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Eagle Eye: The Defense In Dallas

The Eagles' offense missed out on too many opportunities on Sunday night against Dallas, which I covered in Monday’s piece. The same can be said about the defense. There was still far more good than bad when reviewing the film this week. Going into the game, so much emphasis was placed on stopping Ezekiel Elliott and the top rushing attack in the NFL. For the most part, the Eagles did that. His 96 rushing yards were the lowest output since Week 2, and outside of a couple of chunk plays the Eagles kept him bottled up throughout the night, which meant a full team effort.

Shot 1 - Team run D was very strong vs Dallas. Great job here by Beau Allen, Connor Barwin and Nigel Bradham front-side vs Stretch play — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 1, 2016

It's the first play of the game, and the Cowboys go right to their staple run play, Outside Zone. Give credit to all three playside defenders, Connor Barwin, Beau Allen and Nigel Bradham, who force the ball back to Brandon Graham, who collapses from the back side for a 1-yard gain.

Shot 2 - Great job by Destiny Vaeao getting penetration vs Outside Zone. Forces cutback to waiting Graham/Jenkins for TFL #FlyEaglesFly — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 1, 2016

Two series later, the Cowboys go back to that same run with a similar result. This time, Destiny Vaeao bench-presses the left guard into the backfield, getting penetration and wrecking this play from the snap. Elliott is forced to cut back, where Graham slipped into his gap and Malcolm Jenkins filled in from the back side to finish a tackle for loss.

Shot 3 - Watch Jordan Hicks and Mychal Kendricks erase the double teams here with their decisiveness downhill. One-gap defense vs the run. — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 1, 2016

Here is another great example of a perfectly fitted run by the Eagles' defense from later in the game. Two double teams against Vaeao and Barwin happen at the snap, but watch how quickly Jordan Hicks and Mychal Kendricks press the line of scrimmage. This is a theme I touched on in last week’s Eagle Eye video segment. The two linebackers' decisiveness help erase those two double teams. Kendricks sets the edge perfectly in the D gap, and Hicks finishes up in the backfield.

Shot 4 - Great job by Kendricks feeling this crack block; but give credit to McLeod as well flying downhill #FlyEaglesFly — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 1, 2016

It wasn't just the Outside Zone play that the Eagles stuffed, but they also did a great job against Dallas' sweep play. The players to notice here are Kendricks (who effectively defeats the crack block from the receiver outside and gets to the ball), Hicks (spilling over the top and outrunning All-Pro guard Zack Martin to the perimeter) and safety Rodney McLeod (who flew downhill and ate a block by tackle Tyron Smith, but still managed to force Elliott further outside). Team run defense was a consistent factor in this game, and it's something I'll touch on in this week's video segment on and our app on Wednesday morning.

Shot 5 - Fletcher Cox had a great game Sunday vs Martin/Frederick, especially vs the run. Trio of plays here of him impacting ground game — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 1, 2016

One player who I was excited to see on Sunday was Fletcher Cox. He had a really tough battle two weeks ago against Washington's Brandon Scherff, and he had another fight on his hands with Dallas' duo of Martin and center Travis Frederick. This was a really fun matchup to watch in the trenches play after play. Cox had more than his share of wins in the run game. On all three plays, Cox dominates at the point of attack and finishes on the ball carrier for big stops on the ground.

Shot 6 - Cox does a great job vs this double team here, helping to keep Bradham and Jenkins free for a short gain on the ground #Eagles — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 1, 2016

Cox wasn't always just making plays on his own because he set up teammates just as often. Watch him hold up this double team, keeping Martin at the line of scrimmage to keep Nigel Bradham clean.

For the second week in a row, Jim Schwartz and the Eagles' defense brought heat on the opposing quarterback with extra rushers. The Eagles blitzed quarterback Dak Prescott more than any team had done all season, and they did it in a variety of situations and from a multitude of looks. There were zone exchanges where defensive linemen dropped out and linebackers inserted in a four-man rush. They sent Cover 0 blitzes with six defenders after the quarterback and no safety help in the secondary. There were pressures on first down and on third down. They sent pressure in the red zone as well as in the middle off the field. It was a very effective strategy against the rookie quarterback, constantly keeping him guessing in the backfield.

