The Bald Eagle is the national bird symbol of the United States; Tom Brady is the national symbol for the quarterback position of America’s Game. This Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles faceoff vs the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52 from US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
In our previous blog we highlighted the trenches matchup of the Eagles offensive line vs the Patriots front 7. The main point being the Eagles must control the line of scrimmage and the pace of the game to keep number 12 off the field.
Unfortunately for Philadelphia, Tom Brady will see the field this Sunday, and he will be there with an arsenal of weapons to attack the Eagles defense in particular the eagles secondary.
It is no secret the strength of the Eagles defense lies in the front 7 particularly with their 4 down linemen led by arguably the best defensive tackle in the game Fletcher Cox. The Eagles secondary however isn’t as stout, or as deep. 3 listed corners, 4 listed safeties, that is the makeup of the eagles secondary.
The corners are led by 3rd year corner Ronald Darby out of Florida State University who was originally drafted by the Buffalo Bills however was acquired by the Eagles via a preseason trade.
The other two corners are #21 Patrick Robinson who also went to FSU and #31 Jalen Mills out of LSU. I believe the advantage for the Patriots passing attack will be to attack these two corners. Ronald Darby is a complete corner; he’s got good length and size and is capable of playing various coverages but seems to be best in off man coverage.
Off man coverage implies the corner is playing man to man defense vs the WR however the corner will play about 7-10 yards away from the line of scrimmage. Darby has also played well in press man to man coverage and his frame allows him to jam wide receivers and his hips allow him to regain balance and close on the ball quickly if a WR beats him off the line of scrimmage.
For the other two corners, they are good at some things, not good at others, and overall eh corners. They are serviceable corners who at times have excelled but at other times have been left frozen trying to identify route patterns. Patrick Robinson in the slot and Jalen Mills vs wide receiver Brandin Cooks will be a mismatch in New England’s favor and a matchup New England will exploit in critical moments in this game.
The strength of the Eagles secondary no doubt comes from their safeties.
#23 Rodney Mcleod was acquired via free agency from the then St Louis Rams and his primary role is to be the single high safety. The eagles while they show 2 deep looks they favor a single high look and let the other three safeties play closer to the line of scrimmage. While McLeod isn’t mentioned with guys like Eric Berry and Earl Thomas, he is still a top 10 if not top 5 single high safety with great range and speed.
His limitations come when the Eagles send a cover 0 blitz and he is forced to play man coverage. Cover 0 blitz basically means the defense will send 6-8 guys on a blitz depending on how many guys stay in to block and the remaining players on defense are all in one on one coverage.
McLeod also has shown inconsistencies with pursuing a ball carrier in open space and once in a while failure to diagnose different route patterns. #24 Corey Graham was acquired via free agency from the Buffalo Bills and previously played on the 2012 Super Bowl winners Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens that year beat New England in the AFC Championship to advance to the Super Bowl. Graham and Darby were teammates in buffalo when current eagles Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was in the same role for the Bills. Acquiring Graham made sense because it brings him to a scheme he’s familiar with and now in his 10th year in the league he can have an influence on the younger guys especially Safety Jaylen Watkins who has a lot of similar traits to Graham. Corey Graham plays a few different roles.
When the Eagles are in a dime personnel (6 defensive backs), Graham will play the robber role if its cover 1 robber. Cover 1 robber means the single safety plays deep while the other safety shades towards the middle of the field where his responsibility is to intercept any routes that go towards the middle of the field. He has also played at times as the matchup guy on a tight end when All Pro safety Malcolm Jenkins is in man assignment on a slot receiver.
Jaylen Watkins plays in similar roles and although listed as a safety his role is a bit more corner-centric. Last but not least, the cornerstone of this secondary, the All Pro Malcolm Jenkins. Watching the Eagles defense does not get boring and a major reason for that is Malcolm Jenkins.
First off, you need to locate him. He lines up everywhere. His primary role is to matchup one on one vs the Tight End and as stated previously matchup vs the slot WR in certain situations. He can blitz, he can play zone, he can play man, and he can provide run support.
Perhaps the most impressive thing of all is he excels in all these areas. There is very little weakness to his game and his primary objective this week will be his biggest challenge to date and that is to contain Rob Gronkowksi.
There are a particular set of skills required to contain Rob Gronkowski and it is more mental than physical. While Gronkowski is a mismatch every week, this week he will have to be at his best to succeed vs one of the best all-around safeties in the NFL.
The biggest key for New England vs this secondary will be a quick temp no huddle offense. Deploying no huddle will force the Eagles to keep the same players on the field and also force the Eagles to communicate which has been a weakness at times throughout the season.
The Eagles also disguise coverages well so allowing Tom Brady to get to the line of scrimmage faster will help him gauge what coverage the defense might be playing and there is nobody better than Tom Brady pre- snap. The play of the Eagles secondary will go as far as the other corners go.
New England thrives on other team’s weaknesses, either the other corners step up or this ferocious defense will fall prey to the ultimate secondary predator.