Needless to say, the Eagles really needed to get the ground game working if we were to expect to see any improvements on the offensive side of the ball. Fortunately, we saw that on Sunday against a tough New York Jets front. Fran Duffy over at Philadelphiaeagles.com did a great job outlining how the Eagles game-planned against that Jets defensive front with a heavy dose of outside running to avoid the interior of the Jets DL. Certainly, after reviewing the All-22 we saw some major improvements in the execution of the run game, but Chip also did an excellent job of moving away from the inside zone and sweep play and introduced a bit more diversity in the run game. In this post, we'll talk a little bit about how Chip mixed up formations and used a heavy dose of outside zone to attack the Jets with some decent success. That said, the Eagles only averaged 3.2 yards per carry on Sunday, and even against a strong Jets front, that is a number that needs to improve moving forward. As you'll see in this post, this group is still a work in progress who now faces another challenge in dealing with Andrew Gardner's season-ending injury.
Let's start with formation looks. There has been talk about the Eagles offense being a little too predictable. For example, when the Eagles line up in Shotgun with the running back offset next to Bradford a few steps back, teams generally know the Eagles are running inside zone and are dictating the playside. As a result teams have been using a number of stunts and slants and holds to throw off the Eagles blocking assignments up front. Through the first 2 weeks the only real counter Chip was introducing was setting up a toss sweep to the backside which had mixed success. This lead me to post my thoughts, as well as thoughts from others, that Chip needs to introduce a bit more variety in his formations and schemes. He did just that on Sunday, and we saw marked improvement. Let's look at a few examples.
Here the Eagles run outside zone from under center. The Eagles ran a lot more plays from under center, partially because they haven't been taking advantage of the benefits running from Shotgun provides, partially because it's more difficult for the defense to define the playside, but also because Ryan Mathews says he prefers running from under center. The Eagles also motioned Riley Cooper in tight on some formation and he did a nice job run blocking on the LOS:
Here they will line up under center again, but this time the call is inside zone. Same benefits as above but a different play call:
Here they run outside zone from their more standard formation with the back offset out of Shotgun:
They also mixed in a power run, something we haven't seen much of this season. Unfortunately, it did not work, but it is nice to see it get mixed in because instead of the running back attacking the left side from his offset location, he attacks straight ahead with Allen Barbre pulling out and leading the way through the hole:
We also saw an unbalanced line on a number of occasions throughout the game:
Some really nice things to highlight on this next play. First, you will see Mathews initially line up to Bradford's right in the offset position. Pre-snap, Bradford will motion him to the other side. This is a little trick a lot of teams use to counteract defensive line techniques and alignments. Also, we mentioned last week how the Eagles were not really taking advantage of running out of Shotgun by leaving an unblocked defender that Bradford can freeze with the read. Generally for outside zone stretch runs like this one, teams will leave the backside edge defender unblocked because he's generally too far out of the play anyway. Nonetheless, we see the Eagles leave #98 unblocked as Peters immediately releases to the second-level. You'll also note that #98 does respect Bradford on the keep, so it's a start. However, the thing I want to point out here is the benefit the OL gets by leaving this defender unblocked. Because of this, you can see Kelce and Gardner can double team Leonard Williams and keep him out of this play. I also wanted to point a terrific block and finish by Lane Johnson:
One strategy the Eagles OL continue to see against them that dates back the last few years is the defensive linemen holding some of the Eagles OL to prevent them from progressing to the second-level. I find this is something you can rarely see on the live feed and thus you can conclude that the OL messed up. However, in the All-22 this type of thing really sticks out and I imagine its something that Kelly and Co. continually ride the officials about. Hopefully we'll start getting these calls sooner rather than later. Here are a few examples from Sunday.
Here is an outside zone run which will have Kelce come off a combination block to the get to the second-level linebacker. However the DL is blantantly holding Kelce trying to prevent him from getting there.
