Much has been made of the Dallas Cowboys offensive line this year. They have gotten a lot of press and it has been well deserved. Fran Duffy over at PhiladelphiaEagles.com really did a nice job this week highlighting just how dominant that unit has been this year. This is must read material. Despite, their 2014 performance, color the Eagles Defensive Line unimpressed.
"People don't give us the credit that we deserve," defensive end Fletcher Cox said after Tuesday's training session, "but we put it on tape and we show the world that we can stop the run.
"If anybody that watches football knows what our D-line is known for, it's stopping the run."
"To be honest with you, [I'm] tired of hearing about it," Logan said, noting that the Eagles have faced better offensive lines. "Their O-Line, the only thing they did was add one guy, so it’s not like this year they’re so special. They’ve got to line up and play us. Are we looking forward to it? It’s not a challenge for us or anything. It’s just next game. And it’s on Thanksgiving Day."
"Not at all," Logan said. "They’re the ones that have to live up to the hype of them being the greatest offensive line and this and that. It’s just football. Physical football. The style that I love to play."
I generally do not prefer to hear players talking like this before a big game. I love the confidence, but there is no question that this unit is playing at a much higher level than last year and is the best running attack we've faced this season. But as Bennie Logan would suggest, enough about the Cowboys, let's have a look at what the big fellas are doing right his year.
The Eagles success against the run starts up front. And Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan and Cedric Thornton are having terrific seasons defending the run.
Here is Cox lined up in the 3 technique. He will face an initial double team from the RG and the RT:
Cox keeps his eye on the ball carrier and watch him toss his man to the ground:
he closes in and makes the tackle on the running back:
This next play is about as good as a play you'll see a defensive lineman make. Again Fletcher is initially double teamed by the LG and TE:
Cox gets drilled by the TE and his helmet almost gets knocked off:
Still Cox beats the double team and gets into the backfield and proceeds to hit the ball carrier and force a fumble:
Logan is having a sensational sophomore season and has been one of the unsung heroes of the Eagles defense this year. Logan has been very active in the run defense. Here Logan is lined up in the 0 technique. Watch how he drives the center back off the line of scrimmage after the snap:
He keeps his eye on the ball carrier and does an excellent job of shedding the block:
and tackling the ballcarrier in the backfield:
Here's a great example of 2-gapping:
Bennie engages the lineman and first guards the strong side A gap:
But with eyes on the ball carrier, he quickly shifts to the weak side A gap:
and sheds the block to make a tackle in the backfield:
He's also been very explosive off the snap proving to be a handful for OL:
Here he attacks the strong side A gap:
Beats his man and makes a nice tackle in the backfield:
And let's not forget about Cedric Thornton who has been plenty disruptive. Here he shows great gap discipline and textbook 2-gapping:
Eyes on the ball carrier:
Sheds the block:
But he's also been explosive when asked to attack a gap and get good penetration:
Here he will attack the weak side A gap:
Eyes on the ballcarrier:
and sheds his block:
In addition to both 1-gap and 2-gap plays, Billy Davis likes to mix things up with run stunts where one DL will attack a gap and the other will stunt into a vacant area. A few examples. Here Logan will attack the strong side A gap and Cox will loop around on a stunt:
Logan occupies the C and OG and Cox explodes through the vacant hole:
and shows great closing speed:
Check out this one. This time Cox takes on the double team as Logan stunts:
But Cox actually splits this double team and makes the play in the backfield:
Finally, the one of the plays the Eagles will get a heavy dose of on Thursday as Fran Duffy highlighted is the zone stretch play. The Cowboys run it very well. The Eagles have defended this play pretty well against teams like the Texans and Redskins this year. The key to stopping the zone stretch is good gap discipline and setting the edge. The Eagles have done a nice job on both of these things so far this season but the Cowboys will be their biggest test to date. Let's start with the gap discipline:
One of the strength of the zone stretch is that the running back has multiple options across the line from the cut back to the outside run. But check out the job the Eagles do below in their run fits. The cutback and backside A gap are occupied by Eagles defender. The strong side is clogged up by Barwin:
As a result, Morris stretches out the play and you see great patience from Demeco Ryans:
As a result of great gap discipline the play is forced to the outside and Bradley Fletcher does a nice job getting off his block and forcing Morris out of bounds.
Here's another good example. Again, check out the Eagles run fits on this play. Every gap is covered at Morris has nowhere to go:
This time Barwin does an excellent job of setting the edge and Morris can't get to the outside:
Morris has nowhere to go:
Here's an example of a trap/scoop block on Cox to try and open a gap for Morris on the cutback lane on the goalline:
That lane is opening up nicely:
For a moment it looks like a sure TD:
But watch Cox disengage and make the tackle short of the goalline:
Finally, we talked about setting the edge. Despite being a very good run defender in the 4-3 alignment, Trent Cole struggled mightily at times in 2013 in setting the edge in the run game. Trent has come a long way in 2014. A big reason is Billy Davis' usage of Trent Cole in the old familiar Wide-9 alignment. While the wide 9 is not known to be a good run stopping alignment, the one thing it is good for is setting the edge. The DL lines up so wide, he can set the edge by attacking upfield. However, because of the wide spacing the DL and LBs need to show good gap discipline and the ability to shed blocks:
Check out the job by Cox and Logan here as Cole attacks up field and takes away the edge run:
Morris plants his foot to come back inside, but Cox and Logan have shed their blocks:
One more for the road:
Cole sets the edge and Cox, Thornton and Casey Matthews all do a great job of beating their blocks:
It's shaping up to be quite the battle in the trenches, and in all likelihood it will be the unit that gets the better of the other in this match-up that determines the ultimate outcome of this game.