Zone Blitz and the Predator: Philadelphia Eagles Pass Rush in Billy Davis’ Defense

Jan 01, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham (54) prior to playing the Washington Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles defeated the Redskins 34-10. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

In the 3-4/4-3, multiple scheme that new defensive coordinator Billy Davis is looking to implement — at least partially this year, and more fully in the years to follow — most of the pressure put on the quarterback will come from players blitzing from various spots on the field.

After spending the formative years of his career studying under the likes of Dick Lebeau, Dom Capers and Bill Cowher, Davis learned the benefits of zone blitzing from a 3-4 base defense.  This essentially involves rushing five and dropping six into coverage and doing everything possible to disguise where the pass rush is coming from.  He is even going so far as to use old Steelers tape to show the team what he wants to accomplish.

The inherent benefits of a scheme like this are two fold; you keep the offense from knowing where the pressure is coming from (a major flaw of the wide-9, as we saw last year). This defense, however, can possibly cause confusion among the blockers and potentially allowing a player to come free even if the initial block is made.  As well as getting various players who otherwise wouldn’t be afforded the opportunity, such as Mychal Kendricks and Brandon Boykin, a chance to use their ample athleticism to rush the passer.

Now, beyond simply zone blitzing, there is a position in Davis’ vaunted 4-3 Under, which you can read more about here, and here, and which may be the evolutionary apex of Davis’ defense, called the Predator, whose primary role is to rush the passer.  Chris Clemons in Seattle is a perfect example of this type of player and this type of position.

The problem here would be that no one player seems to fit the necessary attributes of the position particularly well.  Connor Barwin may be the closest, but he is not an explosive athlete, and out of necessity may be asked to cover more than rush the passer.

It is of course just projection at this point, but it seems beyond silly to think that Trent Cole, no matter how much fans and coaches love his attitude and work ethic, and no matter how hard it is to see our favorite players move on or be relegated to back up rolls, really factors in moving forward as anything other than the back-up at the Predator spot and situational pass rusher (and a short-term one at that).

He is a great player and has been a crowd favorite Eagle for a really long time. But he is also past 30 and coming off his worst year as pro.  Even with the caveat that Brandon Graham recently had microfracture surgery and his agility and/or change of direction is never going to be what it was, it is ridiculous to suggest that Cole’s will be comparable, let alone better.

Graham on the other hand, is in the prime of his career and had a pretty darn good year last year. He is a player wor

Dec 13, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Trent Cole (58) celebrates his sack with defensive end Darryl Tapp (55) against the Cincinnati Bengals during the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

th investing in and at they very least taking the time to see if you can make him into the player you need him to be. Cole is on the downside of his career arc, and even at his best, never had the athleticism of a guy like Dwight Freeney, who made the transition to rush OLB two seasons ago, albeit only somewhat successfully.

Effort guys like Cole and DeMeco Ryans, who initially make it in the league because of their motor and smarts historically drop off precipitously

when the end nears because as they age their limited physical tools become even more limited and their effort can not make up for it.There is no telling how things are going to shake out in training camp and the preseason, but my overriding thought is that if Graham is not good enough or ideally suited to be the Predator in this defense, then Cole sure as heck is not either.  And while that might be a sad realization for some, if it helps the team win in the long run, everyone will find a way to get behind the decision.

But in all honesty, it may not matter much, especially this year.  Without all the pieces necessary to implement the 4-3 Under, Billy Davis will instead be using a more varietal look up front, predicated on the use sleight of hand to disguise his plans before attacking from a variety of positions along the defensive front.

Topics: Bill Davis, Brandon Graham, Connor Barwin, NFC East, NFL, Philadelphia Eagles, Training Camp, Trent Cole

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