Questions about the Eagles rushing defense, plans for moving forward

Fletcher Cox #91, Philadelphia Eagles (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Fletcher Cox #91, Philadelphia Eagles (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /
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Jonathan Gannon, Philadelphia Eagles
Jonathan Gannon. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Are the Eagles aligning their best players correctly to ensure their success?

At various points during the current season, the Eagles have altered the look of their defensive front and overall scheme. Versus the Detroit Lions, a Nickel 42 front was used on just over 66% of the snaps. One week later versus the Minnesota Vikings, they mostly operated in Nickel and Dime sets (65%) before running Nickel and Dime sets 52% of the time.

Philly also used mug looks (inside linebackers aligned close to the line of scrimmage pre-snap) for the first time in Week 3 though it didn’t happen often. They only went with that look on 12% of the snaps.

Five-man fronts are preferable in terms of run defense both because they prevent double teams against defensive tackles and because they clarify the run fits for second and third-level defenders. In Jonathan Gannon’s defensive scheme, there’s often a nose tackle, two defensive tackles, and two defensive ends.

Football is about numbers, angles, leverage, matchups, and space. Jonathan Gannon‘s defense uses lag technique,  otherwise known as gap-and-a-half defense. It mirrors the Vic Fangio system, one that commonly uses a split safety, two-high safety shell look pre-snap. The key to high-quality run defense is gap integrity and being gap sound. With a single high defense (think the Legion of Boom defense), there’s a defender for each gap and each defender is responsible for one gap.

That often isn’t the case with other defenses. Defenders are asked to read and react and are traditionally responsible for two gaps.

With the gap-and-a-half defense, players, particularly the defensive tackles, are assigned a primary gap. Rather than attack those gaps quickly, defenders are coached to maintain engagement with the offensive linemen and adjust to fill the adjacent gap if necessary.

This accomplishes two things: it allows a two-high split safety defense to be gap-sound. In the Eagles’ case, with increased usage of 43 Over fronts (four defensive linemen and three linebackers) with Haason Reddick playing along the line of scrimmage on first and second down as opposed to a 51 Penny fronts where the Eagles use five-man fronts could be what the doctor ordered.