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Opposition breakdown: Eagles can turn Chargers' best defensive weapon into a liability

During the offseason, a lot was made of the Eagles' infusion of tight ends. They drafted Zach Ertz with the 35th overall pick, and spent good money (3 years, $12 million) to sign James Casey away from the Texans. In Week 1 against the Redskins, the Eagles came out in "11 personnel" (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) on 73 of 83 snaps. Casey didn't play any snaps against the Skins, aside from two Michael Vick kneel downs at the end of the game.

Opposition breakdown: Eagles can turn Chargers' best defensive weapon into a liability

Chargers linebacker Dwight Freeney (93) sits on the bench during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, in San Diego. (Denis Poroy/AP)
Chargers linebacker Dwight Freeney (93) sits on the bench during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, in San Diego. (Denis Poroy/AP)

During the offseason, a lot was made of the Eagles' infusion of tight ends. They drafted Zach Ertz with the 35th overall pick, and spent good money (3 years, $12 million) to sign James Casey away from the Texans. In Week 1 against the Redskins, the Eagles came out in "11 personnel" (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) on 73 of 83 snaps. Casey didn't play any snaps against the Skins, aside from two Michael Vick kneel downs at the end of the game.

There was a logical reason for that. The Redskins' secondary isn't good, and was further weakened by the absence of safety Brandon Meriweather. Hence, it made sense to come out in 11 personnel to keep a 5th defensive back on the field, although the Eagles have not confirmed this.

Against the Chargers, there's a good chance you'll see the Eagles deploy more two tight end sets, but we'll come back to that.

The Chargers are a bad team. Their skill position players are weak, as is their offensive line, and their defense is light on impact players. However, if there's a player to worry about on their defense, it would be Dwight Freeney, at least based on his performance Week 1 against Houston. If you look at the stat sheet, you'll see that Freeney had just one tackle and a half sack. However, he absolutely dominated an All Pro left tackle in Duane Brown. Here's what Freeney did to Brown last Monday:

Screen play in which Freeney makes Brown whiff (Play design is not for Brown to let Freeney get pressure and take himself out of play). Freeney gets great pressure:

Inside move. Freeney gets hit on QB Matt Schaub:

This one is embarrassing. Freeney bull rushes Brown, and throws him to the ground. Impressive:

Another inside move that gets good pressure. Brown tries to hold Freeney on the play:

The next two screen grabs show Freeney outside rush. Brown handled Freeney's outside rush most of the night, but was killed on the inside moves. Still, you can see here that Freeney can still around the corner. Here's the burst off the snap:

And he gets close enough to the QB to make you nervous. This will be a good test to see where Jason Peters' footwork is at:

Here he's being held on an inside move (holding not called), but at least he forces Schaub to be flushed from the pocket:

And finally, Freeney gets a half sack on an inside move:

You worry about the player on a bad team who can "wreck the game." If Freeney can play as well as he did Week 1, he certainly qualifies as that kind of player. Otherwise, the Chargers don't have much in the way of personnel on defense who can get to the QB. In fact, Freeney has 108 career sacks. The rest of the 10 Chargers' front seven players who saw action Week 1 against the Texans have a combined 67 career sacks.

Unfortunately for the Chargers, Freeney is now a one-dimensional player. He is not on the field in short yardage situations, and when the Texans ran the ball with Freeney in the game, he was easily neutralized. Here's an example of Freeney's inability to shed blocks in the run game. The next two screen grabs are the same play:

The Chargers like to use Freeney as a DE in 4 down linemen nickel sets, in which there's an extra CB or S on the field with 2 LBs.

Going back to the premise of the Eagles utilizing more 2 TE sets, they can take the Chargers out of those nickel looks they like so much pretty easily by simply emplying 2 TEs, or maybe even 3 TEs. If the Chargers stay in a nickel look, the Eagles will have a clear cut, major advantage in the run game. If they choose to operate out of their base 3-4, the Eagles will get their tight ends and/or running back matched up on Charger linebackers. Either way, they win.

The Eagles are likely to alter their personnel looks on a game-to-game basis depending on their opponent. On Sunday, they can essentially take the Chargers' best weapon on defense and turn him into a liability by utilizing their tight ends.

Jimmy Kempski Philly.com
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Jimmy Kempski Philly.com
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