Carson Wentz stole all of the headlines after his masterful performance against the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football, but there were a handful of really fun things to take away from the defensive outing as well.
Bringing The Pressure
The Eagles were able to sack quarterback Kirk Cousins four times in this game. None of them came from a called blitz, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz did send extra defenders after the veteran passer in select situations, namely on third down.
Shot 1 - #Eagles brought pressure in select spots on MNF. Went Cover 0 with success on 3rd down. Bring more than the offense can block! pic.twitter.com/JyItP7BSvU — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 25, 2017
On the first play, the Redskins face third-and-9, and the Eagles send a Cover-0 blitz. All of their coverage players are on an island with no safety help in the middle of the field. This is an A-gap pressure by Schwartz, who forces the issue right in Cousins' face. He guarantees that a defender will get home by lining up defensive tackle Fletcher Cox directly over the center and sending safety Malcolm Jenkins with linebacker Nigel Bradham through both A gaps. With three defenders on the inside, and both guards covered up by defenders, the running back can only pick up one of the two second-level defenders. The back chooses to block Jenkins, leaving Bradham to come in free. The ball comes out early and is nearly intercepted by safety Rodney McLeod.
On the second play, the Eagles go with a Cover-0 pressure again, except this time it's off the edge. This overload blitz sends four defenders (Chris Long, Najee Goode, Bradham, and McLeod) from the left side, where only Washington's right tackle, right guard, and running back can block. That leaves three blockers on four defenders. The veteran quarterback knows the ball must come out quickly, so the pass falls incomplete to force a punt. Both blitzes resulted in big third-down stops for the Eagles' defense.
Just how good are the Eagles on the most important down in football? The unit currently ranks No. 3 in the entire NFL on third down (32.9 percent conversion rate). They're tied for the league lead with five interceptions, and they rank second in opposing passer rating at 52.2 on third down. Carson Wentz and the Eagles' offense are excellent in key situations, but you have to tip your cap to the defense for more than holding up their end of the bargain on third down as well.
All four of the Eagles' sacks came from non-blitz calls from Jim Schwartz. Their four-man rush is up there as one of the best in the league, particularly on third down, where the go-to defensive front of Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, and Chris Long has terrorized offenses all season long.
Shot 2 - Blocking Fletcher Cox 1-on-1 is a tricky proposition. Wipes the hands away of the center and explodes into the QB for sack #Eagles pic.twitter.com/Xp0j8KAfCH — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 25, 2017
This isn't one of those third-down subpackage looks, but it is Cox just whooping the man in front of him. The veteran slants inside and takes on the center one-on-one. Cox wipes his hands away and drives him back, collapsing into Cousins and bringing him down for a sack.
I thought that Derek Barnett had his best game as an Eagle last week against the Carolina Panthers. I thought he consistently was able to win off the ball and create pressure in the backfield. In fact, his half sack came on one of his worst individual rushes of the night, but he was able to clean up late in the down to bring Cam Newton to the ground. Monday night was another strong outing for the rookie, but this time he came up with a pair of sacks for his effort. His first sack came on a one-on-one matchup with tight end Jordan Reed. HOW that happened was one of my favorite individual breakdowns of this game.
Shot 3 - Derek Barnett's 1st sack started as a double team, but Jenkins' presence in C gap pulls RB away from double. Puts Barnett 1v1 vs TE pic.twitter.com/A4CcCBanVM — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 25, 2017
The Redskins are known as a team that will execute "full slide" protections up front. This means that the entire line will slide one way or another, with every blocker picking up the defender to the side of the slide. Here, the entire line slides to it's right. This leaves no linemen on Barnett, who is left only with the tight end, Reed, who is more of a receiving option than a blocker. To help supplement that, the Redskins like to dedicate a running back to help the tight end in protection, creating a double team.
The Eagles were aware of that. Jenkins presses up on Reed at the line of scrimmage. As soon as Reed breaks down to block Barnett, Jenkins "green dogs," inserting himself into the rush. He will hit the C gap with speed with a clean look at the quarterback. Running back Chris Thompson, who is crossing the formation to help Reed, steps up to block Jenkins instead. This leaves Barnett one-on-one with Reed, instead of being double teamed. Barnett wins that matchup and beats Reed on the outside, closing from behind for a sack.
