The Philadelphia Eagles welcome the Houston Texans this Sunday with their season on the line in what should be a showcase of formidable defensive lines and high flying offences. The Eagles’ offence will face a more difficult test than they did last week against a porous Rams secondary and will have a hard time running against the league’s 4th best run defence. Nick Foles looked like playoff Foles in LA, and the offence was finally able to get Alshon Jeffery involved. The Texans house the 26th ranked pass defence and their defensive backfield has been up and down despite a stellar pair of young safeties in Tyrann Matthieu and Justin Reid. Thus, there is potential for big chunk yardage through the air. The key to winning this match up will be stopping the pass attack on the other side of the ball. Fortunately, Jim Schwartz’ defensive scheme contrasts well with what Houston likes to do on offence.
Throughout the season, and sometimes to the dismay of spectators, Schwartz has insisted on playing off-coverage and giving opposing offences short underneath passes. This is a product of new faces in the secondary, but it is also stitched into the Eagles’ defensive scheme. Low blitz rates, getting pressure on the quarterback with four down lineman and off-man coverage with a good mix of deep quarters are intrinsic to the Jim Schwartz defence. So far, he has implemented this to varied results. Whether by missing tackles, assignments or simply confusing coverage, the young group of DBs hasn’t quite looked like the defence we saw last season. Against the LA Rams, we saw the team in full force. Below is a fantastic example of what Philly would like to do defensively.
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) December 17, 2018
The Eagles corners play almost 10-yards off, making sure nothing gets behind them and they are able to read the opposing receivers’ route with their eyes on the quarterback. This makes disguising coverages and coming up to make tackles easier at the cost of allowing easy targets underneath. It means that the team gives up the 10th highest completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks (68.8%) and the second most yards (280.8 yards per game). As long as the young defensive backs are able to make quick tackles, something we have seen more of in the past few weeks, this defence is a simple way to limit scores through the air. The Eagles are tied for 10th in passing touchdowns allowed. It worked wonders against a Rams team that really loves to push the ball deep down the field.
It also permits the defensive line to implement more exotic rushes. Below Fletcher Cox and Michael Bennett team up for a long-winding twist on third and long. Until the last second, Jared Goff does not feel the pressure and believes he has time to hold the ball and allow his deeper routes to develop. This is common with young quarterbacks. The Eagles will face another young quarterback in Deshaun Watson this Sunday.
— NFL Matchup on ESPN (@NFLMatchup) December 19, 2018
Philadelphia will have no trouble putting pressure on Watson, who is the most pressured quarterback in the league (41.7% of his drop backs). He is also the third most sacked quarterback in the league (9.9% sack rate) and was sacked 5 times by the New York Jets last week. Houston has a questionable offensive line, which is mostly to blame for those numbers. However, Watson also has a tendency to hold on to the ball unnecessarily. The video below from the Jets game is a good example.
— patrick (@PatDStat) December 19, 2018
When Watson does get rid of the football, he is incredibly efficient. He owns the 7th best passer rating when inside the pocket, 5th best passer rating when pushed outside the pocket, and 3rd best when under pressure. However, being a mobile quarterback, he is prone to lower his head or tuck the ball early and take unneeded sacks. The Eagles will need to keep him bottled up in the pocket and apply pressure up the middle. Luckily, he is not one to take the easy throws underneath. The Texans are 29th in the league in passes under 5 yards and 10th in air yards per pass (8.7 yards per attempt). As long as they can limit big plays from DeAndre Hopkins and Demaryius Thomas, something that’s easier said than done, the Eagles have been fine to let teams drive down the field only to slam the door near the end zone. They have been holding teams to an otherworldly 47.8% touchdown ratio in goal-to-go situations. Houston will also have a tougher time moving the ball in the inclement — both weather and fan induced — conditions at the Linc.
Finally, the Eagles defence will have to cause some turnovers. The Texans are +60 in points gained versus points lost off turnovers and own a +0.7 turnover ratio. This goes both ways, however, and Nick Foles will have to keep the ball out of enemy hands. Whichever team wins the turnover battle will most likely reign victorious at the end of 48 minutes.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports