Eagles Need to Throw Different Looks at the Saints
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Forget about Boston Scott or Donnel Pumphrey on the scout team, the Eagles got some impressive work in when it comes to handling a big threat out of the backfield in Chicago.
The most dynamic part of the Bears offense is versatile running back Tarik Cohen and Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was able to take Cohen out of last Sunday's 16-15 Eagles win by throwing a number of different defenders at the diminutive back, whether it was Malcolm Jenkins, Nigel Bradham or even slot corner Cre'Von LeBlanc.
Most of them came from a dime package with six defensive backs or what the Eagles refer to as the Big Nickel with three safeties on the field at once.
The key to it all is Malcolm Jenkins, who can line up anywhere in the back seven, along with the emergence of LeBlanc, a midseason waiver wire pickup from Detroit, and Tre Sullivan, the first-year safety, who played a career-high 48 snaps in his first ever playoff game.
"Well, first you need a flexible guy like Malcolm that can play linebacker/safety/nickel," Schwartz said of his DB-heavy looks. "That goes a lot into it. And it just helps to be able to match up different personnel. We use not just dime but we use, like you said, a three-safety nickel at times.
"We use base personnel. We used about every different personnel you can imagine, all of them with a little different thought in mind and all of them with a little different personnel matchups in mind. You need multi-dimensional players, and I think you can probably start with a guy like Malcolm. [Saftey] Corey Graham means a lot to us there, too."
As for slowing down Cohen, who has just four offensive touches for 27 yards, Schwartz kept Matt Nagy on his toes.
"Most of that credit goes to Nigel Bradham and Malcolm Jenkins," Schwartz said when asked about Cohen's light imprint on the game in Chicago. "They had a huge hand in that. I can't say enough about how those guys played, because even the one play that he went down the field, that was neither of those guys’ coverage. It wasn't just stopping the pass; it was stopping the run. Some of the pass, we were treating him like he was a wide receiver and that went to Cre'Von and Cre'Von is one of those guys that's really stepped up for us."
"... Cre'Von had a big part of it and it was a team effort trying to keep him down," Schwartz continued. "We knew how dangerous [Cohen] was. You could see that on the last kickoff. That’s a guy where if you give him a quarter of an inch or one guy misses a tackle, he can make you pay, and I was proud of the guys, the way they played against him."
This week the threat out of the backfield is even more dangerous in Alvin Kamara, who leads the 13-3 Saints with 883 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground and is just as dangerous catching the football with 81 receptions for another 709 yards and four more scores.
Back in November Kamara ran for 71 yards and added a 37-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter during New Orleans' 48-7 win. It arguably could have been worse in a tighter affair in which Sean Payton was trying to get the football in Kamara's hands.
The problem duplicating the Cohen plan is that Drew Brees is the quarterback this week rather than Mitchell Trubisky and if you spend too much time hand-wringing over Kamara, Michael Thomas' and his NFL-leading 125 receptions for 1,405 yards looms.
Whatever plan Schwartz comes up with, Jenkins, once a first-round pick of New Orleans, will be in the middle of it.
"Malcolm has always been really good at trying to execute whatever we've tried to play to the best of his ability," Schwartz said. "He's never been stubborn about playing a certain way, playing here. He can play just about every single position. He also has a lot of experience, and he's a good barometer of where we are on the field."
To move Jenkins around, however, Schwartz needed another safety to feel comfortable with and that has been a work in progress since Rodney McLeod's season-ending knee injury. Schwartz is very confident with Graham and Sullivan has slowly earned an increased role in the latter stages of the season averaging 33 snaps a game since Week 12.
"I think you have to mix it up," Schwartz said when discussing the Saints. "You have to tackle well. There are some things that you can't defend every single pass. If you do, you're going to give up too many plays down the field. I think there are some that you just have to tackle. There are others that you have to pick and choose your times to be aggressive.
"I don't know that this is a game that you can just stick with one thing and stay with it over the course of the game. [Brees] has seen just about everything known to mankind. He has good playmakers at all the different positions. So there's picking and choosing times. There are sometimes where you have to play zone and sometimes you have to play man. Bottom line is you have to defend, tackle and you have to keep the mistakes down."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen