First and foremost, big apologies for the complete lack of posting in the last month. I started a new gig in September and the ramp up has kept me pretty engaged. However, quite frankly the last couple of games before the bye really left very little to get excited about with this team. Sunday night came with some of the usual warts, but did provide a little room for optimism moving forward. While some might not like the fact that it took the Eagles overtime to beat Matt Cassell and the Dallas Cowboys, as we've learned over the years very few road divisional games are gimmes. The Cowboys fought hard for their season and the Eagles were just able to wear them down.
In this post, I'll try and set up a timeline because I just love when I break down the All-22 and a really nice story comes out of it. Considering the Eagles were coming off a bye week, many were expecting new wrinkles from Chip Kelly and the offense considering the struggles we've seen in the first two months. Having 2 weeks to prepare for a division rival certainly presents its advantages. However, sometimes I think people make too much out of new wrinkles. When it comes to divisional match-ups, these two teams know each other really, really well and there isn't much you are going to show them that they haven't seen before. For this matchup, it appears to me at least, that Chip took a bit of a different approach. Instead of introducing new things the Cowboys hadn't seen before, he stuck with some familiar staple plays but broke a few tendencies at the right times that made a huge difference in the game.
One of those staples was the wheel/mesh combo. This has been a go-to play for several seasons now and seems to be the one passing concept Chip is not about to leave behind. We ran it about 7 times at least on Sunday night. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. Here was the best example:
The key to this play is creating natural traffic underneath. The Cowboys are in man coverage so Jordan Matthews' man needs to try and navigate through bodies (including the ref) and he just can't keep up. The result is an explosive play.
However, this play doesn't always work. Were you one of the many fans screaming at Sam Bradford early on Sunday night for not throwing past the sticks on 3rd down? The truth is, sometimes he has no choice. Take this play for example. Same call as above with Matthews and Celek running shallow crossing routes:
However, note Byron Jones covering Jordan Matthews. He pushes Matthews back off the first down marker (within 5 yards) and forces Matthews back towards the line of scrimmage:
The dotted yellow line represents the first down marker. After being re-routed, Matthews is a good 4 yards behind the first down marker:
It's worth going over Bradford's options here. His first read is the wheel route to the outside which is covered well. 2nd read is Matthews who is coming across his face on the shallow drag. 3rd read will be Ertz who generally sits in the soft spot and is nice play design because as the crossing receivers pass through Ertz is sitting in the vacated space. However, you'll note that Ertz is covered up. Celek and Cooper are the 4th and 5th options and are almost never considered on this play. Bradford gets the ball to Matthews who is open, but he can't make it the marker. Credit to Byron Jones for re-routing Jordan Matthews.
The Eagles put themselves in a similar dilemma in overtime. They ran the same concept to Jordan Matthews on 3rd down. Here it is:
On this one Matthews gets a clean release. Here Jordan Matthews needs to do a better job of getting better depth and knowing where the marker is. Note where he is running across the field in reference to the first down marker. He's open, he's one of the key reads on this play and Bradford gets him the ball. However, Matthews is unable to make it to the sticks. Perhaps you can blame Sam here, but to me this is on Jordan Matthews not being more aware of where the sticks are. Where else is Sam going to go? Everyone else is covered. If he indeed ran the right depth, this is poor play design for this situation:
You have to believe considering the amount of times the Eagles run this concept per game that opposing defenses are sick of seeing it in the film room and should be ready for it. Now for the tendency breaker. Here it appears the Eagles are going to run the same familiar concept. Instead just as Ertz and Matthews approach the mesh, they reverse field and break out the other way. Both end up getting wide open and Bradford throws it to Ertz for the big gain:
Moving along, let's take a look at another passing play the Eagles love to run. Jordan Matthews made a living off a deep crossing route off outside zone play-action last season. We didn't see it much early in 2015 but it has started to show up again in the last few weeks. The play-action fake gets the defense moving towards the bottom of the screen. It also sucks up the linebackers towards the line of scrimmage. Matthews will run his crossing route behind those LBs into a big empty space. This is what it looks like when it works:
Here's another example. But this time Byron Jones has terrific coverage and sticks to Matthews all the way:
But now for a little tendency breaker. The Eagles appear to be running the same concept off of split zone play-action:
Again the LBs bite on the play-action and Matthews starts to run the crossing route behind them. However, this time, like he did on the mesh concept earlier, he reserves field and goes the other way:
Bradford makes a perfect throw and Matthews gains a bunch of yards after the catch:
And on the final play of the game, Jordan Matthews' walk-off TD, wouldn't you know it, the Eagles go back to the exact same play:
This is what Chip's offensive philosophy is all about. He runs the same concepts over and over again, he throws in some tempo, and once he starts rolling he'll throw in a few tendency breakers to take advantage of defenses who are tired but think they know what's going to happen. Running the same concepts over and over again is fine, but this is where tempo is so important. And the Eagles can't run their tempo unless they are converting first downs. This was one of the first games this season where we really saw Chip's tempo make a difference in a ball game. The key was keeping drives alive which starts with a consistent running game in the early downs and a consistent passing offense lead by Sam Bradford. The Eagles finally looked like that team on Sunday night, let's see if it continues.
Some bonus material since I haven't written in awhile. One of the other interesting observations I have to mention in this post is the use of Darren Sproles. Recognize these passing concepts with a little running back in the slot?
The defender just gets enough of Sproles' foot, otherwise it would have been a TD:
and one more:
This is something worth watching in the second half of the season. These have been pretty successful passing concepts for the Eagles over the last 2 seasons. By rolling out 2 RB sets with Sproles in the slot it forces the defense to choose whether to matchup with base or nickel defense. If base, not every defense has a LB who will stick with Sproles on these routes. If nickel, this creates a more favorable running situation for the Eagles.