The Eagles Made Some Defensive Tweaks Against Houston, but They're Still Not a Dime Team
So Jeff McLane asked a question this week about running more dime package on defense, and Jonathan Gannon answered this way:
[Jokingly] After you said put it in, I put it in, and we’ve been running it. [Laughter].
No, that’s a little bit game by game. We play different personnel groups on third down, on pass downs, as well. Just for what you saw how we thought that they (Houston) were going to attack us, we thought that was some good calls that we could deploy from that group, and they executed it at a high level.
I’m way past the game right now, so off the top of my head I don’t think we pressured once and we sacked him (Davis Mills) a couple times and took the ball away a couple times, and I think we were pretty good on third down.
We always have calls up like that and our guys know, hey — I always tell them, we’re going to start the game like this and then get to these calls. I’m going to mix the calls. Or I am going to — everything on the call sheet in this group, I’m going to unload it and then go from there.
A little bit of that’s feel and see what’s working, and then certain down and distances go into play with that.
The game before Houston against Pittsburgh, we were going to get to it in the second half and really didn’t need to, so there’s one snap of dime the whole game; that was Chauncey’s [S C.J. Gardner-Johnson] sack.
You just have to see how the game is going and the blend of that and who’s got the hot hand and how they’re playing us. You see a couple third downs you say, okay, ‘this is how they’re trying to play us’ and what we set up those calls for they really don’t apply, or they do apply and you get to it.”
A couple of nuggets in there, but the main reason I bring this up to begin with is that the big topic surrounding the Eagles continues to be the run defense, or lack thereof. They are #2 in the league in preventing big plays (20+ yards), but are fourth in giving up 5.2 yards per opponent run. They are largely schemed to address the former, which results in the latter.
Throw in the absence of the injured Jordan Davis, and there were some interesting personnel wrinkles coming from the Houston game, namely the Eagles sitting in those four-man fronts and cutting back on their nickel deployments.
According to Sport Radar data, against the Texans, the Eagles:
- played four dime snaps (7%)
- played 30 nickel snaps (52.6%)
- used four defensive backs for 22 snaps (38.6%)
That last number is the most four-DB snaps they’ve played in any game this year. For some context, only once this season had they played fewer than 75% of their defensive snaps in nickel. They are the second-heaviest nickel team in the NFL, behind only Buffalo, so to drop to 52.6% against Houston was notable.
Gannon points out that they only used one dime snap against Pittsburgh, which result in a sack. You’d think they might show 6 DBs a little more frequently, but they really don’t. In Houston, it was seven snaps, and against Minnesota it was five, but they’ve played a grand total of 20 dime snaps through eight games, which is a total of 4% and good for 19th in the league. There really isn’t a lot of dime being played at all this season, unless you’re the Ravens, Titans, and Chiefs.
Funny enough, this all goes back to the famous quote from last year, when Gannon said “we’re really not a dime team right now.” The roster is much different this year, but he said this at the time:
“I just don’t believe in it right now with who we are. I like to play out of four down and two linebackers.
We feel like that’s kind of the best way with second down and drop back and defending — who we’ve defended up until this point. On third down, as well, to play with two linebackers in a game.”
And that’s largely been the case this year as well. They don’t often go beyond the group of Slay, Bradberry, Maddox, Epps, and CJGJ. It’s true that DB depth drops off sharply after those five, and the Eagles have much better linebackers in 2022, so sitting in nickel for most of the game makes a lot of sense. Just keep an eye on all of this as they move forward without Jordan Davis.