Pat On The Back
The Point After: Coverage Paved Way For Hit Parade On Wentz
The lasting image from Sunday’s bloodbath at FedEx Field is of Carson Wentz being pile-driven into the ground by Fletcher Cox.
Or being chased around by Josh Sweat.
Or being bullied by Brandon Graham.
Or being hurried, harassed and clobbered by any one of the Eagles’ front seven who got their hands on, around, or near the embattled Commanders quarterback.
The Eagles sacked Wentz nine times, hit him countless other times, and humbled their former franchise quarterback in a 24-8 road win that boosted their record to 3-0 and sent their 2016 second overall pick and his new team to 1-2.
But while the guys up front are getting all the love for their cosmic breakout, it’s the men behind the men — the linebackers and secondary – who really deserves a victory lap around South Philly this week.
Not that Graham, Sweat and Cox needed a whole lot of help to stage a sack parade – Washington’s offensive line played the accomplice, just fine – but the secondary’s role in the Wentz walloping can’t be dismissed or discounted, and becomes especially significant with another first-round quarterback on deck Sunday at the Line.
Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, who’s been blitzing more than last year, once again worked some extra-man pressures into the game plan, showing an itchier trigger-finger than he did last year.
But a majority of those nine sacks came when Gannon opted for coverage over pressure, leaving the dirty work to the guys on the back end.
Instead of speeding up Wentz’s play clock, Gannon aimed to negate Wentz’s first read, using a variety of man-match principles and matchup zone concepts to force Wentz into progression reads that he couldn’t possibly execute with guys like Cox, Sweat and Graham easily winning their matchups up front.
Imagine trying to read War And Peace while 30 seconds worth of sand passes through an hourglass.
The Eagles were especially crafty at negating the flurry of crossing routes the Commanders were hoping to profit from, as Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson and tight end Logan Thomas were constantly shuttling through tight windows that were closed quickly by Avonte Maddox, James Bradberry and others on the interior.
Coverage linebackers T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White were also part of the game plan that clouded that middle of the field, leaving Wentz to find nothing but arms and hands from defensive linemen coming at him.
You didn’t hear those back-end names mentioned nearly as much as you heard the names Cox, Graham, Reddick and Sweat but they were equally vital into carrying out the game plan of making Wentz pat the football before being planted in the ground.
Sure, Wentz can be his own worst enemy, and a handful of his passes either sailed, were under-thrown or just not placed well.
Some of his worst passes and decisions came from RPOs, which are supposed to be easy reads and intended to create pitch-and-catch scenarios.
Wentz also could’ve helped himself, and the offense, with better pre-snap decision-making and by throwing with more anticipation. Sticky coverage can still be beaten by well-timed throws or with precise ball placement.
But teams know that those aren’t Wentz’s strengths, and Gannon knew his defensive line could feast on Washington’s underwhelming front five without an abundance of extra pressure if he could just delay Wentz’s release a tick or two longer.
Last year, Gannon couldn’t have execute coverage concepts that ask defensive backs to play up close and either run stride-for-stride with pass catchers or carry them to the next defender, not with Anthony Harris, Rodney McLeod and Steven Nelson comprising three-fifths of the secondary.
With better personnel – namely Bradberry, Gardner-Johnson and safety Marcus Epps – comes better play designs and more ways to limit quarterbacks from striking big and, more importantly, striking fast.
Gannon has seen that he can win with blitzes or with coverage, which should come in handy down the road, when he chooses to mix and match those concepts in the same game against quarterbacks who dissect defenses better than Wentz does.
Jags quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the first overall pick in 2021 and next up against the Eagles this Sunday, is already thriving under new coach Doug Pederson.
Lawrence has thrown six touchdowns to just one interception, with a passer rating of 103.1 – a major boost after a rookie season ruined by former head coach Urban Meyer.
Lawrence has only been sacked twice and is completing almost 70 percent of his passes, which shows that he’s seeing the field clearly and his offensive line is holding up its end of the bargain.
“I think he’s processing at a high level,” Gannon said Tuesday. “He’s very accurate, has a big arm, he’s athletic. He’s tall. He can see. When you watch the tape of him, certain quarterbacks play real fast. He’s one of those guys.”
Will Gannon choose to dial up pressure or rely heavily on coverage?
That he can even decide between those options illustrates the difference between last year’s defense and this year’s version.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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