Along with the Holy Binity of the Chip Kelly offense (inside zone read / outside zone read) there are a number of other, lesser plays that build out the rest of his – we can say it now – euphorically entertaining attack.
Introducing the Sweep Read
One of the plays I’ve been most excited about seeing this group run is the “sweep read,” which changes up the regular outside zone read by pulling multiple linemen and shifting the quarterback’s read from the defensive end to an unblocked defensive tackle. The Eagles ran this play several times on Monday night and by highlighting two of those occasions we can demonstrate the bind into which it puts the defense:
The first thing to notice about this version of the play is the unbalanced line. Brent Celek is standing at the left tackle spot and Jason Peters is flipped over to the right as an extra tackle outside Lane Johnson. At the snap, Celek will (try to) ignore the defensive tackle on his side and head straight for the linebacker, while Evan Mathis kicks down on the defensive end / outside linebacker (1). On the right, Peters and Todd Herremans will block the men in front of them (2), while Johnson and Jason Kelce will both pull to the outside (3).
In the second frame, we see the confusion Kelly’s offense can cause. Celek is heading for linebacker London Fletcher, but the defensive tackle sees him coming and assumes he’s being blocked, so he begins pushing back against Celek while everyone else on the field is flowing the other way (4). Nevertheless, with that player standing his ground in the hole, Mike Vick’s read is clear and he hands off to LeSean McCoy.
As the play continues, Kelce has managed to race all the way around the line to block Fletcher (5). This is why I’ve been so excited about this play. Kelce will at times struggle with power rushers inside, but his lateral quickness is fully on display here, not to mention his tenacity, as he drives Fletcher 10 yards downfield before planting him into the turf (6).
This same play gets really fun when that defensive tackle doesn’t stay at home, as occurred on Vick’s second-quarter touchdown run:
There’s a subtle shift to the blocking in this version, as Peters seals the back side end and Mathis heads for the linebacker (1). The unblocked tackle comes screaming down the line and even old and creaky Michael Vick can run through a hole that big. (Also excellent eye discipline by the umpire ignoring the ball carrier.)
Running Back Alignments
Something else to look at above is the space between Vick and McCoy before the ball is snapped. They appear to be further apart here than they are for many of the other plays.
These read option looks depend on precise timing between the running back, quarterback and the blockers up front. Moving the running back further behind or sideways slows down that part of the play and allows other things to clear out before the handoff. (Every back is different. Bryce Brown seems to be lining up further behind Vick on the plays he replaces McCoy, suggesting they need to slow him down.)
It used to be that the pre-snap position of Kelly’s running backs “gave away” whether it was an inside or outside zone read. This is something he changed even while at Oregon, but it will be interesting to see what he comes up with to deal with the hours of film study done to uncover exactly these minuscule variations at the NFL level.
Run/Pass Options or “Packaged” Plays
Kelly’s “do whatever the defender doesn’t” mantra also extends to the passing game, as in this big first-quarter completion to Brent Celek:
We’ve talked before about packaged plays, which combine a run and a pass in the same play call and are what Smart Football’s Chris Brown calls the “newest form of option football.” The Eagles show off just such a play here, which puts together a possible handoff (1), a tight end running up the seam (2) and a wide receiver screen outside (3) all in the same play.
In this case, Vick is reading the linebacker closest to Celek. If he breaks on the run, as he does in this case (4), the seam route is wide open (5). If he instead jumps on the pass route, Vick hands off or throws the screen (depending on numbers outside).
One interesting thing to look at in frame three is the double block with Kelce and Mathis. Because this is a play that might include a forward pass, neither can risk moving downfield to block the linebacker. Shady is amazing at making that one unblocked guy miss, but that’s a definite weakness with this type of play.
Some Issues in Pass Protection
In the first half, just about everything the offense tried worked, but Washington did seem to find something exploitable in the protection scheme:
Washington is going to bring a not-all-that-complicated linebacker blitz on a side where the Eagles have four potential pass protectors (1). But Herremans doubles inside with Kelce, Johnson first ignores and then belatedly tries to pick up #91 Ryan Kerrigan, and Celek and McCoy both run routes, leaving no one left to handle the blitz from Perry Riley.
From the television feed, it was very hard to figure out what happened. After Vick got creamed, there was the usual lineman chit-chat, but no one definitively screamed at anyone else.
Fortunately – ahem – Washington ran the same blitz against the same formation on the next series:
The linebacker again blitzes outside (1). Herremans squeezes inside as he did before, but this time Johnson does as well, taking the other inside man (2). This leaves the outside linebacker unblocked – seemingly on purpose – and the clear outlet is McCoy in the flat (4). Vick hesitates and then manages to squirt away from the pressure, but he took a hit and threw an incomplete pass to Riley Cooper instead of grabbing the free yardage with McCoy.
This was one of the few dark moments for the first-half offense, which otherwise seemed to do whatever Chip wanted. The question is how long that can last.
Eight months after the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore torched the Green Bay Packers’ defense for 300 yards rushing in a divisional playoff game, the two teams squared off again this past Sunday. This time, the Packers had no problem stopping the zone read-based rushing attack, but still lost after allowing Kaepernick to throw for more than 400 yards, half of which went to Anquan Boldin.
After this incredible opening Monday night performance, the Eagles are in a similar situation. They’re probably done seeing six-man boxes for a while. With only one proven deep threat at wide receiver and a quarterback who has looked unstoppable at times when not facing pressure, the game plan for opponents has to be stacking the line of scrimmage, coming after Vick and daring someone other than LeSean McCoy to beat them.
The Eagles’ next challenge will be executing on a backup plan that comes close to Kaepernick-to-Boldin.