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Eagle Eye: Hicks Taking Game To New Level

On Monday, I looked at the play of quarterback Carson Wentz, the fourth-down decisions and the game-ending drive in my recap of the Eagles' offense in the loss to the Giants. It's now time to look at the play of the Eagles' defense.

Yes, this unit allowed Giants quarterback Eli Manning to throw four touchdown passes in one of his best outings against the Eagles in his career, but overall I didn't think it was a bad performance. The defense allowed just one drive of more than six plays against the Giants. Two turnovers on the opening drives provided the Giants with great field position in order to quickly strike twice for a 14-0 lead. When a team gets up that early, an offense typically tries to set the tone on the ground to run out the clock. How did the Eagles' defense respond? They allowed just 2.3 yards per carry on the afternoon, ceding just one run of more than 10 yards. At the head of that charge was none other than star defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.

Shot 1 - #Eagles allowed just 2.3 yds per carry vs NYG. Leading the charge was DT Fletcher Cox. Beau Allen & Vinny Curry strong here as well — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 8, 2016

On the first play in that video, watch the Pro Bowl defensive tackle fly into the backfield, defeating the down block from the right tackle and getting quick penetration. Vinny Curry explodes out of his stance, bounces off the pulling guard and is there to help Cox bring the running back down for a loss.

On the second play, the Giants try to "trap" Beau Allen on the left, relying on another pin block from the center to take on Cox, who is too quick and immediately gets into the backfield. Allen holds up extremely well against the trap block as well, meeting the pulling guard head on to stalemate him behind the line of scrimmage.

On the third play, both Cox and Allen collapse on the hole created by the Giants' run scheme. Linebacker Nigel Bradham does a great job of attacking downhill and defeating the block of the right tackle. The back has nowhere to go, and he's swallowed up for a short gain.

Shot 2 - #Giants running away from Brandon Graham here, but watch his explosive first step and relentless pursuit of the football on the TFL — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 8, 2016

Another player who continues to impress is Brandon Graham, who was once again incredibly disruptive against both the run and the pass. Graham helped set up Destiny Vaeao's sack early in the game, and he made plays as both a frontside and backside run defender. Here, the Giants run away from Graham, leaving him unblocked from the back side. His first step and pursuit of the football allow him to make this tackle for loss.

Shot 3 - Outstanding job by Bradham attacking this downhill, beating the puller, forcing this outside to Curry who cleans up for run stop — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 8, 2016

The linebackers also did a great job against the run on Sunday. Bradham and Jordan Hicks were very disruptive downhill players, even if it didn't always show up in the stat sheet. On this power play, a pulling guard is charged with coming to the front side and picking up Bradham, who defeats the block and forces the runner to carry the play outside. His path runs him right into the arms of Curry, who bench presses the tight end and makes the play on the edge.

In the secondary, I thought Jaylen Watkins had his best game as an Eagle on Sunday. He was aggressive against both the run and the pass, was decisive downhill and played with an air of confidence that was good to see from a guy who has bounced around different positions in the secondary during his career. Yes, he and Leodis McKelvin had a miscommunication that led to a New York touchdown early, but other than that I thought Watkins was really impressive.

Shot 4 - Jalen Watkins had a great game Sunday. Aggressive vs run the pass. Quickly diagnosed this slant route from OBJ and broke up throw — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 8, 2016

Watch how quickly Watkins diagnoses this slant route by Odell Beckham Jr., flying downhill to meet the star receiver at the catch point. Watkins was flagged for helmet to helmet later in the game, but this was a clean hit and one that helped separate Beckham from the ball for an incomplete pass.

Shot 5 - Rodney McLeod was doing work on Sunday. Had some big collisions at every level of the field, covered a ton of ground #FlyEaglesFly — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 8, 2016

Watkins wasn't the only Eagles safety patrolling the field from sideline to sideline, as Rodney McLeod showed up in a big way against the Giants as well. McLeod delivered blow after blow against New York at every level of the field. His instincts almost resulted in another interception to the already incredibly productive total. His addition next to Malcolm Jenkins has been invaluable for the Eagles' defense.

