There were a pair of terrific articles on Thursday about the Eagles and their thinking behind specific positions. Sheil Kapadia wrote a great article on the secondary, while Paul Domowitch wrote about the changes taking place at WR.
Let’s start with Sheil and the DBs. First, this is a partial piece of writing. It is an excerpt from something Sheil wrote for the Eagles Almanac.
Most of you are probably familiar with the almanac, but for those who aren’t…imagine taking the movie The Expendables and replacing the action stars with Eagles hacks. Boom. That’s the Eagles Almanac.
We assemble the greatest Eagles writers on Earth and have them contribute an article or two on a variety of subjects. I chose to write 2 pieces. I wrote an article comparing the 1995 and 2013 seasons. Both years featured new coaches taking the teams to 10-6 records and the playoffs. But both seasons were also very different. 1995 is one of my all-time favorite seasons so I enjoyed covering that and I think we all loved last year.
I also wrote a draft review for the Eagles. I went back and re-watched the prospects, now knowing they are Eagles, and tried to come up with some original material on the players. This wasn’t just a copy ‘n paste from May articles on the draft.
Go here for full details on the Eagles Almanac. For $10 you get an online copy. For $25 you can have a hard copy. For $237,000 you can have the full set of writers come to your home and read their pieces to your kids as bedtime stories.
Okay, let’s get back to Sheil and his great excerpt from the Eagles Almanac. He wrote about how the Eagles use a lot of Cover 3. Sheil got players and coaches to give him quotes on how this is executed and how it works. Truly great stuff. Must read material.
“We played basically a traditional three-deep and quarters type coverage, and then quarter-quarter-half zone coverage,” said defensive backs coach John Lovett. “[Those] were our main calls. And then on third down, we tightened things up. We played some different forms of man coverage. If you look back in a nutshell as far as what we did, it would fall into those general categories.”
The one coverage the Eagles went to over and over again (specifically on early downs) was the three-deep zone, or Cover 3. That featured three deep defenders (two cornerbacks and a safety) splitting the field into thirds and four “rally” defenders (usually two inside linebackers, an outside linebacker and a safety) underneath.
The Eagles plans made a lot of sense. Don’t get beat deep. Keep things in front of you and then rally to the ball. Bend, but don’t break. The problem is that the Eagles missed some key tackles and also lacked the speed in the middle of the field to make these ideas work really well.
The team’s tackling got better as the season went along and that helped the defense quite a bit. Remember the nightmare of the KC game? The Eagles would get the Chiefs into 3rd and long, only to have Donnie Avery catch a 5-yard pass (or less) and then run around the middle of the field for 15 to 20 yards and a 1st down. I don’t know if that was part of Dante’s levels of Hell, but it sure felt like it that night. Ugh.
Malcolm Jenkins is going to bring some aggression to the middle of the field and that’s a good thing.
“I’m in the middle of the field so I’m protecting the corners on post routes,” said Malcolm Jenkins, who admitted he did not play a lot of Cover 3 in New Orleans. “I’m protecting inside players on verticals by your tight ends and wide receivers. But at the same time, somebody like me, I get a little nosy and I like to try to rob some things when I know my corners can lock down their sides, and then I don’t have to babysit them. You can make a lot of plays, especially off tipped balls and overthrows. You’ve just gotta find a way to get around the ball.”
If you watch the Saints game, you’ll see Nate Allen playing on his heels. That’s fine in some situations, but not all game long. You need Safeties that can and will attack, whether this means a pass over the middle or a RB coming their way. Attack.
While the Cover 3 is a zone defense, you don’t guard blades of grass. You line up in a zone (or area), but the job is to then cover whatever comes inside of that zone. You need to be tight to the receiver or in a position to break on the ball if it is thrown to your area. Simply being in the right spot isn’t enough.
I’m hoping Allen will be more confident this year and will play more aggressively. I also hope Earl Wolff stays healthy and really pushes him for the starting job. I don’t care who wins it, I just want better Safety play than 2013.
Go read the whole piece by Sheil. There are lots of insightful quotes by players on what their specific duties are within the framework of the defense. I can’t wait to read the Eagles Almanac so I can see the entire article.
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“People want to put you in man-to-man coverage,” Kelly said. “We saw that more than other people. Having guys who can get open against man coverage is a key deal. I think that’s the one thing we know as a group going in. One-on-one coverage is a big deal for us. It’s a big deal in this league. We’re always looking for guys who can exploit that matchup.”
That’s a major reason the 5-9, 175-pound Jackson was released in March, and it’s a major reason the Eagles acquired pass-catching running back Darren Sproles and drafted 6-3, 222-pound wide receiver Jordan Matthews and sturdy (5-11, 206) Josh Huff.
“The addition of Sproles, are you [still] going to play us in man?” Kelly said. “If you do, then now you’re going to have a linebacker covering him if he’s the back. That’s kind of a huge addition when we thought about bringing him in.”
Another interesting twist: Kelly plans to use Matthews in the slot, where his size potentially will create problems for smaller slot corners. Most teams use smaller, quicker receivers in the slot.
“I think people match up to us [in man coverage] because of what we do and the speed and tempo that we play,” Kelly said after the draft. “It’s the easiest thing to get lined up quick [in man coverage]. [They say] ‘Hey, you’ve got him and I’ve got him.’
“If we’re going to see [man coverage] a lot, how do you get guys that exploit that coverage? In a league where sometimes people put smaller guys in the slot, we want to put a bigger guy in there. I think that matchup, if you’re a smaller DB in the slot and have to match up with a 220-pound guy like Jordan who also can run 4.46, that’s going to favor us.”
The Eagles have 13 wide receivers on their training-camp roster. Just one – Damaris Johnson – is shorter than 5-11. Seven are 6-2 or taller. There’s a good possibility that four of the six wideouts who make the season-opening roster will be 6-2 or taller.
“I know I talk about big people beating up little people, but that’s more of a defensive philosophy for us,” Kelly said. “But at the receiver position, it’s your ability to beat one-on-one coverage. And honestly, I don’t think people really beat it that often. You’re going to have to catch a lot of contested footballs.
“I think that’s one of the things that makes Riley [Cooper] such a good target. He’s 6-3 and over 230 now. He can muscle [defenders] and go get the ball. I think people play defense so close in this league, that your ability to go get the football is really what kind of separates people.”
I remember watching the Eagles in 1995. Jon Gruden’s WCO wanted receivers who could really work the middle of the field. Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams preferred working down the field or to the outside. The passing attack was a mess, to put it mildly. The Eagles let go of both guys and replaced them with Chris T. Jones and Irving Fryar, a pair of big, physical receivers. The passing offense looked night and day different in 1996. You must have the right receivers for the right situation. Fred Barnett was a terrific receiver, but not for the WCO. Fryar was made for that role.
We don’t know how the Eagles new set of receivers will do, but I love the fact there is distinct planning going on and not just random change. Kelly’s plan might not work, but there is a well-thought out plan behind the moves. I do think having the bigger receivers will work, and as a bonus they will block better in the run game.
It was also interesting to read that Cooper is now more than 230 pounds. He is one big WR.
Good stuff from Domo.
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Players report today and Training Camp officially starts tomorrow. Is everyone excited?