The Eagles are back in the Super bowl for the second time in six years in large part thanks to a revitalized defense that got to the quarterback for 70 sacks on the season – putting them at 3rd most all-time. Jonathan Gannon’s defense goes against some of the popular trends in the NFL. While many defenses are getting smaller to combat quicker receivers and protect against the pass, Philadelphia instead is leaning into five-man fronts to create matchups in the trenches.
The Eagles run a ton of Okie fronts with a true nose aligned over the center, a 4i, a 4-technique, and then two rush ends or linebackers with outside leverage on the tackles or inline tight ends. The Eagles put their 4-technique in this front to the side of their best pass rusher – Haason Reddick.
By aligning their 4-technique directly over the tackle to Reddick’s side, they are forcing the offense to come up with a disadvantageous way to block him. The tackle is occupied, the center has some aligned over him, and the guard to that side typically has to help on either that nose tackle or on the 4-technique. That leaves no true linemen to deal with Reddick aligned outside. As a result, offenses are forced to block him with chips, tight ends, or running backs. Reddick is flat out just too good to have a tight end try to block him one-on-one and the 49ers especially had no answer for him in that alignment.
By its nature, the way the Eagles run their Okie front, they mandate one-on-one matchups on the offensive line. The 49ers tried to leave Reddick unblocked and boot around him, kick him out with pulling linemen, and find any way they could to chip him, but he is a tough guy to remove from the game.
The 49ers aren’t the only ones that have had trouble with him. Even if teams slide protection to his side, the linebackers are great at gap exchanging and allowing Reddick to slant inside of the tackle for an easier rush lane while the linebackers now act as the force players outside.
Philadelphia has a ton of depth on the defensive line with multiple guys that can win quickly and force pressure. It asks a lot of the nose tackle to be able to two-gap at times, but when executing as the Eagles have been, it’s difficult to block up. The front also has the added benefit of keeping Philadelphia’s linebackers clean and able to fit in the run game. Since they operate with five men at the line of scrimmage, it can be difficult for offensive lines to create combos and get up to the second level since they have to take care of the additional first-level defender. When the linemen can’t climb, the linebackers are free to make tackles.
While the Eagles generate plenty of pressure out of their Okie front, they’ll occasionally integrate stunts into their toolbox, almost always running their 4 or 4i to the outside shoulder of the guard while looping in their edge rushers inside. Reddick is particularly good at executing those stunts. He’s long, has speed, and has a knack for finding creases in protection to penetrate and generate pressure. When you also have defensive tackles that demand attention and a five-man front, stunts can put a lot of pressure on offensive lines if the guard gets out of position in their initial pass set.
Football 101: Defensive Stunts
Stunts and matchups are predominantly how the Eagles generate their pressure. They’ll occasionally run blitzes from depth, but they’re pretty rare. One blitz look that they are particularly fond of is sending slot defenders against condensed formations while dropping walked up defenders. They almost always bring five players on their pass rushes, but the form in which they scheme that changes.
The Eagles’ defensive front are game-wreckers. They eat up blocks in the run game with their Okie front while keeping their linebackers free to make tackles. Then they have elite pass rushers on the edge who benefit from one-on-ones or matchup advantages against tight ends and chips. Throw in some stunts and a couple exotic blitzes, and you have one of the best pass-rushing defenses in the last few decades.