Shot 6 - Malcolm Jenkins takes away the Dagger perfectly here, forcing Eli to check to shallow, which Bradham takes away. Short gain #Eagles — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 8, 2016

The third Eagles safety making an impact was Malcolm Jenkins, who saw a lot of time in the slot against New York's predominately 11 personnel (three receivers) set. The veteran defensive back played a good amount of reps underneath in zone coverage, as the Eagles played a TON of Tampa 2 coverage against New York. Jenkins was a hook/curl player underneath next to Hicks. The Giants saw the amount of Tampa 2 the Eagles were playing and called a concept that should work wonders against it, the Dagger concept (a concept Eagles fans should be very familiar with this season).

Watch Jenkins feel the dig route here, taking away the passing lane from Manning. The quarterback is forced to check back to the shallow route on the other side, but Bradham takes that throw away. Manning dumps this off to his checkdown for a short gain. This all started with a heads-up play by Jenkins, getting in Manning's throwing lane and forcing him away from what would've been a sure first down.

Shot 7 - Great range here from Jordan Hicks in Tampa 2 coverage as he and two safeties converge on OBJ's deep Post route #Eagles — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 8, 2016

The Tampa 2 scheme was very prevalent on Sunday. The two big staples of that coverage are the two high safeties in your basic Cover 2 look, but also the middle linebacker dropping down into the middle of the field. That's why some coaches and players at times will count Tampa 2 as a three-deep coverage, especially against a linebacker with the range to run downfield. Watch Hicks here on this play open up to his right, the passing strength of the offense, and start to drive down the chute. When he sees the concept the Giants are running from that side, he flips his hips and gets to the back side, reading the deep post from Beckham. Hicks doesn't break this pass up, but his presence along with the convergence of both safeties on the helps this pass fall incomplete. I like to see that kind of range from the starting middle linebacker.

Shot 8 - Huge INT by Hicks in 'Man Free' coverage, created by tipped pass from Barwin. Great play to get offense the ball late #FlyEaglesFly — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 8, 2016

Later in the game, Hicks comes up in an even bigger spot, securing this diving interception to get the ball back for the Eagles' offense late in the fourth quarter in enemy territory. This play comes in Man Free coverage, the same scheme the Eagles were in on the goal line for Hicks' interception last week against Dallas, where he sits as a hole player underneath to read the quarterback's eyes. Connor Barwin loops inside, gets a finger on Manning's pass and gives Hicks the ability to pull in this huge turnover late in the game.

Shot 9 - What ended up being #Giants game-winning TD. 'Scissors' concept downfield vs Quarter Quarter Half coverage. Concept beat coverage. — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 8, 2016

It obviously wasn't all perfect for the Eagles' defense. On the first of four passing touchdowns allowed, the Giants capitalized on a short field with a great route from Beckham and a missed tackle downhill. On the second one, McKelvin and Watkins ran into each other in the secondary. Beckham won on a jump ball down in the red zone after a great release at the line of scrimmage on the third score. Lastly, you can see a true breakdown of exactly how fourth and final touchdown came to be.

The Eagles are in Quarter Quarter Half coverage, with Watkins in half-field coverage. The Giants are running a Scissors concept downfield, and Jenkins gets tangled up with slot receiver Sterling Shepard. With Shepard seemingly not a factor in the concept, Watkins runs toward the post with Beckham from outside in. Jenkins passes Shepard off, thinking he has safety help deep, and the rookie receiver is wide open for a deep touchdown. On this play, the concept beat the coverage, and you have to give a tip of the cap to the Giants for what ended up being the game-winning score. Notice that the Giants began to chip Graham to keep the pass rusher at bay late in the game.

Shot 10 - #Eagles entire Punt Return team was great. Jammers held up, Maragos, Kendricks, Braman, Burton all create perfect lane for Sproles — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 8, 2016

Everyone on the return team did a great job on Darren Sproles' punt return and it nearly resulted in a touchdown.

First, let's study the two jammers. You have rookie C.J. Smith at the top and Terrence Brooks at the bottom of the screen. Brooks blocks his gunner out of bounds, while Smith does a great job in the hold-up phase of the return downfield helping to seal off his man from the returner. Look at the job from Bryan Braman, Smith and Chris Maragos on Sproles' left side to help create a lane for the returner. Brooks, Mychal Kendricks, Trey Burton and Kenjon Barner help create the lane to Sproles' right, and he races for a long return to put the Eagles in scoring range. The Eagles' special teams unit continues to prove itself as one of the best in the entire league, not just from the return game or from the kickers, but from the core special teamers doing the dirty work on plays like this.

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.

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