The Eagles' defense finished with 70 sacks in 2022 — by far, the most in the league — and was tied for third all-time with the 1987 Chicago Bears. Philadelphia achieved this by mixing youthful and veteran pass rushers who play with all kinds of different styles. It was a nightmare for opposing offensive coordinators.
The unit features edge rushers Hasson Reddick (16 sacks), Josh Sweat (11) and playoff hero Brandon Graham (11) The interior is dominated by Pro Bowler Javon Hargrave (11) and ageless wonder Fletcher Cox (7). The unit also had contributions from veterans Linval Joseph, Ndamukong Suh and Robert Quinn. Rookie Jordan Davis and second-year player Milton Williams have had more playing time as the season progressed.
In the first installment of a two-part series, let’s see how the Chiefs can slow down these very good pass rushers.
When you watch it live, Philadelphia’s pass rush seems hectic, combining crushing blows with fast-moving players pouncing on quarterbacks. It seems like chaos in the trenches — and to some extent, it is.
The Eagles use a form of coordinated chaos to shock opponents and leave them on their toes.
Excellent pass-rush coordination here. Sweat is going to stay wide and work to bend around 73. Reddick beats 77 inside with a spin causing Dak to evade the pocket. Sweat likely gets washed upfield if Dak can step into the throw. He gets on the same level and finishes the play. pic.twitter.com/a3yumMDn6V— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) February 7, 2023
We see here how Reddick penetrates the B-gap, beating Tyron Smith with a nasty spin move. This prevents Dak Prescott from moving up in the pocket. This is just nwhat Sweat wants as he continues to push upfield against Tyler Smith. If Prescott steps up, Smith could push Sweat around to create a pocket — but with Prescott falling deeper into the pocket, it’s easy for Sweat to run him down.
Reddick and Sweat are among the game's elite edge rushers. Both have a lightning-quick get-off. Both possess the bend and flexibility to work their way around an arc to run down a passer. Each can also line up in a many different spots, using their athletic range to penetrate the pocket in unique ways.
On obvious passing downs, the Eagles will line up five pass rushers on the line of scrimmage, creating one-on-one situations across the line. This takes away the offensive line’s ability to slide protect — that is, to move one side of the offensive line in one direction and the other side in another in order to target a specific rusher.
3rd down and 7, Philly lines up five on the line of scrimmage. Reddick lines up head-up on the LT. The 1tech and 3tech both left, and Reddick ran a super loop all the way to the opposite B gap. Rodgers tries to step up but Reddick/the vertical pressure engulfs him for the sack. pic.twitter.com/o6JlDoEYiW— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) February 7, 2023
This complex stunt — a play where the defensive line moves in different directions to disorient the offensive line — begins with Reddick head up on the tackle. On the snap, he loops to the opposite B-gap — between the guard and tackle. Both interior linemen slant to the left, which pulls the offensive line with them — leaving an opening for Reddick. A slower player could not pull this off, but Reddick can — and he pummels Aaron Rodgers.
As the season progressed, Reddick garnered more attention from offenses.
Reddick penetrates the B gap avoiding a chip block from Aaron Jones. Cox waits till he sees the penetration and loops to the outside, getting between the RG and Jones, and coming away with the sack. The Eagles DL covers ground quickly from wide alignments. pic.twitter.com/eGiSUrmZd2— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) February 7, 2023
On this play, Aaron Jones wants to step up and help his right tackle — possibly using a chip block to the outside to help counter Reddick's ability. Reddick counters this by penetrating the B-gap, which makes Jones go off-balance and helps give Cox a lane to the quarterback.
This is a well-timed example of an E/T twist — a type of defensive line play where the edge will penetrate first, followed by the defensive tackle looping to the outside.
Philadelphia’s coordinated chaos would not be possible multiple players using different styles of play. The NFL’s deepest defensive line has players who blend speed with explosion to win the edge, some who use power to crush the pocket and some who combine supreme technique with unwavering effort.
Philly has more than just edge rushers. Javon Hargrave working on the LG here keeps rushing through a single blocker and is able to apply enough pressure on Prescott to force a bad throw. He is relentless, recording 11 sacks this season. Good initial pop on the bull rush. pic.twitter.com/trPPfpjRy8— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) February 7, 2023
We see here that Hargrave is a physical presence up front; his power rush from the interior makes it hard for Prescott to get comfortable. The tackles get help from the backs, but the slide protection to the right leaves Hargrave one-on-one. He doesn't get the sack, but he pushes the pocket back far enough to make Prescott throw a poor pass.
Having Hargrave and Cox in the middle makes things easier for Reddick and Sweat on the outside.
Five-man pressure from Philly, only help is from the chip from the TE. Reddick keeps working up the arc and eventually bends it on Smith. Strip sack and the Eagles got the ball. Reddick lands inside hands and then separates as he keeps working to get around Smith. pic.twitter.com/xxFIMjsJ0P— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) February 7, 2023
On this rep, Prescott never steps up in the pocket while Reddick goes to work on the outside. The five-man pressure — and the push up the middle — make Prescott want to hang back in the pocket. This is where Reddick thrives. Once again, he beats his man to the outside — leading to a strip-sack.
With the ability to time a snap perfectly — and elite burst off the snap — both Reddick and Sweat can ruin an opposing tackle’s day.
Josh Sweat does an excellent job to time the snap. Great get off the LOS, and he forces the LT to turn his hips to the sideline. This cuts down his rush angle and allows him to get to the QB easier. The motion does nothing to slow him down. He looks to get upfield quickly. pic.twitter.com/hc22MYHTfh— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) February 8, 2023
Here we see New York Giants left tackle Andrew Thomas get a good jump off the ball — but Sweat flies off the snap even faster. Thomas isn't as fast, so he flips his hips and tries to cut off the pass rusher — but when he opens his hips to the sideline, he makes Sweats' path to the quarterback even easier. Sweat’s burst gets him to Daniel Jones with ease.
With Sweat and Reddick burning from the outside can create a sense of urgency in opposing tackles, causing them to speed up their games. This is when having Graham — a traditional pass rusher who uses power and technique rather than speed and flexibility — comes in handy.
The motor never stops for Brandom Graham. He uses superior leverage to drive the RT into the backfield, fights his way to the outside as Dalton moves over, draws a hold, and then forces Dalton to run out of bounds. His power rush off the edge provides a nice changeup for Philly. pic.twitter.com/R42TWGWKf3— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) February 8, 2023
On this snap — after spending the game dealing with speed rushers — the right tackle is taken by surprise when Graham fires off the ball and bullrushes him directly into the pocket. Trying to prevent a sack, he grabs Graham — and gets flagged for holding.
This simple (and effective) play for Graham is a great changeup from the onslaught of speed around the outside.
The bottom line
The depth of the Eagles' defensive line gives them the ability to throw many different looks at an offense. They have enough players with unique skill sets that their personnel groupings can force bad situations for offensive lines. They can send speed rushers against linemen who struggle against speed — and power rushers against linemen who are poor against bull rushes.
Even for the league’s better offensive lines, it’s a lot to handle.
Slowing down the Philadelphia pass rush will take more than an elite game from the Chiefs' offensive line. It will also take a top effort from the offensive play-callers and quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
But despite their greatness, the Eagles’ defensive line has known flaws and well-documented tendencies. In part two, we’ll discuss these — and how the Chiefs can exploit them.