Eagles film room: Does Elijah Qualls have a niche in the Jim Schwartz Defense?

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The Eagles added to their defensive front in the sixth round of the NFL Draft, bringing in defensive tackle Elijah Qualls. With Beau Allen’s status uncertain for the start of the season at least, there’s a huge window for the former Washington lineman to make an impact..but can he?

A former teammate of Sidney Jones, Qualls stands at 6’1 and weighs 313 lbs. Surprisingly, despite his impressive size, Qualls was used all across the Washington front four in 2016. A natural 3-technique, Qualls is beyond explosive, amassing 38 tackles, 3 sacks and 5 TFL in 2016. But what are the Eagles getting in Qualls?

 

Run stopping:
If there’s one thing that this thick-framed defensive tackle does well, it’s plug the trenches and defend the run. With some impressive instincts to go with his brutish physique, he’s able to shed blocks at the last second and leap onto the running back to cut the play dead in its tracks, just as we can see in the play below.

Although it isn’t always present, Qualls also plays with a mean streak. If given the opportunity to use his 33-reps at the bench worth of power, he will..as can be seen with this Brock Lesnar like suplex.

The same instinct to leap onto the running back can be seen in this stop against Idaho. Qualls is able to push the line deep and then bounce off his block in order to make the play.

It’s clear to see why the Eagles want a run stopper. After losing Bennie Logan, the team were left with a roster of pass rushers..and with the addition of Derek Barnett on the outside, they needed someone who could plug the holes and occasionally burst through to make a play. That’s exactly what Qualls can bring to the table, just like he shows in this play against Arizona.

 

Pass rush:
This is where my concerns begin to arise. Qualls isn’t a prominent pass rusher by any stretch of the imagination, but he struggles supremely when it comes to beating blocks and pushing the line into the backfield at times. But at others, he seems to be the perfect blend of what the Eagles are looking for, just like he does here against Oregon. Quickly shedding the block by throwing himself inside to get pressure to the quarterback and force a throw off the back foot. Pressures matter in Schwartz’s Defense, just ask Fletcher Cox.

Qualls is also just as efficient getting inside his man as he is getting outside. After trying to break protection, Qualls pulls his way back through the middle, just inches away from the Oregon quarterback.

Against USC, Qualls flashed what explosive potential he has in the pass rush, getting his arm up to try and bat down Sam Darnold’s pass and  pushing the pocket toward the esteemed passer. He utilized his upper body strength well here, carried his weight into the push and led with his arms..something that doesn’t always happen.

We’ll get to that later however. But for now, you can still see how quickly Qualls is able to get off his block and locate the quarterback, if in the right situation.

 

The hidden weapon:
Qualls does have one ace up his sleeve however, something that he tried to use several time in the win against Oregon. I broke down exactly how that could help the Schwartz Defense below.

https://twitter.com/LiamJenkins21/status/861992800208003073

If Qualls is able to dissect play-action that quickly and make the necessary physical adjustments to close off running lanes for the quarterback, then the ceiling could be higher than many expected. It’s that kind of elusiveness that was all too rare in his game, but something that if harnessed, could be a monumental asset.

 

The bad news..:
There must be reasons why Qualls slipped through the cracks after being touted as a mid-round pick..and this is one of them in my opinion. He simply isn’t consistent in the pass rush. For instance, in this play against Oregon, Qualls is initially double teamed but then is almost thrown backwards after the quarterback decides to scramble.

The problem is that Qualls simply stays upright. As soon as the ball’s snapped, he loses any momentum as an upright stance leaves him almost trying to push against an overpowering block, rather than being the force itself.

If you combine this technical setback with what appears to be a Motor that is either at 100% or 30%, and you have an interesting prospect. Qualls can be seen making next to no drive with his legs after being double teamed..which is a hard thing to do, but when you look at the premier pass rushers at the next level, they at least try to drive through the blocks.

It’s difficult to tell whether this is an effort problem, or just one of physical limitation. Its rare to find defensive tackles who are as dominant as a Fletcher Cox in the pass rush, and as secure as Logan in stopping the run..but Qualls seems to be explosive, yet inconsistent at both, Like in the play below, he gets pushed to the floor after not finishing.

Double teamed on the play below for a brief moment, Qualls almost gets pushed to his knees, but is able to thrust back up and find his footing. By the time he’s done this, the running back has already burst through the hole and gone off to the races.

 

Versatility:
The other MAJOR positive in Qualls’ game however, is his versatility. How many 300 lbs athletes can play as an edge rusher and a defensive tackle? Not many. Qualls’ unique skillset means he’s able to come off the edge and really push the pocket inward, attracting attention and opening up opportunities elsewhere along the line for a sack rampant Defense. He may not come away with a sack on the play below, but he’s able to force Darnold out of the pocket and into an area where traffic was briefly flowing.

Qualls has a nice stutter to his rush here and uses his hands well to set the edge and has a surprising amount of flexion for someone of his physique. He forces the quarterback into a confined space, while his teammate wraps up the sack.

 

The Cox effect:
I think the strongest aspect of what Qualls brings to the table, is what I call the Fletcher Cox effect. Last season, many criticized Cox for not posting numbers anywhere near what was expected after signing such a monster deal..but through the heart of the season, as double teams and triple teams mounted..it was Brandon Graham who had a career year and broke free from the chains holding him back.

This is exactly what Qualls does on the play below, as he lightens the load on one side of the line, it leaves the defensive end to sweep in and reap the rewards.

Given that the Eagles have just drafted Derek Barnett, if they can rotate Qualls into a situation where he’s lined up next to Cox..who do you double team?! The 313 lbs monster, or the Man-Dog himself? It’s a rock and a hard place situation..and it’s THAT kind of situation that could see Qualls become the perfect fit for the Schwartz Defense. Or, they could line him up on the outside..and draw attention away from the tandem of Timmy Jernigan and Fletcher Cox.
Conclusion:
The bottom line is that in any kind of matchup situation, Qualls has the potential to be an absolute nightmare for offensive lines. He may not ever be a prolific sack artist, or a run stopping ace..but he has flashed the explosiveness to become a very well rounded defensive tackle, with the frame to really open up the Defense.

Jim Schwartz was reluctant to blitz in 2016, and if the Eagles can find a way to give O-Lines nightmares, while keeping Bradham and Hicks in coverage, then they will absolutely grasp it with both hands. That’s exactly what Qualls gives them. Someone who can push the pocket, clog up running lanes, and take the load off of the stars who need an edge to shine.

 

Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

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