Shot 4 - Derek Barnett vs TJ Clemmings. Rookie does a great job of getting hands off of him and turning the corner for his 2nd sack #Eagles pic.twitter.com/o4Zmumrgee — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 25, 2017
Barnett's second sack came against young tackle T.J. Clemmings, who entered the game due to injury for Washington. Barnett executes a really good rush here, knocking Clemmings' hands off of him as he turns the corner and finishes on Cousins for the sack.
The Dime Package
With the loss of Jordan Hicks, the Eagles' defense did something a bit different in the final three quarters of Monday's win. With Mychal Kendricks also sidelined, the team played 13 snaps of dime personnel, with six defensive backs on the field (a typical base package has four, while nickel has five). According to Greg Cosell, who appeared on the Eagle Eye in the Sky podcast, the Eagles only played eight snaps of dime in the first six games. The 13 snaps on Monday marked a different approach. It just so happened that two big plays occurred during those 13 snaps.
Shot 5 - #Eagles played 13 snaps of 'Dime' (6 DBs). Jenkins is the Dime LB playing in the hole. Pulls the trigger when Cousins breaks pocket pic.twitter.com/HLevYUyUJI — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 25, 2017
It's second-and-3 late in the third quarter, and the Eagles come out in dime against the Redskins' three-receiver set. Jenkins lines up next to Bradham as a dime linebacker, and the coverage is just straight Cover 1 - Man Free. This calls for one high safety (McLeod) deep in the middle of the field, one hole player underneath (Jenkins), and straight man coverage across the rest of the field. Cousins takes the snap. He breaks the pocket after Cox pressures him up the middle. Jenkins, as the hole defender, matches Cousins step for step. He decides to fire downhill to pressure the quarterback. It's not a delayed blitz, but he decides to pull the trigger and with his speed he closes and finishes for a sack.
Shot 6 - #Eagles in Dime again on Corey Graham INT which came thanks to pressure from Brandon Graham. BG often lines up inside in subpackage pic.twitter.com/PbjV6kicdt — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 25, 2017
On the next series, the Eagles play dime against a three-receiver set again. This time, it's third-and-6, and the Eagles are using their subpackage front with three defensive ends (Graham, Long, and Barnett) along with Cox.
The beauty of this front is that the offensive line to must decide where to slide the protection. Do you slide toward Cox, the best player on the field? Or toward the two-defensive end side with Graham and Barnett? The Redskins slide toward Cox, leaving Graham matched one-on-one with the left guard. That's a matchup Graham expects to win, and he does, turning a sharp corner and knocking the ball as Cousins drops back to throw. This causes an errant pass, which lands right in the hands of safety Corey Graham for an interception.
If the Eagles plan on playing more dime moving forward, expect teams to try and run the football out of three-receiver sets. It's almost a guarantee with Jenkins as the linebacker next to Bradham. Luckily for the Eagles, Jenkins is prepared for that kind of challenge.
There are two examples of Jenkins' ability to defend against the run, both inside and outside. He's extremely gap-sound and with his competitive toughness; he's the type of safety who can play down close to the line and knife through traffic to make a stop. Neither of these plays came from dime personnel, but these are the kinds of situations he'll be put in moving forward if that's the direction the Eagles choose to go.
Before I wrap up, the last aspect of the defensive performance that stood out to me against Washington was the effort against the screen game. Defending screen plays are almost always a team effort, with relentless pursuit from all three levels of the field needed to rally defenders to the football. In these three plays, however, there were three great individual efforts that stood out to me.
On the first play, Graham drops in coverage on a zone blitz (a similar pressure that netted Cox a sack-fumble the first time these two teams met), and he sees this screen coming a mile away. Watch his pursuit to the ball as he navigates through traffic and makes the stop.
On the second play, Long drops this time and Washington sends a screen in his direction. Watch how patient Long is. He doesn't pull the trigger too early, allowing himself to stay unblocked and make the stop.
On the third play, Graham makes a similar play, except he slips a block from the right tackle to tackle the receiver.
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan likes the screen game, so this kind of effort and discipline will be needed again on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
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.