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Vikings' Bradford feels 'D' pressure from Eagles

THE 230 rushing yards his defense gave up last week to the Redskins was bad, but the goose egg next to its sack total was even worse in Jim Schwartz's mind.

THE 230 rushing yards his defense gave up last week to the Redskins was bad, but the goose egg next to its sack total was even worse in Jim Schwartz's mind.

"We got no sacks in the game," a disgusted Schwartz said a few days after the game. "That's not us. We've got to have pressure.

"Our front four has to carry us. We've got good players up there and they've got to do it. And when they're not having a good day rushing, our blitz package has to be able to come through. But we weren't successful with that either."

Sunday was a new day for Schwartz's defense. An opportunity for redemption against an unbeaten Vikings team with an injury-riddled offensive line and a quarterback - Sam Bradford - who isn't nearly as mobile as the Redskins' Kirk Cousins.

And boy, did they take advantage of it. The Eagles sacked their former teammate Bradford six times, pressured him into three turnovers and held a guy who came into the game with the league's highest completion percentage to 24 completions in 41 attempts in a 21-10 Eagles victory.

"Our defensive line came off the ball today and kind of took it upon themselves to just attack the line of scrimmage and then play on their side (of the line)," coach Doug Pederson said.

The Eagles got nearly two dozen hits on Bradford. They attacked him early with a four-man rush, then mixed in a season-high dose of blitzes.

Schwartz isn't big on blitzing. He prefers to get pressure with his four defensive linemen and drop seven into coverage.

In their first five games, the Eagles had blitzed on just 31 of 172 pass plays (18 percent). That was the lowest blitz frequency in the league through the first six weeks of the season.

When they did blitz, they weren't particularly effective. Opponents had a 112.9 passer rating and a 68.9 completion percentage when the Eagles sent extra rushers. Just two of the Eagles' 14 sacks in their first five games came off of blitzes.

But on Sunday, Schwartz unleashed the hounds. The Eagles harassed Bradford with a four-man rush and they harassed him with an effective assortment of zone blitzes.

"We started with a four-man rush, then we started blitzing because they started bringing in more protection," defensive end Connor Barwin said. "Jim was on top of everything today. He was a step ahead of what they were doing."

"Jim put in a few curveballs in the game plan to help us get after the quarterback a little bit more,'' defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. "I thought we did a great job of timing the blitzes up. Also, the four-man pass rush really got there today."

Barwin and fellow defensive ends Brandon Graham and Steven Means had three of the Eagles' six sacks. Linebackers Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham and safety Rodney McLeod had the other three. McLeod also thwarted a potential Vikings scoring drive with a first-quarter interception in the end zone.

McLeod's interception came on a third-and-goal play at the Philadelphia 6-yard line on the Vikings' second possession. Graham beat right tackle Jeremiah Sirles to the inside and pressured Bradford into a poor throw for wide receiver Adam Thielen that McLeod picked off.

After the Vikings got the ball back at the Philadelphia 17 following a botched handoff between Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz and running back Darren Sproles, Barwin got around left tackle Jake Long and stripped the ball out of Bradford's hand. Safety Malcolm Jenkins recovered the loose football.

"We had to start fast," said Graham. We couldn't start from behind. Because once they smell blood, they'd be coming. We went out and played our game and trusted each other.

"When we had no sacks last week, that left a bad taste in our mouths. We took that to heart.

"I felt we didn't trust each other last week. When we do what we do, you see the results."

The Eagles knew they were going up against an offensive line that was missing both of its starting offensive tackles - Matt Kalil and Andre Smith - who suffered season-ending injuries. Left guard Alex Boone has been playing with a hip injury.

"All of our defensive ends did a great job today of taking advantage of their backup tackles," said Cox. "That was the challenge this week. Are our defensive ends better than their backup tackles? And I think the guys did a really good job of embracing that challenge."

"We're all professionals here," Graham said. "We all have jobs to do. But at the end of the day when their starters aren't in, you have to expose areas where you think they're weak.

"Sometimes they're not as weak as you think sometimes. But I think we really got after it on the edge."

The blitzes that Schwartz dialed up also were extremely effective. He sent McLeod and linebacker Mychal Kendricks on a zone blitz in the second quarter on a second-and-8 at the Philadelphia 31. Both of them got to Bradford. McLeod knocked the ball loose. Defensive tackle Beau Allen recovered it.

The turnover killed a Minnesota scoring opportunity, and the Eagles capitalized by driving down for a Caleb Sturgis field goal that gave them an 11-3 halftime lead.

"We did a good job early of getting pressure with our four-man front," Jenkins said. "Then we sent some zone pressure that we saw was affecting Sam.

"He couldn't quite get a handle on what we were doing; whether we were in zone or in man. We did a good job of disguising them and making them all look the same."

Almost all of the blitzes the Eagles used Sunday were zone pressures rather than man.

"We did a lot of zone blitzing," Jenkins said. "So when the pressure did come, now Sam's throwing into a defense where people are looking at him and have eyes on the football.

"To zone blitz, you have to have a lot of faith that, one, the pressure will get there. Because they can block it when you run zone pressure. That's why some people shy away from it. But we did a good job of getting a good push up front, and the blitzers were getting pressure as well."

There had been a lot of pregame speculation about the possible advantage Bradford might have against the Eagles defense because of his familiarity with both the personnel and Schwartz's scheme.

But familiarity works both ways. From practicing against him every day, Schwartz knew what kind of looks and pressures might give the former Eagles quarterback the most trouble.

"There were one or two looks that we knew Sam didn't like, just from knowing some things he couldn't pick up in camp," Jenkins said. "But I think we only ran two of those during the game. One ended up being a sack. The other one, he threw it away.

Said Barwin: "We knew when he gets pressure, he likes to get the ball outside right away. So, we brought some of that pressure.

"They were on the reactionary end today. We were kind of dictating to them. Last week was just the opposite."


* The Eagles have held their last three home opponents to 10 points or less. The last time they did that was 2007-08.

* The Eagles have outscored their opponents 86-26 in the second half this season, including 60-6 in the third quarter.

* For the second straight game, Zach Ertz had just one catch (for 14 yards). In the three games since returning from a rib injury, the Eagles tight end has been targeted a total of nine times and has just five catches for 73 yards and no touchdowns.

* Carson Wentz has a 63.5 passer rating in the last two games. That includes a 54.0 completion percentage and 6.34 yards per attempt.

* The Eagles have 20 sacks in their first six games. Through six games last year, they had 14. Sunday was the third time this season they've had at least four sacks in a game.

* Just one of the Eagles' 11 third-down situations was 3 yards or less. In their six games, a league-low eight of 74 third-down situations have been 3 yards or less.

* Carson Wentz completed four of eight third-down passes against the Vikings for just 10 yards. Five of those yards, though, came on a touchdown pass to Dorial Green-Beckham. Three of his four third-down completions resulted in first downs. He has just 17 in six games, which is the fewest of any team in the league.

* Kicker Caleb Sturgis converted both of his field goal attempts against the Vikings. He's made his last 14 in a row.

* The Eagles have had kickoff returns for touchdowns in each of the last two games. That's the first time that's happened in franchise history.

* Four of the Eagles' six sacks Sunday came in the second half. For the season, 15 of their 20 sacks have come in the third and fourth quarters.

* Sam Bradford was 10-for-14 for 116 yards on third down, with one interception and a sack. Six of his 10 completions went for first downs. That's the most against the Eagles this season.

* The Eagles have failed to score on their first possession in the last three games and on their second possession in the last two. They have scored 27 points on their first and second possessions this season.