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Eagle Eye: How did the Eagles deny Aaron Rodgers twice at the goal line?

The run game on offense was a big part of the win over Green Bay last Thursday night, but the big stat in the Eagles' favor was red zone success. On offense, the Eagles scored four touchdowns in four red zone trips. On defense, Green Bay was just 3-of-7, with two turnovers inside the 5-yard line. How did the Eagles turn the Packers away? Let's take a look.


This four-play sequence early in the fourth quarter spells out a lot of things that can happen in a football game. On first down, great technique and discipline by a defensive back got the ball on the ground. On second down, a good defensive call paired with an unfortunate offensive play call forced an incompletion. On third down, Rodney McLeod forced the issue and a mental error helped contribute to another incompletion. On fourth down, the Eagles shut the door across the board, forcing a low-percentage throw on the run in the back of the end zone. This was a hell of a way to end the drive. Of course, the most critical stop came later in the game ...

The game-sealing interception by Nigel Bradham came thanks to a great play by Craig James, understanding that he would likely be targeted in that scenario. James is also aware of just how the offense could try to attack him. This is prime "rub route" territory. James navigates the pick from the slot receiver, plays through the receiver, and gets his hand on the football, knocking it into the air for the turnover. Malcolm Jenkins also, coincidentally, read that play very well, but it would have been incredibly tough for him to make the play in that situation. James needed to be the one to make it, and he came through.

I threw Bradham's near-interception from earlier on this clip as well to make sure it got into the breakdown. This was an awesome play call from Jim Schwartz, who put his unit in position to create a turnover that could have even gone the other way for points. The Eagles bluffed pressure with Bradham, who lined up close to the line of scrimmage. The veteran linebacker even feigned a blitz at the snap, occupying a blocker to prevent a double team elsewhere. Bradham falls back into the passing lane, and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers doesn't see him until it's too late. This was almost a huge play for the defense.

Back to the red zone, it's not just about those goal-line stops. In the first half, the Eagles allowed Green Bay into the red zone a handful of times, and on two drives before the end of the half, they held them to field goals instead of touchdowns. That's a win for the defense every time and it's a turnaround of eight points. I'd say that mattered in a 34-27 result.

This was a pair of great plays from the Eagles' secondary on third down in the red zone, the definition of a "money down." Andrew Sendejo displayed great zone awareness, passing a route off in the middle of the field, getting his eyes back to the quarterback while feeling a route entering his range behind him before flowing to the ball, and making a play.

Later, Rasul Douglas showed great discipline on a double move against one of the best route runners in football in Davante Adams. Double moves have been a thorn in the Eagles' side over the last few years, but this was a great read in this situation. It's third-and-2, Green Bay absolutely could have just thrown a simple slant route to move the sticks. Douglas stayed on top of the route though, got his eyes back to find the football, and made a play on it as if it were catchable.

These two plays forced field goals instead of touchdowns, which, in those situations, is always a good way to end the drive on defense.

Now, what about the defensive line? A lot was written about the lack of sacks from this defense. The Eagles only had one against the Packers, but the line was active all night and consistently made Rodgers feel uncomfortable. Here were the highlights from three of the key playmakers: Derek Barnett, Fletcher Cox, and Brandon Graham.

Don't get me wrong. Sacks are important (as Barnett's critical play showed). But sacks are not the end-all, be-all when it comes to describing how a defensive line played in a game. Barnett, Cox, Graham, and the rest of the line helped keep Rodgers on his toes, forcing him off his spot throughout the night with multiple hits on the veteran quarterback. This was a pretty good game from the line overall.

Lastly, the run defense was once again ridiculously good for the Eagles. Look at these numbers from opposing running backs against the Eagles.

Table inside Article
Opponent Name Carries Yards YPC TDs
Green Bay Aaron Jones 13 21 1.62 1
Green Bay Dan Vitale 1 3 3.0 0
Detroit JD McKissic 1 44 44.0 0
Detroit Kerryon Johnson 20 36 1.8 1
Detroit Tyler Johnson 4 5 1.25 0
Atlanta Ito Smith 4 32 8.0 0
Atlanta Devonta Freeman 11 22 2.0 0
Washington Derrius Guice 10 18 1.8 0
Washington Chris Thompson 3 10 3.33 0
TOTAL 67 191 2.85 2

Opposing running backs averaging just 2.85 yards per carry is an impressive number. Factor in that one of those runs is the 44-yard carry that the Lions got on a trick play with 10 defenders on the field. That counts in the stat sheet, but IF you were to remove that play, that would be 66 carries for 147 yards, which brings the average down to 2.23 yards per carry. That takes a total team effort, from the secondary down to the defensive line. The Eagles have once again proven to be one of the stoutest teams in the league when it comes to stuffing the run.

This was a strong showing against a volatile Green Bay offense that is capable of putting up points in bunches, as it showed on Thursday night. With one of the best defenses in the league (statistically) on the other sideline, I thought the Eagles had the best defense on the field against the Packers.

Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominatedEagles Game Planshow 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 theJourney 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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