In last week’s post, we looked at the effect pre-snap positioning by the defense could have on the Eagles’ running game. The alignment of Tampa Bay’s front seven offered better blocking angles and mostly eliminated the interior gap shooting problems center Jason Kelce had against the Giants.
The Cowboys presented a different alignment challenge, no doubt informed by Monte Kiffin’s 3 years of matching wits with Chip Kelly in the Pac-12. And while Kelly seemed prepared for what he saw, his “cheater beaters” didn’t pay off with big plays.
As we’ve noted before, the Eagles block their basic inside zone read play by identifying the three defenders on the play side (opposite the running back) and then asking someone (usually the backside guard) to climb up to the middle linebacker:
In those three screens, notice how the linebacker is either slightly outside or heads up on the guard who will be asked to block him. Now look at the subtle shift in this Dallas alignment:
Did you catch it? Look again:
On any play to Herremans’ left, he’s going to have a much tougher time blocking middle linebacker Sean Lee, given the 1.5 yard head start the defender has in that direction. Let’s look at it this in action on an outside zone run:
Herremans is headed for Lee pre-snap, but with that cheated alignment, there’s no way he can get to him. In the second frame, it looks like Todd is blocking someone else, but that’s just because he’s trying to hit anything he can since he’s so far from Lee.
There might be some right guards who can make this block against some middle linebackers – think Shawn Andrews on Levon Kirkland – but the Herremans-Lee combination is not on that list.
Now, it’s not like Kelly’s never seen someone cheating against his scheme before. We saw a couple plays that seemed intended to attack just this setup, like the quick pitch I don’t remember seeing before this week:
The key player here will be #54 Bruce Carter. Before the snap, he’s cheated to his right, away from the back, in the direction most of Chip’s run plays go. Chip throws a curve ball by calling the quick pitch against his usual direction, but in the second frame we can see Herremans has gotten bumped off the line and is much slower getting to the second level than Jason Peters is. That’s the key missed block on this play and what holds McCoy to a short gain of just two yards, even though Dallas made itself vulnerable to this play in its initial setup.
And on a day without many bright spots, let’s zoom in on that last frame:
Rest easy, Penn State fans. He’s not dead, he’s just been Jason Petered.
There were other odd issues in the run game, like this play where Foles is reading (or pretending to read) a blocked defender (1), Herremans is blowing his block on the defensive tackle (2) and the middle linebacker is ignored (3) while another lineman is double-teamed:
There was quick pre-snap motion by the Eagles on this play, which pulled a linebacker out of the box who would otherwise have been in the top right corner of that last screenshot. After the shift, the ball was snapped quickly. It’s possible the line didn’t have time to fix its assignments.
In terms of the passing game, Nick Foles wasn’t very good. That pretty much covers the first three quarters.
Matt Barkley wasn’t much better in relief. It’s a tough task for a rookie to jump into the fray like that, but it’s not that often you see a quarterback come in for three series and end each one with an interception.
Of the three, the first interception was the most defensible. Prior to the snap, it looks like the Cowboys are in man coverage:
As the routes are run, it’s indeed man-to-man. Barkley knows he has a two-man pick type play happening on the left, which is a great setup against man. He’s therefore very focused on Avant coming out of that break – so focused that he misses Sean Lee in the middle of the field playing the “robber”:
So what looked like man was actually “cover one robber.” It’s the same coverage that got Vick on his first pick against Kansas City and you can see why he missed him.
The last interception, which snuffed out the Eagles’ last scoring chance, was less defensible. Dallas shows a clear zone look pre-snap. Picking things up mid-play:
The outside cornerback is the key read. If he moves towards the receiver in the flat or at least stays square to the line of scrimmage, then he probably has short responsibility and the two receivers running up the seam can attack the safety on that side. But if he turns and starts running to the end zone – as he does here – then it should be clear that he’s dropping and Barkley either needs to avoid him completely or at least put the throw in the back of the end zone where it’s a tougher play.
He does neither and the result is a little discouraging from a guy who’s been a starting quarterback seemingly since the day he stepped out of the womb.