Jul 282010

July 28 Philadelphia Daily News columnist Paul Domowitch

“Sean McDermott proved last season that he is every bit as aggressive as his late predecessor, Jim Johnson, when it comes to turning up the heat on opposing quarterbacks.

McDermott’s defense blitzed 24.8 percent of the time (257 of 1,037 snaps) last year, which was almost 2 percent more than Johnson’s unit did the year before (23.1).

The thing is, quantity doesn’t always translate to quality. It didn’t last year. While McDermott’s 2009 defense blitzed more than Johnson’s ’08 unit, it wasn’t nearly as effective at it.

Opposing quarterbacks compiled a 79.7 passer rating and threw 15 touchdown passes against the Eagles when they sent extra rushers last year. The year before, the opponent passer rating on blitzes was just 62.1. And they allowed just 10 TD passes.

Then there was the Eagles’ ugly, 34-14 playoff loss to the Cowboys, which had been preceded a week earlier by a 24-0 beating at the hands of the same Cowboys. In those two losses, Tony Romo carved up McDermott’s defense. He completed 68.1 percent of his passes, averaged 8.04 yards per attempt and had a 105.6 passer rating.

In both games, but especially the wild-card loss, McDermott went heavy with the blitz, hoping to hurry Romo into mistakes. But the strategy backfired. Romo used bubble screens and other quick throws to the outside to beat it time and time again.

“I still don’t understand why they did as much blitzing as they did against Romo,” said ESPN “Monday Night Football” analyst Ron Jaworski. “The next week, Minnesota didn’t blitz him at all. They played coverage and held him to something like 5.6 yards per attempt and didn’t give up a touchdown pass.

“You’ve got to win the mind game with Tony. When they started blitzing him, he just threw those bubble screens. It’s the greatest play you can run against a blitz. They’re coming in and you’re throwing it out. There’s no decision-making. Sean made a tactical mistake against Romo. Against Romo, you play coverage.”

The losses to the Cowboys underscored the importance of being able to get pressure on a quarterback without sending the cavalry. With a schedule that features no less than nine games against passers who heaved at least 26 TD passes last year, their ability to do so will determine the course of this season as much, or more, than Kevin Kolb’s performance level.

“They need to line up in a four-man front and be able to get to the passer and be able to mix it up rather than continually overloading blitzes outside and getting burned,” said Brian Baldinger, an analyst for NFL Network and a former NFL offensive lineman.”

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