There was once a time in this league where you had to deal with Jim Johnson and his attacking Philadelphia Eagles 4-3 scheme.
Johnson was a master of putting all kinds of pressure on an offense, but he is no longer with us and longtime coach Andy Reid has moved on to the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Eagles under Chip Kelly are now a 3 – 4 scheme – one that is a very active group up front. There is a great deal of movement on the front, with several different looks in the way they position their players.
The idea is not to give you the same look consistently. The linebackers are aggressive in the way they attack the line, and you will see snaps where the safety is down to help in the running game or in coverage.
Isaac Sopoaga anchors the nose and can be a hard guy to move one-on-one. Where Sopoaga can also cause problems is he is not one of those nose men that sit down and try to take up space. You will see him work wide to the tackle box and get in on plays to the edge. Their best defensive lineman, in my opinion, is Fletcher Cox who lines up at end.
When Cox was drafted out of Mississippi State, I thought he would be outstanding as a 3-4 defensive end. But in his rookie season, they played him as a tackle. This is a much better fit for him, and he is playing at a much higher level. He is extremely long and powerful. When on the move, he can cause some issues. When he gets a step, he can push inside, get his arms up and affect the flight of the ball. He is solid in the running game, as well. He is not one of those guys that just gets washed out of the play. He has the anchor to hold things down and stack blockers.
The linebackers on this defense are aggressive and active. Connor Barwin is their best rush man and when they get in the nickel, he is going to put his hand on the ground and get up the field. Defensive coordinator Billy Davis likes to line him up in different spots to take advantage of his ability to create problems. He is very effective when he is used in the twist games to get a pass rush.
Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans play on the inside and do a great job of rallying to the ball. Kendricks is interesting to me because I don't think he has ideal height, but he is fearless in the way he attacks the offensive scheme. He has a really nice feel of where he fits, and when the ball comes at him, he can make the wrap up tackle.
Where these Cowboys offensive linemen have to be careful is in the way they handle Kendricks because of the way he runs. If you think he is going to be in a spot when the ball is snapped, you are wrong. He is not one of those defensive players that is killing grass just standing around. [embedded_ad]
DeMeco Ryans is a very similar player to Kendricks, but I always viewed him as a better player in a 4 – 3 scheme than 3 – 4 because there are times where he does get hooked up on blocks. He has nice awareness and lateral quickness, but getting off blocks is not one of his best strengths.
The secondary is where the Eagles have had their biggest issues. If I am Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan, I am very aggressive in the way they attack this group. Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher are the corners with Nate Allen and Patrick Chung as the safeties.
When they go to their nickel package, Brandon Boykin comes into the game and plays the slot. In the games I was able to study, I thought this was a group that played with some softness and overall was not the best tackling secondary that the Cowboys have faced this season.
I just do not see a group that really wants to make hits -- Cary Williams and Nate Allen tend to go low as tacklers. Bradley Fletcher will play press coverage, but I did not see him get physical with his jam or re-route.
The Giants took several shots down the field with Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, and they had some successes that went right through the Philadelphia coverage.
Receivers will be able to get inside on them and run routes without any problems. They will use the safety blitz when lined up in the box, and they will also combo routes with the corners and safeties. On the goal line, Cary Williams was beaten on the fade by Vincent Jackson of the Buccaneers, just because he wasn't very physical.
This Cowboys offense will need to be ready for movement up front from the defensive line, along with the linebackers trying to be disruptive as well, with an occasional safety blitz to try and cause problems.
There will be opportunities to run the ball if you catch them moving the front, then secure the linebackers. But when throwing the ball, if the protection is accounted for, there are some plays to be made on a secondary that has had its issues with coverage and has been soft.