How the Eagles D-Line can dominate in 2020
Jim Schwartz has always built his defenses from the inside-out. This offseason proved to be no different, as they brought in Javon Hargrave to work alongside Fletcher Cox. The addition should add to the incredible pressure that the defensive line is capable of. But if last year taught us anything, it’s that the Eagles need to give their defensive line time to pressure opposing quarterbacks, which typically ended up with blown coverage in the defensive backfield.
With additions to the secondary in Darius Slay, Nickell Robey-Coleman, and Will Parks there will be an immediate upgrade to the secondary that allows the front four the precious seconds they need. Let’s go into detail about what needs to happen upfront and how they can work their skills and dominate offensive lines this season.
Ranking 21st in PFF’s rankings of secondary’s in 2019, the Eagles have made major improvements. Schwartz installed pass rush schemes in certain scenarios last season. He really didn’t have a choice due to the lackluster secondary. These schemes weren’t effective due to player personnel. Either the Eagles would get to the QB from the defensive end position, or they would risk giving up a big play in the secondary. They installed what I like to call a “wide speed rush”. Pictured below is usually what a normal front 4 looks like compared to the wide speed.
Your regular front 4 is what defenses typically refer to as “Haw”. The formation is left aligned based on the position of the tight end. The play-side defensive dnd, known as the anchor, is in a 6i which is the inside shoulder of the tight end.
Bringing the play-side defensive tackle outside of the guard’s shoulder in a 3 technique and the backside nose on the inside guards shoulder in a 2i technique. The rush is in a 5 tech outside the LT shoulder. This is a basic defensive front and what the majority of NFL’s defenses use when in a 40 front.
To help clarify positioning, I’ll show you from overhead purely from a lineman standpoint what you’re looking at.
Basic 40 Front:
This front works great for the Eagles as Fletcher Cox works the inside and draws a double team the majority of the time he’s on the field. This allows Derek Barnett and Brandon Graham to work freely on the edges and get to where they need to go without any disruptions. When the Eagles had a good secondary, they found major success in this formation, but Graham and Barnett still needed time to get upfield. While this was still used, typically when the defense was in a passing down, the Eagles adjusted into the Wide Speed.
In the Wide Speed, the defensive ends are moved an extra player’s length outside of the Offensive Tackle to get a head start with their speed moves and get upfield. In an attempt to eliminate immediate double teams, both defensive tackles went into wide 3 techs so the center couldn’t respond immediately. This was used to get everyone on a one on one but caused a few glaring holes for the Eagles. The first: there is a major hole under center. If the opposing team as a mobile QB (think Russell Wilson or Lamar Jackson) and they are reading the defense, they can often exploit this formation and find the hole, using their legs to gain yardage through the wide-open hole.
This shuts down the edge’s ability to work power moves as they need to rush upfield in hopes their wide positioning will beat out the Tackle sliding over to reach them.
Wide Speed Rush:
This gamble is to fight the quick passes and get pressure on the quarterback as soon as possible, but the Eagles were not good at it and the line play suffered because of this. While the Eagles D Line is incredible it was not their strong suit and playing out of scheme to compensate for another position group hurt them and made them look unproductive.
Enter the 2020 offseason. The Eagles D Line is going to be a whole lot better. The secondary being bolstered means there is hope for improved play this season and there won’t be immediate throws being made right off the bat. With this, the Eagles don’t have to resort to the Wide Speed Rush anymore and can go back to a modified form of the basics.
Javon Hargrave is one of the last of a rare breed, a true nose tackles in the NFL. For those unaware, a true nose tackle is one who lines up on the Center, either shaded or directly on the center straight up and causes havoc within the middle. A basic but modified return on the defensive line will certainly help the Eagles.
Adjusted 40 look with True Nose Tackle
In this graphic, you can see Cox is play side in the 3 tech but now has Hargrave lined up on the outside shade of the Center backside compared to a 2i. This is where he excels best and will allow Cox or Hargrave depending on the O Line matchup, to get double-teamed and leave the other 3 open for individual 1 on 1 to the quarterback.
We shouldn’t forget about Malik Jackson either. Jackson can come in for either of the two tackles and can return to a basic 40 package, or they can run a 50 front. This would likely be seen as part of a blitz package or to stop a team like the New York Giants who are a heavy run team.
This Eagles line is deep and lethal all across the board on defense, even more so now with an improved secondary. They have the ability to freelance and work what they do best and can limit scheme changes to overcompensate for a questionable secondary.