On September 23, 2018 the Indianapolis Colts will make the trip to take on the Philadelphia Eagles. In this week three match-up I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our new look Colts.
The Eagles — as you may have heard — closed out last season by beating the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. As happy as I am the Patriots lost and Frank Reich is now the head coach of the Colts, I don’t want to give the defending champs anything they don’t earn. The last time these two teams played was September 15, 2014. The Eagles came out victorious four years ago but neither team is remotely similar to their 2014 counterparts. Hopefully our Colts can pull of the improbable win.
Let’s figure out what we can expect in week three.
The Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz uses a 4-3 base defense, Schwartz employs what’s known as the wide-nine technique. It’s named due to the defensive ends playing a “9” technique. You’ve probably heard (or read) someone talk about a 1-tech, 3-tech or 5-tech, for an explanation of those this is a good read. A 9-tech lines up outside of the tight end, or rather where a tight end would line up. Remember where Dwight Freeny would line up on 3rd and 15 in the fourth quarter in any primetime game? That’s the 9-technique!
Schwartz is famous for the wide-nine and the Eagles have the horses to make it run. Schwartz would prefer not to blitz and they probably won’t need to, to get pressure on Andrew Luck. You can expect to see stunts up front and they will look to confuse rookie Quenton Nelson.
On the back end Schwartz will call more man than zone coverage but neither is likely to be shown a massive preference.
The Eagles come out in what looks like zone coverage, true to form they only rush four, dropping seven. This play from the Falcons is designed to get one of the three receivers that end up on the right side of the field open. Matt Ryan had a window but he hesitated and this Eagles defense is just too fast for that, as a result Ryan nearly got his receiver killed.
The Eagles come out showing a blitz but end up in cover 3 with four pass rushers and Matt Ryan has a tight pocket to throw from. The Eagles do a really good job of maintaining proper depth while not abandoning underneath responsibilities. This is the kind of discipline you need to have a highly successful, Super Bowl caliber defense. As you can see, Ryan has no where to go with the ball
Let’s just try to avoid 3rd and 24:
This should look familiar, anytime you have an offense in 3rd and 24 this is more or less what your defense is going to look like. One interesting thing I wanted to share are these defensive line splits:
I know they like the wide-nine but this is ridiculous! On a serious note, this is a really well designed front, it forces Ryan to take the underneath receiver, he probably would have done it either way just to avoid the turnover but there aren’t two tackles in the league I would feel comfortable leaving on an island against two defensive ends on a 15 yard sprint to the QB. As a result, Ryan checks it down and somehow, Darius Leonard does in fact make this tackle too. (another joke, bear with me)
Trouble with the zone:
The thing I saw the Eagles have the most trouble with was the zone run. Zone concepts were working well in week one and to be fair, they normally work well for the Falcons. I did see the Eagles get overly aggressive flowing to the side of the field the back started out but they failed to always maintain gap responsibility meaning there were a lot of cutback opportunities.
I don’t know that we can count on the Eagles playing with poor gap integrity on Sunday, one would think they’re eventually going to right the ship, but I know the first place I would test them would be up front with Jordan Wilkins, his vision and patience could combine for a few long runs this week.
Derek Barnett, Michael Bennett, Haloti Ngata, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Chris Long. How is anyone supposed to block these guys?
Sure at this point in his career Ngata isn’t the force he used to be, but Barnett is a young and improving pass rusher who had 5 sacks in his rookie year. Michael Bennett is somehow, still playing at a high level. Chris Long is playing very well despite a lack of eye-popping production (and on a non-football related note is perhaps my favorite human being in the NFL, seriously he seems like such a good dude). Brandon Graham is playing at the highest level of his career, and Fletcher Cox is a cheat code.
