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Eagles Film Review: The worst game on defense I’ve ever studied

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve watched the All22 of every single Eagles game for about 10 years, and this is the worst game on defense I’ve studied. I always try to remain rational in these articles, but it is tough to do so this week. This was just bad.

Defense

The game didn’t begin well, did it? This was the first play on defense and it was a sign of things to come. Several Eagles’ defenders come charging downhill and bite on play-action, and they decide to leave the Cardinals’ best offensive weapon, Trey McBride, wide open in the flat for a nice gain. This defense is not just bad because of the defensive coordinator. The fundamentals are bad. Individual players are making big errors every week. Whatever happens at the end of this season, I expect the Eagles to overhaul the defensive coaching staff because whatever they are teaching, isn’t currently working. I’m guessing this one is on Avonte Maddox but just look at the linebackers' reaction to play-action as well. You will see a lot of players running around confused in this article. I could have included a lot of bad Avonte Maddox plays in this game, because he was terrible, but it was his first game back. I do think the Eagles screwed up by not bringing him back slowly, and making Bradley Roby inactive was a very strange decision.

There were two 3rd and medium conversions by the Cardinals on the 1st drive, where the Eagles’ defensive backs were giving up 10 yards of cushion. This has been an issue for a long time now. It looks incredibly dumb. Maybe I am reaching here, so apologies if you disagree, but this exact type of issue has repeatedly occurred under Jonathan Gannon, Sean Desai, and Matt Patricia. When do we start looking at Nick Sirianni’s role in this? I know he’s not a defensive coach, but he consistently talks about the defense doing a good job at preventing explosive plays. I can’t help but feel this focus on limiting explosive plays has led to this passive style we are seeing over and over again.

This play is hilariously bad. Motion confuses Maddox and Morrow (who isn’t even looking when the ball is snapped), and Blankenship is giving up 10 yards of cushion on 3rd and 6. What is going on here? This is about as bad as it can get on 3rd down. Coaches are not idiots. These guys know a lot more than myself. There has to be a reason for this cushion that the Eagles give on 3rd down, and the only answer I have is that the Eagles are still hyper-focused on preventing explosive plays. No other answer makes any sense to me.

The Eagles’ run defense was horrendous in this game. It was a strength of this team over the first half of the season, and the decline has been extremely sharp. I could show several different plays that show numerous errors, but let’s start with the first good run by James Conner. Let’s start with the defensive line. Jordan Davis is in this team to anchor and command double teams. He gets taken out of this play easily by 1 offensive lineman. Davis has proved in both seasons that he can have moments of brilliance, but he can’t sustain this level of play. Davis wasn’t awful in this game, so I’m not picking on him, but he was a 1st round pick that doesn’t rush the quarterback. He has to do better against the run. The number of times I saw Davis, Carter, and Cox turned sideways (so you can see their numbers from the sideline view - which you never want to see) was incredible. Josh Sweat is charging upfield so he provides no resistance on the edge. Shaq Leonard cannot shed a block, and he is completely taken out of the play by the Cardinals' best-receiving weapon! What chance have you got when your linebacker can’t shed or avoid a block from the offense’s tight end? Howie’s refusal to take the linebacker position seriously is a huge reason why this defense is struggling so much right now. If this team is serious about doing anything in the playoffs, Shaq Leonard cannot start anymore. If he’s starting, then that tells me that Howie has way too much power over gameday personnel still.

Another 3rd down conversion. There’s a lot of talk about the Eagles’ pass rush and there are loads of reasons why it isn’t effective right now. Firstly, before we talk about scheme and coaching, we have to be clear that the players are not doing a good enough job rushing the quarterback and they are not winning their one-on-one matchups. However, the job of a good coach is to put players in the best position to succeed. Haason Reddick is the Eagles’ best pass rusher and he excels by bending the edge and winning with speed. With that in mind, why are the Eagles asking him to do this on 3rd and 8?! He doesn’t look comfortable doing it, and if he’s meant to be a sort of QB spy, then ask someone else to do that job. Why would you blitz Morrow on the edge and Reddick up the middle? Just why? Additionally, pass rush and coverage are not separate entities. They exist together. The Eagles' pass rush isn’t good, but they also aren’t getting that long to get after the quarterback because the secondary routinely gives up easy throws on important downs like they do here on 3rd and 8. I don’t want to exaggerate, but everything is bad.

