Eight games and five losses into Chip Kelly’s NFL career, the knives are out for the Eagles’ first-year head coach. Peter King called the Eagles “the disappointment of the season.” Merrill Hoge said Kelly runs “the most vanilla offense in football.” Phil Simms agrees, ranking the Eagles a bottom-five offense even before the stinker against the Giants.
Funny how just a few weeks ago the same national media types were lecturing us on never properly appreciating our great coaches.
There’s nothing wrong with Kelly’s offense that better quarterback play wouldn’t fix. Last week, Nick Foles was terrible, despite ample opportunities to make plays. This week, Mike Vick and Matt Barkley took turns throwing errant passes and ignoring open receivers in favor of futile checkdowns.
I mean, seriously, look at this play:
It sure looks like Matt Barkley is about to fire a fastball into the waiting arms of a wide open DeSean Jackson, doesn’t it? Except no, he’s going to change his mind, pull it back down, and dump it off to LeSean McCoy instead.
Here’s another one:
It’s fourth and 20. The line gives him all day to scan the field. And yet somehow he never turns his head to the right to see his best receiver standing all by himself, because it’s cover-two, the safeties are playing as deep as possible and the cornerback is crashing down on the receiver in the short zone instead.
My point isn’t to slam Barkley. He’s a rookie and he did some good things on other plays. But there were missed chances all over the place and that’s why the Eagles lost, not because Chip Kelly is too vanilla or LeSean McCoy tries to hit too many home runs.
In fact, this week’s game was notable for how many new wrinkles Kelly introduced in his first NFL rematch:
Center Jason Kelce struggled mightily in the first Giants game. This time, Kelly wasn’t going to give the New York defenders a chance to play the same games against him. At the snap, right guard Todd Herremans fires off the ball to double team Kelce’s DT. He then climbs to the linebacker and opens a huge hole … which unfortunately is filled by the defensive end who blows by Lane Johnson.
Here’s another fresh look:
We’ve talked before about the counting system used to identify which blocker is responsible for each defender. On this play, Giants linebacker Jon Beason (#52) tries to mess with those assignments by darting to his right just before the snap. Even if Kelce and left guard Evan Mathis communicate on the switch, blocking the very quick Mathias Kiwanuka flying upfield is a tough ask for the center.
However, in frame three we can see the Eagles actually have a surprise of their own. In this version of the inside zone, Mathis is blocking down on Kiwanuka, while Kelce is pulling behind him to take out Beason. It’s a great variation on the same basic play.
In the next screenshot, the yellow lines indicate the typical blocking for the inside zone, while the red lines diagram the last of the variations we’ll look at here:
First point: this is not a version of the power play. In that one, the pulling linemen comes toward the running back’s side, breaking the formation-crossing tendencies of the base running plays. This is just the inside zone behind a pulling Jason Peters. And with the extra blocker coming to play side, Herremans is free to again double-team the nose with Kelce before heading off for the back side linebacker.
Just based on these photos, you’d probably assume the result was a big gain for McCoy. Unfortunately, Peters badly blew his block on the linebacker, something I had to watch at least five times before I could believe it had happened.
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I haven’t written much about the wide receiver screen game this season, because I think those plays have been well covered elsewhere. But there is a point I want to make this week, and it goes back to the quarterback situation.
The Eagles usually run their wide receiver screens out of three-receiver sets, off play action and when they have a numbers advantage outside:
What Kelly is really trying to do is pull another defender out of the box and make him commit to stopping the receiver. The Giants know this and were playing games with their safeties all day to make it look like the numbers weren’t there outside pre-snap:
Before bailing off once the play began:
In this case, Barkley saw that he had the numbers he wanted and threw it outside for a nice gain.
The problem comes when that safety doesn’t drop. Because if he’s crashing towards the screen and the backside “read” defender is ignoring the quarterback, then there’s really nowhere for the quarterback to go with the football, as in this play:
That safety standing over the inside receiver had been falling off the line all day. Except this time he didn’t:
Meanwhile, the “read” defender is completely zeroed in on running back Bryce Brown:
There’s literally no good option for Barkley other than, you know, this:
Put Colin Kaepernick in that setup and that might be a touchdown. To me, that right there is why in the long run Kelly needs a mobile quarterback to run his system. That’s the one guy for whom the defense doesn’t have an answer.
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On the defensive side, the switch to outside linebacker has really messed with the heads of former defensive ends Trent Cole and Brandon Graham. On this play, the Giants’ protection turns Cole loose on a running back:
However, Cole looks confused by what he sees and his first three steps are parallel down the line of scrimmage. He’s so worried this is some sort of trick that he actually runs himself into the left tackle’s block. He still forced a throwaway on this play, but the old Trent Cole would have planted Eli on his rear.
Brandon Graham is even more messed up, especially against the run. Here he’s responsible for contain – so he does have to keep his outside shoulder free – but instead of attacking the blocker he runs himself so far outside that he opens up a huge hole inside:
A couple of plays later he makes the opposite mistake, not reading the play flow and getting trapped inside as the back runs around him. You can see in these two shots how he’s standing around and barely moving compared to everyone else on the defense:
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One player showing some flashes is defensive end Clifton Geathers. Most of the year he’s looked like a 6-8, 340-pound offensive tackle trying to play defense, but in this impressive series of screenshots he ragdolls the first blocker, defeats the double team with a shrug of his shoulder and then just engulfs the running back:
He’s still a little stiff in the lower body, but he’s so strong and his arms are so long that it can be hard for defenders to reach him.
Years of poor drafting decisions and bad free agent signings mean the Eagles need some unlikely end-of-roster types to turn into players. Maybe Geathers will be one of them.