Eagle Eye: What Happened On Defense?

It’s easy to say that Sunday was not an ideal performance from the Eagles' defense. There were a lot of reasons for it.

There were missed tackles, untimely penalties, and blown coverages. All of those things are under the unit’s control. Tampa Bay is a vertical shot passing team and Ryan Fitzpatrick is an anticipation thrower who gets the ball out quickly. Head coach Dirk Koetter and offensive coordinator Todd Monken did a great job of finding ways to attack the Eagles in their zone coverage concepts. Their execution on the field paired with their preparation during the week allowed them to take advantage of the Eagles' mistakes. Before we get into the positives of the film, let’s first look at why some of those plays went the Bucs' way.

ALL OF THE VIDEO CLIPS FEATURE AUDIO ANALYSIS FROM FRAN DUFFY

Fitzpatrick was outstanding with his eye manipulation last week against New Orleans, a trait that showed up once again on Sunday against the Eagles. On the very first play, the veteran quarterback dropped back and removed Malcolm Jenkins from the middle of the field with his eyes. By staring to his right, he had Jenkins lean heavily toward the sideline, clearing room for DeSean Jackson to run to the post.

The Eagles were in a form of Cover 3 on the play, with three zone defenders underneath and three deep down the field. Jalen Mills is playing with outside leverage, meaning he is lining up outside of Jackson to force him inside towards his help in Jenkins. With Jenkins not there, it’s nothing but green grass for a 75-yard touchdown. Don’t rip Mills on this play - yeah the visual isn’t good - but this all starts with the eyes of Fitzpatrick.

Later in the game, that eye manipulation shows up again. Fitzpatrick takes the snap, stares to his right, and removes Nigel Bradham from the intended throwing lane. Mills is in off coverage, Mike Evans attacks inside, Jalen believes he has help there as well but it’s taken away by Fitzpatrick. The veteran takes the linebacker out of the play and makes a picture-perfect "second-window throw" to Evans for a score.

I also want to show you a play where Jackson got a big first-down reception in front of Mills. Again, the defense was in a Cover 3 scheme, this time with four defenders underneath. The Bucs line up with tight splits, meaning the receivers are aligned tight to the formation. What that does is force the outside corners off the line of scrimmage even more than normal. Why? If both Jenkins (lined up inside) and Mills (outside) line up close together, there’s potential for an easy pick play that creates an explosive pass on that side of the field for an easy first down and maybe more. The split also gives a receiver like Jackson a ton of room to operate between the numbers and the sideline.

The Bucs know this, and they run a perfect scheme against the Eagles' Cover 3. By running a vertical route directly at Jenkins, the veteran safety is unable to expand and get width as the curl/flat defender underneath. Look at the top of the screen. See how wide Sidney Jones gets? In an ideal world, that’s where Jenkins would be as well. But he can’t get there because he has to first impact the release of the No. 2 receiver attacking down the seam (a soft spot in Cover 3). That little delay from Jenkins, created by the Bucs' route concept, gives Jackson room to run outside, and it was all initiated by that tight split. That’s just an example of impressive gameplanning by Koetter and Monken against the Eagles and their zone coverage schemes.

The Bucs were also able to win one-on-one matchups against the Eagles' defensive backs. On the first play, tight end O.J. Howard catches a pass on an over route and runs right through a Ronald Darby tackle attempt on the way to the end zone. That’s an uncharacteristic play by this Eagles defense. Later, Darby gives up a vertical route to Jackson on a play where DeSean actually flinched before the snap. It should have been a false start, and Darby pleads for one, but D-Jax slyly acts like he is just confirming that he’s on the line of scrimmage. The ball is snapped, Jackson runs by Darby, who tries to get back in phase but gives up the long reception on a back-shoulder throw. To be fair to Darby, he’s probably not expecting this kind of pass to D-Jax, who isn’t known as a "back-shoulder" receiver, but this was a big play in the game.

It wasn’t all bad for the Eagles' defense, and it was able to make some plays in coverage, including two big turnovers that were created by the safety duo.

Rodney McLeod’s presence underneath helped force Fitzpatrick’s only interception. Jenkins later ripped the ball out of Evans’ hands late in the game in what could’ve been a critical play in an Eagles comeback.

I also loved how, early on in the game, the Eagles were able to swallow up Howard on a "throwback" play off play-action, a concept we highlighted here as one the Bucs would almost certainly run against the Eagles.

As far as players who stood out to me for the Eagles, the defensive line really flashed. Fitzpatrick got the ball out extremely quickly for most of the afternoon, so outside of the one sack by Fletcher Cox, the impact wasn’t totally visible on the stat sheet. When you ask any defensive line coach, however, the ball coming out quickly is not an excuse for their players. You may not be able to get home for sacks, but you better retrace your steps and chase throws outside the numbers and you better be able to impact the run game. Derek Barnett, Brandon Graham, Michael Bennett, and Chris Long were consistent with that all day long.

Through two games, the Eagles lead the NFL against the run once again on defense. They’ve allowed just 58.5 yards per game on the ground at just 2.85 yards per carry, both No. 1 in the league. They have yet to allow a five-minute drive offensively.

All of these themes came to a head in the final offensive drive for Tampa Bay. The sequence of plays resulted in a punt, but it ate up too much clock and took the Eagles out of range to strike a death blow at the end of the game. Watch and listen to how that drive unfolded.

A friend of mine messaged me something last night that made me smile on my drive home from the NovaCare Complex. The Eagles hadn’t lost a game that mattered since December 3, 2017. It was a good run.

There are plenty of takeaways for this defense against the Bucs, and things they will work on moving forward into Week 3 and beyond. I’m excited to see how they bounce back on Sunday at home against the Indianapolis Colts.

Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts, Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as the Journey to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. 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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