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Eagles Film Analysis: All-22 defense takeaways from the Giants game

NFL: New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

I said last week that I saw some positive signs from Matt Patricia’s debut, and I think that continued this week. It’s hard to judge the Eagles’ defense too much in this game because the Giants' offense is terrible, but I enjoyed some of the changes I saw.

Defense

I wasn’t too harsh, but I was very critical of Shaq Leonard last week. So it’s only fair that I point out he played a lot better this week. He seemed to play with a lot more freedom, and I wonder if he started to trust his body just a little more. He still isn’t great and doesn’t move particularly well, but he had some really nice snaps in this game against the run and was very decisive when coming downhill. Credit where credit is due!

Also, Shaq Leonard trying to get the crowd going is the best thing I saw this week.

The Eagles are still struggling to turn pressure into sacks, and they ran a few sim pressures in this game that I quite liked. I particularly enjoyed this one, because Reed Blankenship is so quick in short areas that I think he makes an ideal blitzer. I think this one may have worked perfectly, had Josh Sweat not decided to rush inside and completely block Blankenship’s path to the quarterback. It’s the minor details on plays like this that make all the difference.

I’m not going to discuss Nolan Smith as an off-ball linebacker because I assume it was a 1-week thing due to injuries, but if it continues to happen then I will speak about it in the future!

I still struggle with Nolan Smith as a pass rusher, but there’s no denying he is fast and athletic. Watching him and Sydney Brown flying around and hitting is great fun. I think both of these players are going to bring an identity to this defense moving forward, as they both play with real physicality and aggression. There was something cool about seeing this play.

Why do opposing teams keep doing this?! I thought Haason Reddick was really good in this game, and he made a few big plays. This is too easy for him though.

I wondered how much things would change with Patricia taking over the defense. Well, let me tell you, the difference was huge in this game. The Eagles have played a ton of man coverage on obvious passing downs this year but this week was completely different. The Eagles ran a ton of zone coverage and I have been calling for this for weeks. I know the Giants are a bad offense, so playing more zone coverage may not be a magical fix, but it’s just good to mix it up and I think it suits the current defenders the Eagles have. It really was very evident on film this week that the Eagles did not want to play anywhere near as much man coverage. This stunt with Brandon Graham at nose tackle was cool to see as well. This is very much out of the Bill Belichick playbook, who has made a living out of underpaying EDGE rushers and using stunts to create pressure instead.

At the time of writing, I can’t check the data for this week as it hasn’t been uploaded to SIS Data Hub. But, I can tell you, that before this game the Eagles were using man coverage around 50% of the time on 3rd/4th and 7+ which ranked number 1 in the NFL. Obviously, that meant they ranked 32nd in zone coverage. I do not have the numbers but I am absolutely certain that the Eagles played a lot more zone coverage this week.

How many times have we seen the Eagles killed by bunches and stacks this year? The Giants had very little success with them this week because the Eagles didn’t play as much man coverage! They also ran this cover-2 invert coverage with Kelee Ringo rotating to the deep safety a few times. Ringo also rotated to the deep safety in cover 6 (quarter-quarter-half) which is interesting as the Eagles haven’t done that this year! That’s something to keep an eye on moving forward. There were certainly some changes with the defense this week.

Ben VanSumeren had about as good of a debut as a UDFA making his first-ever start could have. I was excited to watch him play because he is a freakish athlete that I enjoyed watching after the Eagles drafted him. This was my summary of VanSumeren after watching him this offseason:

This is the perfect UDFA pick. Just go and get elite athletes. The Eagles LOVE their undersized linebackers at the moment, don’t they? This is my favorite UDFA pick. How can you not want an athlete like this on your team? Even if he is a bad player and doesn’t develop, he should surely provide special teams value which actually gives him a legitimate chance to make the roster one day. He also fits the bill as a classic modern-day linebacker who can’t take on blocks but can play behind a 5-man front and just run all over the place chasing the ball carrier. He’s a fun guy to watch out for.

The good thing was, he did take on blocks in this game! And he did it well. The athletic ability was on show the minute you turned on the film. It was only one game, but I was impressed and he’s someone I would keep an eye on this offseason. It is not impossible to think that he will be competing for a starting job next year.

I enjoyed watching this game on defense. I have no idea what this call was on 3rd and 3. There is no defender in the A-gap against a team that basically just run it all the time? On 3rd and 3? Weird. I’m not really sure what Leonard is doing here, and it looks like VanSumeren and Blankenship are distracted by the possibility of the quarterback keeping it and are very late to get to the A-gap. This is a weird one.

Process > results. I could moan here because the Eagles have up another 3rd down, but I think this coverage call is good and it’s not on the call. The Eagles show a 7-man blitz but they drop both linebackers into coverage. I do complain about this sometimes because I think the Eagles do it too much and it also limits the ability of the linebackers to get depth, but here you can see it work perfectly. The Giants leave 7 into protect so when the Eagles only rush 5 the Eagles have the numbers in zone coverage. No one is open, but sadly you can see how limited Shaq Leonard is as an athlete still as he has no chance at getting to Tyrod Taylor. It was 3rd and 6, so I can see why the Eagles didn’t want to go to their dime package, but I would have preferred an extra defensive back on the field who may have had the speed to keep up with Tyrod.

It’s easy to blame the defensive coaches when a big play like this happens, but sometimes it’s just a terrible play by a player. I am almost 99% certain that this is on Reed Blankenship who should have the #2 if he goes vertical. He looks like he gets distracted by the quarterback and ends up just losing the Giants receiver. Blankenship has had a good season and he is a good young safety, but he will want this play back. However, I wouldn’t blame this on the defensive coordinator and I would put this one on Blankenship.

If you get the chance, just go and watch the Giants’ final drive again. The Eagles’ defense learned their lesson from last week. There was no cover-1 single-high coverage and it was just straight-up zone coverage, normally with two deep safeties. I think the Eagles played the final drive really well, and it wouldn’t have been as tense if Tyrod didn’t make an unbelievable 20-yard throw down the field to Darren Waller who made an excellent catch. Sometimes that stuff happens. Overall, the Eagles’ defense was put in a much better position to win than they were last week.

I know it was against the Giants, but it was good to see the Eagles’ defense play a better game than last week. Hopefully, some of the positive signs we saw this week will continue over the final couple of weeks and into the playoffs.

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