Fletcher Cox is grown man.— Tyler Steege (@TSteegeNFL) September 16, 2018
My goodness. pic.twitter.com/gEAiNVDyeW
The Colts offensive line has had huge tests in the first two weeks of the season. The Bengals employ a truly great defensive front. The Redskins are full of young but highly talented gap-fillers and pass rushers, but neither team has anything close to the level of talent these Eagles have. My gut tells me that Anthony Castonzo won’t be able to play in this one and even though the Colts have only allowed three sacks through the first two weeks, I’m still very concerned. This could be the week the Eagles defensive line breaks out for 2018.
Derek Barnett's 3rd sack in 2 games. pic.twitter.com/JDmCqOBun7— V⍟ʟBʟooᴅ (@volblood) August 18, 2017
I only posted clips from two guys because had I posted a highlight from everyone capable of making a big play on this defensive line, your web browser probably wouldn’t have been able to load the page. Even if it could, it probably would have taken 30 minutes to load and even in 1994 that would have been excessive, but possibly acceptable if there were a lot of pictures that needed to load one line of pixels at a time. Nobody wants that.
Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham are the two linebackers you’ll see most often on Sunday. You might see Kamu Grugier-Hill as he played around 40% of the Eagles week two defensive snaps. Another name to keep an eye on is Nathan Gerry. Gerry was a 5th round pick in 2017 out of Wisconsin, a safety in college the Eagles have converted the 6’2” 230lber and while playing sparingly he did see the field some last week.
Hicks is a very good linebacker in 2018, he’s 6’1” 238lbs and he can run and hit and he can cover. Nigel Bradham broke out with the Eagles in 2016 after coming over from the Buffalo Bills. During his time in Buffalo, Bradham struggled to stay healthy but he seems to have put those issues behind him. Bradham is better against the run than the pass but we will see far worse linebackers this season that what we will get on Sunday.
Nigel Bradham is criminally underrated, Exhibit 1,315 pic.twitter.com/Nr0QVBmvm3— Patrick (@pmc1423) October 13, 2017
To say that cornerback Jalen Mills has had a rough start to 2018 would be an understatement. Safety Malcom Jenkins has also claimed some responsibility for some pretty big mistakes that have been made:
Malcolm Jenkins says he made a “rookie mistake” on the first touchdown. Eagles were caught in a blitz with Ronald Darby. And Malcolm didnt help Jalen Mills— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) September 16, 2018
The other safety Rodney McLeod has received rave reviews for his early season play:
Shot 5 - Rodney McLeod was all over the field against the #Falcons both in pass coverage and in the run game. Played sideline to sideline, met multiple throws at the catch point, and made plays behind the LOS. Great game from the FS #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/RrFjFPwAoH— Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 7, 2018
Meanwhile Ronald Darby has also excelled:
Shot 7 - Ronald Darby was one of the most impressive #Eagles on the field on Thursday night. Competitive at the catch point each and every down and put his athleticism on display up and down the field. Wasn't just the hero at the end, he showed up from the opening drive on pic.twitter.com/Sk7Z4GhRbN— Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 7, 2018
One thing to note is talented second year corner Sidney Jones has had a very solid start to the season but only played on 50% of the Eagles snaps in week two. I have to believe it will only be a matter of time before he is moved into a more prominent role.
This Eagles secondary is a good but not great one. The one thing to remember, though, any secondary looks better with an elite pass rush, something the Eagles have. I honestly believe Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton could expose this defense in a big way, I also believe Luck could throw three interceptions, really this entire game is going to be decided up front.
What To Expect From The Colts Offense:
I think we can expect to see a lot of short crossing routes designed to beat man coverage, I also think we’re going to see some zone run concepts mixed in to try to exploit the Eagles speed and aggressiveness and if the Colts could ever execute (or time the play call correctly, lookin’ at you Frank) a screen pass, those could also be very effective against this defense.
The thing to remember with the Eagles D is this; they’re good enough, we can’t hope the Colts can exploit any single position group or player, they simply have too much talent. Instead the Colts offense is going to have to rely on superior scheme and excellent execution, something they may be capable of doing.