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Four hours after the Eagles 34-7 win, Guns N’ Roses opened their South Philly show with a track that appropriately described the earlier performance of Jim Schwartz’s defense.
“It’s So Easy” is a song about nailing rock and roll groupies, but for the sake of the article the analogy stands, because the Birds did indeed make football look quite easy yesterday.
You have to start by thinking about the absences of Fletcher Cox and Ronald Darby, the Birds’ best defensive lineman and corner. I don’t think that storyline gets enough attention. This is three weeks in a row that the Eagles have gone out and gotten the job done while dealing with multiple key injuries on that side of the ball. If the Redskins were missing Josh Norman and Jonathan Allen, we’d never hear the end of it.
“Next man up” is usually clichéd coach speak, but the Eagles’ staff deserves a lot of credit for making second stringers look like first stringers. They’ve been getting quality contribution from guys like Beau Allen, Patrick Robinson and Rasul Douglas.
Some quick defensive stats from the game:
- two sacks
- seven QB hits
- six tackles for loss
- nine passes defended
- Arizona 4-14 on third down conversions (28.5%)
- 33 rushing yards allowed (season best)
- 307 total yards allowed
Those types of numbers are going to win you a lot of games.
Nowhere to run
League wide, the Eagles are top five or top ten in most rushing defense categories.
Stats here courtesy of NFL.com:
You see the Birds are fourth in total rushing yards allowed and second in average yards per game (62.8). That pair of 53-yard runs in the “Long” category really skews the numbers. A missed Corey Graham tackle in Kansas City is probably the difference between the Eagles and Broncos in the yards per game and yards per carry columns.
You also see that opponents have only ran the ball 80 times against the Eagles. That’s tops in the league, even with five games played versus other teams who have only played four. A big part of that is because the Eagles jump out to early leads and force teams to throw. Arizona only ran it 14 times Sunday, down from 21 and 22 attempts in the previous two games against San Francisco and Dallas.
One of the things the Birds do very well in run defense is get a strong initial push, then shed blocks.
On this play, Vinny Curry has already skirted his man before the ball is even handed off:
You see three more Eagles already in the backfield, with what appears to be a hole on the left side of the line that Rodney McLeod is capable of plugging.
But Kerwynn Williams can’t even cut it back, and the guard’s second-level block is pointless, because Curry blows up the play at the line of scrimmage:
In truth, the first “block” is pretty poor, but credit where it’s due; Curry makes a really nice play.
The Eagles even do the same thing in odd-number scenarios as well.
On this play, Brandon Graham eats a double team, but still manages to hold his ground:
That allows Jordan Hicks to attack Chris Johnson at the line and make the tackle.
That’s a Fletcher Cox type of sequence above, where the defensive tackle would just gobble up space in the middle of the field and make it hard for blockers to move him at all. In this scenario, you’ve got 6’2″, 269 pound Graham doing it. Cox is 6’4″, 298.
Here’s how it looked in live action:
Graham doesn’t budge against the tight end (Gresham), then holds firm when the pulling left guard comes over to engage. That’s some raw strength.
The Eagles’ defensive line is elite in those situations. They get the initial push, shrug off blocks, and are ready to tackle by the time the runner hits the line of scrimmage.
This too shall pass
In passing defense, the Eagles have faced the most throwing attempts in the NFL:
That’s obviously a product of a few things:
- When your run defense is excellent, teams throw the ball
- When the secondary was banged up, Schwartz utilized soft coverage and allowed short completions to avoid getting beat deep (i.e. they invited teams to throw it)
There’s a little bit of a “bend, but don’t break” theme going on in the passing category, and that’s fine. Most of these numbers are a result of the Eagles giving up big chunks of fourth quarter yardage while running out of steam. Think about the yards and the scores that the Giants and Chargers added in the fourth quarter. That’s another big outlier here.
For comparison, look at Buffalo’s passing numbers. The Bills are 3-2 and also have a top-ten rushing defense, which is why they similarly face so many passing attempts. The difference is eight interceptions versus two allowed passing touchdowns, which means they’re making more individual plays than the Eagles are. The Birds had four legitimate chances to intercept Carson Palmer on Sunday.
One of the things this team has done well in pass defense is apply and execute that soft coverage scheme on third downs.
Watch the Birds’ secondary set up at the first down marker, allow the short completion, then swarm the receiver:
Jalen Mills has done well in closing the gap in these situations, and Douglas has had a couple of hard tackles as well. Malcom Jenkins is also very good on these plays, which are third and long scenarios that happen because of run stuffing on first and second down.
Here’s what that scheme looks like, with five defensive backs deployed right on the line of gain:
On that play, the Eagles brought pressure, forced a quick release, and then attacked the receiver immediately.
The only significant breakdown in the passing game that bit the Birds on Sunday was the second quarter touchdown.
When you watch the replay, Mills gets beat inside, but there looks to be some sort of miscommunication as McLeod shows a safety blitz, turns his head before the play, and then gets caught in no man’s land when the ball is actually snapped:
After the game, McLeod was asked about the high number of safety blitzes that the Eagles showed in the win:
“It’s kind of both of the safeties. Me, Malcolm and Corey are all kind of getting our shot at blitzes, it just depends on the call. We had a lot of packages out today – quarter, dime, nickel – so [we were] constantly running in and out. It all depends on the call, but we knew we wanted to send a little bit of pressure at Carson [Palmer] and get after him a little bit considering what that offensive line was doing.”
Makes sense. A higher number of blitzes, with different guys running those blitzes, could theoretically create confusion with a lot of moving parts subbing on and off the field.
We’ll see how the Birds’ defense does on the road, on short rest, against a very good Carolina team. Cam Newton traded misogyny for accuracy in the Week 5 win at Detroit. He’s playing good football.
But if you look at how the Eagles played in Kansas City, holding the Chiefs to their second-lowest offensive output of the season, then it’s okay to feel good about their chances in Charlotte. KC is the NFL’s best team, and the Birds lost by a touchdown at Arrowhead.
I ain’t saying it’s gonna be easy, but yesterday was.