All 22 Review: Motion, Bunch Formations Caused Birds Some Problems Vs. Commanders
For the most part, the Eagles’ defense performed better than the final score suggested Sunday against Sam Howell and the Commanders despite Washington driving for the game-tying touchdown late in the fourth and scoring more than 30 points.
Howell threw just one touchdown pass and was sacked five times. The Eagles pressured him often, but Howell’s ability to move resulted in 40 rushing yards.
Howell completed 70 percent of his passes but only averaged 7.1 yards per pass attempt – as opposed to Jalen Hurts’ 8.6 – and only completed two passes that went for 25 or more yards.
Washington’s 107 rushing yards and pedestrian 3.8 yards per carry was heavily skewed by Howell’s 40 yards and 6.7 per carry. Commanders running backs Brian Robinson, Antonio Gibson and Curtis Samuel totaled just 65 yards on 21 carries, just 3.1 per carry.
But one area where the Eagles struggled at times was against Washington’s bunch formations – when multiple receivers line up tight to the line of scrimmage on the same side.
In these formations, the defense has less room to work with, and traffic can be created when the receivers run routes close together, whether playing man or zone.
The Commanders frequently used motion to morph into bunch formations that worked to their advantage and caused confusion for Eagles defensive backs.
Here’s an example from 2nd-and-4 on their opening drive:
Commanders slot receiver Curtis Samuel motioned to the right, behind Jahan Dotson. The Eagles are in man coverage, so James Bradberry followed Samuel on the motion.
But after the snap, Bradberry switched to Dotson while Darius Slay covered Samuel, giving too much cushion and allowing Samuel to catch the ball in stride and pick up about 10 extra yards.
Either Slay and Bradberry didn’t properly communicate the switch-off, or one of them covered the wrong receiver. Either way, the mixup let Samuel gain way more yards than necessary.
I asked former Eagles safety Quintin Mikell, co-star of “Q&A” on Inside The Birds with Jason Avant, about this play:
“The problem is both played off,” he said, adding that the motion defender should have pressed McLaurin at the line of scrimmage and then switched to Samuel’s route or Dotson’s.
Slay didn’t move at all after the motion, which suggests they tried to stick with the original coverage of him against McLuarin, which got haywire when Bradberry switched onto Dotson.
This next play isn’t a miscommunication or coverage breakdown. The receiver wasn’t even operating from a bunch formation, just an example of the Eagles giving the Commanders more yards than necessary:
It starts with protection, as the Eagles show a Double-A gap blitz with Nolan Smith and Nic Morrow aligning in each A gap before dropping back into a zone. Washington’s offensive line picks up the four-man rush, giving Howell time to find Terry McLaurin attacking the Cover 2 concept by finding the space between the flat corner (Slay) and safety (Terrell Edmunds).
But for some reason, Edmunds remains in his backpedal while McLaurin sits down in the zone, creating about 10 yards of space between the safety and receiver. McLaurin then catches Edmunds flat-footed to elude the veteran safety to pick up 24 total yards.
Later in the second, the Commanders fool the Eagles with a bunch formation on Howell’s right side:
Dotson motioned from a wide split into the third receiver in a trips right, with the Eagles in man coverage.
Slay and Bradberry get caught defending the front receiver while the No. 3 in the formation – Dyami Brown – breaks outside uncovered for a too-easy 35-yard pick. The nearest defender, Slay, wasn’t within sniffing distance of Brown at the catch point, allowing the receiver to tack on at least 20 more yards.
By the way, nice pocket climb by Howell to let those routes develop while the pass rush surrounded him.
Here’s an example of the Eagles adjusting properly to a 3-by-1 formation in the red zone that gave Howell few options, other than tossing the ball out of the back of the end zone to live another down.
Eagles defensive coordinator Sean Desai was asked Tuesday for his opinion on the Eagles’ execution of pre- and post-snap disguise against Washington’s motion.
“I think they did a good job with the motion. I think we did a good job overall of holding our shells,” he said. “Are there things we’ve always got to improve? For sure. There are instances of that without a doubt, but I thought we were able to get the quarterback off a read or two in different situations, and then sometimes we gave them the disguise a little bit early.”
The Eagles on Sunday face the Rams, whose head coach – Sean McVay – is known for being an offensive mastermind. McVay surely will notice how Washington’s bunch formations, trips, and motions were able to – at times – cause problems for the Eagles, when the Commanders were able to block for Howell.
“They are creating some matchups with motions, obviously for [Puka Nacua] and Tutu [Atwell],” he said. “That can create some binds for defenses, so you can see why the production has been there.”
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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