Saying that the Eagles' defensive performance against the Jets was a fun tape to go back and study may be the understatement of the season so far. Going through the stats after the game was just as fun.
The Eagles became the first team in NFL history to post a fumble recovery for a touchdown, an interception for a touchdown, and 10 sacks in the same game. The performance was one sack shy of tying a team record set by the 1991 Gang Green defense against Troy Aikman, which we actually broke down a couple of years ago over on Old School All-22. We’re going to take a look at all 10 sacks in this article – with some other plays in between.
Let’s start things off with Brandon Graham, who racked up a career-high three sacks against the Jets, moving into sixth all time in franchise history with 45.5 sacks.
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Each of Graham’s sacks came on third down with him lined up inside over the guard. He’s had so much success in that role throughout his career (look at his strip-sack of Tom Brady in Super Bowl LII). After putting some good rushes on film to start the season, it was great to see him get home. It was the first time an Eagle recorded a three-sack performance since last December, when Fletcher Cox posted a hat trick against Washington in the regular-season finale.
Let’s not forget the play Graham made on the first quarter fourth-and-1 play that resulted in linebacker Nathan Gerry’s pick-six. Yes, it’s a great play by Gerry (which I highlighted in this week’s All-22 Review), but BG helps set the play up with his rush which forces Jets quarterback Luke Falk to get rid of the ball earlier than he would have liked, and it turns into a defensive touchdown.
Graham didn’t just get it done as a pass rusher. As usual, he made some really strong plays in the run game as well.
Graham is an extremely active player against both the run and the pass. His ability to win with strength, power, effort, and technique helps set the tone up front for the Eagles' defense.
The big tone-setter, however, was Fletcher Cox. While No. 91 wasn’t able to get home for any of the Eagles’ 10 sacks in this matchup, he made an impact on this game. Not only does he set up some of the sacks for others, but he also affected the quarterback several times on big plays. Cox was also once again stout against the run.
The sacks will come for Cox this season. Sacks can be a bit of a fickle stat, but his impact is unmistakable when you watch the film of the defense's performance from Sunday.
Let’s take a look at some of those sacks now, shall we? The Eagles were very active with their blitz package on Sunday. By my count, they blitzed the Jets on 26 out of 53 offensive plays (removing penalties), or 49 percent of the time. Against the pass, Jets quarterbacks were 8-of-17 for 71 yards, with two picks, three sacks, and a lost fumble.
Those are pretty impressive numbers, but if you follow the math, that means the Eagles got a majority of their sacks out of their four-man rush against the Jets. In fact, Jets quarterbacks were 5-of-8 for 48 yards against a four-man rush, with seven sacks. Here are three of them.
The Eagles ran a number of stunts in this game. We saw T-E stunts (where the tackle runs upfield first with the end looping around), E-T stunts (where the end penetrates and the tackle loops outside), and several three-man games as well. Why? I think with two changes on the offensive line for New York, the Eagles preyed on that lack of continuity by forcing them to communicate quickly to pick up stunts, and it didn’t go well for New York.
As the game went on, the Jets tried different things to keep the quarterback clean. They stayed judicious with the run game. They worked in several screens. They also kept backs and tight ends in as extra blockers on vertical shot plays, but even with max protection, they were unable to keep the quarterback upright.
What I love about these plays is that you get a real sense of how the rush and the coverage are married together. This is not going to be the case on every play, but when you look at big plays on defense around the NFL, it’s a very prevalent theme. You rarely have great coverage plays without a strong rush, and you rarely have great pass rush plays without good coverage. There are exceptions to that, of course, but the two are very reliant on each other to have overall team success, and I thought that happened in this game.
Jim Schwartz dug deep into his bag of tricks and revealed a whole bunch of fun blitz packages against a young, inexperienced quarterback in Falk. Linebackers and defensive backs attacked from all angles. One of those players was cornerback Orlando Scandrick. The Eagles’ slot corner in this game, Scandrick has always been a good blitzer throughout his career in the league, but he never had a performance like the one had on Sunday. The 12th-year veteran became just the fifth NFL defensive back since 1993 to record a pair of sacks and forced fumbles in the same game.
One would think that with Scandrick and Craig James in the lineup, two players who are mostly unfamiliar with the Eagles' scheme, that Schwartz and his staff would keep things relatively vanilla on Sunday. That was far from the case. The Eagles threw the kitchen sink from a pressure standpoint and mixed things up on the back end as well. It was a lot of fun to go back and watch all of the ways they attacked Falk.
These rushes didn’t result in sacks, but keeping Falk and an offensive line that lacked continuity coming into the game up on their toes was certainly a point of emphasis in this matchup.
The Eagles held the Jets to just 3-of-14 (21.4 percent) on third down, only 67 rushing yards (with only 43 of those coming from Le’Veon Bell), a 37.3 quarterback rating (the second-best number under Schwartz in his tenure as the Eagles' defensive coordinator), and allowed just one drive of more than six plays in the game. This was a wounded Jets unit, but it’s certainly a performance the team can build off of moving forward into the meat of a tough schedule.
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show 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 the Journey 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.