State of the Eagles: Is the blitz working?

I've made the case several times in this space that the Eagles rely on a big-play offense to be successful.

On defense, to a similar extent, they are the same way.

The Birds have 13 takeaways - good enough for fifth in the NFC. They are only two behind the conference-leading Lions in that department. The Eagles have come up with nine interceptions (third in the NFC), and they have 18 sacks (also third).

Which brings us to this week's topic: the blitz.

Last week, against Atlanta, the Eagles had three sacks (one that created a fumble) and an interception. On three of those four plays, the Eagles were blitzing.

Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott didn't send the guys he always does, either. He switched things up. Here's a quick breakdown of how many times each Eagle blitzed against Atlanta:

Player No. of blitzes
Quintin Mikell 8
Ernie Sims 7
Stewart Bradley 7
Joselio Hanson 4
Moise Fokou 3
Nate Allen 2
Kurt Coleman 1

And here's how the blitzes break down for the season:

Player No. of blitzes
Ernie Sims 46
Quintin Mikell 20
Nate Allen 20
Joselio Hanson 18
Stewart Bradley 18
Dimitri Patterson 6
Omar Gaither 5
Akeem Jordan 4
Moise Fokou 4
Asante Samuel 3
Ellis Hobbs 1
Kurt Coleman 1

You'll notice that Mikell was the most frequent blitzer last week. He went after Matt Ryan eight times. Mikell had blitzed 12 times total in the first five games.

Coleman played 15 snaps last week as the third safety. That freed Mikell up to play up near the line of scrimmage and blitz on passing downs.

Looking at the linebackers, Bradley surprisingly blitzed seven times against Atlanta. You may remember that he charged through early on to pick up a sack. He had only blitzed 11 times through the first five weeks. Sims is the Eagles' most frequent blitzer for the season.

Among the cornerbacks, Hanson is the most frequent blitzer - almost always from the slot. I'd be surprised if Samuel or Hobbs blitzes much (or at all) the rest of the season. That doesn't really do much for the defense, unless McDermott is just trying to show opposing offenses a different look.

At safety, Allen's blitzed a lot overall. And as I've mentioned before, good things seem to happen when McDermott sends him. But last week, he only blitzed twice.

The other aspect of the blitz is dropping linemen back into coverage, which the Eagles did quite frequently against the Falcons. By my count, they blitzed a total of 17 times, and on 12 of those, at least one lineman dropped back. On the Bradley sack,  Darryl Tapp and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim dropped back. The same thing happened on Trent Cole's second-quarter sack. Bradley blitzed (along with Mikell this time), while Tapp and Te'o-Nesheim dropped back.

On the Samuel interception, Bradley and Mikell blitzed together once again, while Cole and Brandon Graham dropped back. Overall, Juqua Parker dropped back five times, the most of any Eagle. Tapp dropped back four times; Graham and Cole three times apiece; and Te'o-Nesheim twice.

Here's the season-long look for the defensive linemen:

Player No. of times dropped back
Trent Cole 21
Brandon Graham 15
Juqua Parker 11
Darryl Tapp 7
Trevor Laws 5
Antwan Barnes 3
Daniel Te'o-Nesheim2
Antonio Dixon 2
Brodrick Bunkley 1

I've sometimes wondered why McDermott would drop back his best pass-rusher (Cole) so much, but there's no arguing that the zone blitzes produced results last week.