In my last post, I talked about the Eagles improvements in the running game vs. the Saints being a mix of better execution from the personnel and better game-planning from the coaches. I think its fair to say that the same can be said for the passing game last Sunday. First and foremost, I thought Chip did a good job deciding to attack with the passing game from the start and even his decision to go for it on 4th down on the opening drive (more on that in a bit) was a good one to try and extend the rhythm they have had such a hard time establishing in the first several games. That said, I think it's important to note that the Saints do not have a good defense and were beat up in the secondary. It played a major role in making the Eagles offense looking good.
If you haven't noticed by now, a big part of the Eagles passing philosophy on beating man coverage involves mesh concepts which often involve rubs or "natural" picks. The first passing concept I want to highlight was a really nice wrinkle to a concept we've covered extensively on here over the years. It's the mesh concept underneath where the Eagles run intersecting shallow crossers. That play is designed to be a man beater because the idea is to create traffic underneath and hope a chasing defender gets lost in the crowd. However, as we pointed out a few weeks back, that play doesn't work as well when the defense is in zone coverage because those crossing receivers are essentially just running into a defenders zone. Below you'll see a really nice wrinkle from Chip that we've seen before but I don't think I've ever seen such a nice illustration of it on film. Here Jordan Matthews and Brent Celek will run the intersecting shallow drags:
Note the Saints LBs in zone coverage. As Celek and Matthews exchange pleasantries in the middle of the field you'll see them both running into a defender's zone. However, note the 3 LBs step up to react to the drag routes. More importantly note Josh Huff sneaking behind the zone:
A second later it's like the red sea parts for Sam Bradford as the drags clear out and Bradford sees Josh Huff wide open in the middle of the field:
The Saints game marked the 3rd time this season that the Eagles faced a predominantly Cover 3 defense. The Eagles are used to seeing this look by now, and as we posted before, have incorporated a variety of concepts to attack a variety of single high safety looks against Cover 1 and Cover 3. One is the switch concept. Note on the image below the single safety deep in the middle of the field. This is the 4th and 7 play on the opening drive. With only one safety with deep responsibility, it leaves the boundaries susceptible to attack. At the top of the screen, Riley Cooper and Nelson Agholor are going to run a switch concept. Agholor will run inside and try to create a natural pick or confusion as Cooper runs a wheel route:
The Saints corners are in man coverage so it's a great call. Cooper has a clear path to the sideline:
On this play, Cooper should run directly down the sideline and away from any chance for deep safety help. Unfortunately, for some reason, Cooper runs back inside the DB. Bradford lets the ball go targeting the window depicted by the yellow box below:
The result is a ball that sails over Cooper's head. The announcer on TV criticized this as a "low percentage play". While I agree, for a 4th and 7 play you don't need 25-30 yards, but this is a concept that the Eagles practiced all week to attack this Saints defense. In Chip's mind, it's a high percentage play. Riley Cooper just ran the route incorrectly. This is a great illustration of execution vs. scheme. It was a good play call, they got the look they wanted, Bradford made the right decision and made a good throw. Riley Cooper messed it up.
Same idea/concept down in the red zone. Focus on Matthews and Agholor on the bottom of the screen below and the one deep safety in the middle of the field and man coverage on the outside. With Matthews running a wheel route down the sideline, it will be very difficult for that safety to get to the sidelines to provide help. The Saints are again in man coverage on the bottom of the screen and as I mentioned above, Agholor will try and create some traffic underneath for Matthews to break to the outside:
We've seen this happen a few times this season, and at this point it's unacceptable. Agholor's job is to just disrupt the coverage to free up Matthews. The safety is not going to have any impact on this play, so you're just hoping Jordan Matthews can gain a step on his defender. Agholor instead unloads on the DB as he crosses the field and it's an easy flag to throw for offensive pass interference. Agholor needs to be more subtle than that.
Matthews comes wide open. The other problem on this play is look at the room Matthews has in front of him. This ball needs to go out in front of Matthews and hit him in stride.
