The Eagles' offense came back to life against the New York Giants last Thursday night, which was great to see, but the defense was equally as fun to watch for many reasons. The thing I was most excited to see, however, was the look of the Eagles' secondary. Sure, the unit has come under fire this season, but I wanted to see how the youngsters performed and how the group helped keep Odell Beckham Jr. from being a factor in the game.
I was not disappointed with what I found.
The Eagles did a great job of mixing things up in this game to keep Eli Manning off balance while also taking away Beckham from the progression. One of the ways they did that showed up on the second play from scrimmage, an Eagles turnover that set up the first touchdown of the game.
ALL OF THE VIDEO CLIPS FEATURE AUDIO ANALYSIS FROM FRAN DUFFY
It’s second-and-2 from the 33-yard line. The Giants come out in 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends), causing the Eagles to come out in their base defense with four defensive linemen and three linebackers. The coverage call is something the Eagles utilized a lot of in this game, with a Combo Cover 2 look on the back end.
At the top of the screen, away from Beckham, the Eagles are in a Cover 2 Invert look. Cover 2 Invert is basically the same as your normal, high school version of Cover 2, except the corner is dropping to play as a half-field safety and the safety is playing in the flat as a typical Cover 2 corner would. The two defenders switching – or inverting – their responsibilities in the scheme makes it a Cover 2 Invert call.
At the bottom of the screen, and this is the important part, the Eagles are playing Cover 2 over Beckham. Jalen Mills is up at the line of scrimmage and gives the Pro Bowl target a jam early with safety help over the top in the form of Avonte Maddox. This was an early sign of things to come in this game, but it had no effect on the outcome of the play. Eli Manning drops back and wants to hit tight end Scott Simonson on a sit route over the ball, and Jordan Hicks breaks on the throw perfectly. The veteran linebacker pokes his hand in, knocks the ball up in the air in athletic fashion, and Kamu Grugier-Hill comes over to pick off the pass and return it into the red zone, setting up the Eagles' first touchdown of the day. It was a great read by Hicks in his Cover 2 technique, as he opened up his hips to the three-receiver side of the formation (as any middle linebacker does in that coverage), and read the route perfectly to break up the pass for the turnover.
Let’s go back to the coverage aspect of this, because the Eagles came into this game and clearly made it a point to not let Beckham beat them. They would count on their run defense to keep Saquon Barkley contained (which happened at times and didn’t at others), but Odell was not going to beat them down the field. Mission accomplished.
Beckham caught six passes for 44 yards on the night. That was his worst yardage total of the season, so he was frustrated, but it gets worse. His 7.3 yards per catch was actually the lowest output of any regular-season game in his career (that’s 53 total games for you counting at home).
So how did they do it?
The Giants dropped back 47 times against the Eagles. He lined up outside on 38 of them (nine in the slot). The Eagles played some form of Cover 2 to his side (Cover 2, Cover 2 Invert, or Cover 2 Man) on 23 of those 38 snaps. The objective in all of those coverages is to A) get him disrupted early in the down, B) provide safety help over the top if needed, and C) cloud the picture for Manning and force him to hold onto the football longer than he’d like to. The Eagles mixed things up against Beckham (he saw five reps of Quarters and five reps of straight man coverage as well), but that was the foundation and something defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, defensive backs coach Cory Undlin, and the defensive coaching staff felt was important going into this game – and it worked.
The Eagles are playing Quarter-Quarter-Half coverage on these two plays. What that means is you have Quarters (or Cover 4) on one side of the field and Cover 2 on the other. Manning has to try and fit this ball into a tight window to Beckham on the first play, as Darby flies in for the pass breakup. The Cover 2 look clouds the picture for the quarterback on the second snap, forcing him to hold the ball until the pressure gets home for a sack. The Eagles executed their techniques at a high level in this game, and it really kept the Giants out of rhythm for most of the contest.
The Giants were looking for answers. Beckham was nearly a non-factor. Manning would take the snap and start on the side away from Beckham, hoping to attack the Quarters side of the field. It seemed like a good strategy, but the Eagles were able to lock down things on that side as well.
Here, Manning takes the snap and starts to his right, away from Beckham. He has nowhere to go and is forced to hold onto the ball, allowing Nigel Bradham to get home for the sack.
Looking at this from the end zone angle, you can see exactly why. Schwartz and his staff broke down the Giants' protection scheme really well on this play, with Hicks lined up on the defensive left side. This causes the G-Men to slide their protection that way with the center. What that does is create one-on-one matchups on the back side of the slide.
Rookie left guard Will Hernandez is responsible for Michael Bennett one-on-one. Bennett slants inside and ends up dropping back in underneath zone coverage, but his job is done. All he needs to do is occupy Hernandez. Left tackle Nate Solder is responsible for Derek Barnett one-on-one. He rushes upfield and eats up Solder. That creates the key matchup, Nigel Bradham against Saquon Barkley in pass protection. The seas part as Bradham beats Barkley inside and gets home for a sack.
Notice the pass concept the Giants ran at the top of the screen on that Bradham sack. It was a classic "Quarters beater" (the Eagles ran the same play to Jordan Matthews a couple of weeks ago against Tennessee). New York actually ran that same concept a few times in this game once it realized what the Eagles were doing. Mills plays the post route PERFECTLY. It’s not common to see a corner play it this well, staying on top of the post route and contesting this throw down the field. It’s exactly how you draw it up on the whiteboard ... but offenses are so good in the NFL that it rarely works out this way. Mills gave up a play earlier in the drive on the same route, but learned from it and made the play here. That kind of short memory is one of the things the coaching staff likes about Mills and the way he plays the game.
It wasn’t just zone coverage against Beckham because the Eagles corners did a great job in man coverage situations as well. Whether they had help with a safety in the middle of the field, had to switch responsibilities with another defender after the snap, or had to just win one-on-one on an island, all of the players in the secondary deserve credit for this win. Examples of all of the above are found here.
Up front, a number of players really stood out in this game. Bennett was disruptive once again. Barnett made a couple of plays against the run and in pursuit that impressed me. Newly signed defensive tackle Treyvon Hester continues to flash in limited reps. When you talk about this defensive line, however, the guy who does the most damage on a weekly basis is Fletcher Cox.
Every week, I know I can count on a handful of snaps where Cox just outmuscles the man across from him. Whether it’s in the run game or the pass game, he’s dominant at the point of attack, can win with quickness, power, and technique. Plus, he's always going 100 miles an hour. That’s what makes him one of the best players – not just defenders – in the entire NFL.
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.