NFL Playoffs: Eagles must ramp up their league-best pass rush to beat the Giants
The Philadelphia Eagles are entering their divisional round matchup against the New York Giants with the top pass rush in the league.
Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham all have 10+ sacks, and their interior oine is just as effective. Javon Hargrave has the fourth-most pressures in the league among interior defensive linemen with 57, and he’s third-highest graded pass rusher from the inside, per Pro Football Focus.
The blueprint of this Giant’s offense is what makes this matchup a great one. The Eagles have the top defense against the pass, but what’s that against one of the best running backs in the league in Saquon Barkley. The Eagles are ranked 16th overall against the rush, allowing 4.6 yards per carry, which is bottom 10.
Including the wild-card round, Barkley has had 304 carries for a career-best 1,365 rush yards and 12 touchdowns this season. He finished in the top ten in just about every rushing category. He’s also caught 62 passes on a 75 percent catch rate for 394 yards.
Even if Giants quarterback Daniel Jones plays the best game of his life this weekend, the winner of this game will be decided in the trenches.
There are a few things that the Eagles will need to do if they want to win this game up front, let’s allow the film to tell the story!
Underrated stars like Milton Williams.
(Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)
Milton Williams is one of the most dominant underrated interior defensive linemen on this Eagles team and even in the entire NFL. He’s currently sitting 10th in run defense, according to PFF. But he wasn’t dominant out of the gate; it took time for Williams to really get going.
Weeks 1-9: Three solo tackles, 2 quarterback hits, and one tackle for loss.
Weeks 9-18: Eight tackles for loss, 14 solo tackles, four quarterback hits and one pass defensed.
With his quick first step, Williams has been able to penetrate backfields with ease.
Against the Giants in week 14, it was second-and-5, and Williams got a pretty decent jump on the Giants’ left guard to get into the backfield.
When asked what changed from early-on in the season, he said, “I got healthy, the bye week helped me. And I’m making sure I’m doing my job each and every snap and taking advantage of the opportunities when I get them.”
Williams also admitted that early in the season he was playing through a couple injuries: Turf toe and a hyperextended elbow.
“But got the bye week, got away from it a little bit, cleared my mind,” Williams said. “And it’s been good after that.”
Stuffing the run game with zero-technique presence.
(Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports)
When the Eagles place one of their defensive linemen in a 0-tech alignment, which means lined up directly over the center, they have a 22% stuff percentage, and they are allowing 3.6 yards per attempt (12th).
When they don’t have someone over the center, their stuff percentage drops to 16.9% and their yards per attempt jumps to 4.6.
Occupying the center will be the main focus. This is what allows their defensive linemen to get one-on-one matchups. The chart below shows that the Eagles edge rushers aren’t being double teamed as much as their peers.
With the lack of double teams geared towards the pass rushers, it allows Reddick to win on the outside.
Stunting vs Daniel Jones.
(Syndication: The Record)
It’s important that the Eagles put pressure on Daniel Jones. According to PFF, when Jones is blitzed, his passing grade is a 71.2, which isn’t great but when he’s just under pressure (without a blitz) his grade drops to a 58.9.
One way for a defense to get pressure without a blitz is with stunts. Earlier in the season, the Eagles used simulated pressure by letting linebacker Kyzir White creep up at the line of scrimmage, and at the snap he dropped back. Then, the Eagles used an end-over-tackle stunt to get pressure to the inside.
This certain technique allows the inside defender to then pop to the outside, and so if the ‘end’, who is preforming the stunt, doesn’t get to the quarterback, the tackle is now in contain which doesn’t leave the defense exposed.
Just as long as the defensive line can contain Jones, he’s more susceptible to a sack.
Rush layering is good this time, and the Vikings get a sack. Daniel Jones wants to escape to his left but Patrick Jones spins back and takes that away. Bullard has pushed the pocket enough and gets the sack as Jones continues to climb. pic.twitter.com/jIJiHWRVi3
— Matt Fries (@FriesFootball) January 17, 2023
When Jones gets to the outside, he averages 7.3 yards per attempt with his legs, and the EPA is a whopping 40.50, which leads the NFL.
When Jones is forced to escape up the middle, the yards per attempt drops to 4.2, and the EPA is 5.40.
If the Eagles are able to pull the double teams toward the middle, leaving the edge rushers with one-on-ones, then the defensive line should be fine containing Jones. If they are unable to bend the edge, stunts will work, they just have to make sure the inside defender doesn’t crash too far inside.
Against the run, if the Eagles can pull the center to one side, it should be opposite Josh Sweat, since according to PFF, he’s the sixth highest graded run defender, 80.5.
If the Eagles can pull off these techniques and put themselves in these winning scenarios, then they have a good chance stopping the Giants’ run attack and containing Jones.