Shot 7 - Cover 0 pressure from Schwartz here vs Dak, who can't step into the throw on an incompletion on 3rd down #FlyEaglesFly — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 1, 2016

Here's a third-down pressure from Schwartz against Prescott. It's a rare Cover 0 look from the defensive playcaller. Six defenders go on the rush here, leaving just five in man coverage with no help in the middle of the field. Prescott's feet aren't settled and he throws an incomplete pass early in the down to make the Cowboys settle for the field goal.

Shot 8 - Another Cover 0 pressure from Schwartz vs Prescott. Ball comes out quickly, which Leo McKelvin expects as he gets a PBU #Eagles — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 1, 2016

Here's another Cover 0 pressure from Schwartz. You get to see one of the positives as a defensive back in this kind of scheme. Leodis McKelvin knows this ball will likely come out fast because the defense is sending more than the protection can block. McKelvin jumps this hitch route outside and gets the ball on the ground for a pass breakup. Great awareness by the veteran and a well-designed pressure by Schwartz.

With under two minutes left and the score tied at 23, the Cowboys had the ball around midfield with a chance to win the game. Schwartz came out and brought the heat on the rookie quarterback. End result? A win for the Eagles' defense.

Shot 9 - 1:42 left. Tie game. 3 plays. 3 blitzes by Schwartz vs Dak. 3 and out for #Eagles defense. — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 1, 2016

Three plays and three different pressures from Schwartz for three incomplete passes.

On the first blitz, it's a five-man pressure with one safety in the middle of the field. McLeod is the extra rusher from his safety spot. Hicks, manned up on the tight end, "green dogs" and becomes a blitzer when he sees Jason Witten stay in for protection. Bradham does the same when he sees Elliott block McLeod. Bradham is the one who forces Prescott to break the pocket and overthrow this pass to Dez Bryant.

On the second blitz, the Eagles send a Cover 0 blitz. Prescott smartly gets this ball out quickly. His pass downfield dies midflight, however, and falls incomplete.

On the third and final blitz of the series, the Eagles again go Cover 0. Hicks loops inside to become a free rusher on Prescott, who is unable to compete this pass downfield to bring on the punt team.

Shot 10 - Same blitz concept that got Bradham sack vs MIN works again, this time for Barwin on final play of regulation #Eagles — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 1, 2016

On the second play of the next series, the Eagles went back to the blitz, this time with a zone-exchange pressure that should look familiar. It was the same play that netted Bradham a key sack against Sam Bradford a week ago. The Eagles show pressure from their left before the snap. The offense shifted the protection that way, but Bradham rushes from the right side. Left tackle Tyron Smith picks up Bradham, leaving Barwin all alone as he sacks Prescott at the end of regulation to force overtime.

It wasn't all sunshine and rainbows for the Eagles' defense. It did give up a 10-point lead (twice) in the fourth quarter to let the Cowboys back in the game. The Eagles weren't helped by a short field after a fumble by Wendell Smallwood, but it was one drive in particular where a few key plays changed the outcome of this game.

Shot 11 - 3 plays killed #Eagles on game-tying drive. Tip of the cap to Dallas on play design and execution for first two; D loses QB on 3rd — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 1, 2016

The Eagles are up 23-16 with just over five minutes left. It's first-and-20 with the ball on the 12-yard line. The Cowboys go the distance here on this drive, tying the game with a touchdown from Prescott to Bryant. These were the three plays that stood out to me.

You have to give a tip of the cap on the first-down call. The Cowboys faced a long first down after a holding call, and they run what I call a Wrap concept that brings Bryant toward the middle of the field on a dig route. The linebacker underneath is held up by the route from Witten, so there's a nice clean throwing lane for Prescott to hit his favorite target for 15 yards. That's just a really good play by the offense against the Eagles' zone coverage, but still a tough pill to swallow.

