Part 1 we covered why shotgun, part 2 we tackled mobility at the QB position, and part 3 we dove into the use of bubble screens as a constraint to our inside zone read option game. Today we'll tackle a topic that perhaps is more Foles-friendly. Packaged plays.
Good offense has always been about deceptive simplicity — the clearest path to success is to make things as simple as possible for your players while also keeping defenses off-balance. It’s a difficult recipe, as an offense that is too simple can get dissected, analyzed, and shut down by a savvy defense, but a team that tries to do too many things will master none of them. Packaged plays solve the quandary by combining simple plays all the players can execute in such a way that — if the quarterback makes the right decision — the offense always has the advantage, because no defender can be in two places at once.
There have been two major reasons behind this expansion. First, they work in perfect harmony with the up-tempo no-huddle offenses that have swept through college football and will seemingly be ever-present in the NFL this fall. But rather than ask a bunch of young quarterbacks to get all Peyton Manning with audibles and gestures at the line, these plays build the options right in and let the quarterback make a decision on the fly. In short, these plays use the mental part of the read-option — allowing a quarterback to read a defensive player to ensure that the defense is always wrong — without putting him at risk. As long as the quarterback can make smart, quick decisions, these plays should work as well with Joe Flacco as they do with RG3.
To round out the discussion surrounding, "Why Shotgun?" and with the packaged play definitions from Chris Brown above in mind, let's look at how the Eagles have used packaged plays over the last couple of seasons.
As I mentioned in the previous post, the inside zone/bubble screen can be called as a packaged play. Here we bundle together a run play and pass play. Pre-snap the QB can survey the field and if he sees a pre-snap match-up he likes i.e., 3 x 2 matchup on the bubble, or a 6 man box he can elect to hand off or throw the bubble. However, the packaged play concept changes the moment the snap occurs and that is where the real value lies.
Because the QB is in the Shotgun he can read a key defender, post-snap, through the mesh point. Depending on how the defender reacts the QB can make his decision in real-time. This is how as Chris Brown suggests, if the QB makes the correct decision, the defense can never be right. This has real advantages over the widely adopted play-action pass under center for a number of reasons:
1) For the play-action pass, the choice to run or pass is called in the huddle before the defense lines up (unless the QB audibles at the line which all aren't comfortable doing). Therefore the play isn't a reaction to how the defense attacks. So if the call in the huddle is to run, and the defense chooses a run blitz...it doesn't work too often.
2) Play-action under center requires the QB to turn his back to the defense. Therefore he can't read defenders, but further more these plays can take a little longer to develop by the time the QB settles in his 5-7 step drop.
Anyway, on to some examples.
The first example is one of my favorite plays from last season. The Eagles are going to run what appears to be their sweep read to the bottom of the screen. They will pull their LG and C off the snap:
Note, however, Lane Johnson at right tackle. He will leave the edge defender unblocked and immediately release to the second level. Normally, you would think that Foles is reading that unblocked defender through the mesh point. Instead, on this play Foles is reading the safety over the top. If he cheats on the run game you'll see the Eagles setting up a nice screen at the top to Maclin. Lane Johnson is releasing to take out the corner responsible for Maclin. If the safety cheats and Johnson executes his block, there's no one left to stop Maclin:
The safety gets burned hard on the fake and you can see the screen to Maclin setting up beautifully:
All that is left is for Johnson to execute his block on the outside. And he does not disappoint. Touchdown Jeremy Maclin:
Next is a packaged play design against the Jaguars. The Eagles are going to run sweep action to the top of the screen pulling Center Jason Kelce. However, instead of reading an unblocked edge defender, Foles is going to read the SAM linebacker through the mesh point. The LB will either drop back and cover the underneath route to Zach Ertz or he's going to come down to help his teammates in run support. If he covers Ertz, Foles will hand off against a 5 man box, if he cheats on the run, he will throw the pop pass to Ertz if he's open:
Following the snap, you can see the LB is going to cover Ertz and thus announces himself as a non-factor in the run game.
Here's a better look at Foles' read and as the play develops you'll see they've schemed better numbers for their run play. Unfortunately, the Eagles didn't get good blocking from Mathis and Peters on this play, but you can see the concept clearly.
The next example is one which the QB will get a pre-snap read on what his preferred option will be run or pass. Here the Eagles will use their orbit motion and send Jeremy Maclin to the other side of the field behind the QB and will come out as a pitch threat on the top of the screen with 2 blockers in front of him.
Note a Giants defender tracks Maclin all the way across the field. This signals to Foles that the Giants are in man coverage. More importantly, this removes a Giants defender from the play side where the sweep is heading. This key tells Foles that he should hand-off and run the sweep since the Eagles should have a numbers advantage. He'll still read the unblocked edge defender to slow him down. As the play develops you can see the advantage the Eagles OL has on the playside:
Here's another look:
We'll finish by showing a series of plays we ran against the Redskins in 2013 that really highlights Chris Brown's idea that if the QB makes the right reads, the defense can never be right. Let's have a look at what happened to poor London Fletcher in 2013. On this play, the Eagles run outside zone action. At the mesh point, Vick is going to read middle linebacker, London Fletcher. If Fletcher responds outside zone action, it leaves a big window for Vick to throw the pop pass to Celek streaking down the seam. If Fletcher stays to cover, Vick will hand off and the Eagles will have a numbers advantage in the run because they have taken the middle linebacker out of the play:
Here, Fletcher reacts to the run option and thus Vick throws the pop pass to Celek for a big gain:
Later in the game, same concept, but this time Fletcher reacts differently. He covers Celek on the pop pass, so Vick hands off to McCoy and you can see every box defender is accounted for. Big run for McCoy:
Finally, in the second meeting of the season, Chip runs the same concept again, but this time with a little wrinkle. Note London Fletcher plays this one almost perfectly. At the mesh he doesn't aggressively commit either way, he keeps focused through the fake:
Once he sees Foles keep he shifts over to cover Celek on the pop pass. Little does he know that Zach Ertz is running a crossing route right behind him:
and is wide open for a big gain:
Coming up next we'll dive into the Eagles inside zone running game. How the Eagles executed it last season, how teams defended it, and what adjustments Chip made to evolve it in 2014.