In a previous post, I highlighted how different defenses have schemed to attack the Eagles inside zone run game. The next series of posts will illustrate how Chip has reacted to some of these adjustments that the defense has made. We'll talk about various formations, we'll talk about the counter play, we'll talk about the split zone the Eagles like to run along with the various motions that they use. But let's first talk formations. As we mentioned yesterday, the thinking behind some of the defensive strategies we've seen is based upon the fact that Eagles dictate the playside with their inside zone formation. In other words, when the defense see where Lesean McCoy or Darren Sproles line up, they believe they know where the play is designed to go. As we've seen, sometimes the defense can't stop it anyway, and other times the defense really attacks that playside A gap and play good backside contain to plug up the play.
So in 2014, Chip began to use various different formations to disguise his inside zone that would not give away the direction of the playside. Here are a few examples:
One of the first simple things Chip started to do, was adjust the position of the running back seconds before the snap. For example, on this play, McCoy is lined up to the right of Foles. Note here that the Jaguars DT highlighted in red is covering the A gap in 1-technique. Many teams that run inside zone have a general preference to run away from the nose tackle and go after the 3 or 5 technique DT. In order to get this matchup, McCoy will shift to the other side of the formation. Hence, originally the defense thought the play was designed to be run to the left, but at the last second, the Eagles dictated the playside to the right:
Here's another example. Again, the NT highlighted in red is covering the A gap and playing a 1-technique. Foles will shift McCoy to the other side and they run in the opposite direction:
Of course, it should be pointed out that Chip is still dictating the playside on these plays, but because of the way the Eagles use high tempo, the defensive line doesn't really have the time to adjust. Furthermore, you want your 3 and 5-technique players to stay in their preferred positions in case it is a passing down.
That said, Chip has added other ways to run inside zone but disguising the playside pre-snap. One of the obvious ways is putting the QB under center with the RB lined up directly behind him. Now the offense is not tipping it's hat pre-snap to where the playside is. The Eagles started to use this midway through 2013 and you'll recognize it as their split zone play where the H-back will come across the formation with the sift block. However, the Eagles don't always run this look and will sometimes run inside zone with the H-back blocking to the playside instead of coming across the formation. So here, the Eagles are not necessarrily dictating the playside pre-snap as McCoy could conceivably go in either direction:
Of course this play takes away the Shotgun advantage we talked about in Part 1 and in a way is a great example of the compromise Chip Kelly needs to settle on if he does not employ a mobile QB. We'll get into these "compromises" as well as more detail on split zone in a subsequent post.
The last example was the Eagles curious usage of the pistol formation. The Eagles first showed this formation in the 2014 preseason. While we didn't end up using it too much during the season, the same idea as above applies but it also potentially equates to a happy medium between running from Shotgun and putting the QB under center. Put another way, if your QB is lined up in the Shotgun he has the benefit of reading a defender through the mesh point, essentially, "blocking him". However as we've shown, in the traditional inside zone formation that generally requires dictating to the defense where you are running the football. On the flip-side, when the QB lined up under center, the offense hides the direction of the run pre-snap. The drawback of course is that the QB needs to turn his back on the defense and thus the "read" and post-snap decision to keep or hand-off is off the table. The Pistol in a way can potentially give the offense the best of both worlds. You can see below, because of where McCoy is lined up, the Eagles are not dictating the playside. This play can go either right, or left.
It turns out they are running inside zone to the left and Foles has the option to "read" the unblocked edge defender:
However it's worth noting that the edge defender does not respect Foles on the keeper at all and immediately crashes down on McCoy and takes away the cutback lane:
It's worth pointing out that one of the reasons the Eagles may have not used this more is because it's a little more difficult for the QB to execute that our traditional shotgun inside zone formation. In that formation, the QB can keep his feet parallel to the line of scrimmage and the RB really comes to him. Therefore, he can spend the whole time concentrating on his read through the mesh point. In the pistol, because of the positioning of the running back, the QB has to turn his shoulders perpendicular to the line of scrimmage while also progressing through his read. As a result, it looks like on the play above that Foles wasn't even reading that edge defender and it was a pre-called run all the way. I can imagine mastering the pistol would take a fair amount of practice and Foles and Sanchez don't have a ton of experience running it. Hard to imagine that they would devote a ton of practice time to the pistol given it's only a small wrinkle to throw an occasional curve ball at the opposing defense.
Note, I'd be remiss to not mention that the Eagles also love to run tosses and sweep plays out of the inside zone formation to attack the edges but I'll get to those in a later post.