Sweat and Hargrave have mastered something they don't like to run


What if Simon & Garfunkel didn’t like to harmonize? What if Venus and Serena didn’t like to play doubles? What if Ricky Bobby and Cal Naughton Jr. didn’t like to execute the slingshot?

That’s what it’s like for Josh Sweat and Javon Hargrave when it comes to stunts.

Because the pair of Eagles’ defensive linemen are exceptionally good at them, but they don’t really call them all that much.

“We don’t like to run them,” Sweat said with a chuckle this week. “I’m going to be honest with you. We don’t like to run them because we know we can win 1-on-1. We have too much pride. A lot of the times we’ll look at each other throughout the year like, ‘Nah, nah, nah, let’s just work the straight rush, 1-on-1s.’”

But when they do use stunts? The results are impressive.

And that’s exactly what we saw from them on Sunday in Chicago. The Eagles as a defense had six sacks in that game and three of them came from Sweat and Hargrave executing stunts up front.

“Yeah, we’re very confident in our 1-on-1s, being able to get to the quarterback by ourselves,” Hargrave said. “But when you switch it up a little bit, it just throws the offensive line off.”

There are two basic kinds of stunts. There’s the T-E (tackle-end) and the E-T (end-tackle). On the T-E, the tackle crashes and the end loops inside and on the E-T, the end crashes and the tackle loops outside.

Take a look at the three sacks from this combination on Sunday afternoon:

The linemen have autonomy when it comes to running these games up front. Hargrave said it’s really about the feel of the game. Sometimes, if the O-line is blocking them a certain way or if they feel like they can benefit from one, they’ll run it.

“I think our front has a pretty good feel for when to use certain tools,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said. “ We set it up in a way that we say, ‘Hey, here is your tool bucket and you can apply these tools when this happens.’ We have a smart room. Those guys are smart and they've played at a high level and they've played a lot of ball.

“Then using those tools is one thing, but executing those tools is another thing. I think what you're seeing is our guys — that's why when you see sacks and things happen like that, Sweaty makes the sack. Well, Grave set him up, because he really made that stunt go, what Grave did to the guard and what in turn that does to the tackle when Sweaty is looping around there.”

Gannon said the Eagles just have to be smart about when they use stunts because if they deploy them too often, they can “get out of whack” up front. But he probably doesn’t have to worry about that too much because Sweat and Hargrave are already pretty judicious.

They might not run stunts a ton but the Eagles are successful with them. According to the Eagles’ Fran Duffy, the Eagles have recorded a sack on 21.6% of their stunts this season, the highest percentage in the NFL.

There are several reasons the Eagles have been so good on stunts. One of them is simply that they have good players. Another is they don’t run them all that often so they have the element of surprise. Lastly, they’re good at them because they pay attention to the details.

The most important thing on those plays is to make them look like regular rushes until the last second.

“It’s timing. You can’t make it look like it’s a game,” 13-year veteran Brandon Graham said. “You gotta make it look like it’s a regular rush. So your eyes gotta be everything. You gotta be looking at your man the whole time. It’s a feel. You know he’s coming in so once you see him then you go out. Sometimes, Josh goes first and sometimes it’s Hargrave first.

“Whoever’s the looper, has to make it look like he ain’t looping. Because as soon as you look inside, that’s when the tackle’s not going to take you serious and go off. Sometimes, it’ll get them in trouble.”

Graham said there are levels to it. Sometimes, he’ll fake it like he’s a looper and then hit the tackle with a bullrush. If you’ve been in the league for over a decade, it’s like playing chess out there.

The Eagles lead the NFL in sacks this season with 55 through 14 games and they’re pretty close to having four players with double digits — something that has never happened in the NFL before.

They’ve really hit their stride recently. In the last three games, the Eagles have 19 sacks. Everything has been working for them, including those games up front.

Between Sweat and Hargrave, which player asks for stunts more?

“It’s about even. But really non-existent for the most part,” said Sweat, still smiling. “But we need to do it more though!”

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