Following a seven-catch, 132-yard performance against the Giants, DeSean Jackson told the Daily News’ Les Bowen the team had a plan to finally shake the tight man-to-man coverage that had slowed the passing offense against Kansas City and Denver.
Jackson said the Eagles need to “not let teams play us like that” and “It's always a great thing when you can make teams pay for the way they're playing us.” Indeed it is, so let’s look at how they did it.
In his weekly press conference, Chip Kelly described the defense his team has been facing:
“They were playing man free … Same MO we’ve had for the last couple of weeks … Look at the pass that Mike threw to Jason Avant for a touchdown [against the Chiefs]. After the play-action fake one guy took the back when they realized Mike was in the pocket. Then the linebacker adds [to the pass rush]. That’s been the flavor of the week for the last 3 weeks against us.”
This is the Kansas City play he’s talking about:
The inside linebacker between the hashes is reading the play action. As soon as he sees Vick keep the ball and prepare to pass, he charges toward him. Behind him, the Chiefs are in “man free” or “cover one,” which is five players in man-to-man and one free safety. The Eagles beat the coverage this time because Avant got some separation and Vick made a nice throw right before he got crushed.
It’s not a surprise that this throw went to the outside. With just one safety in the middle of the field, it’s hard to give much help to defenders covering deep down the sidelines. And those are the same weak spots the Eagles exploited on Sunday against the Giants.
It started on the game’s very first play:
Notice a few things about this formation. The Eagles have three receivers to the left and only DeSean to the right. They’ve lined up Riley Cooper way outside and brought DeSean in close to the formation. They’re trying very hard to convince that safety to cheat to his right a few steps, while also giving DeSean enough room to run his corner route away from the safety.
The problem is that DeSean might as well be wearing a red jersey for as much extra attention as he attracts these days. By overplaying him to the outside, the cornerback forces him to take an inside release, pushing him toward the middle of the field:
And the safety’s on him all the way:
So that didn’t work. But Chip has a backup plan. On the next series, he runs the very same play:
Only this time it’s out of his two tight end package and rookie Zach Ertz will be running the corner route. Everyone is still focused on DeSean – you can see cornerback Antrel Rolle making sure his safety is aware that Jackson has motioned into the slot – but in this alignment he’s a semi-decoy.
Vick missed the throw to the open Ertz, but the Eagles still picked up 15 yards on a personal foul. However, that match-up of Ertz on a linebacker is something the Eagles will take every time. Like in the second quarter, when they ran it again:
It wasn’t until the third quarter that the Giants changed up their coverage and had the cornerback drop with Ertz and the linebacker cover McCoy in the flat:
Foles saw the coverage change and the safety crashing on the route and went to Jason Avant in the middle instead.
The touchdown to Brent Celek was based on a similar concept:
Foles comes out under center with two tight ends, which all season has meant the two-man routes in blue: DeSean running a post behind the safety (hopefully) and Cooper running a dig in front of him.
The Eagles switch things up here, though, running DeSean right at the safety, Cooper up the sideline, and Celek on a little out-and-up type thing that weaves through traffic (red routes).
The safety, who thinks he has seen all this before, jumps on DeSean, leaving Celek one-on-one up top:
That’s six points after a great pitch and catch.
The Eagles attacked the single safety in other ways, too. There’s nothing fancy about this play, as Jackson and Riley Cooper run as fast as they can straight down the field:
But Vick stares down Cooper for so long he gets the safety to turn his back on DeSean. The slightly underthrown ball would probably have led to an interception, not a 56-yard gain, if the safety hadn’t been moved out of the middle of the field. Foles did the exact same thing later on the deep ball to Jackson that led to the pass interference call. Unfortunately for those of us who played a stupid hunch and picked him up for our fantasy teams this past week, Cooper is basically a decoy at this point.
What about Foles and the running game?
There was some concern among Eagles fans about the running game grinding to a halt following Mike Vick’s departure. There’s no question the quarterback run is something Vick offers than Foles doesn’t, but the problems with the running backs running didn’t seem to have much to do with Foles. Here’s a good example:
Talking about a similar play, center Jason Kelce explained what we see here from Shaun Rogers:
“[W]e call it ‘nut stunt,’ with the nose [tackle] looping across my face … It's a tough block … You can call the backside guard in, in case that happens, but on third-and-2, what that does is eliminate the double team on the backside, which is really what you want in a short-yardage situation.”
This particular play was on first-and-10, but you can see Rogers still does a great job shooting across Kelce’s face into that gap. There’s nothing McCoy can do once he gets the handoff.
Notice on the outside, though, that the defensive end is staying home, just as he would against Vick. The read option look is doing just what it’s supposed to do, by evening up the numbers for six blockers against seven defenders. The failure of this running play – and a few others – had nothing to do with Foles’ legs.
One good word about the defense
We’ve been killing the defense for weeks in this space, so it’s only fair to call out at least one good play in a better effort. Remember that downfield screen pass Andy Reid and the Chiefs used two times to convert on long third downs? So did the Giants:
The pictures get a little small, but it’s almost the same play in both cases. The difference is that instead of every back-end defender bailing at least 12 yards off the ball – as they did against the Chiefs on third-and-15 – against the Giants we see a first line of defense that’s much closer to the line of scrimmage on third-and-25. That leaves a lot less room to set things up and Cary Williams was all over the route from the get go, rather than hanging out by the sideline.