The Eagles almost never use a three-man pass rush, but it showed up on Sunday.
Two relevant quotes from the DC on this topic:
Q. Is the pass rush doing enough to help out the guys on the secondary? Putting enough pressure on the quarterback? (Martin Frank)
Schwartz: In this game, I think there is a big difference between pressure and sacking the quarterback. If you’re asking to get half a dozen sacks against Drew Brees, that’s probably not going to happen. It hasn’t happened. He’s very tough to sack. Probably one of our best packages in that last game was a three-man pass rush. You know me. I would rather eat a lot of vegetables than go to a three-man pass rush. [Laughter] That’s bad medicine. But it was necessary in that game. The few stops we got, those were three-man pass rush. It’s hard to ask those guys, you’re getting chipped on one side and then another guy is getting doubled and another guy is getting doubled, but that’s what we had to do coverage-wise to go. Our guys aren’t selfish that way. They know the key is getting stops however you’re doing it. We need to get more stops.
That’s the first quote, with the interesting parts in bold.
Here’s a follow-up question:
Q. Why was it necessary to have three-man pass rush — (Bo Wulf)
Schwartz: Well, we just talked about our secondary a little while before that and the passing game and everything else. We didn’t blitz a ton in that game, but the times we did blitz we had — the blitzes were I guess you would say successful in getting free guys. The ball was gone before the blitzer could even get there. The ball was coming out. So you could bring seven or you could bring three, and the ball was coming out pretty much around the same time.
Yep, that’s 100% true. When you watch the film, you see Brees operating at what looks like light speed compared to the average NFL quarterback.
I’m intrigued by that first quote, specifically.
My experience with the rush three, drop eight routine is watching myriad crappy college games, where defensive coordinators will just try to flood the defensive backfield and clog it up to the point where a quarterback has nowhere to throw the ball. Eight defenders vs. five route-runners, at most, is a numbers battle you’re always going to win on paper.
The problem is that three gassed defensive linemen, who are usually undersized, sometimes can’t reach the quarterback at all, allowing him to sit in the pocket all day and/or just take off with his feet and run for a chunk of yards instead. In college, it’s more or less a scheme used to slow down spread passing attacks. Most quality running teams will just gash a light defensive front on the ground, which is why a 3-3 base is very rare compared to a 4-3 or a 3-4.
I don’t know what Schwartz’s game plan was with the three-man rush, but when you’ve got a banged-up secondary, dropping eight takes the burden off of second-string players to defend 1v1 in space. Do you want Rasul Douglas and Cre’Von LeBlanc in single coverage? This is how you help them out, by smothering receivers instead. The flip side is that the defensive line is the Eagles’ strength, so does it make more sense to rush four and remain aggressive, or drop into zone?
I originally picked out this play, which drove me crazy on Sunday:
Rush three, drop eight, confusion in coverage, Saints pick up 15+ yards. There were also a handful of missed tackles in there.
But Schwartz says this package was one of their best in the game, so I really wanted to go back and watch the film again to see how many times they did this and whether or not it was effective.
- The first time they showed a three-man rush was on 3rd and 3 on the first Saints’ drive. Good coverage, but a better throw by Brees to gain 4 yards and move the chains. The defensive backs actually did a nice job of being physical at the line of scrimmage.
- They ran it again on 3rd and 4 on the first drive and got a stop, which forced a field goal. Looks like there might have been a delayed blitz coming off the left side here:
Nice tackle by Malcolm Jenkins there. You see Nigel Bradham come late off the edge as well. I’m not sure if he was assigned to do that specifically, or if he just crashed Brees after seeing Alvin Kamara stay in to pass block vs. running a route out of the backfield. I don’t know if Kamara is Bradham’s responsibility or whether that falls to Jordan Hicks instead in this scheme.
- On the second Saints’ drive, they rushed four on 3rd and 9 and allowed a 10 yard completion
- They ran another four man on the Saints’ third drive and allowed nine yards on 3rd and 2.
- Schwartz went to the three man again on a 3rd and 10 on the Saints’ fourth drive, and they got a stop using this look, which was like a half three-man and half-picket fence type of jawn:
- First half: four three-man rushes, all on third down, two of which were stops and two that resulted in first downs.
- I didn’t see a three-man rush in the third quarter, but they used it again in the fourth, flushing Brees out of the pocket on a third and six and benefiting from a dropped pass by Keith Kirkwood:
That’s it, no more three man rush after that. The three down linemen actually did a really good job on that play, considering the fact that they were down 38-7 and probably tired as hell.
I counted five times that the Eagles rolled out this drop-eight scheme, all of which took place on third down. They got a pair of stops, allowed two first downs, and then got lucky on the Kirkwood drop.
So some good, some bad, but not nearly as negative as I thought it would be. Those stops took place earlier in the game when the Eagles still had a chance, and every single passing touchdown New Orleans scored came against a four-man rush or different scheme entirely.
Schwartz is not a three-man type of guy, which he admits in the first quote. I doubt he would be running anything like this if he had a healthy secondary to work with, so I guess it just is what it is this year. I don’t recall seeing a rush 3/drop 8 at any other point this season, unless I wasn’t paying close enough attention.