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Eagle Eye: DT Cox Under The Microscope

After taking a close look at the Eagles on offense against Seattle, it's time to turn the attention to the defense. Jim Schwartz's unit had a tough task against Russell Wilson and a very versatile Seahawks offense. Going into the game, I was interested to see how the Eagles would choose to attack the mobile quarterback. Would they pressure? Or focus more on coverage on the back end? According to most statistical services, the Eagles only blitzed Wilson three times. By my analysis, it was actually far more.

Shot 1 - #Eagles Cover 0 blitz gets home and forces an incompletion. Multiple Schwartz blitzes resulted in Seattle penalties — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 22, 2016

Here's an example of a Cover 0 blitz from the Eagles against Wilson. The left tackle committed a false start penalty, but the point of the blitz worked. The ball came out quickly, and it was an overthrow from Wilson downfield for an incomplete pass. There were a few of these on Sunday, where the blitz got home, Wilson was contained and the Eagles forced an incompletion.

Shot 2 - One blitz that burned them was really cool though. Cover 0 blitz w/ 2 T/E Stunts & double edge pressure. I've seen this before... — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 22, 2016

The blitz that the Eagles got burned on led to Seattle's final touchdown. With a pair of T/E stunts inside that called for the defensive ends to loop into the A gaps and a pair of extra rushers coming off the perimeter, Wilson has six rushers coming at him. The two defensive ends form a wall right in front of him, ideally preventing the quarterback from stepping up. Connor Barwin gets pushed off his spot, however, and Wilson steps up and finds a wide open Doug Baldwin in the secondary for a huge gain and a first down.

Even though it resulted in a big play, I loved the design of this pressure scheme because it is near and dear to my heart. Why? Because it's a blitz that Buddy Ryan and Jeff Fisher ran nearly a half-dozen times in the famous "Body Bag Game" against Washington back in 1990. Fisher was in his final season as the defensive coordinator here in Philadelphia, and after a couple of other jobs was named as the head coach of the Houston Oilers in 1995. In 1999, when the Oilers were then the Tennessee Titans, Fisher hired an assistant coach named Jim Schwartz, who eventually became his defensive coordinator two seasons later. Fast forward to this past week, when we got to see the pressure scheme again here in Week 11 against Seattle.

Shot 3 - #Eagles ran SAME blitz 6-7x under Jeff Fisher in Body Bag Game in 1990 with huge success. Fisher hired Schwartz in TEN in 1999. — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 22, 2016

Here's the exact same blitz from the now-infamous day against Washington. Jessie Small flies off the edge to the quarterback untouched to force an incompletion and pick up a huge hit on the quarterback. Pretty cool to see the same exact pressure scheme here in Philadelphia 26 years later. I spotted it a mile away because of a piece you'll see on our site and app when we host Washington in Week 14, so keep an eye out for that on Old-School All-22. Back to last Sunday ...

Shot 4 - Great design by #Seahawks. Used motion to not only block SS but also force CB coming from distance to square up and make the tackle — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 22, 2016

As I mentioned in Monday's piece, I'm willing to live with the plays where the other team schemes it up to create a favorable matchup and they take advantage of it. That's exactly what happened on Seattle's first touchdown, a 72-yard run by rookie C.J. Prosise. Before the snap, the Seahawks do something we've seen a lot from opposing offenses against the Eagles' defense this year. Seattle brings a receiver in motion inside the formation.

The purpose of that is to block the safety, who has a large responsibility as a run defender with the defensive end playing outside. What this does is create a matchup of a running back against a cornerback one on one. When you bring that corner from across the field like the Seahawks did right before the snap, it adds even more pressure to the equation because now the corner (Jalen Mills) has to insert himself into the run fit immediately after arriving at his new spot and then make a tackle on a 220-pound running back with 4.4 speed coming right at him. Mills misses the tackle, and Prosise is off to the races to make the score 6-0 in favor of Seattle. It all started with a well-designed run scheme creating a matchup that they wanted.

