Remember how Asante Samuel used to tackle?
He didn’t, for the most part. He was one hell of a cover corner and ball hawk, but wasn’t exactly known for laying the wood.
“I didn’t get signed here because I was a great tackler,” Samuel said back in 2009. “Everybody saw my film.”
That’s the quote he dropped after being castigated for this attempt in a 13 to 9 loss to the Raiders:
Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott wasn’t thrilled with the effort.
“He’s there to tackle, and if you’re on the field, you are expected to tackle. We are going to have 11 guys on the field that can tackle.”
A good Eagles team didn’t have 11 tacklers on the field that season, but they do this year. The defensive line tackles. The linebackers take great angles and pursue. The cornerbacks wrap up at the point of contact and they seem to enjoy it.
It’s fun to watch after years of subpar secondary play.
The Eagles have allowed the fewest rush yards per game and the second fewest yards per pass attempt, and a lot of that is because they limit gains after catches and contact with sound tackling.
Consider this play last week from Ronald Darby, who drew the assignment against Dez Bryant on his return from a Week 1 ankle injury:
Close the distance, square up, wrap up.
Bryant has 185 YAC yards out of 578 total this season, so 32% of his production takes place after receiving the ball. He only got 3 or 4 on that play in an open field, 1v1 situation.
The high-level secondary tackling also allows the Eagles to do some different things schematically. You saw earlier this season how they played soft coverage against the Giants and Chargers, allowed short passes, and then quickly closed down receivers.
There was something a bit similar Sunday on a 3rd and 21, when they decided to bring an extra rusher but didn’t get to the quarterback:
Malcolm Jenkins and Darby bear down on Dontrelle Inman for 0 YAC yards and prevent the first down.
So that’s something they can rely on, knowing that even if you blitz and fail, the secondary can sit on the line of gain and mop things up. You can play soft and rely on that 1v1 ability to put out fires if necessary. We’ve seen them do a bunch of that on third downs this year:
The Eagles also lead the league with 71 passes defended, so they can generally lock down receivers in addition to limiting YAC yards.
As far as the run defense, the Eagles are fourth in the NFL in the “stuffs” category, which is defined as denying a running play at or before the line of scrimmage. They have 42 of those this season. It’s not the most context-intuitive statistic since it’s heavily situational. Obviously some teams are in more short-yardage situations than others. Some will run on 3rd and 1 and others will pass. But the stat holds when you provide some optics, such as this play here:
That’s just total annihilation by Brandon Graham, who brushes by rookie tight end Adam Shaheen. Tim Jernigan throws the center to the ground. Chicago runners Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen carried the ball 9 times for -5 yards and the Eagles’ run defense remains tops in the league, allowing just 65.1 yards per game.
They are second in total points allowed (177), points per game allowed (16.1), and interceptions (16). They’ve recovered 6 of 7 forced fumbles. 31 sacks is tied for 6th in the league.
And the crazy thing is that they’ve only logged 538 tackles this year, which is fewest in the NFL. Think of it this way – they’ve only had to make 538 tackles. When you continually hold teams to three and outs, combined with an offense that controls time of possession and sustains long drives, your total tackle number should be at or near the bottom of the league. They are continually fresh because they simply are not on the field as much as other defensive units.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate that.