Eagles confident they can handle Cardinals' blitz

Posted: November 29, 2013

TRIPLE A-GAP pressure is pretty much what it sounds like, the space between the guards busier than the Ben Franklin tolls at morning rush hour.

Everybody uses it here and there, or at least has it in the playbook. The Arizona Cardinals of former Eagles defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who visit Lincoln Financial Field Sunday, use it more than most.

In fact, the Cards are the blitzingest defense in the NFL, bringing extra pass rushers on 48.9 percent of their defensive snaps this season. In a 34-22 loss to Seattle last month, Arizona blitzed Russell Wilson 21 times on 34 dropbacks, which is a whole darned lot. How the Eagles and Nick Foles handle that pressure might be Sunday's most important question.

The good news is that so far this season, Foles has been good under pass-rush pressure, in limited exposure. Pro Football Focus gives him a .676 accuracy percentage in such situations, with two touchdown passes and of course, no picks, because Foles hasn't thrown any picks in the eight games he has played this season (five starts).

"He's good at knowing who his hot reads are," Eagles tight end Brent Celek said yesterday, when asked to assess Foles against the blitz. "I think our offensive line, backs, and tight ends have done a good job of picking it up."

Most teams don't blitz as much as the Cards for the obvious reason - you can really get burned if you take people out of pass coverage and send them at the quarterback.

"The reason they don't get burned by it is that they have a good secondary," headlined by corner Patrick Peterson, Foles said. Foles said that if the Cards stay true to form, Peterson will follow DeSean Jackson around.

"They really try to generate pressure on the quarterback and then their secondary really hunkers down and tries to take away the easy routes, tries to make you work for it," he said. "Like any team in the NFL, they will disguise, they will turn the safeties one way and come the other, but I think the big thing is, when the ball's snapped, they are going to have to show their hand. So it's really just recognizing when the ball's snapped what's happening and then making a smart decision from there."

Foles agreed that the Eagles' uptempo style could disrupt the blitz packages a bit - it's hard for the defense to change personnel - but he said he figures the Cardinals have looked at that and figured out ways around it.

"Our line's done a great job of really seeing what's going on," Foles said, when asked about his blitz success. "They're able to give me just a split second longer to get a throw off. That's huge . . . Our receivers and running backs have recognized when we are hot, to get their head around and get ready for the ball."

Asked what's important in handling a defense that blitzes effectively, right guard Todd Herremans said: "First of all, you have to see it coming. A lot of teams do a good job of disguising it. They're one of 'em. You just gotta be able to recognize it, and react."

Left guard Evan Mathis agreed. "The triple-A blitz, if you can recognize it, is not tough to deal with . . . The Cardinals do a good job of disguising it," he said. "The few times teams have brought it this year, I think we've done a good job of picking it up. It's something that teams usually have in their back pocket and don't bring it out a lot."

Mathis said Foles "is pretty good at recognizing how a blitz will affect the coverage, and where to find an opening."

Center Jason Kelce said: "They do it [the triple A-gap] with a safety and two linebackers. If you see it, it can open up some things on the back end. If you don't see it, obviously, the quarterback's gotta get it out hot, or it's gonna wreak havoc."

Eagles coach Chip Kelly said yesterday that playing against the blitz "is one of [Foles'] strengths, because I think he's intelligent, and he's got a really good understanding of what we're doing."

Eagles fans might be surprised to see Bowles running a highly regarded defense after he got enmeshed in the debacle of the Eagles' 4-12 season in 2012, his only year on the staff. Bowles came in to coach the defensive backs - a difficult task, given some of the problems and personalities of that group last season, made even more difficult by the need to support the run in the wide-nine alignment favored by then-defensive-line coach Jim Washburn. Bowles became the defensive coordinator when Juan Castillo was fired in mid-October, which hardly gave him an opportunity to set up his own system.

Nonetheless, the thing most people noticed was that a bad defense got completely helpless after Bowles took over.

Eagles safety Nate Allen this week defended Bowles, a former NFL safety who played for Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians at Temple in the 1980s.

"He's a great coach with a lot of knowledge . . . If you just look at [last season], you could say [Andy] Reid's not a good coach, and look what he's doing this year," Allen said. "There's more to the puzzle than what everybody sees and everybody knows. We know he's a great coach. He's got that defense rolling."

Allen said he learned "a lot of techniques and stuff" from Bowles. "He brought a different light to the secondary, because he played. He knew where we were coming from. He had been in our position before. He kind of gave it to us from the view of a player."

Allen said he isn't surprised the Cards like to blitz.

"That's the type of style I would probably guess he would have."

Foles was asked whether Bowles' familiarity with him will help the Cards.

"Just from getting to know someone in person, you probably do have a good idea, but then again, I feel like I'm a different player than I was last year," Foles said. "You continue to grow . . . he probably does know my mentality, how I am."


Email: bowenl@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @LesBowen

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