The Eagles pass rush simply dominated a weakened Vikings Offensive line on Sunday, tilting momentum back in favor of the home team. From no sacks and two quarterback hits on Kirk Cousins, to 6 sacks and 16 hits on Sam Bradford, the Eagles pass rush put a bad performance behind them and showed elite tendencies against the previously unbeaten Vikings, despite being without star Defensive Tackle Bennie Logan. Such a contrasting game came as a slight surprise..so what changed in the space of just seven days?
The answer is simple. Jim Schwartz took the leash off of the Eagles Defense and showed a side he had previously kept hidden, blitzing.
Stunningly, the Eagles had racked up all of their sacks, QB hits and tackles for a loss before week 7, blitzing only 14% of the time..the least of ANY team in the NFL, a true testament to the strength of the Eagles front four.
With Sam Bradford having plenty of familiarity with how the Eagles like to do things Defensively, Jim Schwartz knew he had to shake things up..and that’s exactly what he did. Against the Vikings, the Eagles blitzed on 12 plays according to ESPN..upping their average to 25.5%. But it wasn’t the frequency of blitzing that burst through the Vikings trenches..it was the variety of looks and the efficiency they produced.
I decided to select some of my favorite blitzes from the win, just to take a closer look and see how much impact they really had on the game. In the play below, the Eagles made it near impossible for veteran Jake Long to cope. Sending Rodney McLeod and Vinny Curry at him in full steam, it became a case of damage limitation. Cox drove the outside while Bradham dropped into coverage, meaning that the double team intended for Cox ended up being placed on Beau Allen..who eventually broke through to scoop up the fumble that was beautifully forced by McLeod.
Rodney McLeod has been one of the Eagles most impressive players this season, along with Brandon Graham, but the hustle and instincts here to leap and punch the ball away is what is separating him from the crowd. The play was excellently crafted and executed perfectly..the result? Eagles ball.
The next was a double sequence of plays, forcing the Vikings into a punt and driving them back from the edge of midfield. The Eagles unleashed Malcolm Jenkins off the edge, who stormed into the path of Sam Bradford. The pocket awareness of the former Eagle saved him from a big hit, but it only delayed his fate. Jordan Hicks initially jumps up and anticipates a pass before completely catching Brandon Fusco off guard, charging inside and bringing down Bradford for the sack.
What was really interesting here however, was how the pocket imploded, leaving the outside lane for Jenkins to rush through. Marcus Smith did a great job of forcing the lane open and shrugging off his block while Beau Allen and undrafted rookie Destiny Vaeao forced Bradford into a suffocating situation..which you’d think would be hard to do without Cox or Logan on the field, making the play that much more impressive.
The Vikings were then pushed back to 3rd &13, but did the Eagles go conservative? No. Instead, they pushed the pedal down harder and threw everything at Bradford once again. This time it was a masterful deception from Jim Schwartz, who dropped Fletcher Cox into coverage and allowed Brandon Graham to rush. The Vikings were aiming to push the line to the right hand side..which meant if they could rush from the left, the fortress would collapse.
Dropping Cox back into coverage confused Alex Boone enough to blow open a hole just big enough for Nigel Bradham to surge through and assert his authority. Some great outside work from Brandon Graham collapsed the pocket that much quicker and ensured if Bradford dropped back to evade pressure, he would meet a grizzly end.. but swapping out Cox for Bradham on a blitz play was something so unexpected, but worked tremendously well.
Talking of outside pressure, Jaylen Watkins had a chance to show his versatility on Sunday too. Blitzing from the edge, the Eagles Safety created a 3-on-2 matchup outside and burst through unaccounted for, forcing Bradford into a scrappy throw. That incompletion forced the Vikings to kick a long field goal on fourth down, killing the drive and keeping damage to a minimum.
My favorite blitz of the game though HAS to be this one. The Eagles Safety tandem is rapidly developing a stern reputation..but while they’re often the last line of Defense, they can also impact the battle on the front lines. Rodney McLeod flies down from the slot to jump a potential screen pass, forcing Bradford to roll outside. Why was he forced to roll? Because as Asiata was sent on a route, Jenkins diagnosed the threat and saw that he would indeed run into coverage as opposed to block. Jumping out of his way, Jenkins set his sights on Sam Bradford, chased him to the outside and forced an incompletion.
The instincts of McLeod to jump the screen and quick mental processing from Malcolm Jenkins saw the duo kill a Vikings screen pass (which should be completed in a matter of seconds) single handedly. Perhaps the most impressive play of the day, the Eagles were able to once again kill a Vikings drive and retain momentum.
So yes, the Eagles blitzed much more than normal against the Vikings, but that isn’t why the Defense was so successful. It was the beautifully designed plays, the execution from some of the most explosive players on the roster and a sense of unpredictability that terrorized Sam Bradford and the Offense all game long..and that’s all down to Jim Schwartz.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports