The New York Jets are going to be a tough test for the Eagles on Sunday afternoon. A lot of the focus has been put on head coach Todd Bowles and his defensive scheme. This is a pressure-based defense that uses primarily man coverage on the back end. It's a scheme that the Eagles have seen each of the past two years with Bowles out in Arizona. They're extremely talented at all three levels of the defensive unit, and it all starts up front.
For the past year, I've said numerous times that I would put the Eagles' three-man defensive line of Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan and Cedric Thornton against any other in the league. I would put this Jets unit right up there with them in the same tier. Muhammad Wilkerson, a former first-round pick from Temple, has outstanding size and athleticism for the position. Leonard Williams, the team's top pick this past spring, has been thrown into the fire early and has played very, very well from the start of the preseason up to this point. Damon Harrison is also very stout inside and can make plays in opposing backfields. This doesn't even factor in former first-round pick Sheldon Richardson, who is out of the lineup due to suspension.
On this run play against Cleveland, you can see the talent of both Williams (No. 92) and Wilkerson (No. 96) come to the forefront. Williams flashes color inside, forcing the runner to cut back into the waiting arms of Wilkerson, who defeats a block and makes a play from the back side. Bowles' defensive front utilizes a lot of different looks, places their linemen up and down the formation and employs both one- and two-gap techniques along the line.
On this play later in the game against the Browns, Wilkerson eats up two blocks, allowing linebacker David Harris to get into the backfield to make the stop. Both Wilkerson and Williams have the ability to shoot gaps and run past blocks, as well as stand tall and hold up at the point of attack. It will be imperative for the Eagles that they do not let these two players wreck the game on Sunday afternoon, particularly against the run.
When the Jets aren't pressuring offenses with their wide variety of blitz packages, they've spent most of their time playing what's called two-man coverage, with two high safeties splitting the field into halves on the back end and straight man coverage underneath. We haven't really spent a lot of time breaking this down before, but it's a concept I saw a lot from this defense through the first two games.
When you hear analysts or coaches talk about cornerbacks "playing to their help," you're often talking about a corner funneling a player inside to a high safety or hole player underneath (playing with outside leverage), or you're talking about a corner directing a player toward the sideline because he has no safety help (playing with inside leverage). With two-man, the corners have help and they're able to play to it in a very specific way.
This is a play from the Jets' win over Indianapolis on Monday Night Football. Look at the way Darrelle Revis plays this at the top. He's able to undercut the route because he knows he has that safety help over the top. This is why you'll see Jets cornerbacks often undercut these routes, almost allowing the receiver to get past him and play underneath of him. If the Jets are in two-man coverage, you're always going to have that safety there in protection, so you're able to take away the throw underneath with little fear of getting beat over the top. Revis does just that and takes advantage of a poor throw from Andrew Luck to come away with the interception.
Here's another play against the Colts, this time from the fourth quarter. Again, you've got a version of two-man coverage from New York, but this version is a little bit different ...
This is what NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell likes to call "the Revis Effect." This is a two-man coverage, but what it ultimately turns into is double coverage at the top of the screen and double coverage in the slot. Revis is left all alone against receiver T.Y. Hilton, erasing him from the play. The slot corner, Buster Skrine, and safety, Marcus Gilchrist, take away Andre Johnson on this play, as Gilchrist comes away with the tiptoe interception along the sideline for the Jets' fifth turnover of the game.
There's more to this play than just the coverage though, and this is a facet the Eagles will have to be prepared for. When the Jets are in two-man coverage, they aren't just sending a basic four-man rush. They run a number of different stunts and games up front with their defensive line to try to create pressure and force the ball out quickly, something that happened on this Gilchrist interception.
The Jets are running a twist here with their two defensive tackles. First, Leger Douzable flashes inside, crossing the face of the left guard. The guard, thinking (correctly) that another rusher will be coming into his area, has his eyes up to the linebacker Harris, who initially steps up as if he's coming. However, Harris is actually in man coverage against the running back out of the backfield. The guard is so focused on the linebacker potentially coming that he doesn't even see the 6-5, 320-pound Wilkerson looping around into the A gap, forcing an early throw from Luck for the interception.
Pressure is a huge facet of what the Jets do on defense, and they get pressure in a multitude of ways. Whether it's with four-man rushes using twists and stunts, five-man pressures where they just blitz one second-level defender or six-man all-out blitzes, they aim to get to the quarterback as quickly as possible.
On this play against Cleveland, it's a simple five-man pressure, with linebacker Demario Davis coming into the A gap.
The Jets are in man coverage on the back end, playing Cover 1. Safety Calvin Pryor (No. 25) and Harris (No. 52) are manned up on the tight end and running back, respectively. This is where the beauty is in man pressure.
When Pryor and Harris see that the tight end and the back are both staying in to protect quarterback Johnny Manziel, they now insert themselves into the blitz. So what was, at first, a five-man pressure now turns into a seven-man blitz. This is a concept commonly referred to as "Green Dogging" by the defenders. The result is Manziel getting the ball out to the perimeter, where young corner Marcus Williams makes the interception. Williams, a North Dakota State grad, has turned into nice player as he continues to develop as a reserve corner. He played a good amount of snaps against the Browns thanks to an injury to Antonio Cromartie. With Revis, Cromartie, Skrine and Williams (as well as Darrin Walls and Dexter McDougle), the Jets have a deep, athletic and competitive group of cornerbacks. This allows them to play the amount of man coverage that is required for this scheme, and gives them the ability to press receivers at the line of scrimmage early and often.