Three plays later on first-and-10, the Cowboys call another great pass play. This time, it's a simple high-low play toward the sideline; a Flat Seven concept with Witten in the flat and a corner route from receiver Brice Butler, who runs a great route to attack McKelvin's leverage downfield and break open outside the numbers. Follow that up with a great throw by Prescott along the sideline and you have another Dallas first down.

Four plays after that on second-and-10, the Eagles are in man coverage. Prescott drops back and finds a running lane to his left and takes off for a 12-yard gain and a first down. This was a crushing run, and a play that set up a two-play sequence that tied the game.

Shot 12 - Pressure gets Jenkins home free vs Prescott. Rookie makes an ill-advised throw that's nearly picked off. Would've ended the game. — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 1, 2016

On the play immediately following the Prescott scramble for a first down, the Eagles blitz the rookie again this time with Jenkins coming free off the edge. Prescott starts to his left, senses the pressure and rolls to his right. Jenkins tracks him down and wraps up his lower body, and Prescott makes an extremely ill-advised throw to the right. McKelvin is lying in wait after a great pass-off between he and Jalen Mills, and he dives for what appeared to be a game-clinching interception. The ball hits the turf, however, and Dallas keeps the ball for another play.

Shot 13 - Next play Prescott hits Dez for the tying TD. Carroll plays fade over top, ball is underthrown for back shoulder. Great catch Dez. — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 1, 2016

On the very next play, Prescott hits Bryant for the game-tying touchdown in the end zone. Carroll was in man coverage on the play, and appeared to be playing the fade over the top. The ball was underthrown, as Prescott was perhaps aiming for the back shoulder. Bryant made a play that further proves why he's one of the most talented receivers in the league, going over top of Carroll and pulling it in for the score.

Shot 14 - I thought Carroll competed well with Dez all game long pre-TD. Aggressive, disrupted at every level. Good to see. #Eagles — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 1, 2016

The worst part about the Bryant touchdown was that I thought Carroll matched up really well with Dez all night long. Whether it was short, intermediate throws against pressure or downfield throws on double moves, Carroll was competitive with the All-Pro receiver from start to finish. Give Bryant a ton of credit on the final touchdown.

Shot 15 - 24 yards to Beasley in OT. GREAT pocket movement by Prescott. Same route by Beasley that J-Matt ran on OT TD last year vs Dallas. — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 1, 2016

Fast-forward to overtime, and the play that really set the tone for Dallas on the drive. It was the third play, a first-and-10 situation. Cole Beasley is lined up in the slot and runs the EXACT same route that Jordan Matthews ran on the game-winning score against the Cowboys in Dallas in overtime last year. Beasley secures the catch for a gain of 24 yards to put the Cowboys in scoring range. This was also a great play by Prescott, who steps up in the pocket against pressure with two hands on the football to deliver a pinpoint pass to his receiver for a first down.

Shot 16 - Game-winning TD. McLeod a free player here. Takes away Prescott's first read. QB breaks pocket, McLeod runs into Jenkins. TD. — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 1, 2016

Nine plays later, the Cowboys finished the game on this touchdown throw from Prescott to Witten. The Eagles were in Man Free coverage on the goal line, with Jenkins manned up on Witten and McLeod as a "free" player in the middle of the field, reading Prescott's eyes. The quarterback starts left, and McLeod drifts to take away the throw. Prescott feels the coverage and starts to run to his right, McLeod follows and runs right into Jenkins, knocking him to the turf. Prescott raises his eyes again to find Witten in the end zone wide open. Game over.

Shot 17 - Same part of field, same coverage earlier in the game. Hicks reads Prescott perfectly. Takes away inside slant, falls off for INT — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 1, 2016

Before the end of the first half, the Eagles were in the same situation down inside the 10-yard line, also on second down. The Eagles were in the same coverage on the play, and watch Hicks as the "hole" player in Man Free. He helps take away the first slant inside by Witten, then reads Prescott's eyes and gets to the backside slant, intercepting this throw. Same situation in overtime, just a much different result.

The Eagles' defense played well for a majority of Sunday's game, but a series of tough plays late changed the outcome. They'll have a tough task against a Giants offense this week that can put up points at ease with its explosive assortment of receivers.

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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