Welcome back to the Eagles Film Review. For the second straight week, the Eagles’ defense faltered late and gave up big plays. For the second straight week, the Eagles’ offense was able overcome the defensive shortcomings. In this week’s film review, we’ll take a look at the Eagles’ effort and performance on defense against the Los Angeles Chargers.
I’ve watched this play at least 100 times. After consulting with Ben Solak, Sean Cottrell and Charles McDonald, we came out to the possibility of the Eagles playing an inverted Cover 2, but likely a Cover 4 with pattern matching responsibilities. In Cover 4, the defensive backs cut the deep part of the field into quarters. The tricky part here is that the safeties never get depth and the run action sucks them up. Asking the safeties to drop into Cover 4 from that point is a tall task, and only two safeties in the league can (maybe) do it. Rasul Douglas hesitates because there should be somebody deep in the next zone, but Rodney McLeod is stuck in no-mans land. The Chargers run what is called a Yankee concept, where one receiver on one side of the field runs and underneath crossing route with depth and another running deep towards the post or over like Tyrell Williams does here. What fools the safeties is the formation and execution. The Chargers are in max-protect with only two receivers, that lends you to believe that pre-snap, the Chargers will run. They don’t, and the secondary completely mishandles this play. If the safeties were at some sort of depth, namely McLeod, then he may have reacted differently with Williams going vertical with his stem. Again, this concept is hard to defend/anticipate because all of the play keys suggest it’s going to be a run, instead it’s more of an all or nothing pass play, and the Eagles give up all.
Keenan Allen has never been known for his speed, but instead his craftiness and route running ability. Here that is on display as the Eagles play man coverage and ask Rasul Douglas to mirror Allen. The unfortunate part of this is mirroring is not in Douglas’ wheelhouse of strengths. Allen gives Douglas a nice head fake before breaking back outside and with the Eagles in man coverage, there’s nobody to stop Allen once he gets the boundary on the far side of the field. This play seems even more costly after you factor in it was on third down, with about a minute to go in the half. The Chargers settled for a field goal on the drive, but after a questionable decision to punt from Doug Pederson, it stings that much more.
This is the Chargers running that same Yankee concept again, but the Eagles play it perfectly this time and takeaway both of Rivers’ reads on the play. The end result: a throwaway.
This long catch set up another Chargers touchdown. Fran Duffy believes it Cover 4 again, but it looks slightly like Cover 3 based on how the players drop, or in McLeod’s case, come up. McLeod plays as the hook to curl defender to allow Jordan Hicks to release into the flat. The problem here is that the offensive play design vacates the middle of the field and schemes Keenan Allen open. The funny thing about what the Eagles are doing is that they've played a lot of zone due to personnel and matchups. The point of that is to limit big plays and funnel offensive players into areas where they’ll be tackled immediately, but the Chargers schemed well for that. They used play fakes and combination routes to clear out zones and create throwing lanes for Phillip Rivers. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the schematics.
This is a theme I’ll talk about in a moment with the pass rush, but when the Eagles forced Phillip Rivers out of the pocket, he couldn't do anything. On the play the coverage holds strong as Rivers runs out of the pocket to extend the play, but nobody comes open in the man coverage look. Because of Rivers’ mobility, or lack thereof, the Eagles were able to rush him differently and force him off his spot without a serious threat of him making plays outside the pocket.
I thought the Chargers offensive line held up well in pass protection against the Eagles defensive front, but taking out one of the top three defensive tackles changes the game. That being said, the Eagles had success forcing Rivers to abandon the pocket, which was disastrous for the Chargers.
On the first drive, the Eagles forced a fumble when Rivers abandoned the pocket and tried to find a receiver downfield. I don’t believe he had to abandon that, but Derek Barnett flashing across the offensive tackle’s face make have spooked him. Rivers tries to make something happen downfield and Chris Long notches the strip sack as the the Eagles recover.
Again, the Eagles don’t have to play contain or anything like that, allowing the edge rushers to cross the tackle’s faces. Rivers is forced out of the pocket again and is nearly intercepted. I was worried that with the absence of Flecther Cox, the Chargers would be able to keep Rivers clean up the middle, but his lack of mobility allowed them to rush him differently than somebody like Alex Smith or Dak Prescott.
More, of the same above as Brandon Graham rushes inside in Rivers’ line of vision and forces him outside. Unfortunately, I can't say that I watched the Chargers in preparation for this game, but it does appear that the Eagles had a game plan of forcing Rivers outside the pocket and generating a rush inside without Cox in order to do so. If that was the game plan, it was executed well and worked the way the Eagles wanted when they forced him to do so.
I’m not going to post much about the run defense, because aside from one or two plays, they were dominant.
Brandon Graham was a bit eager to get off the snap all game long, as I believe he was called for a few encroachment penalties, but when he timed the snap, he was causing his typical disruption. On the second play, Derek Barnett blows up the run after the left tackle fails to knock him off balance at all. This was the story of the run game for the most part. The Eagles were meeting the Chargers’ running backs at or behind the line of scrimmage, continuing the Chargers woes in the run game.
The exception to the stellar run defense was another big play. Here the linebackers and defensive line read their keys right, but Hicks and Kendricks don't seem to close the cutback lane at all. I would have to assume the Hicks has to be smarter here, but Kendricks probably should've slid more to close it off instead of immediately taking pursuit. I know Jim Schwartz’s defense is aggressive and it’s hard to tell how he teaches linebackers to play it, but there has to be responsibility here from one of the linebackers. This run is different from the Kareem Hunt touchdown run because the run keys are read correctly. On the Hunt touchdown, Hicks lost the pulling guard and ball carrier and left a vacated gap. Here the running back had good awareness and vision to notice the cutback lane and take it. Outside of this blip, the run defense was dominant.
Overall, the defense was good at forcing the Chargers off the field before they could put together long drives. The Chargers’ longest drive of the game consisted of eight plays and lasted two-and-a-half minutes. For reference, the Eagles had six drives that consisted of at least eight plays and six that lasted no less than four-and-a-half minutes.
What hurt the Eagles, as it has continuously this year, is the big play. For what it’s worth, a lot of the big plays — Shepard touchdown, Williams touchdown, Allen catches, and Chargers run — have all occurred without Fletcher Cox or Ronald Darby on the field. The fact of the matter is that each team has injuries to overcome and going forward the Eagles need find out how to limit them with their healthy personnel, especially with a team coming into town Week 5 that relies on the big play.