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Eagles Bent But Didn't Break

People often say Chip Kelly has a "bend but don't break" defense. What does that really mean?

Jeffrey G. Pittenger-USA TODAY Sports

"This is a bend but don't break defense" is one of those football cliches that's thrown around a lot, but never really explained. If nothing else, it means that a team gives up more yards than points, which is certainly true for the Eagles.

Strategically, the Eagles' secondary plays back, preventing the long pass at the risk of giving up shorter gains and first downs.  They also play for turnovers, with (hopefully unpredictable) blitzes and a focus on batting down passes.

Let's break it down, play by play, for one key drive in the second quarter of the Jaguars game.  I don't think it's too crazy to say that this defensive stand turned around the game and started the Eagles' comeback.  It began with the Birds reeling, down 17-0 and having just given up their (and Nick Foles') third turnover -- the interception in the end zone.

The Jaguars then uncorked a long and seemingly successful drive that had the TV announcers raving -- but came up with bupkiss after they stalled in the red zone and Brandon Bair blocked a field goal attempt from the 18. Here's how it happened.

Jacksonville took over on their own 20.  Brandon Graham was playing the predator OLB for most of this drive.

  • On 1st and 10 from the 20, Bennie Logan tried a stunt, looping around to the right to little effect.  Graham and Connor Barwin brought serious pressure, though, hitting Henne as he threw incomplete.
  • 2nd & 10.  Mychal Kendricks ran up to the LOS just before the snap and blitzed, but was blocked to the ground.  A quick short pass to Mike Brown got a first down with YAC.
  • 1st & 10 at the 30.  Toby Gerhart ran for 2.  Thornton stopped him in front and Graham looped around the line to tackle him from behind.

Jacksonville was getting nothing on runs by this point, the first sign that good things were happening.

  • 2nd & 8.  Henne rolled right, Mercedes Lewis caught a quick out against Nolan Carroll for a first down.
  • 1st & 10 at the 42. Gerhart 3 yards up the middle.  Malcolm Jenkins slid up into the box, anticipating a run right.  The RB went left, but DeMeco Ryans and Kendricks capped the hole, and Fletcher Cox tackled him.
  • 2nd & 7.  Henne rolled left. Kendricks blitzed but was sealed off, running past the QB.  3 yard gain to Allen Hurns, who pushed through contact for the first down.

At this point, Beau Allen came in at nose tackle for several downs.  Chip Kelly's teams have always rotated on the defensive line to avoid wearing down.

  • 1st & 10 at the Eagles 46. The pocket was collapsing but Henne got off a quick throw to Marqise Lee for 5 yards.
  • 2nd & 5. Henne saw something and called an audible.  The Eagles rushed 6, but Henne passed quickly to Mike Brown for a 12 yard gain on the sideline. 

This is the point where the announcer said "Chad Henne is picking apart the Eagles defense," but in truth the Jags had no running game and had to rush out all of their passes. They were feeling pressure on every down.

  • 1st & 10 at the Eagles 24.  Trent Cole, over eager, jumped offsides.
  • 1st & 5 at the Eagles 19.  Kendricks had a lane to get to Henne, but the QB passed very quickly to rookie Allen Robinson on the line of scrimmage, just outside the numbers. Brandon Boykin tackled him immediately, no gain.
  • 2nd & 5.  Gerhart ran right, no hole. 1 yard.

Bennie Logan came back in at nose tackle for the crucial play.

  • 3rd & 4. Trent Cole, on a delayed blitz, ran untouched through the line. Henne was ready to pass quickly but Marqise Lee couldn't get to the pressured throw.  Incomplete.
  • 4th & 4 from the 18.  A 36-yard field goal attempt.  The Eagles bunched four rushers over the LT & LG, and 6'6" 29-year old rookie Brandon Bair got his long arm straight up, blocking the kick.

12 plays, 62 yards, 5 and a half minutes.  And zero points. Plus a tired and discouraged Jags offense. That's "bend but don't break" in practice.