After taking a close look at Carson Wentz's four-touchdown performance against the Arizona Cardinals, let's change gears and break down the defensive effort. It was a game where the Eagles allowed just seven points on the scoreboard despite the fact that the Cardinals were in catch up mode for most of the afternoon.
What I loved about the victory was that the Eagles never went into autopilot in any phase of the game. The same relentless and aggressive style that got them an early three-score lead carried through until the final whistle. That's why in our very first shot today I want to look at the Eagles' final defensive play.
Shot 1 - This is a 'culture' play. 1 min left in a blowout and you get this kind of hustle from S McLeod and LB Kamu Grugier-Hill (MOVING!) pic.twitter.com/DnC3vcJGKd — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 10, 2017
There's just over a minute left in the game, and a victory is well in hand for the Eagles at this point. Backups at a lot of positions have been on the field for some time. It wouldn't be a surprise if both teams simply coasted until it was time to head back into the locker room. That would not be the case here.
Carson Palmer completes a pass down the left sideline, and watch the effort here from second-year linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill as well as veteran safety Rodney McLeod. Grugier-Hill shows off his freakish athleticism and eye-dropping closing speed, catching up to receiver Jaron Brown at the goal line. McLeod joins the party short of the pylon and knocks the football out to get the Eagles a turnover and a touchback on the forced fumble. This is the kind of culture the Eagles are building at the NovaCare Complex and that kind of effort that late in the game was great to see.
Grounding The Cardinals' Flight Plan
Coming into the game, the Cardinals had a pretty well-defined offensive attack. Head coach Bruce Arians likes to push the ball downfield, so you knew they would take their shots vertically in the passing game, especially if they thought they were facing zone coverage. The Eagles' defense knew that and stayed disciplined on the back end to prevent the deep ball.
Shot 2 - #Eagles knew ARI would take vertical shots attacking zone coverage. Patrick Robinson plays this Switch route beautifully for PBU pic.twitter.com/zZ52e5VX5t — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 10, 2017
Any time you see a Wheel route from a No. 2 receiver, it can be a tricky proposition to defend. Against man coverage, the slot cornerback may have trouble running through traffic to stay hip to hip with his receiver. Against zone, the outside cornerback may get nosy against the in-breaking route from the No. 1 receiver, leaving room along the sideline for the wheel route to make a play. On this rep, cornerback Patrick Robinson did a great job of staying home, passing off the No. 1 receiver into the slot, and peeling off to make a play down the field for an incomplete pass.
The longest pass play allowed by the Eagles' offense was 23 yards on a checkdown to running back Chris Johnson out of the backfield. By taking away the vertical element of the Arizona passing game, the Eagles were able to keep them off the board.
Johnson may have caught a couple of passes on Sunday, but it was Andre Ellington who was thought to be the focal point out of the backfield as a pass catcher. The veteran scat back was targeted 14 times the week before. He is a threat at every level of the field. The Eagles did an outstanding job of keeping Ellington under wraps, and it came from being disciplined and communicative underneath.
Shot 3 - Andre Ellington was targeted 14x two weeks ago; #Eagles did a good job of taking care of the flats and keeping him in check. No YAC pic.twitter.com/NoNzQoNONF — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 10, 2017
On the first play, it's third-and-3 with Malcolm Jenkins lined up against Larry Fitzgerald in the slot man to man (a popular theme from the game). Fitzgerald will run a slant to the inside, with Ellington releasing into the flat. The defender responsible for Ellington, Jordan Hicks, would have trouble running through Fitzgerald and Jenkins on this play to defend Ellington. Luckily, the linebacker wouldn't have to. Watch as Jenkins and Hicks execute a perfect pass-off. The safety brings the running back down immediately to force a punt. On the second play, the Eagles are in zone coverage. Linebacker Nigel Bradham doesn't take the cheese inside, staying home to make a play in the flat against Ellington.
Running backs with Ellington's skill set have burned the Eagles in the past, but on Sunday they were able to keep him largely under wraps. This certainly had to be one of the more frustrating parts of Sunday's game for Arians and the Arizona coaching staff.
