Who Can Stop Them?
The Point After: Balance Fueling Birds Offense
Somewhere in between exists the blueprint for slowing down the careening Amtrak known as Jalen Hurts and the Eagles’ offense.
The Lions relentlessly attacked Hurts, throwing every blitz imaginable at him, and paid the price when Hurts feasted on the generous single coverage against A.J. Brown.
The Vikings clearly watched that tape and said, “Nah.”
Minnesota sat back in predominantly two-deep zones, repeatedly tried to push the pocket with an ineffectual four-man rush, and played so much off coverage that Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon must have been jealous.
The grass wasn’t greener for them.
Opponents are 0-for-2 so far is devising the right game plan for an Eagles offense that’s scored the NFL’s second-most touchdowns, ranks second in third-down conversion percentage, ninth in red-zone efficiency and fourth in time of possession.
The Eagles have served noticed to their remaining 12 opponents, including NFC East foe Washington on Sunday: You can no longer burden Hurts by selling out with pressure, and you surely can’t just sit back and play coverage.
Hurts’ development in accuracy, reading defenses, and even running – he’s running even more dynamically this season – nurtured in an offense designed to capitalize on his athleticism and on the team’s massive offensive line has provided the run-pass balance this franchise hasn’t seen since 2017, its lone Super Bowl season.
It’s also helped the offense expose defensive schemes that, as recently as last season, were foiling the game plan.
It’s a good bet you won’t see Commanders defensive play caller Jack Del Rio tossing the kitchen sink at Hurts on Sunday at FedEx Field, not with his secondary already leaking and his defense allowing an early average of 32 points per game.
It’s also a good guess Del Rio won’t be thinking “hold my beer, Ed,” after reviewing tape of Hurts surgically dissecting Vikings coordinator Ed Donatell’s soft, vanilla, sit-back zone schemes.
The hunch here is that Washington will try to pressure and disguise coverage much more than Minnesota did, but also much less than Detroit did.
And if that doesn’t work, there’ll be some Super feelings around the Delaware Valley all next week – just int time to welcome Doug Pederson back to town.
Change Did Him Good
Gannon’s willingness to blitz more this year has, so far, helped him overcome his reputation for being passive and distrusting of his personnel.
Gannon hasn’t become Jim Johnson overnight but he’s pressing buttons at the right time, finding the right situations to throw extra-man pressures at unsuspecting quarterbacks.
Kirk Cousins was clearly fooled at times Monday night by some of Gannon’s best pressures, revealing a step in the right direction for Gannon as a play caller, but the second-year coordinator’s willing to have his corners play up against the Vikings’ star receivers even more revealed Gannon’s growing trust in his personnel.
Even more than blitzing, the press coverage is showing that Gannon might be coming out of his 2021 shell of sitting back and just hoping the offense makes a mistake.
One potential concern going forward: the Eagles just haven’t generated much pressure with a four-man rush. Gannon won’t be able to survive all season on situational blitzing to create pressure. He needs those down linemen and overhang defenders – namely Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave and Haason Reddick – to start getting after the quarterback.
Nice to see the offense go under center a few times against the Vikings and have Hurts deliver a simple handoff to his running back.
Going under center takes the pressure off Hurts to architect the offense on every snap and allows the Eagles to gain easy yards behind the prowess of their massive offensive line instead of asking the quarterback to decide between one or the other. More importantly, it guarantees some ground yards without Hurts taking a hit. Preservation will be key going forward.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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