Background: Oct 9, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) is tackled by Arizona Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. (7) at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas
It is no secret that the Arizona Cardinals’ defense has had more than its fair share of struggles reading and busting up screen plays of all kinds. A couple of weeks ago we highlighted how poorly the Cardinals tried to defend a TE screen to the Rams’ Tyler Higbee which led to a 26 “chunk yard” advance of the football.
As commented at the time, to be able to bust up screen passes, a defense needs:
- the proper personnel on the field
- quick reads and reactions
- swift pursuit from multiple players, which often requires the first player on the scene to take out the lead blocker so that the help defenders can get a clear shot at the ball carrier.
- a clear understanding of which player to each side of the field has contain.
Here was the TE screen to Higbee thanks to SoulPancakeS:
This is a constant in a Vance Joseph defense Higbee rumbling for 26 yards had one defender (Jace Whittaker) who was easily taken care of, Neimann who had the middle zone reacts to Kupp who seems to be Budda's assignment was far too late to react. Stays in the whole serious. pic.twitter.com/6UyNtMIIrg— Soul PanCakeS (@PancakesSoul) September 28, 2022
Just about every criteria for properly defending a screen was ignored by the Cardinals’ defense on this play.
- the proper personnel on the field — playing CB Jace Whittaker on the flat to the TE side? Playing Ben Niemann at single ILB
- quick reads and reactions —- Whittaker is slow to react and because DE Markus Golden took an inside rush angle, Whittaker, as at 5-11, 185, becomes the contain man, which he manages to acknowledge on the play, but he is blocked too far to the outside to squeeze the contain —- ILB Ben Niemann has shifted toward the motion and is too far away from the play to be a factor —- unfortunately, Byron Murphy in covering Cooper Kupp with a good amount of cushion , turns his back to the ball and doesn’t react to the screen, leaving FS Jalen Thompson as the only man to make the tackle charging all the way over from the deep middle —- kudos to Thompson, or this play could have been a TD.
- swift pursuit from multiple players, which often requires the first player on the scene to take out the lead blocker so that the help defenders can get a clear shot at the ball carrier —- asking Jace Whittaker to contain and be the the first defender to take out the lead blocker is impossible —- as one can see, the pursuit is too late, except for Jalen Thompson’s, which saved a TD.
- a clear understanding of which player to each side of the field has contain —- once Markus Golden takes an inside rush off of the snap, he has abandoned contain and left it to Jace Whittaker, who is not the kind of athlete one would prefer in that role —- that’s no fault of Jace’s, it’s the fault of the coaches. To Jace’s credit, it’s clear that he knows he has contain, but, he isn’t equipped to be able to squeeze the contain.
It became very clear from the get-go this past Sunday that the Eagles’ coaches used the tape of the Rams’ 20-12 victory over the Cardinals as a the blueprint for their game plan. They knew coming into the game how ill-prepared and at times, ill-equipped the Cardinals are at defending screen passes of all kinds.
1st Possession PHI —- TD Drive #1
- 2nd play for PHI, screen left to TE Dallas Goeddert for 14 yards (Collins makes the tackle)
- 4th play screen left to Goeddert for 10 yards (Wilson, Baker)
3rd Possession PHI —- TD drive #2
- Goeddert screen for 8 yards (Thompson)
- DaVonte Smith screen for 20 yards (Murphy, Simmons)
- Goeddert screen for 7 yards (Wilson)
- Smith for 8 yards (Simmons)
- Watkins for 6 yards (Simmons)
- Smith for -1 yards (Murphy) —- highlighted below
- Smith for 2 yards (Simmons)
- Smith for 12 yards (Niemann, Simmons)
Note: Isaiah Simmons and Byron Murphy were making a big difference in taking the romance out of those screens.
This read and react play by Byron Murphy was textbook:
Now —- THAT is taking the ROMANCE out of the WR HITCH SCREEN!
In total the Eagles gained 84 yards on screen passes, which helped them to jump out to a 14-0 lead.
TE Dallas Goedert finished with 8 catches on 9 targets for 95 yards.
WR DeVonta Smith finished with 10 catches on 11 targets for 87 yards.
Goedert and Smith were the two top leading receivers in the game for either team.
The Cardinals made personnel and read adjustments in the second half. Hopefully those personnel and read adjustments will carry over into this Sunday’s game at Lumen Field.
Why is it, though, that the start of every game this season seems to be a re-set of the team’s poor preparations and bad habits?