Instead, the ball is under-thrown and Matthews has to awkwardly turn around. To top it all off, Matthews drops the ball. Now, to be clear, Matthews needs to catch this football. He tried to body catch instead of catching cleanly with his hands. But he also shouldn't have had to turn to the ball, and while he had his man cleanly beat, he might have gotten distracted by the LBs waving arms.
Similar concept on Sam Bradford's 2nd red zone interception, although with a subtle variation. Note the Saints with a single high safety and man coverage on the outside. On this play the Eagles will actually run a switch concept on both sides of the field. On the top it's Cooper and Ertz. On the bottom, Matthews will run the same wheel route he ran on the play above. The difference on this play is that Miles Austin will essentially run a go route to the end zone. On this play, there is no designed natural pick:
It's worth watching the safety action on this play. I believe if the safety stays back in coverage, Bradford is going to attempt to go to Jordan Matthews on the wheel route. But the deep safety initially reacts to run action and Austin gets a clean release to the inside.
Austin is wide open with no safety in the middle of the field. Again, I want to emphasize the open field in front of Miles Austin. One thing to mention is that he appears to flatten his route out as opposed to running a post. I am not sure what the exact call was:
However, it doesn't matter because Sam makes a poor throw. The basic rule of thumb for a QB in the red zone is that you need to protect the football first. You want to throw the ball where only your receiver can get it. Sam is feeling a bit of heat here, but absolutely makes the right read but the throw ends up a little behind Austin. As always, we shouldn't discount the fact that the other team gets paid too and Breaux makes a tremendous play to intercept this football. That said, given the ball placement on this throw, Sam had no chance of completing this pass. Best case scenario it's a batted ball.
Again, the 3 plays above highlight excellent play calls, the Eagles got the looks they wanted, Sam made the right decisions but the players simply did not execute. On these 3 plays, the mistakes were everywhere. 2 bad throws from Bradford, an offensive PI penalty, a drop and an incorrect route. And don't get me started on Bradford's first INT. Think about it. After the Eagles first 3 possessions, it could have easily been 21-0. Instead they didn't score a point thanks to 2 INTs and a missed 4th down conversion where the WR ran the wrong route.
The Eagles continued to attack the sidelines against the one deep safety looks in a couple of other ways. On this play, Riley Cooper will run motion from the top of the screen.
He initially jogs and you can see by the trailing defender that the Saints are once again in man coverage. However just before the snap, Riley Cooper turns on the Jets and bursts off the line to run a wheel route. Again, they are running routes to where the defense isn't. With only one deep safety it's difficult for that corner to get help on the sidelines:
The safety again initially bites on run action.
Again Cooper is open and again look at the open field in front of him. The safety has completely taken himself out of the play:
Unfortunately, the offensive line protection doesn't hold up (though it was fantastic all day) and Sam gets hit as he throws and the ball doesn't quite get there:
One more. Here the Eagles will run a 3 x 1 formation with 3 WRs at the top and the TE on the bottom. They will all release on routes downfield which will once again occupy the single high safety. Once again, the Eagles attack the sideline, this time with Demarco Murray. With the deep safety occupied, Murray will run a wheel route down the sideline and draw a LB in man coverage:
It's the mismatch the Eagles are looking for but the ball is a tad underthrown and Murray can't reel it in. Again, credit to the Saints LB for getting his hand in there:
Look, I'm not trying to be overly negative here. Sam and the offense looked exceptional at times and guys like Josh and Fran have done an excellent job highlighting that this week. But the Saints played pretty poorly and the Eagles left plays all over the field. A win is a win, I'll take it any way I can get it but it's these types of lapses in execution that have cost the Eagles a couple wins this season and a 39-17 win at home against an 0-4 (now 1-4) team shouldn't mask them.
Bottom line, the coaches have been drawing up schemes that are getting the offense favorable looks especially against single high safety looks. The Eagles offense should be murdering this type of defense but instead they keep shooting themselves in the foot. Scheme vs. Execution you ask? It looks pretty clear to me when it comes to the passing game.