For the last time, I'm going to revisit the Eagles' tough loss to the Washington Redskins, a defeat that essentially ended the team's season. With playoff hopes dashed, let's look at this Eagles defense and some of the plays that led to the loss.
On Washington's second series of the game, they drove down the field and hit tight end Jordan Reed for a 22-yard touchdown to try and tie the game up. The Eagles were in Cover 2 Man on this play, a coverage they played often on Saturday night (presumably to ensure safety help over the top against vertical shot plays from the likes of DeSean Jackson). With two safeties deep and straight man coverage across the board, the Eagles are in position to defend the end zone. A play-action fake pulls linebacker DeMeco Ryans up toward the line of scrimmage, and Reed runs right down the seam past the veteran and directly into the void between the two split safeties for a score.
That play happened on first down, but third down was a huge issue for the Eagles' defense, and Washington was able to net a handful of huge plays to move the chains in key situations on scoring drives. Let's take a look at some examples.
This is a very interesting play to break down. It's third-and-5 late in the first quarter. Washington is driving the ball, threatening to score at the 31-yard line. The Eagles are in a version of Man Free coverage, with a single-high safety, a hole player underneath (linebacker Connor Barwin drops out from a three-point stance), five defenders in man coverage (including safety Malcolm Jenkins manned up on running back Chris Thompson) and a four-man rush with linebacker Kiko Alonso blitzing inside. This is a bit of an exotic look from the Eagles' defense, and a well-designed pressure by defensive coordinator Bill Davis without sending extra rushers.
The ball is snapped, and when Jenkins sees that Thompson is staying in to pass protect, he makes a decision. Instead of "green dogging" and adding to the pressure scheme, Jenkins chooses instead to read Kirk Cousins' eyes and help out in coverage (not a bad decision on his part).
Cousins is looking for Reed on this quick in-breaking route in a version of the "Smash" concept. That throw is taken away initially by Barwin, who drops right into the passing lane. Jenkins crosses the formation to give extra help in coverage, forcing Cousins to hold the ball. The four-man rush is unable to get home, however, and Cousins stands tall in the pocket, stays patient and delivers the pass to Reed as his tight end uncovers for a 19-yard gain and a first down. On the next play, Cousins hit Reed over the middle for his second score of the game to put Washington ahead.
Now to the third quarter, and another key third-down conversion for Washington, this time from 10 yards out. Jay Gruden calls a "Dagger" concept here, with a vertical route from the inside receiver and a deep dig from Pierre Garçon. The Eagles are again in a Cover 2 Man look in the secondary, and Garçon picks up 17 yards for a first down to put Washington within striking distance of the end zone.
Three series later, with Washington in the plus territory, the Eagles were once again beaten in a Cover 2 Man look on third-and-long. This time, the Redskins run a simple slant-flat concept. Alonso sugared up near the line of scrimmage as if he's blitzing. He doesn't have enough time to get into the flat to defend this route from the backfield, and on third-and-14 Washington picks up 15 yards to move the chains.
Before you wonder why the Eagles played so much Cover 2 Man coverage, consider this. You only have 11 players on the field, and if you want to protect yourself against the deep ball with two high safeties over the top, you can't do that AND consistently send extra defenders after the quarterback AND double cover other receivers elsewhere on the field. That's why, as I said last week, Washington's offense has turned into a very difficult one to defend because they can beat you in a number of different ways and because the way they deploy their personnel is very hard to stop. Case in point - the final two touchdowns from Saturday night ...
It's third-and-six on the 12-yard line, and the Eagles are in their dime package with six defensive backs on the field. Davis calls for Man Free coverage on the back end, with Ed Reynolds as the single-high safety and Malcolm Jenkins as the hole player underneath, a role we've seen him in many times throughout the season. Having Jenkins play in the middle of the field like that also allows him to help with any of the Redskins' weapons inside, including Reed and Garçon.
Looking across the formation, Eric Rowe is lined up over DeSean Jackson, Jaylen Watkins is manned up on Garçon, E.J. Biggers is in the slot over Jamison Crowder, Walter Thurmond is over Reed and Alonso is manned up on Thompson.
Before the snap, Thompson (a very talented receiver) motions to the boundary side, stacked behind Garçon on the numbers. Alonso walks out over him, alerting Cousins that the Eagles are in man coverage. Unfortunately for the Eagles, Washington has just the route concept to beat man coverage called for this play. With Garçon stacked on top of Thompson, the receiver runs a corner route. Thompson breaks outside before cutting back inside across Alonso's face on a slant route. Alonso overplays the initial stem from Thompson, and isn't in position to defend the route inside, as Thompson goes in for the touchdown.
Davis changed things up the next time they were in the situation, because two series later the Eagles were in another third-down situation down in the red zone. It's third-and-goal from the 13-yard line, and the Eagles actually play a snap of "Dollar" defense with seven defensive backs on the field. The Eagles are in Cover 2 Man, and here is how the defensive personnel is distributed: two high safeties (Reynolds and Chris Maragos), four rushers and five man defenders. Rowe stays on DeSean and Biggers on Crowder, but here are the changes that came with the personnel substitution. Thurmond, a former cornerback, covered Garçon on the outside, with Jenkins manned up on Reed. Watkins, a cornerback, lined up against Thompson. This time, a sluggo route from Garçon beats Thurmond in the red zone for a 13-yard touchdown to further seal the victory for Washington.
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.