Michael Lomdbardi of NFL.com recently referred to the Philadelphia Eagles as a “nickel” team. The basic premise behind it was that they are built to spread the field and force you into a track meet. They want to play with three and four receivers on the field on offense and three and four corners on the field on defense. In this way they are one-dimensional, ultimately being both a finesse and soft team.
Lombardi referenced the New Orleans Saints as an example of a team who was originally constructed as a “nickel” team but wised up to add a physical dimension to their game. The Saints can now line up and run a smash mouth offense with Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, or Mark Ingram. They don’t have to get gimmicky or throw the football on 3rd and 1. They can go north and south to beat opponents at the line of scrimmage. On the other side of the football, they focused on building their front seven and play an aggressive physical brand on defense.
Philadelphia remains in the “nickel” mode. Running back LeSean McCoy has racked up impressive yardage totals thanks to his big play ability but Philadelphia is still overly reliant on their passing game and spread formations. They aren’t consistent in short yardage situations or around the goal-line (see Ronnie Brown’s bizarre run/pass against San Francisco earlier in the year). When it gets to the fourth quarter, they can’t put teams away because they lack a power running game that wears you down, hence their struggles all season in that portion of the game.
On defense they have struggled all season stopping the run and have missed an inordinate amount of tackles. Similar to their offense, they can’t close games out because they wear down late. Their defensive line has a dangerous pass rush but doesn’t always get a push in the running game. The linebackers have been a mess all season and their secondary, despite having big names at corner, have been beat for big plays all season.
Rex Ryan’s first ever game as a head coach for the New York Jets was against the Houston Texans. His pre-game speech emphasized that the Texans were a finesse team who the Jets could simply out-physical to a victory. He was absolutely right, as the Jets rolled 24-7 that day. Earlier in the year, LaDainian Tomlinson gave fiery pre-game speeches before games against San Diego and Buffalo, echoing the same sentiment: “this team isn’t as physical as us, we can impose our will on them.” This Jets team plays extremely confident when they are going against finesse or “nickel” units.
There is no question that Philadelphia’s speed on offense could cause the Jets problems. That being said, the Jets should be able run the ball down Philadelphia’s throat all game long to help keep that offense off the field. This is the type of game where Shonn Greene gets 25 carries and LaDainian Tomlinson chips in another 10. In the passing game, it is when Plaxico Burress and Dustin Keller should be breaking tackles and pulling balls down in traffic.
When it does get to Philadelphia being on offense, expect Rex Ryan to be blitz heavy as Mike Vick as struggled with the blitz in his face all year. With the blitzing, look for agressive man to man coverage on the outside from Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are dangerous outside the hashes but they don’t want any part of a physical game. They both have racked up dropped passes and fumbles all season. Cromartie in particular might give up a big play or two but he should also be able to make Vick pay for consistently throwing into traffic.
Philadelphia is a dangerous opponent. Everybody is familiar with the talent from top to bottom on their roster. Beyond that Philadelphia is a notoriously hostile environment. Yet, the Eagles ultimately are the type of a “finesse” team that the Jets have had their way with in previous years. This is the week to take pride in the Ground and Pound identity and run Philadelphia into the ground.