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Eagle Eye: Tale Of Two Halves For The 'D'


After going through the Eagles' offense with a fine-toothed comb after the loss to the Detroit Lions, it's now time to look at the defensive performance on film. It was clearly not the kind of performance we had come to expect from this unit after the first month of the season. After not allowing a touchdown pass in three games, the bout with Detroit opened with three touchdown tosses on the first three drives for the Lions and quarterback Matthew Stafford.

How did those drives come to be? As is almost always the case, it was never just one reason. There were a lot of factors. It was very clear throughout the game that the Lions did not plan on having Stafford hold on to the ball for too long in the pocket. There were very untimely penalties in key situations. There were some busted coverages underneath as well. One of the other issues, however, was that early on in the game the Eagles gave up runs on the perimeter.

Shot 1 - One of the things that plagued the #Eagles on opening drive; letting Detroit get outside in the run game. Two examples here. — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 12, 2016

These were two plays from the opening drive that the Lions, were able to get the ball on the edge of the defense with very little window dressing. With the amount of flags that were thrown on Sunday, it was a bit surprising to see a clean field on these two reps. You could make an argument for a hold on either of these two runs. Those are two examples of plays that did not happen often against this unit in the first three games, and it helped to set up the opening score for Detroit. Those plays may not have had much to them from an exotic standpoint, but the Lions definitely busted out some new wrinkles to their offense last Sunday.

Shot 2 - #Lions busted out new wrinkles against this defense, including Golden Tate in the backfield in the pistol on a Sweep play #Eagles — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 12, 2016

Here's a look that no one had seen from Detroit on tape leading up to Week 5, and they likely did it out of necessity. With rookie running back Dwayne Washington out of the lineup, Detroit moved Golden Tate into the backfield on a number of occasions out of pistol formations (the pistol is when you have a quarterback in the shotgun and the running back 3 to 4 yards behind him in the backfield). The Lions ran a handful of sweep plays to Tate, and it was a concept that hurt the Eagles early on. Once the Eagles saw it a couple of times, however, they were able to make adjustments and change the outcome ...

Shot 3 - Same 'Sweep' play to Tate in the third quarter; watch how quickly Jordan Hicks and #Eagles D reacts and rallies to the football — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 12, 2016

Here's the same exact play from the third quarter. The Eagles are down by a point here, and the Lions line up on first-and-10 with Tate in the pistol on a sweep run. Watch how quickly the defense reads this, starting with linebacker Jordan Hicks. See how many defenders rally to the football on the sideline. This was an ongoing theme for the Eagles' defense in the second half, a relentless pursuit to the football that helped hold Detroit to just 45 yards offensively through the last two quarters, most of which came on one play. The run defense had issues on the opening drive, but overall it was very stout after those two longer runs by Riddick. It wasn't just the first-team group making plays up front.

Shot 4 - Run D really stood out after opening drive. Props to @BeauAllen & @MoneyMarcc91 for stopping this run cold for a 4-yd loss #Eagles — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 12, 2016

Here's an example of a great job by Beau Allen and Marcus Smith here. Smith set the edge very well against Detroit, consistently doing his job in the run scheme of forcing things inside. On this play, he's the one who goes backdoor to pull the back down for a loss. Credit goes to Allen as well for getting the initial push. This caused the ball carrier to hesitate in the backfield.

Shot 5 - 3rd and 1. Big stop for Nigel Bradham here, reading his keys, beating 2nd-level block before it happens, and slipping in for TFL — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 12, 2016

Later in the game, it's third-and-1. Watch the job Nigel Bradham does of reading this inside zone lead run from the Lions, attacking downhill and fitting this for a tackle for loss. Because of how quickly Bradham reads this, the double team does not have time to get up to him, and he sneaks into the backfield for a big play. Great job by the veteran linebacker.

Whenever I watch linebackers in college and try to project them to the NFL, I love to see prospects who display a feel for navigating through traffic. Can they maintain their vision in the backfield while also finding their way through a crowd on their way to the ball carrier? That's something that Bradham certainly has a knack for.

Shot 6 - During draft prep I love seeing LBs that have a feel for navigating traffic. Watch Bradham beat block here w/o losing RB on screen — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 12, 2016

It's second-and-10 in the fourth quarter, and watch Bradham make an outstanding play on this screen. Not only does he read the play quickly, but notice how he feels his way through the shallow crossing route. This is supposed to serve as a natural pick for the offense, but Bradham keeps his eyes on the running back and tracks him down in the flat for a 6-yard loss. Outstanding play by Bradham here with the Eagles holding a lead.

Bradham was outstanding, especially in the second half. I never understood the narrative about him "not playing" in the first half. He played 18 of the first 20 snaps (only coming off the field in the dime package) through their first two drives. On the third drive, he still played in base, but the Lions forced the Eagles into their subpackage. The Eagles wanted to get a rotation in because of the long drives they'd already given up. Bradham came off the field in nickel on that third drive which is the same as we've seen through the last couple of games.

While Bradham flashed greatness on Sunday, the player who was consistently dominant in the run game was defensive tackle Bennie Logan. The former third-round pick was considered questionable going into the game thanks to a calf injury he suffered in practice last week. He not only played, but he was a wrecking ball up front for the Eagles.

Shot 7 - The guy that really stood out to me though time and time again Sunday? @dakingson18 was dominant against the run (w/ calf injury) — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 12, 2016

In those three shots, you see the kind of havoc Logan wreaked up front. The Lions benched former first-round pick Laken Tomlinson as a result of Logan's play. With Logan, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham playing at such a high level right now, this is clearly the strength of the Eagles' defense.

Shot 8 - Great pass rush from Fletcher Cox. So explosive off the ball, helps to set up this sack of Stafford #Eagles — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 12, 2016

Speaking of Cox, this was a great pass rush from the Pro Bowl defensive tackle, helping to bring Stafford down for the sack.

This was certainly a tale of two halves for the Eagles' defense. There were lots of positives, especially in the last two quarters, but some things that the coaches will look to work on this week in preparation for the Redskins and their bevy of offensive weapons. I'm really excited to see that matchup on Sunday. Stay tuned for my preview of Washington's offensive scheme Thursday.

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.

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