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Eagles Film Review: Philadelphia’s defensive line anchors season opening win against Washington

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Jim Schwartz’s unit is off to a good start!

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It feels great to be watching real football again, doesn't it? With a new season comes new Eagles game tape to study and dissect each week. The fortunate thing about the regular season is that we finally have access to All-22 film to see what coaches see.

Stats of note

The Eagles defense surrendered only 10 points and forced three turnovers (there was a fourth on special teams). I charted the defense today for and made a few observations.

  • Pro Football Reference has the Eagles with 63 defensive snaps, I counted 61, but there were two penalties on the defense that may have counted as snaps despite there being no play. I only charted the 61 where there was a play.
  • The Eagles were in a 4-3 defense only 21 times, and lined up in the nickel the other 40 plays. From what I could tell, Nigel Bradham and Jordan Hicks were in for every snap in 4-3 and nickel. Kendricks was only in when the team was in a 4-3 base, but he played every 4-3 snap.
  • The Eagles blitzed 12 out of 61 plays, and were pretty successful when doing so. I had Kirk Cousins at 5-of-11 for 77 yards with an interception and a fumble lost on a sack.
  • Of the 12 blitzes the Eagles deployed, six came out of the nickel and six came out of the 4-3 base. Cousins was 3-of-5 for 27 yards against nickel blitzes, but both of his turnovers came against that package. Against 4-3 blitzes, Cousins was 2-of-6 for 50 yards, but the two completions went for 34 and 16 yards.
  • The Eagles dialed up a blitz most frequently on second down. They blitzed seven times on second down, three times on third down and twice on first down.

Without further adieu let’s dive into the defensive game tape!

Secondary/Pass Coverage

There were some things to encouraged about, but overall I didn't leave the game thinking the Eagles had significantly improved at the cornerback position.

Above is the first play of the game. The Eagles come out in a two-deep shell pre-snap before Malcolm Jenkins rolls down towards the flat. I give credit to the Eagles defensive line for helping to bail out McLeod getting with the receiver in front of him. Jalen Mills lacks long speed, it’s something we all know, and he lets Terrelle Pryor get a step behind him. Fortunately the defensive line pushes the pocket, eliminating Kirk Cousins’ ability to step into the throw.

This was another play that concerned me. Fortunately, 1. Pryor dropped it, and 2. Brandon Graham was held by Jordan Reed on the right side of the formation. It looks like there was confusion as to who was supposed to be playing deep as McLeod comes up on the receiver in the middle of the field after the linebacker bites on the play action. It looks like a cover 3 shell, meaning McLeod is supposed to be the deep help for Ronald Darby. It explains why Darby so eagerly gave up inside leverage. Mills carries the receiver on his side of the field out of his zone but the deep post from Pryor enters deep into Mills’ vacated zone. It’s worth noting this play probably doesn't develop if Graham isn't held, but it almost cost the Eagles.

This was the only offensive touchdown the Eagles surrendered, but it was bad on every level. Nigel Bradham, who I’m a big fan of, didn't have a good game. He dropped an interception early on, was called for a bone-headed holding penalty in the second half after the eagles got a stop on third down and here he gets worked initially by Thompson. Based on how Bradham plays this, it looks like he believes Thompson will release into the flat as a safety valve. He guessed wrong. Thompson plays off the inside leverage and gets wide open against again the coverage with nobody in the middle of the field. Jordan Hicks was the only other player close to the middle of the field, but he was sitting down on a receiver to take him out of the play. Bradham isn't the only player at fault as the tackling was terrible, but better coverage makes this an easier play to defend.

Fortunately it wasn't all bad for pass coverage. After the Eagles defense stuffed the run, they stopped biting on the hard play action fakes and started closing off some throwing lanes as they did above. Unfortunately Cousins was able to extend drives with his legs a few times.

Again, it wasn't all bad. I thought Patrick Robinson played relatively well for the standard we expected of him. On the outside he’s able to stay with Pryor on the play action pass. Cousins really struggled with the deep ball in this game, but we’ve seen it numerous times in the past. Cousins would throw a deep ball and the benefit of having Desean Jackson helped his accuracy percentages, but often Jackson had to completely adjust to track an errant throw.

Another blunder in coverage that the Eagles were fortunate to get away with. Check the top of the screen. That’s Patrick Robinson leaving his man wide open in the end zone. The Eagles catch a break as Cousins has made up his mind where he's going with the ball and never glances to his right, where he would've had an easy touchdown.

Run Defense

Last year when the Eagles and Redskins met in D.C., the Redskins gashed the Eagles on the ground. Sunday? Not so much. Picking right up where they left off last year, the Eagles defensive line did a good job of crashing down and eliminating cutback lanes for opposing running backs. Above the Eagles clog the left side and Brandon Graham crashes in to finish off the play and drop the running back for a loss of a yard.

