Eagles adjustments helped vs. Redskins ground game

Posted: October 17, 2011

How much of a difference does three feet make?

In the case of the Eagles' run defense, three feet turned into a 98-yard improvement.

After being gashed by what linebacker Brian Rolle described as a series of "butt-kickings" on the ground, the Eagles adjusted their approach to their defensive front Sunday. The result was their best performance against the run all season and - not coincidentally - their best overall showing on 'D.'

The Eagles at times moved their defensive ends closer to the middle of the line of scrimmage and in doing so limited Washington to just 42 rushing yards. They entered the game allowing 140.2 yards per game on the ground.

"Wash and Juan gave them some different looks up front, and that was pretty productive," said head coach Andy Reid, referring to defensive line coach Jim Washburn and defensive coordinator Juan Castillo.

The biggest change was moving one of the Eagles defensive ends from his typical wide-nine spot outside the tight end to the six technique: on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle but inside the tight end. It was a move of roughly three feet, but it made a massive difference in the way the Redskins had to block the Eagles.

The Eagles also moved their linebackers closer to the line of scrimmage, allowing them to attack the run. The Eagles used the setup in clear running situations and particularly when Washington lined up two tight ends.

The result? With an end in their faces, the Redskins offensive tackles had to help block the Eagles front four, preventing the blockers from running free at linebackers, so the linebackers were free to make plays.

"When you put a defensive end in the 'six,' it helps clog up the inner holes," said safety Kurt Coleman. "They're going to be able to clog the middle so [the offensive line is] not going to have a free double team. . . . They have to be able to stay in tight on the defensive end."

Eagles defensive linemen, who have piled up sacks this season, still rave about the wide nine and the pass-rushing angles it provides. But linebackers and safeties sounded relieved to have some help Sunday.

"You have the guys in the wide nine, it's a great scheme. But in obvious running downs, you put the guys in the six, that tackle doesn't have a free run to the outside 'backer," said Rolle. "Doing that, it made a big difference."

On Washington's second play, the Redskins lined up two tight ends. Defensive end Jason Babin set up in the six technique, instead of outside his tight end, where he could be blocked by one man.

From his new location, Babin took on both the tight end and tackle on his side of the field. That left Rolle free to stop running back Ryan Torain after a 4-yard run. (Another key factor: The Eagles tackling was strong and sound. They rarely missed Sunday, unlike past weeks.)

The Eagles' early work against the run forced Washington to pass, and the mistakes of quarterback Rex Grossman and opportunism of the Eagles secondary took over.

On at least two snaps, the Eagles also dropped defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins into coverage, adding to the variety they showed.

The wide nine, though, is not going away. The Eagles still used it Sunday, often in second- and third-and-long situations and particularly as they increased their lead.

Rolle and Babin said the setup used Sunday matched up well against the Redskins' zone-blocking. The Eagles could also afford to ease up the pass rush while facing an erratic quarterback and ordinary group of wide receivers.

Other teams might call for a different scheme. Dallas' power running style, with pulling guards, might require moving the linebackers back off the line of scrimmage, Rolle said.

"Different things work against different teams," he said.

Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214, jtamari@phillynews.com or @JonathanTamari on Twitter.


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