Film Review: Eagles turn to undrafted rookie Reed Blankenship in desperate times at safety
After going unselected in last year’s draft, Reed Blankenship became one of three undrafted free agents the Eagles signed who made the final 53-man roster.
On his first NFL target, Reed Blankenship got himself a “GOAT Ball,” as Darius Slay would say, by picking off Aaron Rodgers. With Chauncey Gardner-Johnson out with a lacerated kidney, the Eagles need the undrafted safety out of Middle Tennessee State to step up in a major way.
Blankenship saw 37 total defensive snaps at free safety and in the box while Marcus Epps moved into the strong safety role. Many held their breath as Reed Blankenship entered the game in an already disappointing defensive effort.
The rookie showcased the physicality and speed he played with as a rare five-year starter and three-year captain for Middle Tennessee State. Blankenship, along with TJ Edwards, led the Eagles with six total tackles against the Packers. According to PFF, he graded as the team’s best defender on Sunday at 75.7 (excluding K’Von Wallace, who played only three snaps).
The numbers show that the coaching staff prefers undrafted rookie Reed Blankenship over their 2020 fourth-round pick, K’Von Wallace. With no return in sight for CGJ, we could see a platoon situation between the two, but I think this is Blankenship’s role to lose.
The rookie safety established that he’s not a total liability and can contribute to this defense with his speedy burst to thump the run and good ball skills. Let’s break down the tape and see what the All-22 footage shows about Reed Blankenship’s first significant NFL action.
Clip #1: Gannon leaves Reed Blankenship out to dry out on his first play
Right after the injury to Gardner-Johnson, Aaron Rodgers immediately points out Marcus Epps in the box, ready to blitz, and pulls Allen Lazard in to take care of him. Now he has fresh-faced Reed Blankenship isolated as a single high safety in a press man look.
First off, terrible call by Jonathan Gannon, who has been hit or miss with his defensive schemes every week. Secondly, the effort on the blitz leaves much to be desired, but the Packers block it up exceptionally well. Lastly, Blankenship commits too quickly for helping Darius Slay on the crosser while Josiah Scott stumbles, leaving an easy touchdown to Randall Cobb. Again, this play is on Jonathan Gannon.
Clip #2: Reed Blankenship hits another gear in run support
Of his 37 snaps on Sunday Night, 25 came at free safety to only five playing in the box. Blankenship’s explosive speed and willingness to bash bodies bode well for his ability to help in run support, especially next week against Derrick Henry and the Titans.
Here are a few clips of that quick first step which launches Blankenship like a ball-seeking missile. In the first clip, Blankenship backs up 14 yards passed the first down marker and takes on 250-pound AJ Dillon after an eight-yard screen.
Next, on the Aaron Jones touchdown run called back, he almost beats Epps to the pylon from his opposite safety spot. However, notice his pursuit angle, which will become a problem later.
The third and final clip is my favorite play that Reed Blankenship made all night. He starts his run 11 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, evades the lineman pulling to block him, and sticks Aaron Jones for a one-yard gain.
Clip #3: “Bobby Boucher” playstyle leaves Blankenship out of position
Remember that pursuit angle on the Aaron Jones run? That’s the fatal flaw in Blankenship’s game right now, as his mind thinks, “See Ball, Get Ball.” He needs to slow down and diagnose plays before launching in pursuit of the ball carrier.
In Clip 1, the Packers throw some window dressing on this run, and Blankenship takes himself way outside, leaving room right up the gut for AJ Dillon.
His “Welcome to the League” moment came when Jordan Love hit Christian Watson for that long touchdown, directly resulting from a poor angle taken by Blankenship.
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson going down is one of the most challenging breaks the Eagles could deal with right now. The former Saint quickly became an energizer for the defense and was playing the best ball of his career, leading the NFL with six interceptions. Behind Epps and Blankenship, the Eagles only have K’Von Wallace and Andre Chachere to round out a very thin unit.
The loss of Avonte Maddox hurt the defense enough, and another blow to the secondary means all eyes will be on Jonathan Gannon. His game plan against the Packers did not utilize the players he had to work with after those injuries. The Titans aren’t known for their prolific passing attack, so I would start by switching Marcus Epps back to free safety and letting Reed Blankenship roam the box to help bring down Derrick Henry.
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