So this will probably be the last post from me for the week, I feel at this point we have adequately beaten the Bucs gameday tape to death.
First off, thanks a lot to all the readers flocking to the Chip Wagon this week. It has been a crazy week since we unofficially launched the blog and thanks to a number of old friends who have brought some traffic our way.
Those of you who have been following along will be aware of my ongoing plea for Billy Davis to run more 4 man fronts in pass rush situations and get our best pass rushers on the field. Thanks to some insight gleaned from Sheil Kapadia, seems perhaps we are halfway there:
The Eagles have been going with more of a four-down look in their nickel package recently. The plan at the beginning of the season was to use mostly a three-down look. Davis liked the idea of disguising where the fourth rusher was coming from.
But that look didn’t work out so well, so he’s made some changes.
“We’ve gotten more into an even front,” Connor Barwin said. “It [the three-down look] hasn’t worked very well, so that’s why you see more of the four-down.”
Trent Cole and Brandon Graham often line up at right defensive end. Cox and Cedric Thornton are the interior pass-rushers. And Barwin sets up at left defensive end.
The change has allowed the Eagles to better use some of their personnel. Vinny Curry has been on the field more (25 snaps last game), and cornerback Brandon Boykin only rushed the quarterback once vs. the Bucs, per PFF.
A couple of things to breakdown here. One, Billy is telling the truth. By my unofficial count, the Eagles lined up in a conventional 4 man front to rush the passer 33 times against the Bucs. So Billy has responded with one half of the bargain. However, much to my initial chagrin...the personnel stayed mostly the same. I want Cole, Cox, Curry, and Graham. We saw it exactly once against the Giants (because Barwin was dinged) and we didn't see that grouping at all against the Bucs.
Most notably...the choice at LDE has by and large been Connor Barwin over Brandon Graham. This started to frustrate me a little bit. I like Barwin a lot. However, I do think that Graham is a more gifted, pin your ears back, pass rusher. So why not give Graham more of Barwin's snaps? Well Billy Davis' comments from Sheil's article provide the initial clue, and I have to thank austinfan from the Eagles Message Board for tipping me off on understanding this better. So I went to the tape and also found some interesting things along the way.
First, to the Billy Davis clue:
The plan at the beginning of the season was to use mostly a three-down look. Davis liked the idea of disguising where the fourth rusher was coming from.
A-ha! That's it! Billy has admitted that the 3 man fronts are not working as well, so has adjusted to more 4 man fronts. However, he doesn't want to let go of his idea to have the option to disguise where the fourth rusher is coming from. And to a certain degree, I agree with him.
Case closed. Barwin gets snaps instead of Graham because even when lined up as a DE in a four man front, Billy wants the flexibility to drop the DE back in coverage on a zone blitz, which sending a LB or safety. If given the choice as to who to drop into coverage...Barwin beats Graham 10 out of 10 times.
So to the tape I went, and some interesting observations emerged.
Here are some pretty standard 4 man front looks in the nickel package although sometimes Barwin and Cole were in 3 point stances, other times not. The other thing to note is on the vast majority of these Cole and Barwin are in the Wide 9 alignment. Hat-tip to Jim Washburn:
Carrying the hypothesis forward, the first puzzled conclusion I made, was that when the Eagles were lined up in this standard 4 man front look...Barwin rushed the passer almost exclusively. This is one of the few examples I found of Barwin dropping into coverage out of the DE spot:
But I saw several examples of where the "concept" discussed here would have been useful. We've had a lot of trouble with defending the slants this year. On this play, Barwin rushes the passer and Glennon gets a pretty clean window to complete the slant to Vincent Jackson:
One can envision the scenario where sometimes Barwin drops back into the vacant area to cut off the QBs throwing lane to the slant:
Here's another look worth thinking about and looking for in the future. On this play, Barwin is going to rush the passer and Nate Allen is going to step up and take coverage responsibility of the TE Barwin is lined up over:
You can imagine a scenario where sometimes the call will be for Barwin to jam the TE at the line with coverage responsibility as Allen provides deep safety help over the top. As it turns out, Allen has the TE and on his path to the TE he impedes the pathetic route being run by Underwood which leads to Bradley Fletcher's INT:
So, while I think the hypothesis about Billy Davis' desire for more flexibility in at the DE position in a 4 man front hence more Barwin and less Graham is still valid, it didn't come to bear in this particular game.
Until, another observation. Yes, there were base 3-4 looks. Yes there were lots of 4-2-5 looks. BUt also, as I have noticed in earlier games, there was a fair amount of the old familiar 3-3-5 look. Yep, fans of the Jim Johnson days will remember this as the OKIE package. Well, turns out we ran it a fair amount last Sunday and guess who the key defender of the package, termed the JOKER, was? You guessed it, Connor Barwin.
Here's Barwin lined over the outside WR at the top of the screen. I've noticed us doing some of this. The idea is to use Cole or Barwin on the outside to initial jam receivers and allowing the corner to play off some.
But pre-snap, Barwin moves over the slot receiver:
Finally, he moves over the RT:
And then ends up dropping into coverage:
Here's another more familiar look for those remember the days of Jevon Kearse as the JOKER:
Here Barwin fakes dropping back into coverage:
Then comes after the QB:
But this time with coverage responsibility on the TE:
But once he sees the TE is staying into block, he goes after the QB:
Here he is in the slot:
and dropping into coverage:
Except this time he comes after the QB:
So there you have it. I can understand Billy's logic here and what he is trying to do. My amateur recommendation? Keep the OKIE package and move Barwin all around, make good use of his skill set. But if you are going to primarily rush him when he's at DE in a four man front, maybe give Graham some of those snaps. I understand you don't want to tip your hand, but we need to find better ways to get more pressure on the QB. We've made some formation changes, now time to tweak the personnel and find the right combination.
All that said, please don't drop Graham into coverage too much. He gets a snap here at DE:
But not sure he could look more lost dropping into zone. The drop looks way too deep based on the coverage and he's put himself in a pretty good position to not be able to do anything remotely useful for the defense:
Final words. Don't get me wrong. Barwin's not a terrible pass rusher. He's actually pretty good. After all, he got one of our few sacks on Sunday, from the DE position in the wide 9 alignment on a nice stunt:
But I think we need to mix things up a little. The pass rush is nowhere near as consistent as it needs to be.