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Ruminations about the Eagles Defense

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Recently there have been several notes about the Eagles Defense.  Mark Eckel wrote this weekend about the linebacking corps, Igglesblog had an interesting take about the defense's supposed speed and Tommy Lawlor had a nice homage to Buddy's 46

I personally find it easier to come up with defensible things to say about the offense because that is the side of the ball which gets emphasized during network broadcasts.  Prior to the snap the camera is focused on the offense and afterward it follows the ball.  It's only during shows like NFL Matchup where we get to see any coaches tape showing the whole field.  

NFL Network recently rebroadcast last year's Cowboys victory and I rewatched their highlight reel a couple of times.  Several plays stuck out.  Three of the Eagles eleven interceptions on the season came in that game.  Unfortunately one of them resulted in an immediate turnover (screw on your head before buttoning your chinstrap Quintin), the second, Lito Shepard's pick before halftime, led to the games only TD, and and the last, which turned into Brian Westbrook's infamous knee, was Dawkins' only pick of the year.  Certainly you can't generalize based upon a sample size of one, but this example sure seems to say something about turnovers.

These plays were great, but one play - a 9 yard pass reception by Jason Witten - was the one that really got me thinking.

We can probably all remember this quote...

"I'm still the same player, but that scheme up in Philly was different. All I've got to say is proof is in the pudding, so I can't even talk about it. Just watch and see."

...but just in case, that was Jevon Kearse soon after resigning with the Titans.  Since then he's proven he likes...well, let's not beat a dead horse. 

The reason that 9 yard completion to Jason Witten was significant to me was that Trent Cole actually had decent (though not great) coverage on the play.  The first watch through I wasn't sure so I rewound the tape a couple of times, and there it was, #58 in coverage.  Obviously Jim Johnson had called some kind of zone blitz.  Is this why Jevon was unhappy?  He was asked to both play the run and drop into coverage?  That in addition to his simple pass rushing duties?

Thing is, Jim Johnson does that an awful lot.  His defensive ends are regularly asked to roll out and cover the flat or drop back into a zone 10 yards deep.  For that matter, JJ will even ask his tackles drop back into coverage.  The opposing O-line never knows where the pass rush is coming from or if it's coming at all. 

I wonder how many people remember the Giants-Bills Superbowl in January, 1991.  That was one of the best games I've ever seen, Bill Parcells controlled the clock with the quintessential power running game and the Giants defense only had to control the Bills offense for 20 minutes.   When that defense was on the field, Bill Belichick often lined up with 5 linebackers and only 2 defensive linemen in his front 7.  This meant that when one of the Bill's wideouts caught a pass over the middle, there was someone big there to meet them. 

How is this Superbowl relevant to today's Eagles then?  When I look at the Eagles front seven, I see names like Trent Cole, Bryan Smith, Chris Clemons, and Chris Gocong.  These guys are hybrid-type defensive ends that are quick enough to drop into shallow zone coverage but strong and agile enough to create real problems when they rush the passer.  They are almost like the outside 'backers the Giants fielded in Superbowl XXV (though certainly none of them resemble the original LT).  Supposing we team them with a pair of stout defensive tackles, the Eagles field a base defense that seems - to my mind at least - an awful lot like that 2-5 defense Belichick fielded against the Bills.  This could also tend to explain why the Eagles Defense under Jim Johnson has been so good against the pass, but not so stout against the run.

Jaws likes to say, "Points come from the passing game."  I think Jim Johnson agrees and designs his defenses to limit the passing game (and thereby points).  I wonder if the similarities I see between his defense today and Belichick's then are more than mere coincidence.  Whatever the case, I'd really like to see more of the Eagles defense because I sure do find it interesting.