One of the staples of the Arizona passing attack in the quick game was the use of stacked formations and rub concepts. I wrote last week that if the Cardinals lined up in a stack on third down, it was almost certain that's where the ball would go. On this play, it was fourth down and, with the stakes even higher, the ball went in the direction of the stack. Robinson stuck his foot in the ground and tackled the catch immediately, keeping the Cardinals short of the sticks to get a turnover on downs. That was great play recognition from the veteran cornerback and a nice job limiting yards after the catch.
Shot 5 - Malcolm Jenkins vs Larry Fitz in man coverage? 2 catches for 1 yard. Lot of fun 3rd down battles between these two on Sunday pic.twitter.com/dHXoAx0YFD — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 10, 2017
The Jenkins-Fitzgerald matchup was a common theme on the day. Overall, Fitzgerald caught two passes for 1 yard in the game when he was manned up on Jenkins. It was interesting to watch the defensive back rotation on Sunday afternoon. Jenkins saw more time in the slot with the return of Corey Graham to the lineup from injury. Robinson, in those situations, would play on the outside. In the 4-3 base defense, Robinson and Graham came off the field. Jenkins slid back to safety and rookie Rasul Douglas stepped on the field at cornerback. This ensured that the young corner still got reps in the Eagles' defense, and helped keep defensive backs fresh against a speedy Arizona receiving corps.
The secondary rotation seemed to take a positive toll on the group overall because it seemed that on every drive a defensive back was making a big hit on an Arizona Cardinal. Whether it was in the passing game or in the running game, Eagles defenders from the secondary came flying downhill to make contact with the ball carrier, dislodge passes, stop screens short of the sticks, or lay a lick in the run game. Jalen Mills, Robinson, Douglas, and the rest of the secondary should be proud of the way they played against this group of explosive athletes on the outside.
Shot 7 - Patrick Robinson had himself a day. Man coverage, zone coverage, deep, short, didn't matter. Read route breaks, found the ball, PBU pic.twitter.com/KpqIJ5fHL0 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 10, 2017
The player who seemed to be the "Johnny on the Spot" against the Cardinals was Robinson, who was in on a handful of pass breakups on the day. I showed the play earlier in zone coverage, and he had a couple more at each area of the field. Robinson was technically sound and extremely disciplined against the Cardinals whether he was jumping routes in the quick or intermediate area, or staying in-phase down the field to find the ball and get it on the ground. This was great to see from the veteran defender.
Down In The Trenches
We all know that the secondary and the defensive front work together in concert. One can't have success without the other, and that was certainly the case on Sunday against Arizona. The Cardinals' offensive line is obviously nothing to write home about, but the Eagles controlled the entire afternoon up front against the run and the pass. It all started with No. 93, Tim Jernigan.
Shot 8 - My weekly obligatory Tim Jernigan sequence of plays where he just whips the guy in front of him and obliterates a ball carrier pic.twitter.com/ZujhqMTm2o — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 10, 2017
It seems like every week I'm showing a handful of shots of Jernigan absolutely destroying the blocker in front of him and manhandling an opposing ballcarrier at the point of contact. He plays with good leverage, powerful hands, and a nasty demeanor that is tough to match down in and down out whether it's against the run or the pass. That mentality will be needed against this Carolina offense on Thursday night ... but I'll save that discussion for later this week.
Vinny Curry got his first sack of the year against the Cardinals, and it came from a great front alignment from Jim Schwartz and the Eagles' defensive staff. The team lined up in a Bear front, which forces a series of one-on-one battles along the defensive line. Curry was matched up on Arizona's left guard, and he was able to win on the outside and finish on Palmer in the backfield for the sack.
I was happy to see Curry get his first sack of the year. He's come close a handful of times and has been so good against the run all season long. Curry brings an energy and enthusiasm to defending the run that doesn't get enough credit. His presence up front is one of the main reasons why the Eagles have only allowed nine runs of 10-plus yards in the NFL (which puts them in the top 10 in the league).
It was a great performance overall from the defense, and it should only get better as the players continue to get healthy. On short rest, they'll be ready to face a Carolina Panthers offense that presents loads of challenges, and it's what I'll break down on Wednesday in preparation for the game.
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.