Eagles "Wide 9" will test Bears tackles

The Eagles used to use the blitz to get pressure, but not any more. Chicag'so offensive tackles will have their hands full defending Philadelphia's "Wide 9" defensive ends.

With the arrival of defensive line coach Jim Washburn and his "wide-nine" front, the Eagles' defense has undergone a major shift in its approach to pressuring the quarterback.

For 10 seasons under the late Jim Johnson and two more under Sean McDermott, the blitz was the thing in Philadelphia.

Johnson was a master at attacking protection schemes with blitzes, and McDermott did the same when he replaced him shortly before Johnson's death in August of '09. The Eagles' blitz frequency under Johnson and McDermott generally fell somewhere between 25 and 30 percent.

But McDermott was fired last January, then Washburn was brought aboard, then Juan Castillo was promoted from offensive line coach to defensive coordinator.

In the first seven games under Castillo, the Eagles have rarely blitzed, relying on Washburn's front four for quarterback pressure. The change in strategy has worked. The Eagles head into Monday night's game against the Chicago Bears with 22 sacks and are fourth in the league in sacks per pass play. All 22 of those sacks have been collected by defensive linemen.

In last week's 34-7 win over the Dallas Cowboys, the Eagles blitzed just four times on 40 pass plays. That would've been unheard of under Johnson or McDermott.

In Washburn's wide-nine front, the defensive ends often line up about three yards wider than usual and get in a sprinter's stance, coming off the ball like Usain Bolt coming out of the starting blocks. The idea is to take advantage of the defensive end's speed in space against slower offensive tackles.

The down-side is that it leaves larger inside running lanes and puts greater pressure on the linebackers to defend the run. So the Eagles have cut down a little bit on the wide-nine when it's not an obvious passing situation.

Washburn doesn't have a defensive end heavier than 265 pounds. But he rotates all of his linemen every 4-5 plays to keep them fresh. The strategy has worked great. Twelve of the Eagles' 22 sacks have come in the second half.

According to the website Pro Football Focus, the Eagles' linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks have blitzed a total of 78 times on 404 plays this season. But the number of plays the Eagles have actually blitzed is much lower than 78 because that number doesn't take into account plays when the Eagles blitzed more than one non-lineman.

Reid clearly decided he wanted to blitz less when he brought in Washburn in January even before he hired a defensive coordinator.

"Listen, I've mentioned this before, because that's what people perceive," Reid said. "But if you're going to be a coordinator in this league, and you are going to use the blitz, then you make sure you use them at opportune times and that you design them so they get home and they make an impact.

"I know some people seem to think Jim Johnson blitzed on every snap. But that's not what he did. He was phenomenal at knowing when to do it. And that's the key with the great ones."

SERIES HISTORY: 38th regular-season meeting. Bears lead series, 27-9-1. The Eagles won just five of the first 31 meetings between the teams, and have lost three of the last four, including a 31-26 decision last November in Chicago. This is the fifth straight year they've faced each other.


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