Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Did the Eagles' blitzes fail them?

The big question facing Sean McDermott and the Eagles' defense heading into last weekend's game against the Cowboys was: Would they blitz more?

Did the Eagles' blitzes fail them?

The Eagles did not blitz effectively at any point this season against the Cowboys. (AP Photo/Sharon Ellman)
The Eagles did not blitz effectively at any point this season against the Cowboys. (AP Photo/Sharon Ellman)

The big question facing Sean McDermott and the Eagles' defense heading into last weekend's game against the Cowboys was: Would they blitz more?

The answer was yes.

But the results remained unchanged.

When I did Man Up, I took one final look at the Eagles' blitz schemes.

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By my count, the Eagles blitzed on 27 of the 39 instances where Tony Romo dropped back, just about 69 percent. Almost the exact percentage they blitzed when the two teams met back in Week 9. In Week 17, the Eagles blitzed only about 23 percent of the time.

Against the blitz this time around, Romo completed 17 of 24 passes for 202 yards. The Cowboys also picked up 40 yards on a Sheldon Brown pass interference penalty on one of the blitzes. They got to Romo twice for a pair of sacks.

When the Eagles did not blitz, Romo completed six of 10 passes for 41 yards. They also picked up 12 yards on a Quintin Mikell pass interference penalty.

Some other notes on the Eagles blitzes:

* The Eagles blitzed on the Cowboys' first 10 passing plays.

* The Eagles sent six guys after Romo 16 times. Five guys nine times. Four guys once. And seven guys once. On the blitz where they sent four, Trent Cole and Jason Babin dropped back into coverage.

* They dropped linemen into coverage on four of the blitzes. In addition to Cole and Babin, Darren Howard and Victor Abiamiri also dropped back once each.

* The most frequent blitzers were Will Witherspoon and Tracy White. Witherspoon blitzed 12 times; White 10 times. Here's how many times the rest of the players blitzed:

Trotter (6)
Moise Fokou (5)
Mikell (4)
Chris Gocong (3)
Sean Jones (3)
Joselio Hanson (2)

A couple interesting notes here. One is the use of White as a blitzer. Granted, he played many more snaps this time around, but in Week 17, White blitzed only once.

The other is that McDermott blitzed DBs more often. I don't remember Sheldon Brown being sent on a corner blitz since he was injured earlier this season though.

* Perhaps the most interesting thing I found out when looking at the blitzes was the number of combinations McDermott tried. The Eagles blitzed 16 different combinations. The most common blitz was sending just Witherspoon, which happened six times. Here are the other combinations:

Trotter and Fokou (4)
White (3)
White and Mikell (3)
Witherspoon and Mikell (1)
Gocong (1)

Trotter and Gocong (1)
Witherspoon and Fokou (1)
Witherspoon and White (1)
Witherspoon, Trotter and Fokou (1)
Witherspoon and Jones (1)
White, Mikell and Hanson (1)
White and Hanson (1)
Witherspoon, White and Jones (1)
Gocong and Jones (1)

As you can see, McDermott tried EVERYTHING to confuse Romo, and not much worked.

Which brings us to the point of all this. When the Eagles' defense struggled this season, often times it was because their blitzes were not getting enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks. We know McDermott learned from Jim Johnson. And we know that we're not going to see a major change in terms of scheme and philosophy. At least, I don't think we are.

This was the first year McDermott called the defenses so the lack of success at times with the blitzes is not altogether surprising.

And I think it's clear that the personnel needs an upgrade.

But as we monitor what this team does in the offseason, keep in mind that the key remains to get after the quarterback and be more effective with their blitzes. If they don't improve there, the struggles against above average offenses will continue again in 2010.

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Sheil Kapadia is in his fifth season writing about the Eagles and the NFL for philly.com. His earliest memories as a sports fan include several trips to Veterans Stadium with his Dad. He's not a beat writer or an Insider, but is here to discuss the NFL 365 days a year. E-mail him at skapadia@philly.com or by clicking here

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