Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Let's Talk Defense

The newest version of Gang Green is playing brilliantly right now.

They held Dallas to only 6 points, their lowest output of the season. The week before, WAS got 10 points. Cleveland was held without an offensive TD. The Giants only scored 14 points (7 of which came via a blocked FG run back for a TD).

For the month of December the defense allowed a total of 2 TDs. They scored 3. Great, great stuff right there. You can ride a dominant defense to a title. Right now the Eagles D is playing dominant football.

Final rankings:

Yards Allowed - 3rd
Points Allowed - 4th
Rush D - 4th
Pass D - 3rd
Sacks - 3rd
3rd Down - 2nd
Opp. Comp. % - 2nd
Opp. QB Rating - 5th
Opp. YPC - 3rd
Opp. Rush TDs - 2nd
Fewest 1st downs - 4th
Fewest Penalties - 5th

The defense came up with 29 takeaways, an improvement of 10 from last year.

They scored 4 TDs (Parker, Samuel, Clemons, Hanson).

Yardage allowed:

DAL - 298
WAS - 249
CLE - 196
NYG - 211
ARZ - 260
BAL - 248
CIN - 226

I stopped there. That stretch of games is when Jim Johnson made changes. Akeem Jordan took over at WLB. Jim got more aggressive with his gameplans. He started to really challenge his defense. They responded by playing great football. Joselio Hanson took over as the Nickel back in that stretch as well. Lito did play some because of an injury to Asante. Lito was burned for 4 TDs in his limited time. Thanks for helping out, Lito.

Victor Abiamiri and Chris Clemons emerged on the DL in that stretch. Victor is out with a Lis Franc sprain and might be done for the year. Clemons got all 4 of his sacks in the 2nd half of the season. He started to offer impact at DE and as The Joker. His ability to run and chase gives JJ something to get creative with.

Trent Cole is the best player up front. He "only" had 10 sacks, but his presence is felt all game long. He came out of the Dallas game without a sack or tackle, but go ask Romo who hit him the most. Trent did.

Bunk and Patt are rock solid inside. Those guys clog the middle like a Frat house toilet on burrito night. They didn't make a whole lot of plays this year. They only combined for 2.5 sacks, 3 TFLs. Just look at the improved LB play. Last year our LBs had 22 TFLs. This year they had 27. Bunk and Patt occupied blockers and let the other players make the plays. Bunk is on the verge of becoming a Pro Bowl player. He's starting to really get disruptive.

You have to mention Darren Howard. He came up with 10 sacks this year to lead the team. Most of his sacks came from RDT in the Nickel/Dime defense. He's a big part of why the 3rd down defense is so good. QBs know he is going to be exploding off the ball and they must act quickly. He forced Romo into an INT on Sunday.

The linebackers were a sore spot for a long time. No more. Bradley looks terrific at MIKE. Gocong is improving at SAM and has good potential. Jordan has played very well at WIL. Gaither was up and down in his time as a starter this year, but is a top flight backup. Gocong is 250+ and runs well. Stew is 250+ and instinctive. Jordan is only around 240, but he's athletic and surprisingly physical. Akeem is very good at taking on lead blockers.

Safety play was a major issue in September. I was ready to put Dawk out to pasture. That was then, this is now (thanks, Emilio). JJ is using Dawk wisely and the results speak for themselves. Mikell has been rock solid all year. Even Quintin Demps is getting some reps. He's part of our D against 2-TE sets. Big pass plays aren't the problem they were early on.

We paid a lot of money to bring Asante Samuel in here. Sammie has been about as good as advertised. He dropped key picks vs CIN, WAS but those are my only two real complaints. Sheldon Brown didn't make a lot of plays, but he's been solid. Both guys will hit and tackle you. MmmBop Hanson is playing well right now as the Nickel corner. He lacks the speed to play outside, but he's a terrific role player.

We're getting plays from all 3 levels of the defense. The guys play well as a group. There is a real chemistry on this unit in the last 4-6 games. Don't underestimate the importance of that.

2005 - PIT rides their D to a SB win
2006 - Indy rides their D to a SB win
2007 - NYG ride their D to a SB win

Obviously the Bucs and Ravens did the same thing at the beginning of the decade.

I'm not telling you the D will carry us to Tampa and/or win the title, but it is possible. And not "it could rain chocolate pudding" possible. I'm talking about very doable.

Let's hope this version of Gang Green is able to come up big in the playoffs. If they do, watch out NFL. We'll have as good a chance as anyone.


Jim Johnson was very passive against Dallas in Week 2. He called a game based on not getting burned by deep pass plays. He limited blitz looks. Romo sat in the pocket and ate us for lunch. They scored 34 offensive points and got plenty of big plays.

This time around Jim wanted to be more aggressive. He did that in a couple of ways. Jim used the tactic that BAL had last week and came with delay blitzes. This is when a DB or LB hesitates for a second or so then takes off after the QB. The thinking is that the blockers will all engage a defender and won't see the blitzer coming on the delay. He'll then get a free run at the QB. Dallas adjusted for this pretty well. Our delay blitzes didn't eat Romo alive the way the Ravens did.

We also stacked the line on some plays. This was effective in terms of forcing quick throws and errant throws. The blitz isn't just designed to get sacks. It is effective if the QB has to get rid of the ball quickly and plays don't work right.

Tony Romo had some interesting comments after the game. On Dallas early FG drive we had blitzers coming off the slot. They would leave the receiver wide open at the snap and attack. Another defender would shoot over to the receiver and tackle him, but Dallas got short gains. Tony said we took that away after that drive and kept all the receivers covered. He and the Cowboys didn't respond well.

I liked the fact we were so versatile in the game. Jim brought pressure off both sides. He brought it up the middle. He rushed only 4 at times.

We played tight man coverage sometimes. We laid off and played zone on other plays. We didn't let Dallas ever get into a comfort zone.

We used the creative 2-man DL look. We'd have a couple of guys down in a 3-point stance. We'd have several other players milling around at the LOS. The offense didn't know who was coming and who was dropping. I didn't notice this having any particular success, but it gave the offense something else to deal with. They just got overwhelmed - physically, mentally, and based on the sight of Romo laying on the ground crying for mommy...emotionally as well.

Great gameplan. Great execution.

1 comment:

Mark H. said...


Do you think Jim Johnson is the best coach on the Eagles' staff in terms of game planning/gameday adjustments? I'm amazed at what the guy can do, especially when given talent like they have this year.

By the way, thanks for all the work you do between here, the EMB, and the Eagles' web site. Your columns are always an enjoyable read (even if I miss a movie quote now and then).