Here's another play with the Jets playing man coverage, this time with Cover 1 on the back end. Cover 1, in its most basic form, has one safety high, man coverage underneath and comes with a five-man pressure concept, something you see here from the Jets.
With two linebackers lined up in the A gaps on both sides of the center, the Browns slide the protection to the right. The center will block the A gap defender to his right, while the running back will step up and take the A gap defender to the left. This is a pretty basic way to protect against a double A-gap look when you draw it up on the whiteboard.
But the way you draw it up on the whiteboard has to carry over to the field, and the running back fails to hold up in protection, allowing the sack. Interior pressure right in the face of the quarterback is detrimental to any offense, and there will be added responsibility on the Eagles' running backs to stand tall in those Double A-gap looks.
Here's another Double A-gap pressure look from the Jets against Cleveland. Undoubtedly, the Browns will block it the same way, with the center blocking one of those defenders and the running back blocking the other. The guards and tackles fan out and block the rest of the linemen, and it's a solid six-on-six in protection, right? Wrong!
This is actually going to be a Triple A-gap pressure from Bowles and the Jets defense! Pryor, lined up in the slot and disguising his blitz very well, isn't even a factor in the protection before the snap, and why should he be? He is showing very little indication at this point that he is going to come after quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Now, there seems to be a bust here in the protection for Cleveland, as both the center and guard go to the same defender. Even if they were right, they were in a lot of trouble on this play. There's no way that either the center or guard would have been able to block both of those defenders on the left side. Manziel misses his hot read on the play, who is looking for the ball on the left. The quarterback is forced from the pocket and makes a desperation throw on the run. The Eagles, by my count, saw four of those Triple A-gap blitzes a year ago in Arizona against this scheme. I'm anxious to see how many Bowles will roll out on Sunday afternoon.
This all may seem like a very scary proposition if you're an Eagles fan. With the great talent the Jets have both up front and in the secondary, paired with the fact that they have a hyper-aggressive defensive system that attacks protections and forces turnovers, how will the Eagles move the ball on Sunday?
The answer is simple.
They have to execute the plays that have been successful for them the past few years, certainly better than they did a week ago against Dallas. The types of plays the Eagles run are effective against man coverage - crossing routes, screens, deep over routes and a lot of the other concepts are the types of things that are proven "man beaters." But you have got to protect your quarterback, the receivers have to win their one-on-one battles and the quarterback has to deliver the ball accurately and on time to his targets in the passing game.
Against pressure, the important thing for the Eagles will be to "burn the blitz." When New York comes with pressure, Sam Bradford has to make them pay by putting the ball into the soft spots of the defense by getting it out quickly and accurately.
Look at this play from Manziel in Week 1. New York brings pressure off the edge and Manziel (unlike the last play I just showed you), knows where the hot read is and gets the ball out quickly for a 13-yard gain. We've seen this kind of decisiveness from Bradford, both here in Philadelphia and throughout his career. It'll be up to him to execute it on Sunday, and to connect on this quick-hitters to make the defense pay for bringing extra players with pressure.
Now, keep in mind, the Jets know this. They know that teams try to get the ball out quickly in the direction where the blitz is coming from. That's why they gave the Colts and Andrew Luck so much trouble on Monday night, and they work to take away those quick-hitting throws with personnel and with their scheme.
This is one of the rare shots of zone coverage you'll see from the Jets (keep in mind, it's not ALL man coverage ALL the time). They're bringing some pressure off the edge, and middle linebacker David Harris shows blitz before backing off into his zone. Tight end Coby Fleener, the hot route for Luck on this play, is running a quick slant inside. Harris sees it, leaves his area of responsibility, takes the throw away and brings up fourth down after Luck is called for intentional grounding. This was a great heads-up play by Harris to know the defensive call, understand how the offense would combat it and work to counteract off of that reaction.
I mentioned scheme being a factor as well. It's something the Jets used to lure Luck into an interception early in the game.
This is a six-man pressure from New York. Luck feels pressure coming from his left, so it's only natural that he looks for his hot read coming from the left side of the field, veteran receiver Andre Johnson.
There's only one problem. The Jets dropped Douzable back in coverage knowing full well that the area he is dropping into is a soft spot where a quarterback would like to get the ball into when he's feeling pressure. Douzable is aware of this. He sees Johnson crossing the field, gives him a shove (within the 5-yard limit) and Pryor picks this off for a big interception.
Last year, I thought the Eagles did a good job attacking the Arizona blitz schemes, and as I mentioned earlier it comes down to skill players winning their one-on-one battles.
On this play, a straight Cover 0 Blitz from the Cardinals and Bowles, Jordan Matthews wins inside, Nick Foles gets the ball out quickly and the Eagles pick up a first down. These are the types of things you'll need to see from the Eagles to attack this team on Sunday, particularly in the middle of the field.
That was a play from last year, but I went back to the 2013 game at Lincoln Financial Field as well to watch this matchup of the Eagles' offense vs. Bowles' defense in Arizona.
Arizona lines up in two-man coverage here, something we could see on Sunday.
This time it's Zach Ertz coming up with the big reception down the field, winning off the snap against the Arizona defender and getting into open space. If the Eagles can protect against the Jets' pressure scheme, the skill players have to win their one-on-one battles. If they can do that, that's going to be their recipe for success in the passing game. Check back on Friday when I preview the Jets' offensive attack, and what the Eagles will have to watch out for when Chan Gailey's unit takes the field.
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.