Why a 3-4 Under front is perfect for the Eagles’ defense in 2022
One of the biggest things the Eagles wanted to do last season under new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon was to install several new schemes.
For years, the Eagles were stuck consistently in a 3-4 defense before Jim Schwartz switched to a 4-3. Under both regimes, there was never any flexibility in coverages and fronts, with the Eagles sticking with the same game plan for better or for worse.
When Gannon took over, that swiftly changed. Philadelphia immediately began to show numerous fronts and schemes. For the most part, the Eagles stuck in a 4-3 and a 3-4 hybrid with a nickel defense, but it was the best they could do.
Gannon wanted to mix things up, but his lack of linebackers left him with no choice but to run simple schemes since they weren’t capable of doing more.
Howie Roseman addressed that this offseason, letting Alex Singleton walk while bringing in Haason Reddick, Nakobe Dean, and Kyzir White to boost their LB core. The Eagles will certainly show numerous fronts, but it’s looking like two of which could be the perfect schematic fit for this defense.
The most likely look for this group in 2022 is a 3-4 under defense. At first glance, it appears to be a 5-2, or a “bear front” with five defensive linemen and two linebackers. However, it’s a bit different and allows for some flexibility on defense.
3-4 Under front
This defense means that the Eagles would have three down linemen with a standup edge on each side capable of dropping back into coverage.
Here’s how the Eagles’ starting defense would likely look under this front.
- Sam: Haason Reddick
- Will: Nakobe Dean
- Play-Side MLB (Mike): Kyzir White
- Back-side MLB (Backer): Davion Taylor
- DE: Josh Sweat
- DE: Javon Hargrave
- NT: Fletcher Cox/Jordan Davis
With the defensive line, it’s hard to pin down exact starters since most of the group will be playing an equal amount and interchangeably at both defensive end and nose tackle.
This front allows the Eagles to have the ability to easily disguise five pass rushers but also be able to send one of the off-ball linebackers into coverage easily.
There are some different versions of a 3-4 hybrid the Eagles could adjust to as well, depending on the circumstance. One of which is the 3-4 Eagle, which is when the Sam linebacker lines head up with the tight end, as opposed to his outside shoulder.
Alongside that, there is the 3-4 Okie, which is when the one defensive end moves from a three-tech to a five-tech. A 3-4 Eagle is a modification only seen during expected run situations, while a 3-4 Okie is seen in passing situations.
One issue that arises with these 5-2 or 3-4 hybrid defenses is after the defensive line; running backs could exploit big holes in the defense on the outside. All it would take is a great block from a left tackle to seal off Reddick or Dean, and it could become an easy first down with the next-closest defender being the cornerback or pursuing linebacker.
Luckily, since the Eagles’ front seven is dominant across the board, this issue would likely happen seldom. The more likely scenario is Reddick or Dean breaking off their blocker for an easy tackle for loss since they weren’t being double-teamed.
Philadelphia’s defensive line is stacked, and they will want as many great players out there as possible. Since they’re so loaded to the point where they have two starting-caliber lines, I don’t think you’ll ever see a pure 3-4 defense from this group.
After losing Steven Nelson, the Eagles’ secondary is the weak point of their defense, and Gannon won’t want to take pass rushers off the field. Instead, they would likely send more rushers and hope to force a throw instead of giving the QB time to pick apart their secondary.
Regardless, there will be a major hole even if the 3-4 under is run to perfection, based on the Eagles’ scheme. With how Avonte Maddox has played, Philly will likely keep their nickel coverages with him in the slot.
If that’s the case, they’ll be left with only one safety over the top with Darius Slay and, at this point, Zech McPhearson on the outside. McPhearson and Anthony Harris won’t cut it, and any team with multiple deep threats could attack over the top almost every play.
If the Eagles are able to bring in someone like James Bradberry, that could help that issue massively, but as it stands, the Eagles could have an Achilles heel that ruins their defense despite a dominant front-seven.
It’ll be interesting to see what the Eagles roll out when they kick off their season against the Detroit Lions, but they have the personnel up-front to control the trenches once again.
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Mandatory Credit: Tim Hawk NJ.com