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Eagle Eye: Can The D-Line Make Life Miserable Once Again For Washington?

The offense enjoyed a record-breaking performance last Sunday against Houston, but let’s not forget a solid outing by Jim Schwartz’s defense. Deshaun Watson is one of the top young playmakers at the quarterback position in the NFL. DeAndre Hopkins is a top-three receiver in the league by most accounts. He’s certainly one of the toughest covers regardless of position in the NFL. Here’s why this defensive performance was better than you may think. I know the defense gave up 30 points, and it’s tough to say it was a good day when you give up 30 on the scoreboard, but look at the drive chart and you’ll see it was a bit better than that.

Houston's Drives Result
First Three-and-out
Second Field goal
Third Three-and-out
Fourth Touchdown after fumble
Fifth Touchdown
Sixth Three-and-oiut
Seventh Punt
Eighth Fumble
Ninth Turnover on downs
Tenth Touchdown after fumble
Eleventh Touchdown

The Texans got the ball to start the game and went three-and-out. Their second drive was actually their longest, holding the ball for 12 plays to go 75 yards for a field goal. The third drive was another three-and-out. Their fourth drive came after a Nick Foles fumble, putting the ball on the 5-yard line for a one-play touchdown drive. Their final drive of the first half was aided by two personal foul penalties – a late hit from Tre Sullivan and a questionable roughing the passer penalty on Brandon Graham. That drive resulted in a touchdown as well. Self-inflicted wounds led to the Houston touchdowns in the first half – a turnover on offense, and penalties on defense.

The second half began with a defensive three-and-out on the first drive and another punt on the second drive. A sack-fumble got things started in the fourth quarter, and a turnover on downs seemed to cement the outcome on the ninth drive of the game. Had the game ended there, this would have looked like a very impressive defensive performance. Then, Josh Adams fumbled the football in the four-minute drill. This gave the Texans the ball just shy of midfield. They scored in 40 seconds, pulling within a touchdown. They got the ball back and marched down the field again for another touchdown to take the lead.

Give credit to the Texans, but this game should not have been as close as it was. Watson made some ridiculous plays to avoid pressure on third down. Hopkins hauled in some outstanding catches down the stretch. The turnover by Adams in that situation was a tough one to swallow, and nearly cost the Eagles the game. It’s a short-handed unit that has played a lot of snaps the last month of the season. Now, could the defense have responded better in a sudden-change situation late? Of course. The touchdown to Vyncint Smith shouldn’t have happened. Three Eagles defenders had clean shots on Watson in the pocket a couple of plays before that. There were multiple plays where the defense could have come out on top. Still, going back and re-watching this game, I was really impressed with a couple of facets of the defense, and it started up front.

ALL OF THE VIDEO CLIPS FEATURE AUDIO ANALYSIS FROM FRAN DUFFY

The defensive line relied heavily on the four-man rush in this game, and I thought it did a good job of impacting Watson throughout the afternoon. Whether it resulted in sacks, hits, or just moving him off his spot and changing his launch point, the pressure was consistent, and Watson never really looked comfortable dropping back in this game, as has been the case for much of this season.

The rush was good, but the run defense was better. Alfred Blue and D’Onta Foreman, the two running backs in this game, ran the ball 11 times for 13 yards on Sunday. That’s an outstanding job by all involved up front. Whether it was the defensive line, the linebackers, or the defensive backs, everybody was gap sound and they took one of the more efficient run games in football and turned it on its head at the Linc.

The Texans were terrible on third down (3-of-10) in this game. They went 0-for-1 on fourth down as well. On nine of those third downs, the Eagles lined up in their dime personnel package, with four defensive linemen, one linebacker (Nigel Bradham), and six defensive backs. The speed on the field helped from a coverage standpoint, particularly with an intent to keep Hopkins out of the end zone.

When Hopkins lined up outside the numbers on third down, the Eagles rolled a safety over the top nearly every time. This allowed cornerbacks Avonte Maddox and Rasul Douglas to play tight, aggressive coverage, taking away underneath throws while the safety worried about anything vertical. Hopkins was never targeted on third down in this game.

This was a solid outing from the defense against Houston. It wasn’t without its warts, but the Eagles made plays when needed, stopped the run at an elite level, and forced a handful of three-and-outs against a team that has created big plays all season long. Schwartz’s unit will need an equally good performance against Washington on Sunday.

Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts, Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as the Journey to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. 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.

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