After looking at the offense's performance against the Minnesota Vikings, it's now time to study a stout defensive outing against a tough unit to keep out of the end zone. The Eagles gave up a touchdown on the opening drive and, after that, kept the Vikings from scoring.
To me, the defensive performance all started up front with another nearly dominant outing from the defensive line. Fletcher Cox was phenomenal once again, making plays in the run game and generating pressure on Case Keenum all game long. Tim Jernigan owned the line of scrimmage. Brandon Graham was his usual relentless self. Vinny Curry was active against the run and the pass. Derek Barnett had, arguably, the biggest play of the entire game. Chris Long was outstanding all night long. Here are some of my highlights from the group, starting with No. 91 on the inside.
Note that there is audio commentary for each of the video clips.
Shot 1 - Fletcher Cox has been on fire in the postseason. He's been incredibly disruptive through two games. Here's a handful of examples from last Sunday vs the #Vikings #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/nAwMW7lGRL — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) January 25, 2018
Shot 2 - As Bill Belichick said earlier this week, it's not the Front 4 with the #Eagles, it's the Front 8 or 9. Depth has been a huge reason for the success up front, and several backups and rotational players stood out vs #Vikings. Jim Schwartz blitzed less as the game went on pic.twitter.com/MWWNxIt4yS — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) January 25, 2018
Shot 4 - Derek Barnett made the play of his career on Sunday, arguably the most pivotal play of the game that swung the momentum in the #Eagles favor for good, and it all started with the alignment of Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/yB0cULjlFi — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) January 25, 2018
Barnett's sack and forced fumble was perhaps the pivotal point of the game, but the momentum absolutely flipped for the Eagles with Patrick Robinson's interception return for a touchdown. The Eagles were beaten in off coverage a few times early in the game, and I believe Keenum thinks he has off-man coverage on this play. Jim Schwartz throws him a curve ball, however.
Shot 5 - The pick six for Patrick Robinson tied the game at 7 in the first quarter. The #Eagles played in Quarter-Quarter-Half coverage, not a common scheme for this unit, and Chris Long wins 1-on-1 to help force the errant throw #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/WhBiCOYCaD — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) January 25, 2018
The Eagles played a rare rep of Quarter-Quarter-Half coverage on this play, a combo zone coverage where you have one side of the field playing Quarters coverage (known by some as Cover 4), while the other side is playing Cover 2. Robinson, aligned in an off-coverage technique, gets underneath this throw from Keenum and picks it off. Give a ton of credit to Chris Long, who flew past the right tackle and got his hand on the quarterback's armpit as he threw the ball. This affected the pass and caused it to float right into Robinson's chest. Ronald Darby gets plastered here on the return, but his effort on the block helped usher Robinson into the end zone to get the Eagles on the board and tie it up at seven.
Robinson's interception came while the Eagles were in nickel, with five defensive backs. The Eagles played a lot of nickel on Sunday against the Vikings, as they have all season. It's important to note, however, that the Eagles actually have two nickel packages. You have the "regular" nickel package with Robinson in the slot, but you also have another with safety Corey Graham in the slot as the "big nickel." Against a team like the New England Patriots, with versatile chess piece players like Rob Gronkowski, James White, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, and Dwayne Allen, the Eagles need to be able to find ways to match up to them. Corey Graham could be one of the answers to that question.
Shot 6 - Defending the run out of their nickel and 'big nickel' sets could prove to be PIVOTAL against the #Patriots next week, and I thought the #Eagles did a good job at that vs the #Vikings pic.twitter.com/WAtSay23f3 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) January 25, 2018
With that in mind, defending the run out of their nickel and big nickel packages will be imperative against the Patriots. This is something they did very well against Minnesota, but keep that in mind on Super Bowl Sunday.
Shot 7 - Something else you'll see from the #Patriots next week? Rub routes for WRs and RBs out of the backfield. The #Eagles did a nice job handling these kinds of plays on Sunday vs the #Vikings pic.twitter.com/M7ZO6WbWxr — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) January 25, 2018
The other thing you'll definitely see from the Patriots next Sunday is rub routes. That offense is very good at beating man coverage with the use of skill players running as interference in the middle of the field. One of my takeaways from the film against the Vikings was how well the Eagles' defense covered up these rubs from Minnesota. Here are two examples. These type of plays require communication pre-snap and then execution post-snap to keep them locked down. It was good to see both in play against the Vikings.
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.