The call is outside zone stretch to the left. The key initial double team is Barbre and Peters releasing to the outside to get on the DE:
So far so good:
But someone needs to block #56 at the second level. Based on his positioning, Peters will peel off the combination block to get to #56, but the DL is grabbing Peters arm preventing him from getting off the block:
As a result, the LB works around Peters and tackles Sproles in the backfield. Peters looked really slow on the TV feed getting off his block, this is the explanation:
However, we can't blame the Eagles lack of success completely on defenses cheating. There are still a number of technique, communication and perhaps personnel issues that are holding this unit back from playing at a higher level. As successful as the outside zone was on Sunday, there were a number of issues that stuck out on film. On this outside zone play, the objective for the RT and RG is to start with a kickstep and push their guys to the sideline. The defensive end, Wilkerson covering Andrew Gardner on this play is lined up in the 3-technique on his outside shoulder:
You'll notice Gardner doesn't really slide off the snap and just moves forward. The DE attacks the B gap and effectively sets the edge preventing Mathews from getting outside where the play is designed to go. It's going to be a tough matchup for Gardner either way, but poor technique makes an average player even worse:
This is a play we highlighted earlier where Kelce got held at the LOS. It's outside zone and I want you to watch Allen Barbre on this play:
Again, this is Barbre vs. Leonard Williams. Certainly a match-up that favors the Jets, but Barbre needs to execute better. He gets thrown to the ground:
Fortunately, Ryan Mathews was able to get around Williams and turn this into a positive gain, but not a shining moment for Allen Barbre:
Staying on Barbre, these next two plays are pretty damning if you ask me. Again, this is outside zone. Now some coaches have different coaching points and school of thought on this. Note the pre-snap alignment and blocking assignments. The general rule of thumb that I've seen the Eagles follow on zone blocking schemes is if you are uncovered you block to the playside. For some more context, Jason Peters is responsible for the edge defender on the outside. Generally, it's Barbre's job to help to the playside. A lot of time in outside zone, the LT and LG will combo block and the LT will peel off to take out an additional second-level defender on the outside but a lot depends on the positioning of the second-level defender. Note David Harris at the second-level. Generally, the Eagles assignment will be for Barbre to release to the second-level and block David Harris on the inside. There is no one else to account for him on this play. As a result, as you see the play develop, Barbre works the double team even when Peters doesn't need it, and never blocks Harris at all. You'll see on this play that Peters has no chance to peel off to get Harris who is on the inside. Seems pretty clear to me that Harris is Barbre's man:
To make matters worse, the Eagles went back to this very same play late in the game. Same blocking assignments. Barbre is uncovered on the playside and should release to the second-level to get David Harris.
Instead, he moves laterally to help Jason Peters on the double team although you can see him watching David Harris. Again, Harris remains unblocked and the end result is catastrophic:
You hate to see Ryan Mathews fumble in a situation like that but Harris makes a really nice play getting his helmet on the ball. And this is the type of thing that happens when a Pro Bowl LB is left unblocked in the hole.
On the flip side, this is how it's supposed to look with Matt Tobin in at RG. He'll initially double team with Lane Johnson on the DE:
Here there might have been a bit of confusion which is understandable between Lane Johnson and his new RG Tobin. This is also a fuzzier case based on where #56 is on the field. Here you can see both Johnson and Tobin looking to the second-level. Tobin leaves to pick up this man.
Johnson loses his man on the inside, and fortunately Mathews is able to get around him in the backfield. The result is 2 nice downfield blocks and a nice lane for Ryan Mathews:
Chip put a lot of faith in Allen Barbre despite a questionable track record. Mistakes like this are inexcusable for a veteran player who has been in the system this long.
Final note, Jason Kelce had a much better performance on Sunday and for the most part did a really nice job getting out on scoop blocks on the outside zone. However, he is still having his issues with gap pressures, stunts and slants from the DL:
Williams shoots the backside A gap as Kelce tries to kick step to the playside. He gets Kelce into the backfield and tries to trip Darren Sproles:
He misses on the trip but he's distrupted the play enough that he can pull down Sproles on a one-armed tackle:
The Eagles ran a lot of outside zone in part because of the double and triple A gap pressure that the Jets like to run. On this play, Kelce is threatened in both A gaps. It's an outside zone call, which is a good call in this instance. Kelce will try to scoop off the ball and cut off #98:
However #98 just shoots the A gap and quickly gets into the backfield as Kelce whiffs:
It turns out, in what you will have noticed a regular theme in this post, that Mathews does a nice job of getting around the defender in the backfield and turns this into a positive gain:
At the top of this post, I referenced the Eagles 3.2 ypc on Sunday. Clearly it's a big improvement on a dismal performance in the first 2 weeks but still a far cry from what many believed would be the NFLs top-rushing attack this year. The disturbing part of this is that the Eagles had a number of miscues up front that were masked by Ryan Mathews' elusiveness in the backfield. We saw a lot of negative yardage plays in the first 2 weeks and the Eagles missed having a handful more on Sunday thanks to Mathews. That's likely not sustainable and without that, before you know the ypc is dipping well below 3 again.
All this said, it was great to see Chip lay out his best gameplan of the season and to see him really mix up some nice run concepts, schemes, and formations. Let's hope there is more of that to come.