Eagles

Eagles

They had the ball on the 5-yard line and couldn’t get in the end zone.

They had the ball on the 3-yard line and couldn’t get in the end zone.

They even had the ball on the 1-yard line and couldn’t get in the end zone.

“It’s really everybody doing their job, everybody having the mindset that, ‘They’re not going to score,’” Jordan Hicks said. “As long as there’s a blade of grass, we’re going to defend it.”

Red zone defense was a strength for the Eagles in 2017, and they began 2018 the same way Thursday, turning in two massive goal-line stands to open the game and another to finish it.

In all, the Falcons managed just one touchdown and two field goals in five trips inside the Eagles’ red zone.

Ballgame.

“Our thought process is stop the run first, force them to throw, then after that, they want to spread us out, we’ve got guys that can cover,” Hicks said. “Force them to make the tough throws, and we’ve got two really good corners outside who are able to make plays on those guys.”

This is why Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz doesn’t care how many yards the Eagles give up.

If it’s this hard for teams to get into the end zone, the yards just don’t matter.

During the 2017 championship season, the Eagles ranked ninth in the NFL in points allowed per red zone possession at 4.75 and fifth in total red zone points allowed, with two takeaways.

 

That number went down to 2.70 in the postseason, with two more takeaways.

The Eagles were back at it Thursday night.

The Falcons ran 15 plays in the red zone, netting just 11 yards. Matt Ryan was 1-for-9 for three yards, a seven-yard sack, an interception and a passer rating of 0 in the red zone.

“We put a big emphasis on red zone,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “Our scheme is pretty simple, we’re really good at what we do, we detail every small thing, and we trust our players.

“When we get down to it, it’s nothing complex or anything. We just do our jobs and we trust our matchups. Obviously, guys show up, and it’s been crucial for our team.”

Thursday’s game was the first in 21 years in which the Eagles have kept an opponent out of the end zone on three separate drives inside their own 10-yard line.

The last time it happened was Oct. 26, 1997, in a 13-12 win over the Cowboys at the Vet.

• In the first quarter, the Cowboys had a drive in the first quarter that ended at the 8-yard line when Brian Dawkins batted away a Troy Aikman pass intended for Michael Irvin.

• In the second quarter, a Dallas drive ended at the 6-yard line when Wade Wilson — who had replaced an injured Aikman — threw incomplete to Herschel Walker.

• In the fourth quarter, the Cowboys started a drive with a 1st-and-goal on the Eagles’ 4-yard line, but Rhett Hall sacked Wilson on second down and then stopped Emmitt Smith for a two-yard loss on third down.

A couple other notes about the goal-line stands:

• Thursday was the first time the Eagles allowed no points on two drives to the 5-yard line or deeper in the same game in 14 years – since Sept. 12, 2004, in a 31-14 win over the Giants. In that game, the Giants had a drive to the 7-yard line that Sheldon Brown ended with a strip-sack of Kurt Warner and another that ended at the 5-yard line when Warner threw incomplete to Ike Hilliard (covered by Ike Reese).

• The last time the Eagles defended five or more red zone drives in one game and allowed one or fewer touchdowns was actually a 26-16 loss to the Andy Reid Chiefs at the Linc in 2013.

“As we continue to get better, being such a dominant red zone defense is huge,” Hicks said. “As long as we don’t give up a big play, they’ve got to score tough, and I like our chances when we make someone have to score tough.”

If you can't score, you can't win. And if you can't get in the end zone, it's really hard to score. 

The Eagles’ defense is smart and tough and quick. Of their 18 players who got more than 200 defensive snaps last year, 14 are back. They communicate well. They think fast. They can pressure and they can cover.

Everything you need to play terrific red zone defense.

 

It’s not going to be easy to get into the end zone on these guys this year. Even if there’s only a blade of grass to work with.

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