Monday night’s Eagles game was an embarrassment. Hopefully, it was a lesson. In terms of why the Philadelphia Eagles lost on Monday night, there are many reasons that will be outlined in this article.

In short, the Eagles did not play up to their standard. It may have been the mini-bye due to the short week after the bye week, but the players and coaches looked off. As Jalen Hurts said, it’s all about controlling what you can control. Ball security and attention to detail were the main culprits in the defeat.

The Philadelphia Eagles looked off on the TV copy on Monday night. The team lacked focus. That lack of focus showed up in two fumbles. With better focus going forward comes fewer fumbles.

Here are three reasons that the Eagles lost on Monday night:

The Philadelphia Eagles reverted to last season’s offense

Howie Roseman did a great job in this year’s offseason in adding two key chess pieces to fixing the Eagles offense and defense respectively. A.J. Brown just wasn’t right on Monday night. He got hurt when he made a cut early in the game and was only effective as a blocker after that. With a healthy A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert, the Philadelphia Eagles have one of the league’s best pass offenses.

Without A.J. Brown, the Eagles offense is far more beatable. Coach Shane Steichen added more 12 and 13 personnel in the second half and that adjustment likely came too late. The Eagles offense was great last season because it broke rushing records and was fully-committed to the running game. Steichen forgot that you have to run the ball without a healthy A.J. Brown.

The Philadelphia Eagles got bullied at the point of attack

For the record, Coach Jonathan Gannon‘s defense works. In order for his defense to work, there must be two conditions. The Eagles must have a lead, and Jordan Davis must be healthy to anchor his Penny front. Schematically, Jonathan Gannon runs a Penny front – a five-man line and one linebacker – with a two-high shell and match zone coverage. This defense – based both on Vic Fangio and Brandon Staley’s systems – uses a light box to defend the run and uses two deep safeties to defend the pass at the same time.

Gannon attempted to run this defense last season and the results were horrible. The Eagles offense had zero margin for error in an offense that could only win one way and because Gannon lacked the personnel to run his defense effectively. For this reason, Howie Roseman traded up for Jordan Davis in the first round and added both James Bradberry and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. Bradberry is a perfect zone match corner, especially paired with Gardner-Johnson in Gannon’s quads defense. 

Missing Davis up the middle

Jordan Davis requires double teams on every play and can beat them with his athleticism. With Davis anchoring the Eagles five-man front as a zero technique – head up on the center – the Eagles’ run defense is far more effective, even with a light six-man box. Without Jordan Davis, the Eagles have tried using personnel and using alignment to fix their run defense. On Monday night, neither approach worked.

In terms of personnel groups, Marlon Tuipulotu, Marvin Wilson, and Javon Hargrave had been aligned as the nose guard – head up on the center. Javon Hargrave performed well against Houston. While Tuipulotu made some clutch stops and prevented the big plays that had hurt the Eagles in Houston, he, Fletcher Cox, and Javon Hargrave were routinely washed out of their gaps.

When a defense lacks gap integrity, offenses can earn four yards on the ground on a routine basis. It’s like boxing with a high guard against Joe Frazier. He’s going to give you that left hook – those body shots – for 15 straight rounds. With this in mind, Gannon needs to increase his defensive rotation – especially at defensive tackle – to give his lineup fresh legs to last four quarters of football.

With a personnel solution not cutting the mustard, Gannon also made an alignment change. While he prefers a Penny front and a six-man box, Gannon ran Tite and Tuff fronts – 52 defenses and seven-man boxes – on virtually every first down. The extra man didn’t make a meaningful difference in the run defense.

Adjustments are needed in the meantime

Gannon received a lot of criticism last season for not being aggressive and not using disguise. This season, his two-high defense allows for more disguise and the Eagles have been executing his defense at a high level. The great thing about a two-high defense is that it provides no pre-snap tell to the quarterback in terms of what the coverage is based on with the alignment of the safeties. Marcus Epps – the strong safety – could rotate down and into the box in a Cover 1 (man under) defense or a Cover 3 (zone) defense. Similarly, Epps could stay home in a Cover 2 (zone) or Cover 4 (match zone) defense.

With the defensive tackles not holding their gaps, Gannon needs to be more aggressive. That likely will mean a sacrifice in terms of disguise. The only way to keep players from being washed out of their gaps is to fill the gaps with more players. Marcus Epps and T.J. Edwards are two of the Eagles best run defenders, per PFF. Using a double-mug look – with Epps and Edwards aligned in the A gap pre-snap – should both complicate the opponent’s run blocking and pass protection and prevent Cox and Hargrave from being washed out of their gaps. This alignment would have the Eagles in a single-high look pre-snap which is a tell that they are likely either in Cover 1 or Cover 3 defense.

