Much has been made about the Philadelphia Eagles’ “wide nine” defensive scheme, and the team’s inability to stop opponents since switching to that front this season. The popular belief in Philadelphia is that Andy Reid & Co. should scrap the defense and go back to the system used in the past.
But Redskins tackles Trent Williams and Jammal Brown believe that the Eagles aren’t as far off as people believe in making the system work effectively, and they see how the wide nine could cause problems for opponents.
What exactly is the wide nine? It’s a variation of a 4-3 front with two defensive tackles lining up where they normally would, but the ends line up further out on the edge — about a yard-and-a-half wider outside the offensive tackle — of the offensive line. (A five-tech defensive end in a 4-3 lines up just outside the shoulder of the offensive tackle, an end lining up a little further over, along the inside shoulder of the tight end would be a seven-tech, and further out still is the nine-tech, which the Eagles use).
“The challenge is moreso because they’re so far out and they get a running start at you, so it’s almost like — not getting hit by a bus — but they get so much momentum and you don’t normally get that much from your normal 5-tech,” Williams explained. “They get that movement and they can box it in, and it’s hard to get outside of them since they’re already so wide, and a lot of our game consists upon running the ball outside the tackles and getting that end reach. So that’s probably why it’s one of the biggest obstacles we’ll face.”
Said Brown: “To me the biggest challenge is being on the road and having to face the wide nine, facing someone so far out. Some times, sitting on that edge, if you’re trying to run around the defense, it’s hard because they’re so far out.”
The Redskins will host the Eagles on Sunday, eliminating the noise hindrance of which Brown spoke, but he and Williams will have to try to get a good jump to seal off the edge for Washington’s runs to the outside.
Brown believes that Washington can take advantage of the wide nine if the Redskins’ running backs are able to cut back toward the inside, where Philadelphia’s linebackers have struggled to fill those larger gaps.
When it comes to pass-protection, patience is key, according to Williams.
“You have to be patient in your set because doesn’t matter how wide they are on a pass play, they’re still trying to get to the quarterback and the quarterback’s going to be right behind you,” the second-year pro says. “So they’re still trying to get there, and coming toward you, but their bull rush is just that much more effective.”
Having to fend off pass-rushers coming from that far outside isn’t really foreign to Williams and Brown, however. Last season, they faced Tennessee and Detroit, who both run the wide nine. And their assignments are similar when facing a 3-4 defense, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan says.
“A 3-4 backer is a nine-technique also. It just depends how they support that C-gap,” Shanahan says. “It depends on who’s there. It’s really no different than any other play. Someone always has that gap. It’s just whether it’s a defensive end, linebacker or a safety.”
Williams believes the Eagles will soon solve their defensive struggles, because from what he has observed, they have narrowly missed making a lot of plays, and he believes it’s only a matter of time before corrections are made.
“When you look at the film, the score might say they’re struggling, but looking at the film, the guys are they’re just missing tackles,” Williams says. “They’re right there to make the play, sometimes for losses and for a gain of two, negative one. They’re there to make the play every time. So it looks bad in the score, but you watch the film and they’re there.
“They’re NFL players, they’ll fix that problem next time. So that’s the discouraging thing, you think 1-4 and think it’s a bad team, but you look at the film and they’re really a great team, just waiting for it to all come together.”