Sunday, February 14, 2016

McDermott's dilemma: To blitz or not to blitz?

When the Eagles lost to the Cowboys earlier this season at the Linc, Sean McDermott tried to blitz Tony Romo.

McDermott's dilemma: To blitz or not to blitz?

The task of Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott is to come up with a new way to confuse Tony Romo on Saturday. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
The task of Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott is to come up with a new way to confuse Tony Romo on Saturday. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

When the Eagles lost to the Cowboys earlier this season at the Linc, Sean McDermott tried to blitz Tony Romo.

And Romo burned him.

When the Eagles lost to the Cowboys on Sunday, McDermott tried to rely on his front four for pressure and disguise his blitzes by dropping linemen back into coverage.

But that didn't work either.

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So McDermott's job from now until Saturday night at 8 p.m. is to figure out a new and different method for getting to Romo.

To that end, we take a closer look at the Eagles' blitz schemes from Sunday and guess where they go from here.

By my count, Romo dropped back 38 times. On 29 of those plays, the Eagles did not blitz, and Romo had a lot of success, completing 20 of 27 passes for 264 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

On the other nine plays, the Eagles did blitz, and Romo went 3-for-7 for 42 yards.

So the Eagles blitzed on 23 percent of the snaps where Romo dropped back. You can check out the blitz numbers from the first meeting against the Cowboys here. The Eagles blitzed Romo on nearly 70 percent of the passing plays that day, and he completed 16 of 23 passes for 234 yards.

Some notes on the Eagles' blitzes Sunday:

* On five of the nine blitzes, the Eagles dropped at least one lineman into coverage. This happened on three of four first-half blitzes. Only once in the first half did the Eagles send more than five defenders after Romo.

* The Eagles blitzed seven different combinations:

Will Witherspoon and Tracy White
Witherspoon and Macho Harris
Witherspoon and Moise Fokou
Witherspoon, Akeem Jordan and Harris
Jeremiah Trotter
Witherspoon, Fokou and Harris
Witherspoon and Trotter

And here's the player-by-player breakdown of how often each guy blitzed:

Witherspoon (8)
Harris (4)
Fokou (3)

Trotter (2)
White (1)
Jordan (1)

It's no surprise that Witherspoon was their most frequent blitzer. That's really been the case all season. Note that Harris is the only DB who blitzed. We did not see Joselio Hanson blitz from the slot, which had been happening quite frequently. And we did not see Quintin Mikell blitz at all either.

* The Eagles most often sent five guys (four times) after Romo wen they blitzed. They sent six guys three times, seven guys once and four guys once.

* Three of Romo's four incompletions when the Eagles blitzed were deep throws (20 yards or more) down the field. The other was an incompletion on a slant that went right through the hands of tight end Martellus Bennett.

So what's the point of breaking all this down?

To show that the question is not as simple as: To blitz or not to blitz?

The question is more: How can McDermott confuse Romo?

Because in two games, it's been as if Romo knows exactly what's coming. He's made read after read and throw after throw. The Cowboys have a big-play guy in Miles Austin and a serious matchup problem in Jason Witten. Patrick Crayton has given the Birds problems as well.

If McDermott blitzes continuously, there's a pretty good chance Romo will make big plays down the field. If McDermott holds back, there's a pretty good chance we'll see a repeat of last week's performance.

His task is to find the right mix, to choose the right spots. If the Eagles win this game, it's a safe bet that forcing Romo into tunrovers will be near the top of the list of reasons.

Of course, this only covers the Eagles' performance against Romo and the passing game. Later today, we'll take a look at defensive personnel groupings and how the Eagles might tweak their lineup to improve against the run.
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About this blog
Sheil Kapadia is in his fifth season writing about the Eagles and the NFL for 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 or by clicking here

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