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Philadelphia Eagles

Film Room: The Good, the Slants, and the Sluggo

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The Philadelphia Eagles had their worst defensive performance in their Week 15 win over the New York Giants. It’s no secret what the Giants used to gash the Eagles for 434 passing yards. The slant is a simple enough concept, so why did it give the Eagles such a prolonged, convulsive fit?

First, some depressing individual stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus. CB Ronald Darby was rinsed in coverage, allowing 6 catches on 10 targets for 139 yards and 1 touchdown. That’s an average of 2.44 yards per coverage snap.

Even worse was the efficiency of CB Patrick Robinson. On considerably less snaps than Darby, he allowed 5 catches on 7 targets for 97 yards and a touchdown for a 2.69 yards per coverage snap average. That puts both of them in the bottom 5 for yards per coverage snap among corners who played at least 50% of the snaps in Week 15.

I’ll try to address the how and why of the Eagles defensive letdown last week, and to do so, I’ll focus on the slant routes and concepts used against them. In this Part 1 edition, I’ll look at the first two drives of the game, both of which ended in touchdowns.

The Giants wasted no time going to their bread and butter, hitting a slant early.

(1st Quarter 15:00, 1st & 10, NYG 25, 0-0)

First, even without play action, look at what the run action, in a 21 personnel (2 RB, 1 TE) formation does to the linebackers. (#95) LB Mychal Kendricks would be the closest to make the play, but he’s caught peeking the action in the backfield. (#31) CB Jalen Mills is in off coverage with outside leverage with single high safety support. There’s simply no chance for him to make a play on the ball against the slant to (#87) WR Sterling Shepard but he does well to click and close on the tackle to limit the damage.

(1st Quarter 13:57, 1st & 5, NYG 43, 0-0)

The Giants showed early that they knew they would see Cover 3 and either came out with condensed sets with wide receivers close to the line or motioned to condensed sets. Here, they hold the backside linebacker with inside zone action and throw the backside slant to (#18) WR Roger Lewis. (#41) CB Ronald Darby possesses typewriter feet and gets to the spot quick, but in off coverage with single high, not much he can do other than secure the tackle.

(1st Quarter 12:05, 1st & 10, PHI 47, 0-0)

Inside zone play action again from the Giants. Darby, at the top of the screen, has inside leverage again with off coverage and a single high safety. The linebackers get sucked in by run action again with each taking at least two steps towards the line of scrimmage. As soon as WR Lewis takes his first step inside, Darby attacks.

Darby is an aggressive corner, it’s all over his scouting report, but it can get him in trouble, as it did here. You can check his tape from his time in the Buffalo Bills in 2016, especially in the later parts of Week 2 against the New York Jets, and you’ll see that the book is out on him in regard to double moves being an exploitable fault.

(1st Quarter 10:11, 3rd & Goal, PHI 7, 0-0)

The Eagles pass rush gets an opportunity here, aiming to different landmarks from their edge rushers to force (#10) QB Eli Manning to step into (#75) DE Vinny Curry’s path for the sack. On the bottom of the screen, CB Mills looks completely out of sorts against the red zone sluggo, opening late and having to hold on, which draws a flag.

Here’s where I draw the parallel between the Raiders and the Giants in regard to where the Eagles’ cornerbacks will have to show improvement. Last week, down 17-10 against the Dallas Cowboys in the 4th quarter and needing a score, the Raiders ran a similar route on the outside.

The route on the bottom of the screen from (#10) WR Seth Roberts isn’t picture perfect, but it accomplishes it’s goal. Rookie (#33) CB Chidobe Awuzie doesn’t bite hard and seems to be in good position, but on Roberts’ inside jab, he gives up his outside leverage. Once he realizes Roberts has the outside track, Awuzie panics and a flag is thrown for holding.  This set up a touchdown from WR Michael Crabtree that tied the game up at 17-17.

So now that you’ve seen the Mills get beat and called for holding on a similar route, how about the same exact route where the wide receiver releases to the outside on a sluggo? Well, I’m here to tell you, this Giants game had everything, including that exact route, which also occurred at the 13 yard-line:

(1st Quarter 1:31, 2nd & 4, PHI 13, 7-6 PHI)

Mills bails from press just as the ball is snapped, opening his gate and closing hard on a slant from his outside leverage. Once again the run action holds the linebacker, important to note for the second part of this article that will be released soon. That’s (#12) WR Tavarres King with a pretty sluggo route that gets Mills to take the cheese. Yes, the same Tavarres King that had 20 career catches and 2 touchdowns over a three year career.

This was just the beginning for the Eagles poor day on defense. Mills would recover fairly quickly, largely putting his mistake behind him and showcasing his trademark elephant memory, but this can’t be said for the rest of cover men, including the safeties and linebackers.

In Part 2, we’ll explore what the Eagles did to stop the bleeding and the concepts that the Giants used to counter-punch. We’ll also take a look back at what the Giants saw from the Eagles corners 2016 tape that would further motivate them to utilize those concepts. Finally, we’ll explore if the Eagles explored lightening the burden on their corners by utilizing two high safeties. Bring a hazmat suit.

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Michael is an NFL Draft enthusiast, aspiring scout, and grandson of longtime East Stroudsburg (Pa.) HS football coach John P. Kist. He hosts Locked On Eagles and writes for Inside the Pylon & Breaking Football.

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