The Defensive Line Speed Package
On a second down with two yards to go, with two minutes and 16 seconds left in Super Bowl 52, everyone was holding their breath. The Philadelphia Eagles were up 38-33 on the dynasty of the New England Patriots, but it was all a movie we had watched too many times. The greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady, puts together a game-winning drive in the final two minutes of play to win yet another ring…
That is probably what at least 90% of everyone watching was thinking at this time. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz opted to put his defensive line “speed package” out there. The speed package consisted of moving defensive end Brandon Graham to the inside, alongside Fletcher Cox. In Graham’s spot, veteran Chris Long came out on the edge, where he was standing up, not in a stance. Rookie Derek Barnett was on the opposite side of Long, doing the same thing.
It looked something like this:
Nothing fancy, really, just a straight up rush by the defensive line. No one else blitzed, Schwartz just rushed four players. Cox took up the double team, while Barnett and Long occupied the edge, which left Graham in a one-on-one situation. Let’s see how it played out…
SPOILER ALERT: Graham won.
This play, this package, essentially won the Philadelphia Eagles their first Super Bowl ever. NFL offensive lines have a hard enough time defending quick edge rushers, and they have an even harder time defending a whole package dedicated to speed and versatility. The idea of bringing a defensive end like Brandon Graham to the inside is genius, and we will definitely see it again.
Now, the defending champions will suit up for the 2018 season, looking to be the first team to go back-to-back since the Patriots did it in 2004-2005. The Eagles lost some good players on the defensive line in Vinny Curry and Beau Allen, but they gained Michael Bennett, who has been a top defensive lineman in the league for a while now.
In 2017, the Eagles had 112 quarterback hurries, which was the most in the NFL. Bennett, who was on the Seattle Seahawks, had 24 quarterback hurries in 2017 alone, which was more than any player in midnight green. Bennett has spent some time on the inside of the defensive line, last season specifically, and he has excelled.
The power move by the Eagles front office to go make a trade for a guy like Bennett was incredible. At 6-foot-4, 274 pounds, Bennett is a lot like Graham, who is 6-foot-2, 265 pounds. They have very similar skill sets; both have great speed on the outside, but they have the power to play inside as well.
I fully expect Schwartz and company to try out the speed package with Bennett in for Fletcher Cox. The thought of that gets me excited to see what it will look like. I believe that package will give many offensive coordinators problems this season. Barring all injuries, the birds will definitely have the scariest defensive line in the league, again.
Watch Gayle Saunders and I break down the position group heading into this season:
Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images