Flyover Breakdowns: How the Eagles LBs’ can benefit from a Cover 2
During his time in Indianapolis, Eagles new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon had a lot of experience with the cover two defense. Under previous DC Jim Schwartz, the Eagles ran man coverage and were often exposed over the top because of it. If Gannon were to bring that cover two defense to Philly, it could be a massive boost to this defense trying to find their identity in the passing game for the last several years.
While the defensive backs will breathe a sigh of relief from this potential change, they might not be the new scheme’s most significant benefactors. Philly will likely be undergoing a youth movement at linebacker this offseason. With Nate Gerry likely to walk, Alex Singleton, Shaun Bradley, and Davion Taylor could be leading the charge for the Eagles in 2020.
Eagles linebackers in 2020:
- Nate Gerry: Allowed four passing touchdowns and a 146 passer rating
- Davion Taylor: Ranked 182nd out of 184 LBs according to PFF
- Duke Riley: 12 missed tackles, third worst tackling efficiency in NFL
These young linebackers do have a good amount of upside. They’re all pretty raw talents that will need some time to grow on defense. Bradley and Singleton have shown to be a force in the run game already, but all three leave something to be desired in pass coverage. The change into a cover two will help these linebackers out tremendously with far easier responsibilities in that aspect. In 2020, the Eagles LBs were picked apart by defenses and were the team’s absolute weak point. Teams like the Rams continued to abuse the Eagles backers in man coverage and led to horrible mismatches.
For those unaware, here is what a basic cover two looks like in a 4-3 defense:
For the three linebackers, their zone responsibilities are pretty straightforward. The Mike, or middle linebacker, has a basic drop about five yards straight back. Here he will pick up any crossing routes before passing off to the Sam or Will. He also will cover any pass right over the top like a go route until passing it off to the safety. The Sam and Will, also known as outside linebackers, have a “hook to curl” responsibility. The routes they cover are exactly that, hooks and curls. They will also pick up slants or crossing routes before passing off to the Mike when reaching the end of their zone or follow them to the sideline if the slant ends on their side, depending on how deep the route is.
These zone responsibilities are not difficult and help to simplify the defense for the young backers. Athleticism is the essential thing the linebackers can have so they can be in the position to break up a pass if one is thrown in their zone. The only difficulty will be if teams send two players over the middle at different levels to mess with the Mike backer. In that situation, the Mike would take the deeper of the two, and one of the outside backers would have to pick up the other.
Having these easy tasks would help the backers to focus more on the mental side of the running game and grow comfortable with pass defense before expanding to different coverages and responsibilities. Sometimes it could change with a blitzing backer, but in that situation, the two remaining would have larger hook to curl zones and watch the middle together. Bradley, Taylor, and Singleton growing in this coverage would be huge for the Eagles and be a significant leap in restoring the linebacking unit in Philadelphia both in the short and long run.
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