Shot 5 - Another great play; play-action holds Quarters S Jenkins' eyes. Baldwin expands Mills in coverage, breaks towards post, first down — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 22, 2016

Here's another example of great play design from the Seahawks later in the game, this time through the air. With the Eagles in quarters coverage, meaning that Malcolm Jenkins and Mills split their half of the field into two quarters, Baldwin breaks open downfield for a big gain and a first down. But why was Baldwin so open? In quarters coverage, the safeties inside have certain run responsibilities that they must account for, so any kind of play fake in the backfield will likely hold the safety just for a second.

Baldwin, knowing that he has the safety's eyes in the backfield, creates more room for himself by starting his route outside toward the sideline before breaking back towards the post. Doing this expands Mills, taking him away from the middle of the field and further from the catch point. When Baldwin breaks back inside, Wilson floats a pass beautifully over Jenkins' head for a first down. This is a great play design and outstanding execution from the quarterback and the receiver, beating the coverage with the pass concept.

Shot 6 - One player I thought really came to play Sunday was CB Nolan Carroll. Read this screen perfectly as a cloud corner, got a huge hit — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 22, 2016

Lastly, in the secondary, I thought it would be important to point out the play of Nolan Carroll, who had a couple of impressive plays downfield and at the catch point. He broke up a pass on third-and-goal on the goal line to prevent a touchdown, and he also had this huge hit as a Cover 2 cornerback. Carroll read this screen pass perfectly, and his explosive short-area burst allowed him to close quickly on the back to blow up this play and force an incomplete pass.

In the run game, after the first drive, I thought the Eagles handled themselves well. Seattle certainly tried to establish itself on the ground, running the ball 29 times after Prosise's 72-yard run. Prosise finished the game with 76 yards rushing, even after that big touchdown.

Shot 7 - After the 72yd run by Prosise, #Eagles held Seattle to 2.76 yards per carry. Result of good team run D and strong play up front — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 22, 2016

One of the reasons why the Eagles were able to be so strong against the run for the rest of the game was the overall discipline close to the line of scrimmage. Whether it was the zone run game or their Toss Sweep play, overall team run defense was able to limit the Seattle rushing attack. There were plenty of defenders to point out on this play, first with Jenkins taking on a puller and setting the edge, then with Marcus Smith fighting through a crack block, Nigel Bradham doing the same and Jordan Hicks defeating a cut block as all four defenders crash in on the back for a loss.

Shot 8 - Strong play up front starts w/ Fletcher Cox. Several plays like these where he is controlling LOS & changing runs in the backfield — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 22, 2016

Individually, I find it hard to believe that people are down on the performance of Fletcher Cox. Are the sack numbers where they were a year ago? No, but as a defensive tackle that's hardly a surprise regardless of the scheme. Cox was strong up front once again against the Seahawks as a disruptor in the run game and in the pass game. Whether it's against single blocks or double teams, Cox is a huge part of the Eagles' success on defense.

Shot 9 - Cox not just making plays for himself like the ones above, also holding up doubles and creating for others #FlyEaglesFly — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 22, 2016

Cox doesn't just create plays for himself in the backfield, as his ability to hold up at the point of attack also creates opportunities for others. Here Cox allows Bradham to shoot through for a tackle and no gain up front.

Shot 10 - Don't ever doubt Fletcher Cox's hustle either. On the 72yd run, Cox was MOVING. He actually hit 19.5 mph on the play at 310 pounds — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 22, 2016

Cox has always been able to make plays in pursuit, and while he didn't make the play here, you have to love his hustle and heart. Cox hit an astounding 19.47 miles per hour in the open field - a number typically hit by wide receivers and cornerbacks on vertical routes - weighing 310 pounds. For more numbers like that, make sure you stay tuned for Stats Only with Alex Smith later this week.

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