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Eagle Eye: Can Doug Pederson Call Another Masterful Game?

Posted Jan 17, 2018

In Saturday’s win over the Atlanta Falcons, the defense played at a very high level, but we can’t forget to give love to Doug Pederson, his staff, and the entire offense as well for the game plan that they executed against the defending NFC champions.

Facing an aggressive, "fast-flow" defense, Pederson and the staff put together a plan that preyed on the Falcons’ attacking style. They took the fight to Falcons head coach Dan Quinn’s unit, and it started on the opening drive.

Note that there is audio commentary for each of the video clips.

I know. How could I be impressed with a drive that ended in a turnover on the second play? First, I loved the aggressive play call to start the game. The Eagles used pre-snap motion to get a matchup in space down the field that they liked with Torrey Smith against slot corner Brian Poole. Yes, the ball was thrown into the wind and knocked down, but you get the flag and the ball ends up in Atlanta territory. The first run of the game was also a successful play in terms of the yardage. It was a great way to move the ball on first down, Jay Ajayi just has to hold on to the football.

The run game was the catalyst for the Eagles' game plan on Saturday night, and two things stood out above all else.

First, Nick Foles did a great job in the Run Pass Option (RPO) game, knowing exactly when to throw and when to hand the ball off. After that, the biggest takeaway for me was the variety of plays in the game plan. Whether it was Inside Zone, Outside Zone, Wham, Trap, Jet Sweeps, Pin/Pull Plays, Draws, Power, or "gadgety" plays like Nelson Agholor’s first-quarter run, there were so many different tactics used by the Eagles' offense on the ground.

These two runs were from the second drive of the game. The Eagles don’t get any points here after taking a sack on third down, but you see an example of a couple of the run schemes I listed above.

First, check out the handoff by Foles on this RPO. It’s important to know that this is what an RPO is all about. It has nothing to do with the quarterback’s ability to run the football. It’s a simple, one-read play where he reads one defender (here, it’s the playside linebacker) and makes the play off of him. If he plays too hard against the run, he throws it into the void in coverage. If he stays back in zone coverage, he hands the ball off against a lighter box. It’s a no-win situation for the defense when they don’t know it’s coming, and the Eagles pick up 7 yards.

On the next play, the Eagles run a Wham play with tight end Trey Burton blocking down on defensive tackle Dontari Poe. This allows the two offensive linemen on that side to get up to the second level, creating a crease for Ajayi to get downhill for an 11-yard gain.

The Eagles got the ball down 3-0 and began their only touchdown drive of the day. This drive is up there as one of my favorites from the entire season. Why? Look at the rhythm they got into on this 14-play possession.

No. Play Type Play Call Result
1 RPO Tackle Power/Draw For Ajayi +10
2 Run Power Run For Ajayi +8
3 RPO Outside Zone For Ajayi +7
4 Pass Jet-Action Screen To Ajayi +9
5 Run Inside Zone For Blount +8
6 Pass Out Route To Torrey Smith +6
7 Pass Wheel Route To Corey Clement +7
8 Run Counter Run For Ajayi +1
9 Pass Shallow Crossing Route To Celek +6
10 Run Tackle Fold For Agholor +21
11 Pass Out Route To Ertz No Gain
12 Run Inside Zone Counter For Blount +1
13 Run Belly To Clement +1
14 Run G Lead For Blount +1 (TD)

Look how methodical of a drive it was! There were no tough throws for Nick Foles. The offensive line was never threatened. The run game was all over the place - in a good way - and kept the Falcons on their toes. This was a thing of beauty. Here are some breakdowns of the best plays.

The Eagles took a 6-3 lead after that touchdown drive, and it was the only time they’d need to reach the end zone for the rest of the day. They needed points wherever they could get them. Anytime you’re in a slugfest like the one they were in on Saturday, the smallest of plays can make a big difference in the final outcome. I’m going to show you some field goal drives that include plays that, at the time, may not have seemed all that significant. Keep in mind, however, that if any of these drives had stopped short, the Falcons would not have needed to score a touchdown at the end of the game because a field goal would have given them the lead.

In the second quarter, the Falcons regained the lead at 10-6. The defense held strong and got the ball with under a minute left and two timeouts. Two of their first two plays after getting the ball back helped set them up for success.