How to Finish Off a Game Plan:
Not only were the Eagles paying attention to the Rams’ screen success versus the Cardinals, they also came into the game, as the Rams did, with the mindset that if the game was close in the 4th quarter, now that the Cardinals had made some adjustments in screen and pass coverage, that they would wage a long, time-consuming drive devoted very strictly to running the football.
Look at the play by play of what turned out to be the Eagles’ game-winning drive (thanks to ESPN https://www.espn.com/nfl/playbyplay/_/gameId/401437773):
1st & 10 at PHI 25
- (9:43 - 4th) (Shotgun) M.Sanders left tackle to PHI 33 for 8 yards (J.Ledbetter; I.Simmons).
2nd & 2 at PHI 33
- (9:16 - 4th) (No Huddle, Shotgun) M.Sanders up the middle to PHI 36 for 3 yards (Z.Collins; B.Niemann).
1st & 10 at PHI 36
- (8:38 - 4th) (Shotgun) J.Hurts up the middle to PHI 45 for 9 yards (B.Niemann).
2nd & 1 at PHI 45
- (8:02 - 4th) (Shotgun) K.Gainwell up the middle to ARZ 44 for 11 yards (I.Simmons).
1st & 10 at ARI 44
- (7:28 - 4th) (Shotgun) K.Gainwell right tackle to ARZ 38 for 6 yards (M.Dogbe).
2nd & 4 at ARI 38
- (6:55 - 4th) (No Huddle, Shotgun) K.Gainwell left tackle to ARZ 35 for 3 yards (M.Dogbe).
3rd & 1 at ARI 35
- (6:36 - 4th) (No Huddle) J.Hurts up the middle to ARZ 34 for 1 yard (B.Baker).
1st & 10 at ARI 34
- (5:56 - 4th) (Shotgun) M.Sanders right tackle to ARZ 34 for no gain (Z.Allen).
2nd & 10 at ARI 34
- (5:15 - 4th) (Shotgun) J.Hurts pass short left to M.Sanders to ARZ 36 for -2 yards (B.Murphy).
3rd & 12 at ARI 36
- (4:28 - 4th) (Shotgun) J.Hurts pass short middle to D.Goedert to ARZ 20 for 16 yards (B.Baker).
1st & 10 at ARI 20
- (3:42 - 4th) (Shotgun) M.Sanders up the middle to ARZ 13 for 7 yards (J.Thompson, I.Simmons).
2nd & 3 at ARI 13
- (2:58 - 4th) (Shotgun) J.Hurts right end to ARZ 11 for 2 yards (I.Simmons).
3rd & 1 at ARI 11
- (2:20 - 4th) J.Hurts up the middle to ARZ 10 for 1 yard (T.Vallejo).
- (2:00 - 4th) Two-Minute Warning
1st & Goal at ARI 10
- (2:00 - 4th) (Shotgun) M.Sanders up the middle to ARZ 8 for 2 yards (V.Dimukeje; L.Fotu).
- (1:56 - 4th) Timeout #1 by ARZ at 01:56.
2nd & Goal at ARI 8
- (1:56 - 4th) (Shotgun) M.Sanders up the middle to ARZ 5 for 3 yards (V.Dimukeje).
- (1:52 - 4th) Timeout #2 by ARZ at 01:52.
3rd & 5 at ARI 5
- (1:52 - 4th) (Shotgun) J.Hurts pass incomplete short right to Q.Watkins (J.Thompson). ARZ-J.Thompson was injured during the play.
- (1:48 - 4th) Timeout #3 by ARZ at 01:48.
4th & Goal at ARI 5
- (1:45 - 4th) C.Dicker 23 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-R.Lovato, Holder-A.Siposs.
Notice the clock —- the Eagles started this game-winning drive at the 9:43 mark. Talk about taking command of a tight game.
Nonetheless, the Cardinals made some good adjustments along the way and were in a position to win this game themselves, but being under-prepared earlier in the game and late in the game proved costly.
Conclusion —- the game planning from the Eagles’ coaches provided their players with the blueprint for victory.
The question is —- will the Cardinals’ coaches come into the next game prepared from the get-go?
The answer will be clear if (as the weekly pattern has been) —- on defense they are right back to playing soft zones with pass coverage mismatches and giving up chunk yards on screen passes —- and the offense is going right back to playing dink and dunk “Crawl Ball” with little perceivable signs of focus, creativity and urgency.