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Breaking Down the Eagles Defense

Posted Sep 28, 2013

The Eagles defense, while allowing plenty of yardage, has stiffened in the red zone so far in 2013.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Only two teams have yielded more yardage per game than the Eagles so far this season. But 13 have allowed more offensive touchdowns per game to this point than the 2.67 they've yielded to this point.

For Eagles Defensive Coordinator Bill Davis, the key has been tight red-zone defense. Just four of 13 drives that made it at least to their 20-yard-line this season have resulted in touchdowns.

Overall the Eagles have allowed just 45 of a possible 91 points (49.5 percent) and have permitted 1.75 yards per play in the red zone. Some of the credit goes to disguising intentions; a good chunk of the remainder belongs to a secondary whose coverage inside the 20 has been outstanding.

The peak came last week against Kansas City, when the Chiefs had the potential of scoring 42 points, but came away with 19. But some of what the Eagles did in that disappointing 26-16 loss won't apply Sunday.

Take a first-quarter stand against Kansas City, in which first-and-goal at the Eagles 8 became fourth-and-goal from the 15.  On first down, the Eagles respond to the Chiefs' old-school I-formation, strong-side left package by lining up six men at the line of scrimmage -- three standing up, three in a down alignment. 

On a second-quarter red-zone stand, the Chiefs again offered I-formation looks on two plays; on the second of these, the Eagles went back to the six-men-at-the-line formation with three standing up. Alex Smith responded with a play fake, but instead of attacking Smith with six men, only three were involved with the rush; as Smith dropped back to pass, eight Philadelphia defenders were on the other side of the line of scrimmage, forcing him to settle for a dump-off that sailed wide.

Kansas City can go for similar tactical tweaks against the Broncos, but doing so against an I-formation likely won't be an option given the Broncos' lack of a true fullback; when they needed one at the goal line last week, they used defensive tackle Mitch Unrein, who has been effective at the spot -- albeit with an extremely small career sample size of 11 snaps.

But the notion of disguising intentions is how the Eagles can work around a secondary that lacks experience and star power since the departures of Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Of their top three cornerbacks, only Brandon Boykin was with the team last year, and he was a rookie then (a fourth-round pick). But Boykin, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher have been surprisingly solid; according to ProFootballFocus.com, the quarterback ratings for passes thrown in their direction are 75.2 for Williams, 66.6 for Boykin and 74.8 for Fletcher, and the trio has allowed just one touchdown.

Where the Eagles have struggled is in affecting throws. Per ProFootballFocus.com, the Eagles have forced 35 hurried throws, which is one every four pass plays. By comparison, the Broncos have 53 hurries -- one every 2.8 pass plays. If the Eagles couldn't marshal much pressure when playing two-thirds of their games to date against quarterbacks who like to extend plays, which invites more time for pass rushers to affect throws, then they will be hard-pressed to rattle Peyton Manning.

Philadelphia's defense can benefit from working against its up-tempo offense in practice -- but the Broncos have the same edge, and with the added impact of their altitudinal acclimatization. 

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