On the first play, Jason Kelce delivers a devastating block on a screen pass that helped spring Corey Clement for a nice gain. This pickup gave the Eagles confidence that they’d be able to get into field goal range. The screen game was huge for this team against Atlanta.

Two plays later, they were helped by a large amount of luck. The play call was great. This is a design that I actually profiled last week in my preview of the Falcons. A good way to attack Atlanta’s Cover 3 scheme is to line up and attack in a 3x1 set and run the No. 3 receiver to the deep part of the opposite side of the field. This gets him matched up against the hook defender in underneath zone coverage. On this play, that receiver is Agholor, sprinting across the field in a matchup against linebacker De’Vondre Campbell.

The beauty of what the Eagles do is that they run a dig route behind Agholor with Zach Ertz, which means he’s running directly into the void previously occupied by Campbell. This is where Foles wants to go with the football. The pass sails on him, however, and it goes over Ertz’s head. Safety Keanu Neal tries to pick it off, but bounces off his knee up into the air and into the waiting arms of Torrey Smith for a 20-yard completion. The Eagles actually ran this play a couple of times last year for big pickups against the Falcons, and this one puts them in position to need just one more first down to set up a field goal.

To get in position for the field goal, the Eagles go back to a tried and true passing concept that has worked for them in the past in these scenarios, a three-level stretch. This is the exact play that the Eagles ran to Alshon Jeffery to set up Jake Elliott’s game-winning field goal against the New York Giants back in Week 3. Not only that, but it’s also the same play the Vikings ran on Sunday night to beat the New Orleans Saints!

The Eagles run it on first down on what resulted in an incomplete pass. So what does Doug Pederson do? He goes right back to it. This time, the cornerback to that side, Desmond Trufant floats a bit deeper, and Jeffery does a great job of reducing the route, bringing it back toward the line of scrimmage a bit to give himself more room to reel in this throw from Foles for a first down. Jeffery secures the catch and steps out of bounds with a second left on the clock to give the Eagles a 51-yard field goal attempt heading into the locker room.

Early in the third quarter, the Eagles went to Jeffery again to help set up another field goal. On three of their first five plays on the drive, Jeffery was the target, and he came up big on that possession. Those three points gave the Eagles a 12-10 lead, one that they would not relinquish for the rest of the night. On the very next drive, they extended their lead and cemented the final score.

The drive began with two clutch third-down conversions in the passing game. First, Pederson went to the screen game to Ajayi on a pass that picked up 32 yards. The Eagles had called a screen on second down, but Pederson went back to it on the very next play with a huge return. Kelce and Stefen Wisniewski were both outstanding on this play, with the latter making contact on three Atlanta defenders as a lead blocker down the field.

On the same drive, Pederson calls a Jet Sweep to Nelson Agholor for another first-down run. This is another example of not only attacking Atlanta’s aggressiveness but also executing up front for the offense. Ertz and Mack Hollins make great blocks at the second level to help spring Agholor for a first down on this critical drive.

The Eagles continue to churn out yardage here. First, we see an RPO to Hollins on the outside. Two plays later, LeGarrette Blount hammers up the gut on an Inside Zone run that features a great block from Ertz in the trenches against defensive end Brooks Reed. On the next play, Blount takes another carry on a Power run to put them on the doorstep. This all sets up a critical third-down play.

It's third-and-3 from the Atlanta 5-yard line. There are seven minutes left and the Eagles lead by two. What does Pederson call in such a big spot? A route that has worked for the Eagles all season long, the corner-post. He actually has two corner-posts on this play, one from Jeffery to the left and another from Ertz on the right. Both receivers break to the outside before cutting back inside toward the post. The problem is that Atlanta covers both routes extremely well. Foles sees this and wisely chooses to go to his checkdown rather than force the issue. Foles dumps this off to Clement for a 2-yard pickup and a near first down. Facing fourth-and-1, Pederson elects to kick a field goal and take the points. That decision proved to be pivotal, as the Falcons drove down the field in quick fashion. Had Pederson not kicked the field goal here, the Falcons would’ve just needed a quick three points to win at the end of the game.

Fran Duffy is the producer of “Eagles Game Plan” which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team’s games, practices and opponents.

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