Sunday’s Wild Card game between the Eagles and Seahawks will be a rematch of their Week 12 showdown in Philadelphia, a 17-9 victory for Seattle. The Eagles Defense was able to hold the Seahawks to just 17 points in that game, though. Russell Wilson completed 13 of 25 passes (52%), threw an interception and was sacked a season-high 6 times. Given the injuries in their backfield and the type of season Wilson has had, Philadelphia’s focal point will likely be Seattle’s passing game on Sunday.
The use of a spy is always under consideration when playing against Russell Wilson. His ability to make plays with his legs demands that type of attention. The trade-off to utilizing a spy is that it takes a defender out of coverage and out of the pass rush simultaneously, though.
In Week 12, however, the Eagles did a good job of forcing Seattle’s protection to account for the spy as a potential pass rusher. You can see just how the Eagles were able to do this below. This was 3rd-and-8 on Seattle’s first drive. The Eagles had 4 down linemen and linebacker Nigel Bradham on the line of scrimmage. The idea here was to force 1-on-1 matchups across the defensive line.
Focus on Bradham, though. He initially showed a pass rush, and this occupied the left guard. Bradham then broke off his rush and dropped out to spy Wilson.
By that point, Fletcher Cox was able to take advantage of his 1-on-1 against center Joey Hunt and drive him back into Wilson’s lap for the sack.
The Eagles rushed 4 here AND spied Wilson. Yet they were able to do so while also creating the effect of a 5-man rush on the protection.
Safety Malcolm Jenkins (#27) was used as a spy in their first matchup as well. Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz also had him align on the line of scrimmage a few times to force the protection to account for him initially.
Here’s where the trade-off of a spy comes in, though. In man-free coverage, which the Eagles used a lot of in Week 12 against Seattle, there is usually a “hole” player – Someone who sits in the shallow-to-intermediate middle and reads the quarterback’s eyes. Other defenders in man generally play to him as their help inside. However, with a defender being used as a spy and the Eagles still rushing 4, that means there can’t be a hole defender in man-free coverage. On this particular 3rd down with Jenkins spying, Wilson was able to confidently work inside for a first down as a result.
In the 4th quarter, after the Eagles had used similar spy looks to the ones shown above throughout most of the afternoon, they mixed things up. This was 3rd-and-14. You can see the look below, with Bradham on the line of scrimmage creating a 5-man front and Jenkins hovering nearby.
The tendency to that point would lead Wilson and the O-line to believe that they would not be blitzing. One of them would take the running back in man coverage, the other would spy Wilson. On this play, though, Schwartz sent them both. Seattle was not prepared. With Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham running a stunt on the right side as well, Wilson had no chance.
This is the cat-and-mouse game that played out in Week 12 and will likely play out again on Sunday.
With left tackle Duane Brown’s status for Sunday in doubt, the Eagles’ advantage up front is likely going to be more pronounced than it was in Week 12. If the Eagles can force Wilson to hold onto the ball a little longer than normal (something he does at his worst), their front-4 can have a big day.
One way we know Schwartz will try to do this is through disguise. The injuries in Philadelphia’s secondary might make them less prone to play straight up man coverage quite as often as they did in Week 12. Schwartz won’t want to just sit back and give Wilson clearly-defined coverages either. Expect looks like the one shown below as a result.
This was 3rd-and-13. Given the situation and their alignment, it looked like the Eagles were likely going to play quarters coverage.
They were also presenting the possibility of a blitz. Schwartz could have been bringing any number of the defenders hovering around the line of scrimmage.
After the snap, it turned out they weren’t playing quarters or blitzing. Safety Marcus Epps rotated to the middle of the field. It looked like he was rotating to Cover-3 and becoming a deep-third safety at first.
But as it turned out, Epps wasn’t getting deep. He would instead be sitting in the intermediate middle area of the field, hunting up any in-breaking routes. The two corners on the outside pinched towards the middle to be able to account for the deep halves of the field. This was actually Cover-3 Robber (or an Inverted Tampa-2), with 5 underneath zone defenders.
Wilson had been presented with a disguise presnap and then a disguise right after the snap. He didn’t like what he saw and scrambled out of the pocket to try and make a play. The result was a sack followed by a Seattle punt.
To be fair to Seattle, their 17-point total did not entirely reflect their performance. They did miss two touchdowns, one on a wild throw to a wide-open receiver and one on a drop in the end zone. Both of these came on 3rd down, resulting in a field goal and a punt respectively. This cost Seattle 11 points.
The Seahawks also generated 5 plays of more than 25 yards, ran for 174 yards, and averaged 6.1 yards per play (for context, the Baltimore Ravens averaged 6.1 yards per play this season). This game could have gone a lot differently
But as we all know, turnovers and negative plays can thwart any offense, regardless of how many yards they rack up. Philly had enough on defense to create those negative plays in Week 12. Considering how their offense has improved since then, if the Eagles can have a similar performance on defense this Sunday, they will advance to the Divisional Round.
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