Aggressive pre-snap alignment diminishes the disguise that the defense is capable of, but what the Eagles are currently doing isn’t working. 

The Eagles pass defense can’t create stops on third downs

In addition to poor run defense, the Eagles pass defense was suspect all night. Darius Slay, James Bradberry, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, and Marcus Epps form a great secondary. Terry McLaurin is a great receiver. Washington aligned him all over the formation and McLaurin routinely beat Slay in coverage. Slay was more reminiscent of “burnt toast” than he was of “big play.” Slay is aware of the situation and as an all-pro, he is surely working on his game. Gannon game plan did him no favors.

Big picture, Gannon needs to better marry fronts and coverage. He needs to be more aggressive on both fronts. When your defensive front is suspect, you need to use more man coverage, be more aggressive in your defensive alignment, and blitz more often.

The Eagles need to run more man coverage

Philadelphia runs man-to-man coverage about 25 percent of the time and has run man-to-man coverage up to 40 percent of the time this season. The Eagles mostly ran zone coverage on Monday night and due to communication issues, they allowed the Commanders receivers to get wide open on a regular basis.

The difference between man coverage and zone coverage is somewhat artificial in modern defenses. Most modern defenses are zone match or man match defenses. The idea with zone match coverage is that defenders are responsible for receivers within certain zones – routes are passed off to other defenders – but tight coverage is expected while the receiver is in your zone. Washington receivers were running wide-open all night, likely due to focus and communication issues on defense.

When defenders are failing to maintain tight coverage and match zone is the play call, it’s likely time to switch to man coverage. An issue that fans have with Gannon, which is legitimate, is that it takes him an entire half to adjust defensively. It takes top coordinators in Buffalo and Miami a drive to make those adjustments. Jalen Hurts frequently speaks about playing up to “the standard.” Eagles coaches have a standard as well. It’s unclear what that standard is though.

The Eagles need to use more press coverage and use more inside leverage

Philadelphia’s corners routinely gave the Commanders receivers a ton of cushion and were far too often in outside leverage. This gave Taylor Heinicke easier throws inside the numbers. Much of that cushion is a part of the scheme. Gannon borrows heavily from Brandon Staley’s Rams defense including the gap-and-a-half lag technique. Some of that cushion – at least last season – was situational as Eagles corners and safeties were painfully slow and couldn’t stay in phase with receivers on deep routes.

Game of keep away

When your defensive front is tired – as they were on Monday night – a marriage of front and coverage helps the linemen make plays. A loose coverage – seven yards off on Okie Tarantula Closed 22 Alert Slot (a play from the Rams playbook) – gives receivers easy releases and often gives quarterbacks easy throws. This combined with a run defense that lacked impact – no tackles for loss – consistently put the Commanders in third and manageable situations. This led to Washington doubling the Eagles time of possession and possession is a key to victory.

In terms of leverage, cornerbacks are often either aligned inside of their receivers (inside leverage) or outside of their receivers (outside leverage). Inside leverage often gives up fade routes, which can be deadly if the corner has no safety help over the top. Outside leverage tends to give up slants, which can be deadly if you have no robber in shallow underneath zones. The Commanders managed to beat the Eagles both in inside leverage and in outside leverage. However, Heinicke did most of his damage inside the numbers on in-breaking routes against corners with outside leverage. The harder your coverage can make it on the quarterback, the more likely the front is to get home and make plays.

Until Jordan Davis comes back and the front is solidified, the Eagles need to use tighter cushions on the corner and need to live in inside leverage, especially if both corners have help over the top.

The Eagles need to blitz more often

In addition to alignment, Philadelphia needs to send more pressure. In passing down and distance, the Eagles routinely sent only four pass rushers. They didn’t get to the quarterback because they had been run at all night. Using double mug looks will help the pass rush as well as the run fits. The Eagles need to send five or even six pass rushers and should rotate those defensive linemen more often. Whether it’s a run blitz or a blitz to get pressure on the passer, T.J. Edwards needs to be unleashed.

Jonathan Gannon blitzed Heinicke more in the second half – it takes one half for him to make any adjustments – and that adjustment was a success, at least in terms of the Eagles pass defense. In general, it would help the defense to create negative plays for the offense, both in the run game and in the passing game. This would keep the Eagles opponents out of third and manageable situations and make life substantially easier on the Eagles great pass rush.



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