Philadelphia Eagles News

Eagle Eye: The Return Of Spags

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On Thursday, I gave a thorough breakdown of the New York Giants' offense and what it has done to move the ball consistently and effectively so far this season, so today I turn my attention to the defense. This is a scheme constructed by coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, quarterback Sam Bradford's former head coach and a former assistant here in Philadelphia. Their blitz frequency shifts from week to week, but against certain opponents the Giants sent a ton of pressure. That is something the Eagles will have to be prepared for on Monday night.

When they do bring pressure, the Giants love to bring it straight up the middle. You'll often see Giants linebackers over the A gap (as well as in the B gap) lined up very close to the line of scrimmage.

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On this play against Washington, you see six potential rushers for the Giants, with two linebackers standing up in the A gaps. The Redskins choose to protect this with the center sliding to the left, and the running back, Chris Thompson, stepping up to protect the near-side A gap.

Unfortunately for Washington, Thompson is unable to block linebacker Jonathan Casillas, who brings quarterback Kirk Cousins down for the sack. The Eagles' running backs will have to be prepared to be a part of the pass protection against this Giants team, because interior pressure is a big part of what they do. It's not just the running backs, though, because everyone inside has to be ready for the different looks they can get from New York.

Here's a shot from the same game back in Week 3. Again, you have the Double A-Gap look from the Giants' defense with two linebackers standing up inside. Sometimes they blitz. Sometimes they drop. Sometimes it's a combination of both. On this play, Casillas pretends as if he's dropping into coverage, but he quickly stabs back toward the quarterback and bursts into the backfield. It takes a very heads-up play from center Kory Lichtensteiger to keep Cousins upright. Center Jason Kelce and both guards will have to be wary of all the different combinations of pressure looks the Giants can present.

Another thing the Giants like to do is overload one side of the offensive line, and that was something that showed up multiple times against Washington.

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Washington comes out in an empty set with no one in the backfield with Cousins, meaning that the only form of protection for Cousins is the five offensive linemen.

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The Giants' front alignment on this play essentially cuts the offensive line in half. Linebacker Jon Beason's presence directly over center basically removes him from the play. That leaves three Giants rushers to the left against two Washington blockers.

Safety Landon Collins comes free. Cousins is unable to step into the throw, and what should have been an easy touchdown throw to tight end Jordan Reed falls incomplete. These overload blitzes don't just come against empty sets, however, and it's something that Bradford will have to be ready for when the heat gets turned up on Monday night.

Here's another great example of an overload blitz against Atlanta. This time it's nickel linebacker Uani Unga lining up by himself in the A gap to the right (No. 47). Because of his presence, the Atlanta Falcons slide the protection that way, with the center blocking Unga. That leaves the left guard to block the nose tackle, the running back to block Casillas in the B gap, the right tackle to block defensive end Damontre Moore (No. 98). The numbers add up and make sense for the Falcons from a protection standpoint. What they don't account for, however, is Collins coming from the secondary on a blitz from that side. The Falcons don't have anyone in protection to account for him. Quarterback Matt Ryan, who Chip Kelly would call a "wily veteran," sees the pressure, knows where his hot read is and gets the ball to wide receiver Julio Jones on a quick slant for a first down.

This was a great pressure scheme by Spagnuolo. It was executed well by the Giants' defense, but Atlanta was able to burn the blitz because of heads-up play by the quarterback. Bradford, the offensive line, as well as the tight ends and running backs will all need to be ready for this pressure scheme on Monday Night Football.

It's not just about scheme with the Giants, because they've got strong personnel on that side of the ball as well. Even though cornerback Prince Amukamara is out of the lineup, we all know what kind of a physical talent that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is. They drafted Collins at the top of the second round and they use him in a lot of different ways, including down in the box as a run defender, as a blitzer and as a man coverage player against tight ends. They're getting very good contributions from players like Unga, Casillas and J.T. Thomas at linebacker. Kerry Wynn, a former East-West Shrine Game attendee from Richmond, is now a starter at defensive end and has provided them with a lot of snaps, as has Jay Bromley from Syracuse inside. This team has the second-ranked run defense in the entire NFL, giving up just 80.6 yards per game, and the guy leading the way for them inside is former second-round pick Johnathan Hankins out of Ohio State.

Hankins makes the stop here against Buffalo, and he consistently controls the point of attack against offensive lines in the run game. In my opinion, he single-handedly derailed a Washington rush attack that ate the St. Louis Rams alive in Week 2. He's incredibly stout, tough and has deceptive athleticism for such a big man. He's been one of the Giants' most effective players through five games, and his matchup against Jason Kelce, Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin is one of the biggest in Monday's game.

The other starter inside for the Giants is former Eagle Cullen Jenkins. He started at defensive end for New York a year ago, but with the emergence of Wynn he has now shifted back to his more natural position of defensive tackle, where he's able to win with quickness and burst off the line of scrimmage.

A player I've always found intriguing, both in the NFL and in college at USC, is linebacker Devon Kennard. He played defensive end at the collegiate level, but has been a starter at SAM linebacker for New York and has really fit in well in this scheme. The play he made on this wheel route against Buffalo was outstanding, as the Bills ran a perfect "Cover 3 Beater" against the Giants. Kennard knew what he was up against, stuck with the wheel and made a great play on the ball for an interception. This was a great play by a young player, and I'm anxious to see how the Giants deploy Kennard, who is battling a hamstring injury, on Monday against the Eagles.

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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