Sorry for the lack of posting the last 2 weeks. Hectic few weeks at work that kept me from posting anything. After 4 very tough weeks where the Eagles struggled to find a rhythm and get the running game going Sunday against the Saints was a breath of fresh air. Even though the Eagles appeared to run the ball better against the Jets and Redskins, I thought those games were a bit of a false positive for the offensive line. In those games, the Eagles running backs, especially Sproles and Mathews, made defenders miss in the backfield. The Saints game was a different story. People were getting sick of the word "execution" but it really was the difference on Sunday along with some familiar wrinkles from Chip Kelly who I felt brought his best gameplan of the year. Let's dive in.
Starting with execution. I've shown a lot of ugly offensive line play the last few weeks where there just appeared to be mental mistakes and poor chemistry along the offensive line. So let's start with the basic bread and butter and you'll see a world of difference with regards to execution. This one is simple inside zone. No disguise, no wrinkles:
Peters and Barbre and Kelce and Tobin execute nice combo blocks off the snap:
Tobin and Barbe peel off and execute blocks on the second-level:
This wasn't a flashy highlight play, but it just highlights clean execution from the Eagles OL. Something that has been missing thus far in the 2015 season.
However, as good as the execution was, Chip did a great job helping out the offense by making the pre-snap looks less predictable and throwing in a variety of wrinkles to keep defenses on their toes. A few weeks back I argued that Chip needed to get more creative in the ground game. For this, I was not clamoring for something dramatic such as signing a fullback and running out of the I, I just wanted to see him mix up his formations and his run plays more like he has in the past. For the first couple of weeks the Eagles almost exclusively ran inside zone and sweep. After that, they went to inside zone and outside zone for a few weeks. It appeared Chip was keeping things overly simply by primarily running 2 different run concepts in those early games. I am sure he has a reason for this. Chip likes to keep things simple on offense with the tempo he runs. Therefore he focuses all week on practicing a few key plays and expects flawless execution on gameday. He hasn't been getting that because teams were keying in on his run plays with slants, A gap blitzes and the like. Chip made that much harder to do on Sunday with a good variety of run plays, formations and wrinkles.
One welcome addition to the running game was the return of the split zone. This is a play Chip has been running since his first year here in Philly but something that has been noticeably absent through the first month of the regular season. While we didn't execute this play as well as we had in the past it was nice to see its return to the offense. A couple of things to note here. First, as you see below, Sam Bradford is lined up under center. One of the advantages versus running this out of Shotgun is you aren't tipping off the defense pre-snap which direction the run is going to go. Second, as you can see from the blocking arrows below, this is straight up inside zone blocking. However, note the edge defender in red. Off the snap, he will be left initially unblocked as Jason Peters will block to the second-level:
After the snap, the offensive line does a good job blocking up front. Note they are blocking to the right, dictating from the inside zone that play side is to the right. However, as you can see from Bradford's positioning and Mathews' set, they are running counter on the backside. You can see Ertz coming across the formation.
Ertz doesn't get a great block, but the unblocked defender took himself out of position after being fooled by the misdirection and loses contain:
Here's another one, same idea:
In fact, this game reminded me of a game against the Giants last year where we fooled them all game by running counters in different directions and by the end they had no idea where the ball was going.
It's clear heading into this game the Eagles emphasized counter and cutbacks on inside zone to take advantage of the over aggressive defenses they played the last few weeks. It paid off against the Saints. The Eagles also ran a lot of counter without the sift block on inside zone. Here with Demarco Murray:
Here with Ryan Mathews. Note the formation and where Mathews is lined up. The Saints are expecting a run play behind Matt Tobin:
and Darren Sproles:
Finally, you'll see some nifty handiwork from Sam Bradford who takes a page from Mark Sanchez last year. Handing off with his right the Saints LBs think this is going to the left side:
But he switches to his left and Sproles goes the other way:
By running these counter and misdirection plays, Chip tipped the scales back to his offense line by giving them better blocking angles. Magically, they looked like a more functional unit.
Moving on, the other run play the Eagles had a ton of success with on Sunday was the sweep. A play they've been up and down with all season long. There are several things to talk about on this play. First, like the inside zone highlighted above, the Eagles ran it successfully with all 3 running backs. Let's start with DeMarco Murray's big gain off the sweep play. You can see it in the gif below. Perhaps the most interesting thing to note on this play is the A gap blitz from #50. The Eagles sweeps were getting blown up in previous weeks by slanting DL and penetrating LBs. That's exactly what the Saints try to do here. They blitz the area that Kelce usually vacates on the sweep. However, this time Kelce reads the blitzer and cuts him off. Terrific play by Kelce even if he does get away with a little hold. Also notable are the pin blocks by Celek and Peters and an outstanding block in space on the pull by Allen Barbre. The only thing that kept this from being perfect execution was that Tobin was unable to wall off his man at the second level:
Next up is Sproles. The Eagles have the perfect play call as the DT stunts inside to attack the A gap, but Sproles is long gone. However, it's worth noting the tactic the DT uses which we've seen a lot of. He tries to grab Kelce and prevent him from pulling out on the sweep. The refs have missed this call all season long, and it was blatant here. Fortunately it doesn't prevent Kelce from getting around the corner and executing an excellent block. Also check out terrific work from Riley Cooper. Again, beautiful execution here although you'd love to see Tobin do a better job finishing his block.
Lastly, Ryan Mathews. The one difference to point out here is on the 2 sweeps above, Murray and Sproles were initially lined up on the opposite side of where the run was going. Here, Chip calls a key breaker and they run the sweep the other way. More misdirection. Once again, really outstanding stuff here from Kelce, Barbre and Celek:
Yes folks, execution matters. But Chip sure helped out his offensive line with his best gameplan of the year. Let's hope it continues on Monday Night.