You’re gonna win a lot of games when you limit teams to a 5 for 16 mark on third down, which equates to a 31.3% success rate.
Chicago finished the regular season as the 11th best team in this department. They were converting at a 41% clip and the Eagles pulled them ten percentage points below their average. They did it on their home field in a difficult environment in front of 61,000 Bear fans.
That was one of the keys to the playoff victory, third down rate, and it helped the Eagles get off the field and balance the time of possession battle against a team that was equally formidable in controlling the clock.
Here are five third down plays I picked out from the win to show just how good the Birds were in preventing Chicago from moving the chains:
1. Breaking on the ball
Avonte Maddox had his double-move struggles late, but he was very good through three quarters.
In addition to the overturned interception call, which was tight, he made a really nice pass break-up on this third and 10 play:
The coaches film shows us how he drops with his receiver into zone, then makes a quick read on the dump off to close in on Jordan Howard. Mitch Trubisky is forced backwards by a solid pass rush, throws up a hospital ball, and Maddox gets in to swat it away.
If Howard catches that and picks up a few yards, Chicago might be thinking about trying to convert on 4th and 5 or 4th and 4. Instead, they wound up in an obvious punting situation.
2. Batted down at the line
Nigel Bradham was fantastic throughout the win, spying Trubisky, prowling laterally, and just playing disciplined football.
This was the big batted down pass on 3rd and 4 with Chicago moving into Eagles’ territory:
It’s a dime look, wide-9 concept here with Michael Bennett stacked inside at defensive tackle. Bradham pulls off the line, follows Trubisky’s eyes, and gets his hands in the passing lane for a big swat.
3. Blitzing with success
Another one from a similar spot on the field.
Again the Eagles were in dime here, matching Chicago’s empty set with a cover-1 look using Tre Sullivan in the deep middle portion of the field. This time they blitzed Bradham from the same starting point:
Really nice job by Bradham not to get lost in the shuffle, but pull out, track Trubisky on the scramble and force him into just chucking that ball into “the night sky,” as Al Michaels said on the broadcast.
4. Tackling in the open field
Jim Schwartz said at his Tuesday press conference that he didn’t even know who Cre’Von LeBlanc was until the scouting department plucked him off the waiver wire earlier this year.
Cre’Von made a really nice open-field tackle on this 3rd and 8 in the third quarter:
Nice read, nice step, even better tackle.
Schwartz on LeBlanc from today’s press conference:
“I said before I didn’t know where we’d be with Avonte. I don’t know where we’d be without ‘Cre.’ Our scouts, sort of midway through the season Joe Douglas came to me and said, ‘there’s this guy who just became available and our scouts got some good feel for him.’ Guys like Howie and Joe are sort of up front, but some of those guys that work in those back rooms, without a light, without a window and stuff like that, they’re poring over all of these guys that get cut or go somewhere else. That might have been the key to our season, putting in a waiver claim on (him). I’d never heard of Cre’Von LeBlanc before. They said ‘hey we’re thinking of claiming this guy,’ and that was right before the Saints game.”
5. Deploy the picket fence
This defensive series was key, because it pushed the Bears backwards and resulted in a 36-yard punt that set the Eagles up with their best field position of the entire game. Nick Foles would go 60 yards for the game-winning score.
3rd and 19 was predicated by a timely Bennett sack, which allowed Schwartz to set up his picket fence and crash on a dump down to Tarik Cohen:
Great pursuit. Look at the Birds come flying into the picture there. They were really “flying around” out there.
Kamu Grugier-Hill is responsible for Cohen coming out of the backfield here. He originally steps up when it looks like Trubisky is going to slide through and climb the pocket, but the quarterback twists back and finds enough space for the dump-off. At that point, Malcolm Jenkins and Bradham are well-positioned to detach, crash, and force him out of bounds.
That’s the proper use of the picket fence, and I believe the Eagles are 100% in preventing first downs on those three-man rushes in third and long situations when the opponent is in their own half of the field. In this case, the three-and-out forced a weak punt and the Birds went on to score the game-winning touchdown.