Man, that Graham guy is pretty good. Again, the Eagles give the Redskins nowhere to go, and that with Nigel Bradham over-pursuing on the tackle attempt.

I thought Patrick Robinson had a relatively good day, aside from the blown coverage Cousins missed deep in Eagles territory. He doesn't seem afraid to get in on a play and I thought he did a good job of coming up and making tackles when necessary. Above is an example of him coming from depth to drop the running back for a gain of only a yard. I just wanted to point that out before he inevitably gets scorched for the next 15 18 games.

Pass rush and Blitzes

Rejoice, all ye who have called for more blitzes! Schwartz heard your calls and happily obliged! Ok, so it that probably didn't actually factor into the decision, but good things happened when the Eagles blitz. Each week I’m going to chart different things such as defensive formations, blitz percentages, etc. Occasionally I’ll drop those nuggets in my articles to help provide context. This week, as I mentioned above, I had the Eagles down for 12 blitzes on 61 defensive plays. That rounds to Schwartz blitzing on 20% percent of the defensive snaps, and when the Eagles blitzed, they wrecked havoc. In 12 blitzes that I noticed, Cousins was 5-of-11 for 77 yards with an interception.

In the play above the Eagles dial up the blitz and cover everything well, which is going to be the key to blitzing more. By the time Cousins gets to the top of his drop, the only player who is in position to catch a ball is the receiver who is closest to the line in the trips, but he’s only in position if his route breaks in, instead of running to the corner. Brandon Graham dipping back into coverage from the left end position takes away the underneath crosser and fools the right guard, now allowing him to double team Fletcher Cox who comes around the edge and forces the strip-sack.

Another blitz that pays off for the Eagles. In a coaching clinic that Jim Schwartz was a guest speaker at in 2015, he said that the quickest way to get the ball out of a quarterback’s hands to blitz a defender from depth. When the quarterback sees somebody coming at them that quickly, it rattles them and speeds up the ball’s release. Here it’s Jordan Hicks blistering towards Cousins unblocked as he forces a wild overthrow of Jamison Crowder on third down.

This is the Chris Thompson touchdown I mentioned earlier, but this is the bird’s eye view. The pressure from Fletcher Cox up the gut forces Cousins to get rid of it, but hat pressure may have eliminated an option from the play. At the top of the screen you'll notice Patrick Robinson fall down, leaving the receiver wide open on the corner route. Either way the end result was a touchdown, but this is a direct reflection of what a dominant front can do for a team.

Man, it feels good to have players that are making teams pay for double-teaming Flecther Cox. The Redskins do exactly that and Jernigan makes quick work of the left guard by getting him off balance, working the swim move and finishing Cousins. These are the plays the Eagles just didn’t get out of Bennie Logan last year. For any additional satisfaction, Brandon Graham proves that Derek Barnett isn't the only player that can bend the edge.

As I mentioned earlier, a free rusher blistering towards a quarterback is a recipe for success and it pays off here. Jordan Hicks again brings pressure up the gut and and Cousins wildly overthrows his receiver over the middle. Jalen Mills comes up with a much needed turnover with a huge assist from the pass rush. It’s early, but Washington’s offensive line was a huge test that the defensive front passed with flying colors.

And for the final play the pass rush ices it. I firmly believe Washington was hosed on this call, but an uncalled grounding and premature called sack make everything right in the world. I’ve been a big fan of what this front four can do, as is everyone on Bleeding Green Nation. They helped force numerous mistakes and were directly responsible for three turnovers — the last two when the team needed them the most. Above the right guard loses inside to Fletcher Cox and the right tackle loses outside to Brandon Graham. Cousins suffers the ultimate double whammy as again Jernigan draws the double team that gives Graham and Cox their one-on-one matchups that ice the game.

Before I wrap things up, it seemed that Washington started to move the ball more on intermediate routes after Darby left the game. I don't have any statistical evidence, but I do believe Cousins’ completion percentage went up after Darby hurt his ankle. Outside of that, I didn't notice anything else noteworthy. Rookie Derek Barnett had a quiet game despite playing nearly 50 percent of the snaps. He made a few plays against the run, but I didn't notice him generate any pressure or make any noise.

As usual, if you guys have any questions, comments or noticed something I didn't, feel free to tweet at me or follow me @TJackRH! I’m always open to constructive feedback and hope to provide quality analysis each week. Jonny Page will be covering the offense this week and I’ll be launching a weekly film study series dedicated to Carson Wentz towards Friday! Enjoy!