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Cowboys' Game Plan Week 13: The Eagles Defense

The Eagles, like most NFL defenses, focus on stopping the run, while also wanting to get to the quarterback. The way they have chosen to do this is by employing a great deal of "Single High Safety" defensive sets, and this has been a double-edge sword.

Dez may have a big day.
Dez may have a big day.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles defense is second in the NFL in sacks at 38 total. In contrast the Dallas Cowboys only have 18 sacks. The Eagles use a high risk, high reward scheme to get those sacks by putting eight in the box on most plays and that extra defender is usually done by either replacing one of the safeties with a linebacker or by moving a safety down in the box.

This scheme allows for the defense to fill all the gaps which helps in stopping the run as well as allowing an extra rusher on pass plays. BUT.....If you do this by employing a single-high-safety, it also means that you are putting a lot of pressure on your corners because they are tasked with covering both wide receivers one-on-one. It also means that the old principle "don't let anyone get behind you" is in big jeopardy.

Let's look at one play, from the Green Bay Packers game against the Eagles where the weakness of the Eagles defense was repeatedly exposed.

When in single high safety, (S.H.S. or Cover 1), the offense needs to occupy the safety by either sending a tight end over the middle, or have one of the wide receivers do a slant and that will normally at least freeze him or will draw him up. This will allow the receiver that is not doing the slant to run a 9-route and if he has the speed to get separation or he does a double move, then it is lights out as was the case in the Packers game.


On this play Jordy Nelson got behind the corner for 64 yards to the Eagles 9 yard line. The Packers would continue to run this play and continued to have success at doing it.

So, why would Chip Kelly want to continue to utilize this set? Well over at we find this explanation:

"Because it stops the run, encourages the pass, and speeds up the tempo.

Chip Kelly’s offense is built to move fast and wear you down. They thrive by getting as many possessions as possible. The theory is that in the 4th quarter, the opposition will be more tired and broke down, while Chip Kelly’s team is still operating at peak performance.

The Cowboys’ run-heavy offense that controls the clock and slows the game, is absolute kryptonite to Chip Kelly. He would rather stack the line and give up passing yards than allow the Cowboys to slowly move the ball down the field."

Also from that same article comes the really interesting statement that begs the question:

Will the Cowboys fall for the trap of passing more because the S.H.S. will invite them to become a passing team instead of the balanced team they need to be?

"This game will be the greatest temptation the Cowboys have faced. The Eagles will single cover Cowboys’ receivers begging Romo to throw the ball. They would prefer giving up a quick 6 yards on a pass, than 3 yards on the ground.

The Cowboys must resist the temptation early and pound the ball. They can occasionally pepper in play-action passing, but the run game needs to be forced early. Even if the Cowboys find limited success at first, a heavy run game will benefit them in the end."

There are several articles out there where the authors looked at the Green Bay game as I did and came away with the same conclusions...."The S.H.S is a huge weakness and even so, it would appear the Eagles will still use it."

Here is another of those articles and a quote from it:

"Part of the problem is the fact that the Eagles play single-high safety coverage with a pair of cornerbacks in Cary Williams and Fletcher that have struggled with ball skills throughout the course of the season. The payoff for Davis' unit is that their coverage scheme makes it easier to rush the passer, which has already netted 38 sacks."

And then the Broad one over at has a great video showing this same theme about the S.H.S.

Watch the video here.  If the link does not work, go to and then click on Multimedia, and then select "Film Room" and find the Video titled:

"Film Room: Breaking Down The Eagles Defense"

Well there you have it, let's hope the Eagles stick to the Kelly philosophy of "we do what we do."

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