“Counteracting the Eagles’ Wide Nine Front”
The Philadelphia Eagles’ wide-nine defensive front gave the Cleveland Browns fits during their Week 3 preseason matchup. How, if at all, can the Browns counteract the fierce challenge posed by the Eagles’ pass rush?
It isn’t even that the Eagles incorporate intricate blitz packages into their defense that makes them so difficult to scheme against. Sure they will blitz, but the Eagles prefer to rush four while keeping their preferred nickel and dime back looks sitting back in coverage.
Successful rushing teams against the Eagles have exploited this and gouged them by effective play calling on the ground.
Breaking down the Eagles’ wide nine techniques
Defensive ends Jason Babin and Trent Cole lineup to extremes in their nine techniques, which place them a foot outside the tight end’s outside shoulder. On the “weak side” of the offensive formation, in single tight end sets, the end lines up an additional extra foot outside the offensive tackle.
This extra space gives them the ability to lineup in a more capable stance which in turn allows them to build speed and power to propel themselves under the pads of the offensive tackles. Tackles and tight ends are pushed into the pocket, collapsing it, from the speed and power built from their technique.
Additionally, the wide nine technique allows for the Eagles’ secondary to jump routes because the quarterback is forced to often times telegraph his target by throwing quickly, before he prefers to, to his primary target.
Brandon Weeden, constantly under pressure from the edges, struggled with this in the preseason and ended up 9-of-20 passing in limited first-half action. He fumbled twice.
Spotlighting Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz
Mitchell Schwartz and Joe Thomas have clear size advantages over both Cole and Babin. That advantage is minimalized by the speed and power created by their stances.
It showed in the team’s preseason matchup.
The Browns’s offensive line was overmatched and Brandon Weeden was stripped twice due to pressure in the backfield. The starters also surrendered three sacks. Many people have become concerned about their ability to deal with this challenge.
Joe Thomas addressed those concerns on August 27th.
“‘When we play them again in a couple weeks, we're going to have the benefit of game-planning and custom-tailoring our offense to how we want to attack their defense,’ said five-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas. ‘I expect a much better performance.’"
Both Thomas and Schwartz surrendered sacks in the preseason matchup. Eagles’ left defensive end Jason Babin did not play.
Counteracting the wide-nine
In order to counteract this scheme, the Browns need to be more creative than they were in their preseason matchup. They will, undoubtedly, break out a more complex offense than the vanilla version they displayed for the Eagles a mere two weeks ago.
Pat Shurmur and Brad Childress will need to use unpredictable play calling that incorporates draw plays in passing situations in order to take advantage of the aggressiveness of the Eagles’ ends.
Screen plays to Trent Richardson and trap running plays where the tight end or tackles chip the wide nine ends will also open up holes on off-tackle and counter plays.
Delayed “chip and run” routes into the flats by the Browns’ tight ends will also help them to take advantage of this scheme.
The key is to take advantage of the pursuit and aggressiveness of Babin and Cole while putting the team into favorable down-and-distance situations. Frequently, the Browns found themselves in second and third and long dilemmas, setting themselves up for the fury of the Eagles wide nine.
The best defense, in this case, is a good offense.
Counteracting the wide nine can best be done by successful offensive execution to set up shorter “to go” situations.
Mike Hoag, Jr. is a contributor to the Orange and Brown Report and a featured breaking news writer as well as a Cleveland Browns and NFL analyst at Bleacher Report. He’s also a sports writer and talk show intern at 620 WDAE in Tampa, FL. Follow him on Twitter @BigHoagowski