Eagle Eye: Why Didn't The Defense Play More Press Coverage?

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Things went very well for the Eagles' offense on Sunday against New York. There are some things to clean up, but I think fans are happy with that performance in a game that clinched a first-round bye. On the other side of the ball, however, fans are a bit more anxious. It was not a great defensive effort against the New York Giants. There’s no sugarcoating it.

In the last couple of games against Seattle and Los Angeles, I think the idea that the defense was not performing well was a bit overblown. This week, however, there were real issues that resulted in big plays for touchdowns. However, the big plays themselves didn’t bother me as much as the constant conversions in key situations for the New York offense. As Jim Schwartz said on Tuesday, the issues were penalties and third downs early in the game. If the Giants needed 5 yards, they got 6. If they needed 9, they got 11. The Eagles would give up a quick gain and then would get beaten on a big play, and those shorter gains were the needles that stung the worst at the end of the day.

Before we dive into the defense, however, let’s start with the special teams. The Eagles became the first NFL team since 1991 to block an extra point, a field goal, and a punt in the same game. The punt block by Kamu Grugier-Hill, in particularly, was really fun to break down.

Shot 1 - The punt block from Kamu Grugier-Hill was REALLY fun to break down. Very similar to Double A Gap pressure on defense, the #Eagles and Dave Fipp schemed this up over two plays to get Kamu home free for a block. Great design and execution. #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/4NYmxRa66h — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 19, 2017

Note that there is audio commentary for each of the video clips.

I haven't seen this blocking scheme from the Eagles, or even the formation, all year long. The only time I’ve really noticed it in the limited special teams footage I’ve watched this year? The Rams ran it against us last week, except the Eagles blocked it up well and got the punt off. This was a really, really well-designed scheme by Dave Fipp and company, and the execution was outstanding. Grugier-Hill’s athleticism really shows up on this block.

Shot 2 - #Eagles came away with two other big blocks in this game. Derek Barnett and Malcolm Jenkins got the blocks, but give credit to Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham and Ronald Darby as well #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/qvgZ5D5SmS — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 19, 2017

The field goal blocks were really impressive as well, and this is an area where the Eagles have stood out all season long. You have to give credit to Derek Barnett and Malcolm Jenkins, who came away with the blocks. Credit also needs to go to Ronald Darby, Brandon Graham, and Vinny Curry as well for helping to create those creases for their teammates.

Now let’s get to the defense, where the quick throws by the Giants' offense plagued the Eagles all day long, particularly the slant routes. Fans wondered why the Eagles would continue to play so much off coverage. There’s some validity to that question, but you have to understand what the positives are of playing in off coverage.

Shot 3 - Yeah, #Eagles gave up some of those slants in off coverage, but there's a real benefit to playing off the LOS as well. This secondary has made plays from off coverage all season long, and that was the case on Sunday as well. pic.twitter.com/SumbHOq5yN — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 19, 2017

You see a conversion there on third down for the Giants offense, but this is why off coverage works as well. Jalen Mills can click and close on this throw for a pass breakup in the first half, and Darby gets his clutch interception from an off position as well.

Shot 4 - When you have an offense running a lot of slants, you're going to see the 'Sluggo' route as well. #Eagles gave up two big plays off these double moves, but nearly sealed the game against one thanks to a great play from Ronald Darby in the end zone. pic.twitter.com/ZELOWEcY2X — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 19, 2017

Double moves plagued the Eagles on Sunday as well, as they gave up two big plays in the passing game against Sluggo (slant and go) routes. Darby, who allowed a first down on the same route earlier in the game, bounced back with a near interception on the final drive for the Giants, a perfectly played ball in the end zone that he was just unable to reel in for the turnover.

Shot 5 - #Eagles did play some press coverage on Sunday, but playing up at the LOS can be a double-edged sword. Sure, you can disrupt the timing, but if you get beaten off the ball by a great release you're in a tough spot early in the down, which was there on the third play pic.twitter.com/XrFg1LnGYs — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 19, 2017

Naturally, the big question that fans want to be answered is, ‘Why didn’t they play press coverage?’ The answer to that question is that they did actually play a good amount of reps up at the line of scrimmage. The Eagles mixed up their looks on Sunday, and they had some success in press for sure. They also gave up a big play against receiver Tavarres King as well (which, as you can see above, came against a downright filthy release off the line of scrimmage against Darby). Press coverage can be advantageous for a number of reasons, but if you get beat early in the down it can be tough to recover. That’s why good defenses almost always mix things up from a coverage standpoint.

Shot 6 - Shallow Crosses hurt the Eagles in this game as well. #Giants got some key conversions as #Eagles tried to impact those routes in the middle of the field pic.twitter.com/BJvN71Ec5H — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 19, 2017

Slants weren’t the only routes that hurt the Eagles on Sunday because shallow crossing routes also hurt them in certain situations. The Eagles tried to get physical with those shallow crosses, but at times that came back to bite them as well.

Shot 7 - The #Eagles play a lot of zone coverage, and when they were in subpackage this week they got burned on a few plays where they were undisciplined on the back end. Everyone has to do their job on every play! pic.twitter.com/BJ2T4nrIYx — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 19, 2017

The Eagles play a lot of zone coverage, and while they typically do a good job of being disciplined in their assignments, that wasn’t always the case on Sunday. A number of conversions for the Giants came underneath where they were able to find a soft spot in the zone coverage concept. The Eagles tightened things up when it mattered late in the game, but it certainly led to a few big plays going the other direction.

Shot 8 - When you face a passing game like the #Giants, it's tough to send extra defenders and rob yourself of reinforcements in coverage. The #Eagles blitzed a couple of times early, but relied on the four-man rush for most of the game afterwards. pic.twitter.com/2UCdfWwUTz — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 19, 2017

When you face a passing game like the Giants, it’s tough to send blitzes because the ball comes out of the quarterback’s hand so quickly. In essence, you’re wasting a defender in coverage by sending a blitzer. The Eagles tried to send extra rushers early in this game and got burned, so for most of the day afterward they relied on that four-man rush.

At the end of the day, the Eagles won this game. I say every year that a win is a win, that’s what is most important. This year, more than any other, should teach you that with home-field advantage on the verge of being locked up in Week 16 in what has turned out to be an extremely competitive NFC. Are there lessons to be learned in this game? Absolutely. The problems we saw pop up are fixable issues, things that coaches and players will work on both in the film room and on the practice field. I feel confident that when the going gets tough in the playoffs, this unit will be ready to roll.

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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