The Eagles have given up 27 sacks (fourth worst) and 71 quarterback hits (league high), all which feel like they came in their Monday Night loss to the New Orleans Saints. The Saints pummeled quarterback Michael Vick endlessly, sacking him eight times and pressuring him many others. Most of the sacks came with overload pressures or the illusion of them, toying with the offensive line’s assignments as the Saints defenders feasted on their prey. This could be problematic moving forward, especially this weekend when they face the Dallas Cowboys and Rob Ryan’s own overload packages.
While watching the game this past Monday night, I noticed that the Saints were blitzing on the Eagles’ empty sets, which feature no one in the backfield except Vick. It was a good move by Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who finally came alive and dialed up some of the best blitzes we’ve seen this season. On one particular play in the red zone, Spagnuolo called for an overload on the left side of the Eagles’ offensive line.
With the two interior linemen pinched inside and two defensive ends lined up wide, the Saints showed blitz with two additional linebackers in each B-gap.
To the left side, where the pressure would ultimately come from, towering left tackle King Dunlap was faced with two pass rushers — the aforementioned defensive end and a linebacker in the B-gap — and he could obviously only block one. Because of the way pass protection is taught, Dunlap was going to be sliding inside, leaving the defensive end unblocked and Vick responsible for accounting for him, which is a problem.
Vick doesn’t recognize pressure well at all, and in this case he was expected to identify the rusher on the left and find a “hot-read” to the right. A hot read is when the closest receiver trims his route and immediately spots up open for a quick throw from the quarterback. That didn’t happen, and Vick was taken down by the left end and the Saints’ four-man rush.
This is something that the Eagles must fix with urgency because the Dallas Cowboys, their opponent tomorrow, showed a similar pressure only a day earlier against the Atlanta Falcons. Dallas lined up in an “Okie” front, which features both guards uncovered in the 3-4 against the Falcons, who appeared to have a six man protection scheme before the snap against the Cowboys’ four-man rush. This created a three-on-two matchup to the left side of the offensive line, where the left guard was uncovered and could help the left tackle block the defensive end or simply block the end so the tackle can get the outside linebacker. And in case help was needed, the Falcons had running back Jacquizz Rodgers in the backfield.
When the ball was snapped Rodgers left the backfield to run a route, and the matchup became three-on-two for the Cowboys. The defensive end occupied the left tackle by simply engaging and two-gapping while the nose tackle, who was initially over the center, stunted into the B-gap to grab the attention of the left guard. So who was blocking the outside linebacker, who just happens to be sack master DeMarcus Ware?
No one. And down went Matt Ryan.
The New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys both got to the opposing quarterbacks by creatively utilizing a four-man rush that amounted to an overload but was set up differently. The Saints used linebackers to “sugar” the interior gaps while the Cowboys stunted their nose tackle into the near gap to win the numbers battle despite not being in a favorable position to do so before the snap.
Dallas’ pressure schemes will be something to watch tomorrow, as they’ll surely test the Eagles’ blocking to see if it’s improved. If not, it will be a long game for Vick once again.