Sunday's victory over the Buffalo Bills was a great team win, with plays being made in all three phases. With such a dynamic offense coming to Lincoln Financial Field, I felt it was important to start the week off looking at the Eagles' defense and its performance against quarterback Tyrod Taylor, running back LeSean McCoy, wide receiver Sammy Watkins and company.
It's no surprise who the most dominant player on the field was on Sunday because he has played that way week in and week out for the better part of the last two seasons. Fletcher Cox, who celebrated his 25th birthday in style in the win over Buffalo, was flat out unblockable for most of the afternoon. He forced a number of penalties, was disruptive in the run game and got after Taylor from the jump on Sunday afternoon. It all started on the first series of the game.
On third-and-9 from the 32-yard line, the Bills come out in an empty set. The Eagles present somewhat of an overload look to the offense's right. Buffalo slides the protection that way, with the left guard Richie Incognito and everyone to his right sliding in that direction. Cox, lined up over the center, anticipates this slide protection and shoots into the backside B gap because he knows full well how hard Incognito is going to set inside. Incognito oversets, Cox wins with a "club rip" move and brings Taylor down for the sack to force a punt. That was a great anticipatory pass rush move by Cox, who counted on the overset and used it to his advantage, winning clean off the ball to get a big play for the defense. But what did Taylor see in the secondary?
The Eagles were in a version of Cover 3 that I've always known as "Cover 3 Cloud," a scheme I broke down after the team's first win of the season back in Week 3. At the top of the screen, Eric Rowe gets a hard jam on Sammy Watkins at the line of scrimmage. Safety Ed Reynolds is rolled over the top which allows Rowe to be much more physical at the line of scrimmage. To the bottom of the screen, it still looks like basic Cover 3, but look at the job Malcolm Jenkins does of getting in the throwing lane. Taylor is looking for receiver Robert Woods on the curl route at the sticks, but with Byron Maxwell over top and Jenkins underneath, he has nowhere to go with the football. Cox gets home free for the sack.
Cox was disruptive against the pass all day long. He got his only sack on the first drive of the game, but he was able to consistently affect Taylor throughout the afternoon.
On third-and-15 late in the second quarter, Cox lines up over the center and, on a three-man rush, bulls the center right into Taylor's lap, forcing him to break the pocket and roll to his right. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis had Connor Barwin spying Taylor on this play. You may have noticed the same thing in the previous shot I showed as well. Barwin stays disciplined, containing Taylor and preventing him from running for a first down. Taylor throws an incomplete pass and the Bills must bring the punt team onto the field. Cox got the play started by forcing Taylor off his spot, but he wasn't just dominant against the pass on Sunday. He was a terror versus the run as well.
The Bills are hoping to run a stretch or sweep play here, with the tackle pulling outside and the tight end blocking down on Cox. To quote the Grail Knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, whomever decided that was a good idea "chose poorly." Cox easily defeats the pin block and brings McCoy down after a short gain.
On that play, Cox was making a play from the front side of the run, but on this one he's on the back side. The Bills called a version of the counter run, a scheme that they ran numerous times on Sunday. Cox handles center Eric Wood, and he's in position to stop McCoy for a short gain when he cuts back in his direction. The Eagles' defensive front was pretty gap-sound throughout the afternoon on Sunday, something that was going to need to happen in order to slow down this Buffalo rushing attack. With McCoy and Taylor in the backfield, and the creative way that offensive coordinator Greg Roman and the Bills' staff deploy them, there were a lot of layers and dimensions to this rushing attack. The Eagles had to be very disciplined in their gaps on Sunday.
On this play in the first quarter, the entire defensive front stays disciplined in the run fit, and McCoy has nowhere to go. He is stopped for a 1-yard gain. McCoy was able to get his yards in the first half, but the Eagles' defense bottled him down in the second half, limiting the former Eagle to just 11 yards.
Going back to the pass game, I was interested to see how Davis would attack Buffalo's empty sets. The Bills like deploying empty backfields in certain situations, as many teams do, but with Taylor's ability to beat defenses with his legs, I was interested to see how that would change the way the Eagles defended them, if at all. I've always appreciated the way Davis has been able to attack empty sets in the past, mainly because of the way he's able to create one-on-one matchups with his rushers and get pressure without sending more than four. That was again the case on Sunday.
It's third-and-5 in the second quarter. Buffalo is in an empty set with Taylor by himself in the backfield. With just five linemen in for pass protection, the Eagles match up with five potential rushers lined up in a rush position. This forces Buffalo to go "big-on-big," matching up one-on-one across the formation, preventing any double teams from happening at the snap of the ball. Once the ball is snapped, Barwin and Mychal Kendricks drop into short zones, taking away quick throws and keeping their eyes on Taylor in the backfield. But with their presence on the edge, the damage has already been done. Brandon Graham wins a one-on-one battle against the left guard, a mismatch inside, and forces Taylor off his spot and into an incomplete pass. The defense got off the field with just a three-man rush, but the threat of more helped create a favorable matchup inside for Bill Davis' defense.
In the secondary, I thought that the duo of Maxwell and Eric Rowe had their best game as a cornerback pairing this season. There was physicality throughout the down, discipline in coverage and disruption at the catch point. Everything you would want from those two was on display on Sunday.
On this play in the first quarter, Maxwell is lined up on Watkins man-to-man at the bottom of the screen. After missing the jam, Maxwell runs step-for-step with Watkins down the field. He does a great job shooting his hands through the catch point to get the ball on the ground. This was a great third-down stop to force a punt, and an example of what Maxwell can do with his length to disrupt at the catch point.
That pass breakup from Maxwell came on the series after this touchdown catch. Here are the specifics of that play. The Bills come out with two receivers stacked. The Eagles are playing a coverage called "Cover 1 Robber," with man coverage across the board on five eligible receivers, a single-high safety and the other safety dropping down as a "robber" defender underneath. Watkins runs a go route. Maxwell stutters a bit once Watkins is even with him because he has Jenkins over top of him. Reynolds, who is rotating away from the location of the throw, is late to retrace his steps back to the sideline, and Watkins brings this in for a 47-yard touchdown. On the next drive, Maxwell got the pass breakup, but late in the game, a very similar play helps seal the win.
On the final defensive play of the game, the Eagles were in Cover 1 Robber once again. This time, however, the Bills weren't in a double stacked formation because instead they had a vertical route coming from the No. 3 receiver in a bunch set. Still, a similar-type read was required from Reynolds, who played this ball perfectly and hauled it in for the game-sealing interception, the first of his career, and an Eagles victory.
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.