Head coach Doug Pederson and the Eagles' coaching staff put on a clinic on how to negate a quality pass rusher in Sunday's win over the Chicago Bears, which I detailed in my Eagle Eye in the Sky offensive recap. It's time now to turn our attention to the defensive side of the ball, where we saw a lot of really interesting developments on the field.
Before getting into anything from a schematic standpoint, let's look at No. 91 Fletcher Cox. After studying the film against Chicago, and seeing his performance the previous week against Buffalo, I can say without hesitation that Fletcher is back. It showed up on the opening series.
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Cox was dominant against the Bears in both the run game and in the passing game. His impact didn't always show up in the stat sheet, as he helped set up plays for others with the way he was able to disrupt at the snap of the ball.
With his combination of size and athleticism, Cox is a tough matchup for any offensive lineman. As he's worked his way back to nearly full health, Cox's power and explosiveness have improved each week. Just look at his range on this play when he chases down shifty running back Tarik Cohen outside the numbers!
That level of hustle and competitiveness shows up on film all the time with Cox and with defensive end Brandon Graham as well. That level of energy is infectious to the rest of the defense. There were several examples of defensive linemen giving relentless pursuit from the back side of plays on Sunday, and it was awesome to see.
One player who you saw at the end of that clip above is rookie Anthony Rush, who I thought flashed in this game.
There was nothing flashy about Rush's performance. He's not overly explosive off the ball and he didn't embarrass any Bears linemen with his strength or power or technique. Still, I thought he played well within the scheme, was overly present in his gap in the run game, and helped disrupt their ballcarriers in the backfield to force the action to his teammates. When you factor in plays like this with the run-and-chase play I showed earlier, it was a nice afternoon for the rookie free agent.
I think the schematics of what defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz unveiled on Sunday was equally as important. There have been some new wrinkles in the Eagles' pressure schemes this season, and on Sunday, I thought it was a fun game to watch from that standpoint. One of the things the Eagles have done is the use of the Diamond front, a five-over-five look with five defenders up on the line of scrimmage. This forces one-on-one matchups across the board for the offensive line and wreaks havoc against those protections with stunts and twists.
This is a "tilted" front out of this look, with three defensive linemen (Cox, Graham, and Derek Barnett, three of the Eagles' most dangerous pass rushers) all stacked on one side of the line. The tilted front should sound alarm bells off in the heads of the Bears that they should slide protection that direction with potentially four offensive linemen.
The problem? They can't.
By putting linebacker Nathan Gerry right up on the line of scrimmage, the left guard is unavailable to be a part of the slide protection. He must account for Gerry's presence in case he blitzes. The running back must account for safety Malcolm Jenkins, as he too is up on the line. Neither of those players blitz, but the threat of pressure forces Chicago to stick with a three-man slide toward Cox, Graham, and Barnett. It's three-against-three ... but when Barnett loops inside on a stunt, it quickly becomes two-on-one, with Cox and Barnett rushing on either side of the center, James Daniels. There is no way Daniels can pick up both guys, so Barnett comes in scot-free to quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, nearly bringing him down before defensive end Josh Sweat cleans up for the sack.
This is a great representation of what the Eagles can do up front. It's an outstanding way schematically to break down protections and get free rushers home to the quarterback. Now let's bring it back to the beginning of this piece because having Cox near 100 percent is crucial because he can be such a difference-maker up front. The attention he draws opens things up for others.
This is another tilted" front from the Eagles, except this time on the right side we see Graham, Barnett, and the newest Eagle, Genard Avery, up on the line of scrimmage. The Bears don't slide the protection that way. Why? Instead, they choose to slide the protection toward Cox after the way he's dominated in the trenches all afternoon. This means that the left guard, left tackle, and the running back are responsible for three defensive ends.
Like the last play, the outside rusher, Avery, loops inside on the stunt. The running back tries to pick him up, but he can't get all of Avery who gets home to pick up half a sack. Jenkins, who was once again manned up one-on-one with the running back, inserted himself into the pressure once he saw the back staying in to block, and helped complete the takedown of Trubisky. This was an aggressive man-to-man technique from Jenkins, who has proven throughout his career to be a very effective "green dog" blitzer on plays just like that.
Another interesting development occurred in the secondary, and it's tied into those snaps where we saw Jenkins blocked by a running back.
The Eagles have been a big proponent of using dime personnel (where six defensive backs are on the field with four defensive linemen and one linebacker) throughout the last few years. Typically, they've used three safeties and three corners in those looks. Well, on Sunday, for the first time this year, we saw the use of four corners in the dime package. They had a lot of success out of this look.
With four corners out on the field, the Eagles played a ton of press man coverage on third down (something they did against Buffalo as well), and that tight coverage helped force Trubisky to hold the football a bit longer.
There's also the aspect of how this plays into the move the Eagles made on Tuesday, waiving veteran safety Andrew Sendejo, who had played a ton of snaps as a dime and big nickel player in the Eagles' subpackages. Sendejo's position was a bit more expendable, especially when considering the potential compensatory pick that the Eagles should get in the spring with his departure.
With Jalen Mills, Avonte Maddox, and Ronald Darby all back in the lineup and healthy (and with Cre' Von LeBlanc on the way), this secondary is coming together at the right time, which will be important for this team down the stretch.
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.