After looking at the performance on offense against the Rams and pontificating about what that unit will look like with Nick Foles under center, let’s look at the defense's effort from Sunday’s win in Los Angeles. On Sunday night, I came away from the win thinking the game was full of ups and downs, like most fans who watched the game. At times, the defense looked good, but others not so much. Just look at the scoreboard, right? Well after watching the film, I came away with a different outlook on the game.
Was everything perfect for the Eagles' defense against the Rams? Of course not. But when you look at the Rams’ 35 points, seven came off the blocked punt, seven came off a drive that started in Eagles territory, and another seven came off a drive where the Rams got one big play (Cooper Kupp's 64-yard reception) where the Eagles missed a couple of tackles along the sideline. I’m not taking anything away from Los Angeles, mind you, but when watching the game I never got the sense that the Rams were able to sustain long drives.
The Eagles really impressed with their performance against the Rams’ play-action pass game. I wrote last week how important this was to head coach Sean McVay and quarterback Jared Goff. The offense flows through Todd Gurley and the run game, and Goff thrives off play-action passes in the intermediate area of the field. The Eagles' defense saw this on film as well and clearly made it a point to take away those in-breaking routes off of run fakes.
Shot 1 - Chris Long's sack-fumble in the fourth quarter was the play of the game, and it all began with great coverage. The #Eagles did a great job of defending the #Rams play-action pass game all afternoon #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/q0S6WKHPgd — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 12, 2017
Note that there is audio commentary for each of the video clips.
There are five plays above. Defensive end Chris Long’s sack-fumble of Goff was the most important, but the defense took away those in-breaking routes and made it tough on Goff to sit comfortably in the backfield, see things develop clearly in front of him, and deliver the football in each play. This was one of the things that stood out most to me in this game.
Shot 2 - Sack numbers don't tell the story for the impact Fletcher Cox can have on a quarterback in the passing game. Exhibits A & B (with some love for Brandon Graham in Exhibit C). #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/7Y14KICyaq — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 12, 2017
Fletcher Cox was at the forefront of the pass rush against the Rams. The Eagles once again made a point to get him in one-on-one matchups, this time against center John Sullivan, and it resulted in multiple big hits on the quarterback. The Eagles lined up in their five-over-five front, creating a one-on-one matchup for not only Cox, but Brandon Graham as well. Graham affected the final third-down pass play of the game.
Shot 3 - So what happened with the #Eagles defense in the run game vs the #Rams? I looked at three of their biggest runs, what went right, and what went wrong, and how the team turned it around on the final drive #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/LapIPgb0l4 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 12, 2017
Here are three of Gurley’s longest runs from the game. On the first one, you’ve got to tip your cap to McVay and the Rams. They caught the Eagles with a good play call and turned it into an explosive run. On the second play, the Eagles had a missed tackle in the backfield. There was a missed gap assignment in the run fit to create a clear cutback lane for Gurley on the third play. I’m not worried about the run defense, which still ranks first in the NFL, moving forward.
Shot 4 - Missed tackles in the secondary have popped up over the past couple of games, which had been an area of consistent strength for most of the season. One thing to have cleaned up moving forward, but that being said it wasn't ALL bad either #Eagles pic.twitter.com/cSClpBJbBz — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 12, 2017
The Eagles are known as a strong tackling group in the secondary, and on Sunday there was one play that stands out as a poor example of that. On this blitz, Malcolm Jenkins misses Kupp along the sideline, as does Patrick Robinson. This was more the exception, not the rule, against the Rams. All of the defensive backs were involved in the run game and in the quick passing game to limit yards after catch for these Rams receivers.
Shot 5 - I wish I had some funny tongue-in-cheek way to break down this play in a more serious manner....but really great job by Nigel Bradham of reading this play, flying to the football, and helping create the turnover for Brandon Graham's TD. Ices the win for the #Eagles pic.twitter.com/7Dt6Lh6iDs — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 12, 2017
I wanted to show the final play of the game, not just because it helped seal the win and the division (OK, maybe that was the primary reason), but to also show the decisiveness and closing burst from Nigel Bradham, who triggers on the receiver quickly and impacts him as he tries to pitch the ball backwards in desperation, creating the turnover for Graham to run it back for six points.
This wasn’t a perfect game for the Eagles' defense, but it was far from a bad performance. There are things they will look to iron out as they prepare for the stretch run of the regular season, but this is still one of the strongest units in the NFL. And one that can help to carry this team deep into January and beyond.
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.