Philadelphia Eagles News

Lawlor: Defense Leads The Way

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Jim Schwartz doesn't like to blitz. He prefers to rush the front four and use everyone else to cover. I know that. You know that. Sam Bradford knew that heading into Sunday's game. So Schwartz decided to change things up and blitz regularly against the Vikings. Six sacks and a butt-whipping later, I'd say his strategy worked. 

The Eagles swarming, attacking defense pounded Bradford for three hours on Sunday afternoon. He was hit almost 20 times, while dropping back to throw 47 passes. Do the math. On almost every other pass, a defender was hitting him. That is exactly what a defensive coach wants from his unit. 

You might wonder how the defense could be so much better than just a week ago. There is no question that the Eagles played better, but the matchup also favored them. The Vikings are using backup offensive tackles. The Redskins offensive line was healthy and playing at a high level. That makes a huge difference. There is no question that the Eagles had extra motivation this time out. They were coming off their worst performance of the year and they were facing their old teammate, Mr. Bradford. They had nothing against him personally, but the Eagles defense didn't want Bradford to have a good game against them. 

It turned out to be especially important that the defense played well. Carson Wentz played his worst game of the year, throwing a pair of interceptions and fumbling the ball while trying to hand it to Darren Sproles. Beyond that, Wentz struggled with his accuracy. Minnesota has the number one defense in yards and points allowed. Those guys are really tough to move the ball on. I think Wentz might have been playing a bit fast at times and that caused him to make some sloppy throws. 

While the Vikings have the top defense this season, the Eagles dominated the game. Minnesota got inside the 10-yard line twice and came away with nothing. Think about how impressive that is. One of those ended with a Rodney McLeod interception and the other was a fourth-down stand where the Eagles stuffed a run play. The Eagles didn't allow a touchdown until there were 34 seconds left in the game and it was all over. There was another Minnesota possession that began in the red zone and that ended in a fumble. No points there. The Eagles defense faced adverse situations on a regular basis and made big plays all game long. 

The biggest single play in the game came following a Vikings field goal. That put them up 3-0 and you wondered if they were going to take control of the game. That was a small lead, but Wentz and the offense were struggling at that point. That's when Josh Huff happened. Minnesota kicked off and Huff caught it at the two-yard line. Huff exploded straight up the field. He had terrific blocking and didn't hesitate at all. Kicker Blair Walsh was in his way. Huff didn't dance. He ran right at him and through the pathetic attempt at an arm-tackle. Touchdown Eagles. That put the good guys up 6-3 and suddenly momentum was wearing the color green (or black as was the uniform color on Sunday). 

After a roughing the kicker penalty on the extra point, Doug Pederson decided to use the penalty yards to spot the ball closer and to go for two. There isn't a huge advantage to being up 8-3 instead of 7-3, but I do think it sent an aggressive message to his team. Also, the Vikings were struggling to score at all so getting down one extra point might have affected them psychologically, even though it probably shouldn't have. Wentz powered his way to the right and scored. 

The Eagles got the ball near midfield after a McLeod strip-sack and Beau Allen fumble return that was fun to watch. On third-and-two, Wentz threw a slightly errant pass that Trey Burton couldn't get a handle on. That should have been an easy first down. On fourth down the Eagles tried to draw Minnesota offside, but they were disciplined. Pederson called a timeout and then decided to go for it. He's been aggressive all season and didn't want to change his ways. Despite bobbling the snap, Wentz ran to the left for six yards and moved the chains. A 20-yard run by Ryan Mathews then got the Eagles into scoring position and they kicked a field goal to lead 11-3 at the half. That would end up being all the points they needed to win. 

Wentz played better in the second half, going seven for eight for 85 yards and a touchdown. That's not a lot of passes, but half of them came on an early drive in the third quarter when the Eagles put the game away. They marched 77 yards down the field and stretched the lead to 18-3. The other half of those throws came on a drive early in the fourth quarter when Wentz led the Eagles to a field goal that made it 21-3 and completely put the game out of reach. 

Think about how encouraging that is. Wentz struggled in the first half, going nine for 20 and turning the ball over three times. Plenty of quarterbacks would have let that ruin their whole game. They would get into a funk and stay there. Wentz put a bad half behind him and helped his team score 10 points on crucial drives in the second half that put the game away. When Bradford's team needed him, he was too busy dodging Eagles to do anything for them. 

Wentz was not sacked once, and that was going up against the team that led the league in sacks coming into the game. Sure, the Eagles did throw plenty of short, quick passes, but you still have to give the offensive line a lot of praise for the job they did. They really struggled last week and bounced back in a major way. There were some injuries in the game that put Stefen Wisniewski at right guard and Matt Tobin at left tackle, but the line kept getting the job done. The biggies had a really strong performance. The Vikings have a stout run defense, but the Eagles ran for 101 yards on them. The line created holes and the backs made their share of plays. 

This certainly wasn't the prettiest game. Four turnovers is normally disastrous. Somehow the Eagles found a way to make big plays to overcome their mistakes and the Vikings ended up with four turnovers of their own. The Eagles got touchdowns on offense and special teams, and then rode a dominant defense to a big victory over a team that came into the game at 5-0 and was considered the best in the league. Anyone who panicked after the Eagles lost two in a row can jump right back on the bandwagon.

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