Tuesday, September 2, 2014
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Film review: How Nick Foles feasted on the Buccaneers

A decision by Tampa Bay to stick to its traditional zone defense opened up possibilities for the Eagles' offense.

Film review: How Nick Foles feasted on the Buccaneers

I’m sure it would please lots of folks if we used this space to bang the drum for or against new/old starting quarterback Nick Foles. The pictures wouldn’t even matter that much. Just a couple of sentences about the quarterback situation and the argument could continue in the comments below, with me being an idiot or a genius, depending.

There’s a reason, however, that people are always talking about small sample sizes and how you can’t judge a quarterback after a game and a half. There are statistical question marks – such as the fact that Foles is completing deep passes at a rate that’s not only double what he managed last year but also well in excess of such notables as Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers – but also idiosyncrasies in every match-up that make it hard to draw broader conclusions.

Consider the league-wide conventional wisdom regarding Chip Kelly’s offense, which is that the Kansas City Chiefs cracked the code by playing press-man coverage across the field and safely bringing an extra man to cut down the time the Eagles’ lesser receivers had to get open.

There’s no question that approach worked, for one week, when implemented by a team with a lot of talent and a natural affinity for that style of play. But what happens to other teams that don’t have the same cover cornerbacks or are more comfortable running different schemes?

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That’s the situation Tampa Bay faced headed into last week’s game. They could either try to be what they are not or stick with what they know and hope for superior execution to slow the Eagles’ offense down.

It turns out they mostly took the latter approach. And the Eagles attacked it like a hungry man at an all-you-can-eat barbecue.

This first play will start out looking like one of the Eagles’ usual wide receiver screens, but the receivers are actually setting up a “snag”-type combination that puts DeSean Jackson in the flat, Riley Cooper deep on a corner route and Jason Avant settling down in the middle of the field:

Jason Avant is one of those players who can struggle against tough man coverage, especially when he’s lined up outside. However, he excels in picking his way through zones. Here he splits the two zone defenders, resulting in an easy pitch and catch:

Chip being Chip, he ran the same thing two plays later:

Looks pretty easy when it works.

The Eagles’ rushing offense also benefited from some things Tampa Bay does differently than previous opponents. Let’s go back for a minute to the Giants game, when center Jason Kelce had so much trouble blocking the guys lined up over him on a number of inside zone plays:

Kelly’s offense employs a counting system that numbers the defenders and then assigns blockers accordingly. With LeSean McCoy standing to the right of his quarterback, we know the inside zone read play will be “aiming” at the left side of the formation. On that side, we see three defenders. Left tackle Jason Peters will block #3, left guard Evan Mathis will have #2 (after a chip on #1), and Kelce will have #1. The counting continues on the back side of the play up to the left defensive end, who will be unblocked and read by Foles. The tight end will head downfield and look for someone else to light up instead.

You can see the challenge Kelce is facing with this block. He needs to get off the snap quickly and get his head outside a man who already has a two-foot head start on him, but if he reaches too aggressively, this happens:

So how would Chip deal with this problem against Tampa Bay? Turned out, he didn’t really have to. Let’s do the same counting exercise with the Buccaneers’ defense:

Notice the difference. In this case, the #1 defender is actually a linebacker. Kelce doesn’t have to worry about that nose defender at all. If they run inside zone, that guy will be Mathis’ responsibility.

The next play is out of a two tight end formation, so the counting is a little different and involves a double team, but watch what happens as #97 Akeem Spence thinks he’ll be able to play the same sorts of games the Giants’ DTs did:

That was fun. Let’s let Herremans have a turn on the other side (again, check the count):

Tampa’s defensive alignment also changed the way we run the power play. I wrote about this play after the Chargers game. Against the Chargers’ defense, Peters is blocking out and Heremans is pulling inside him:

Tampa’s alignment was again different on many plays. With no one outside the tight end Brent Celek here, he and Peters are just going to wash everything inside as Herremans pulls all the way outside carrying Shady in his hip pocket:

In terms of Foles, obviously he had a great day. As noted elsewhere, there were a handful of plays early where he seemed a little slow to make his decisions. He was definitely late on a couple of those “pop” pass packaged plays. He also didn’t get the ball out against some free blitzers he should have known were coming:

One of the neat things about the coaches film is that we can see how much non-verbal communication the offensive linemen are doing pre-snap. The hand-waving stuff we see here happens a lot and it’s clearly communicating the direction these guys plan to block.

On this play, Foles knows his line is turning the protection to the right, so he’s going to get pressure from his left and he has to get the ball out quickly. The problem is that one defender immediately jumps LeSean McCoy in the flat (out of frame) and Celek takes forever to set up his route and look back for the ball. The blitzer is on Foles before he has any chance to throw it here. It’s hard to see how that’s his fault.

* * * *

On the defensive side, the safeties are still finding new and exciting ways to screw things up. One week after defensive coordinator Billy Davis showed a bunch of different looks on Giants’ slot receiver Victor Cruz, it was Vincent Jackson getting the special treatment for Tampa Bay:

Jackson starts this play in the slot. His slant route should take him right into the waiting arms of Patrick Chung, who has dropped down into the box on this play. Except for some reason, Chung decides to chase the tight end across the field:

This opens up that throwing lane and leaves Brandon Boykin quite obviously asking, “Dudes?” at the end of it:

After Chung reinjured his shoulder, his replacement Earl Wolff again showed why he’s not consistently starting, but probably will be some day:

Wolff and Allen are lined up at the same pre-snap depth on this play, but Allen reads the run action much more quickly. In the second frame, Allen’s filling a lane while Wolff is still backtracking and checking the receivers. On the other hand, in frame three we can see that it’s actually Wolff who recovers in time to make the touchdown-saving tackle. It’s the same Rookie-plus-Athleticism combo we’ve seen from Wolff all year.

Derek Sarley can be reached @igglesblog. His work can also be seen at www.igglesblog.com.

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Les Bowen Daily News Staff Writer
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