plays to the outside. He's been the total package and there's a reason why Greg Cosell from NFL Films told me on the podcast this week he thinks he's been the Eagles' best linebacker so far this season.
One last parting shot before I go - an exotic blitz package that defensive coordinator Bill Davis busted out for this game that nearly paid huge dividends for the Eagles on third down. Let's take a look.
You're going to watch this back a few times to get the full scope of how cool this play was. But let me spell it all out for you ...
A. There's two down linemen on this play in three-point stances. Graham is lined up directly over the center, and Barwin as a 9-technique to the right.
B. Hicks is lined up as a pass rusher to the left along the line of scrimmage.
C. Curry, Ryans and ... Cox ... are your three stacked "linebackers" in this look, with Thurmond also present in the box playing over the tight end in man coverage.
The Eagles run a simple "Cross Dog" blitz from Davis (this is one of his favorite blitzes), with two linebackers crossing each other inside. The difference is that, instead of Ryans and Hicks being the two blitzers, it's Cox and Curry coming downhill. Ryans inserts himself into the pressure when he sees that the running back stays in to protect (what is known as "Green Dog" blitzing). Manning panicks and nearly throws an interception to Maxwell. Barwin was called for a neutral zone infraction on the play. The interception wouldn't have counted anyway, but it was such a cool wrinkle in the Eagles' blitz package that I just had to share.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.