The Eagles' defense has been damn impressive through two games.
No opponent has had a drive last more than five minutes on the game clock. The Eagles have logged the fewest defensive snaps in the league. They rank in the top five in each of the following categories: yards allowed, passing yards allowed, sacks per pass attempt, first downs allowed, red zone percentage, points per game and point differential.
That doesn't happen by accident. The unit is played outstanding team defense right now, and it all starts up front with the defensive line.
When I break down the play of the front four, I usually start inside with defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan (rightfully so), but this week I have to give some love to a guy who I think may be playing the best football of his career right now - defensive end Brandon Graham.
This is the first play of the game on Monday night. The Bears run a zone run play away from Graham. For that reason, he is unblocked. You may ask, 'OK, so he wasn't blocked and he made the play, so what?' It's significant because you get to see the "attacking" nature of this defensive scheme manifest itself on this play with Graham's relentlessness from the back side. He's a great fit for Jim Schwartz's scheme. It's also important to note the great job by everyone at the point of attack, holding a hard edge to force the ballcarrier to cut back against the grain right into Graham's grasp. Great team run defense all around.
Overall, I thought the run defense was solid on Monday night. There were some breakdowns early in the second half where they lost contain on a couple of perimeter runs, allowing the Bears to pick up some chunk yardage. I think what's been most impressive about this defense through four preseason games and now two regular season contests is that the players up front are able to stay very disciplined.
Shot 2 - Great team run defense. Marcus Smith sets a hard edge. Great job by Tulloch & Kendricks defeating blocks downhill #Eagles pic.twitter.com/lTPTj8EqlY — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 21, 2016
Here's a first-and-goal run to the left by Chicago. I want you to focus on Stephen Tulloch, Mychal Kendricks and Marcus Smith. First, Smith sets a firm edge, jolting the tackle into the backfield to prevent the running back from taking this outside. As an edge setter, you want to force the ball back inside toward your linebackers and defensive linemen. The last thing you want is for the ball to get out in space against defensive backs. After Smith sets the edge, Tulloch and Kendricks take on blocks at the point of attack against a guard and a fullback, respectively.
Both players defeat the blocks and converge on the ball, making a stop for no gain. It was good to see the kind of rotation at linebacker on Monday night that they have had in the past on the defensive line. Regardless of whether it was in the base grouping with three linebackers or in nickel with only two, the Eagles were in several combinations that included Tulloch, Kendricks, Nigel Bradham and Jordan Hicks all getting meaningful snaps. This is something that could pay off big time for this defense as it continues to stay fresh throughout the year.
Two series later at midfield, the defensive line was in on the party again. As I watch tape every week, it's impossible for me not to notice the freakish get-off from Cox. On more than a handful of plays every game, he's able to anticipate the snap and fly out of his stance. This play shows such a great visual of it from the sideline angle. The ball is snapped (notice the movement in the backfield). Most defenders are still in their stance, but Cox is about to initiate contact before the offensive lineman can even get his hands up. It's no wonder why he's able to bench press the center into the backfield on this play, forcing this run right into Graham, who also did a great job of penetrating at the snap of the ball.
Shot 4 - Great job by Bennie Logan fighting through a double team, slipping through another, and getting the ball on the ground #Eagles pic.twitter.com/zwBSnUnUvK — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 21, 2016
With the Eagles up 22-7 in the fourth quarter, the Bears are still in this game with the ball at midfield. Any momentum they had came to a screeching halt, however, when Bennie Logan defeats this double team between the guard and the tackle. He uses his length to knock the ball to the ground and force a big turnover for the defense. Logan's ability to hold up at the point of attack and also penetrate into the backfield is so valuable for this defense. He showed the ability to do both on that play.
I get the sense that a lot of fans expected more sack production from this unit through two games. It's actually in the top five in sacks per snap in the NFL (10.9 percent), behind just the Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets and Denver Broncos. The Eagles have knocked two starting quarterbacks out of the game, and they have also worked hand in hand with the coverage to force incompletions and interceptions down the field.
On the second series of the game, check out Graham's bull rush against tackle Bobby Massie, bowling the tackle into Bears quarterback Jay Cutler's lap and forcing him to escape the pocket. If Cutler had the time to sit back and deliver this football from a proper platform, he had former first-round pick Kevin White on a crossing route matched up against Malcolm Jenkins. It was a potential big-play opportunity from the Bears. Thanks to Graham, this ball had no chance at being completed.
Shot 6 - Graham gets the sack, but look at the coverage on back end. Can't always have 2 doubles in secondary, but maybe in the #BattleOfPA? pic.twitter.com/eWsXd7r9Kn — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 21, 2016
Two series later, Graham is showing off his flexibility, turning the corner on Massie. This is a near-180 degree turn for the defensive end, who takes down Cutler from behind for a sack in the heart of the pocket. Give credit to Cox and Logan for creating a wall up front to keep Cutler from stepping up in the pocket.
This time though, Graham was able to get help from the secondary. Look at the sideline angle of this play. The Eagles were fully prepared for a shot play from the Chicago Bears. With Alshon Jeffery and White on the outside, the Bears love to attack downfield, especially from around the 50-yard line. Thanks to Cutler's arm strength this is within striking distance to the end zone. The Eagles' secondary is "bracketing" both outside receivers on this play, essentially double-teaming both of Cutler's options. The quarterback has nowhere to go with this football. Cox and Logan hold firm in front of Cutler, preventing him from escaping from the front of the pocket. Graham closes from the back side with a relentless pass rush. This is a "clinic" play from the Eagles' defense - a great example of team pass rush.
From a full-team play to a great individual effort, I felt the need to give some love to the rookie Destiny Vaeao as he made his presence felt on Monday Night Football. The Eagles are up by two points in the third quarter. The Bears look downfield with two vertical routes in play and Jeffery over the middle past the sticks. Watch Vaeao slit the double team here, spin off Pro Bowl lineman Kyle Long and collapse on Cutler, knocking the ball out for the sack-fumble to force a huge turnover that helped change the course of the game.
Shot 8 - Great play by Bradham on INT in man coverage, credit to @MillsIsland pressing Jeffery at the line, disrupting the route #Eagles pic.twitter.com/7i2h2QLh7T — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 21, 2016
The last play I'll show you is one that we diagrammed in our All-22 Review on Monday morning, Nigel Bradham's third quarter interception of Cutler. As Greg Cosell described in the segment, Bradham starts this play in man coverage against the running back. This is great communication between both Bradham and Tulloch on the other side. Tulloch is manned up on the tight end, but when the back and tight end go in opposite directions, the two veteran linebackers exchange responsibilities. Tulloch takes the back out of the backfield. Bradham covers the tight end coming from the opposite side. Cutler does not account for Bradham and Tulloch's exchange, throwing it right into Bradham's hands for the huge turnover.
From the sideline angle, it's worth noting the outstanding job by Jalen Mills in press coverage. He jams Jeffery at the line, disrupting the timing of the route and helping to cloud the picture for Cutler on the near pick-six. Mills had his share of good and bad plays against Chicago, but I loved to see his competitive nature come through time and time again as he bounced back from the negatives and succeeded in situations later in the game. There were a lot of bright spots for the young rookie in his first extensive action of his NFL career.
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.