Jim Schwartz’s entire defense is predicated on getting pressure on quarterbacks with just the front four.
On Sunday he blitzed. And blitzed. And blitzed.
“He’s not predictable,” linebacker Nigel Bradham said of his defensive coordinator. “That’s the main thing. Scheme-wise, you don’t want to keep putting the same thing on film all the time. You gotta switch it up. I think he takes that approach. And he knows when to do it and when not to.”
By the time the final seconds ticked off the clock in the Eagles’ 21-10 win over the Vikings (5-1) at the Linc (see Instant Replay), Sam Bradford had spent most of his return trip to Philadelphia on the seat of his pants, thanks in large part to linebackers and safeties generating extra pressure.
Bradford was sacked six times and the Eagles (4-2) finished the afternoon with 12 quarterback hits (see Roob's 10 observations from the win).
Many of those big plays came from zone blitzes, definitely not a calling card of Schwartz’s defense.
“He’s willing to adjust to win the game,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “He’s all about putting us in the best position to have success. So when you feel like something’s working or we have an adjustment we can make, he’s more than willing to make that adjustment.”
How little do the Eagles normally blitz? Well, according to ProFootballFocus, the Eagles had blitzed just 30 times in 181 dropbacks (16.6 percent) coming into Sunday. Against the Vikings, they blitzed on 11 of 47 dropbacks (23.4 percent).
On those 47 Bradford dropbacks, the Eagles generated 20 quarterback pressures.
“They played aggressively, they were blitzing a lot,” Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said. “I would too. We didn’t pick up anybody, so you might as well.”
According to PFF, Bradford entered the game with a passer rating of 108 under pressure. His passer rating under pressure on Sunday was 16.4.
Throughout the afternoon, the Eagles tried to do things they knew he didn’t like. That’s where many of the zone blitz concepts came into play. Jenkins said the added knowledge of Bradford from his time with the Eagles aided them in disrupting him on Sunday.
Jenkins explained that the Eagles’ blitzes on Sunday were zone blitzes, not man, so the defense was able to watch Bradford throughout the play. “It’s a little tough to see where those are coming from,” Jenkins said.
It certainly seemed like Bradford didn’t see them coming on Sunday.
“I think that anytime you know a quarterback on the other team and kind of know strengths and weaknesses, and things like that, just trying to give him some different looks and put some pressure on him from different areas,” Pederson said. “It was a great game plan. The guys executed it extremely well.”
When asked if the Eagles blitzed more on Sunday than they have shown on film, Bradford answered with one word: “Yes.”
They sure did.
By the end of the afternoon, Bradford was sacked six times by six different Eagles: Jordan Hicks, Bradham, Rodney McLeod, Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham and Steven Means (see standout plays from the win).
Sunday was the first six-sack game the Eagles have had since 2014. It was the first time Bradford has been sacked six times in a game since 2013 and just the fourth such game of his career.
“There were some curveballs that Jim put in, to get on the quarterback and blitz a little more,” Pro Bowler Fletcher Cox said. “I think we did a great job of timing the blitzes out.”
While the Eagles blitzed much more against the Vikings and their depleted offensive line than they normally do, Schwartz’s defense is still predicated on getting pressure without them.
Still, Sunday was fun, wasn’t it?
“It’s always fun to blitz,” a smiling Bradham said.
Now the Eagles have proven they can. And will.