There has been a lot of talk about Reddick dropping into coverage on about 23% of his snaps this week. Let’s talk about it. I do not mind dropping EDGE defenders into coverage a couple of times a game. I know we all hate it, but Sirianni is correct when he says that it helps the defense be unpredictable. However, look at this play and focus on the pre-snap picture. Reddick dropping here isn’t unpredictable. It is incredibly predictable. The safety behind Reddick is 15 yards deep. So if Reddick does blitz, Kyler Murray can just check it straight to the wide receiver on Reddick’s side anyway. Murray knows that he can throw it to this receiver whether Reddick drops or blitzes. This isn’t unpredictable. It’s bad.

As I said earlier, I can’t watch Shaq Leonard anymore. I feel bad, and I hate picking on individuals in these articles, but if he keeps playing it’s because Howie just signed him. I would genuinely start Ben VanSumeren next week over him. He just isn’t an NFL athlete anymore. Last week he made some great plays where he was shooting gaps and was unblocked, but if he has to play through any traffic or beat any block, he can’t do it.

This is probably the most negative article I’ve ever written in my life, so let’s pause for 2 plays to show some positives. Firstly, Sydney Brown had a 99-yard pick 6. This is cool! Let’s just ignore the fact that 2 receivers are open and it’s a miscommunication that caused it...

The only other positive I could find in this one was my guy Moro Ojomo! He looked good against the run. I think it might be time to give him some early-down snaps. I can’t quite believe I’m saying that either, but what is the worst that can happen? It can’t get worse!

I didn’t record the play, but there was a moment early in the game where the Cardinals threw the ball to the flat and Reed Blankenship came flying downhill and hit the receiver hard for a very short gain. I remember that play because Shaq Leonard does the exact opposite. Any defender, but especially your starting linebacker, needs to be flying downhill here to hit the running back hard and prevent him from falling forward into the end zone. Defenders will miss tackles, but at least attempt to do the right thing. Instead, Shaq Leonard is jogging out there and then tries to punch the ball out rather than wrap up the tackle. As I said earlier, he shouldn’t be on the field at this point.

Whatever the Eagles are trying to do with their run fits, it is not working. Carter and Williams are crossing over, which I understand can help linemen avoid blocks, but it just looks messy. Shaq Leonard can’t make the tackle. But the weirdest part of this run fit is on the edge. It looks like the Eagles have 2 defenders setting the edge, which means that the Cardinals lineman can block 2 players out of the play at once. The run fits were bad in this game. Really bad.

The Eagles finally got pressure! This is where dropping Reddick makes sense (to an extent) because the offensive line has to slide to the right, which means they end up doubling Carter and this leaves Davis, Williams, and Sweat with one-on-one matchups. Sweat wins but can’t finish the play. This play sort of sums up Josh Sweat over the past month. Unfortably, Sweat is the only lineman who wins, so Kyler Murray has time to deliver the perfect throw. Of course, James Conner makes a perfect one-handed catch as well. I don’t expect Jordan Davis to suddenly be a great pass rusher, but I would love him to at least collapse the pocket when he is one-on-one here.

Matt Patricia got bored of the lack of pressure, so he decided to send a cover-0 blitz. I’m intrigued (aka confused) by the decision to blitz James Bradberry who is lining up inside here, but I don’t hate the decision to blitz considering how bad everything else was going. Sadly, Kelee Ringo has one of his worst snaps in coverage and gets badly beaten. The decision to move to Patricia obviously hasn’t worked, but I think it may also be time that we get serious about the lack of talent on the defense. Howie Roseman has not done a good enough job building this defense, and the decision to build up the defensive line has not worked. This team can’t get pressure, and the corners aren’t good enough to allow them to blitz. The linebackers are quite clearly not good enough either.

I had to end with this one. It is week 17. The Eagles’ defense looks like they have never played a snap together. There were so many moments of confusion in this game. I never want to call on people to lose their jobs, but I think there needs to be serious changes on the defensive side of the ball this offseason, whatever happens to Sirianni. The lack of talent is real, but you can’t have players looking this confused pre-snap. This all comes down to coaching.

This was without a doubt, the most negative article I have ever written. I feel like I needed to go into detail this week, about exactly why this Eagles’ defense was so bad. Hopefully, this is the lowest point for an Eagles’ defense that has had many low points this season. It can’t really get any worse, can it?

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