Eagles LB’s Doing A Great Job Of Playing Pass DefenseBREAKING NEWS, Eagles, Linebackers, News Monday, September 17th, 2012
The Eagles linebackers have come a long way. You can see it in their play versus the pass in zone coverages and in man-to-man coverages. They’re getting their hands on the football and making big plays. Their man-to-man coverage is tight, which will put quarterbacks in a bind as they try to escape the team’s pass rush.
In the third quarter of yesterday’s game, middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans dropped into his zone and followed the eyes of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. When a linebacker drops into a zone, his eyes aren’t focused on the receivers like he does in man-to-man coverages, they are focused on the quarterback and more specifically his eyes. They must be able to feel where the receivers are with their peripheral vision, but they must concentrate on the quarterback’s eyes.
When that arm goes back, you break. You have to drop into your zone and be balanced to go in any direction, but especially come forward because in zone defenses, you want to make the quarterback throw the ball short, then you break on the ball and keep the gain to a minimum.
A good quarterback will manipulate the pass defenders, but Flacco wasn’t manipulating anybody on that play in the first quarter. He made a throw identical to the some of the throws Michael Vick made a week ago against the Browns. The Ravens quarterback stared down his receiver, which brought Eagles defenders to the area, then threw the ball to the receiver in that area. That’s a recipe for interceptions.
On the play yesterday, the Eagles were sitting in a strong zone with the two cornerbacks and the free safety were dropping deep into a three-deep zone. The three Eagles linebackers were dropping into the underneath zones with the strong safety. So there were four defenders underneath and three deep. It’s a classic zone defense which everybody runs.
Ryans was zeroed in on Flacco and he took him to the ball. Rookie linebacker Mychal Kendricks was coming that way to because he was keying the quarterback’s eyes as well, but Ryans did something which expect out of an experienced and well trained linebacker.
When Flacco took his arm back and released the football, Ryans didn’t go straight horizontal toward the football, his break on the ball wasn’t totally horizontal, but with an angle coming forward so that he would cut in front of the receiver. He cut in front of Kendricks and the receiver, then caught the football above his head with his hands.
That’s the way linebackers are supposed to play pass defense when they’re in zone defense.
Kendricks gave us a demonstration of exactly how you’re supposed to play man-to-man defense on the fourth down play at the end of the game. The Eagles secondary was in a 2-Man coverage with the two corners, Dominique Rodgers-Cromarties and Nnamdi Asomugha, along with nickel back, Brandon Boykin and the linebackers, Ryans and Kendricks manned up.
This is the Eagles number one nickel coverage because DRC and Nnamdi have the ability to take the receivers out of the equation. Many times Flacco had no chance of going to his wide receivers. Boykin is faster than just about all the guys he will face in the slot.
Flacco figured his best match-up was Kendricks on Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice. He guessed wrong because Kendricks is faster than Rice. It’s not an accident that the Eagles added so much speed at their nickel back and linebacker position. Games are won and lost on 3rd and 4th downs in the NFL.
Kendricks didn’t make the mistake of waiting on Rice to release on his route, he attacked the running back in the backfield. Kendricks came up and jammed Rice while playing a strong inside technique. Rice has made some big plays by beating linebackers inside.
If a linebacker gets beat inside in man-to-man, it’s a Cardinal Sin and the backer is running the risk of giving up a big play, but that wasn’t going to happen on this play. Kendricks gave Rice one way to go. When Rice cut outside on an arrow route toward the sideline, the rookie linebacker cut underneath him to put himself in between Flacco and the running back.
A linebacker is supposed to put himself in between the quarterback and his target, so that the quarterback will have to throw the ball by him in order to complete the pass. Quarterbacks don’t like to make this throw because many of them end with interceptions.
Flacco had no choice with the pass rush getting closer. He had to make a decision, so he tried to throw it high over Kendricks head, but in doing so he was also throwing it high over Rice’s head.
The ball sailed high over both the linebacker and the receiver’s. It landed deep past the Eagles bench. Kendricks had a better shot at it than Rice, as he leaped high in the air. The rookie’s tight coverage had ended this game and preserved the Eagles victory.
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