As we make our way through the NFC East in our newest series, “The Breakdown,” we take a look at the Philadelphia Eagles schematic philosophy. The Eagles have mortgaged the future on quarterback Carson Wentz and despite the typical growing pains accompanied by a full-time rookie starter at such position, the future seems…bright enough. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has established a dependable defense that will continue to provide Wentz and company with advantageous field position, but let’s delve into the finer points of both sides of the ball.
The Breakdown: A Look at the Philadelphia Eagles Schematic Philosophy
Becoming More Dynamic
For as much potential as Wentz displayed last season, his receiving corps didn’t provide him many favors in a rather pedestrian passing offense. Head coach Doug Pederson was then forced to rely on the use of tight ends through the air, which, while effective in the use of play-action and dilution of the appearance between run and pass personnel packages, doesn’t present the same advantages of going four and five-wide.
Placing two and three extra potential pass protectors on the field 89 percent of the time would be beneficial if the offensive line wasn’t reliable in pass protection, but that wasn’t the case with the Eagles in 2016. They have two dependable bookends in left tackle Jason Peters and right tackle Lane Johnson, and an athletic interior that altogether established a cohesive unit, and one that makes a compelling case for a top-five unit.
The problem was, ultimately, a lack of dynamic athletes at receiver. Dorial Green-Beckham proved to be a let down as an “X” option that could handle the intermediate area of the field and prove threatening in their high dosage of X-iso looks. This is essentially what they hope free agent signee Alshon Jeffery will be with fellow signee Torrey Smith opposite him, a vertical threat who can uncover down the field and force safety help over the top. Smith drawing coverage assistance will also help widen the throwing windows the Eagles are wont to attack with Jeffery and allow their Hi-Lo schemes to flourish.
That talented offensive line I previously mentioned has been tremendous in the run game as well, executing Peterson’s use of both gap and zone blocking schemes with precision. The athleticism of the interior has proven to be an asset on zone runs and has displayed the ability to generate adequate movement on runs such as power and counter.
Philadelphia’s addition of LeGarrette Blount suggests they will maintain their 11 and 12 personnel looks in the run game to support his physical style, while the selection of San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey should fit right into both packages with his receiving skills.
Defensive Talent In Abundance
Oddly enough, they went on the defensive with their first three picks in the NFL Draft rather than using such picks on weapons for their new quarterback; nevertheless, the talented Eagles defense managed to become even better on paper-since the end of the 2016 season. They also traded for two talented players in Timmy Jernigan (defensive tackle) and Ronald Darby (cornerback), the latter of which joins highly-touted second and third round corners from 2017, Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas respectively.
A defense with this kind of depth paired with a mind such as Schwartz’s creates copious amounts of untapped potential. Operating from a zone scheme that calls for a more threatening pass rush over a lock-down secondary, Schwartz treats his defensive line as disrupters by asking them to shoot gaps and get up field, and his group may be the NFL’s most well-equipped to do so.
Fletcher Cox is a versatile interior defender who can operate as both a one- and 3-Tech, but the addition of Jernigan suggests he will spend the vast majority of his snaps as the latter and parlay his pass rushing talents into a dominant season as one of the game’s top defensive tackles.
When the Eagles go with their nickel package, base defensive end Vinny Curry kicks inside as a 3-Tech as well, which would open the door for the Eagles’ 2017 draft headliner, Derek Barnett, to do what he does best: get to the quarterback. While Jernigan is a valuable talent in his own right, he is expected to replace Bennie Logan as the run-stuffing one-Tech, a task that may not present the smoothest of transitions.
This is where that aforementioned depth becomes the most invaluable aspect of this line and will allow Schwartz to become creative with his alignments to get the ideal down guys on the field. The addition of defensive end Chris Long presents the possibility of keeping Barnett on the field for the majority of third downs (pass rushing downs), while Long can be the effective run defender he is on first and second down. That much remains to be seen and is fairly unpredictable, however.
Expect Schwartz to implement a bevy of defensive line games like slants, twists, and stunts in his four-man rushes with rangy and athletic linebackers who can handle zone responsibilities. This attacking, pressure-based defense is built on the importance of generating turnovers and it’s not uncommon to see intertwined two-man looks with his two-shell looks.
Regardless of a man or zone base coverage, your level of flexibility as a coordinator grows exponentially when you can generate consistent, threatening pressure from a four-man rush. Of course, making the additions the Eagles did in the secondary helps alleviate pressure placed on the group and allows for further creativity and diversity on the back end, specifically through the likes of safeties Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins.
There’s no doubt that the offense’s ceiling is structured around the strides Wentz is required to take in his progression. The sophomore signal caller was granted deep threats and more diversity at running back with an already-impressive offensive line, while the defense will undoubtedly flip the field and create opportunities to put points on the board. The Dallas Cowboys are at a clear disadvantage with Ezekiel Elliott‘s suspension for the first six games of the year, and if the Eagles can capitalize on such, the NFC East race will become incredibly interesting.
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