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Eagle Eye: How The Colts' Luck Ran Out

Posted Sep 16, 2014

Trent Cole said it best in the postgame locker room. “This is one of those games that stays with you,” he declared after the Eagles' 30-27 win over Indianapolis.

This was a character-building win, one that you can point to later in the year when you’re facing adversity and say, “Remember when," to pick your teammate up on the sideline. The Colts, led by probably one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL right now, are a chic pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Getting a win in come-from-behind fashion over that team on the road is a huge boost for a team looking to take the next step. How did they pull the win out on Monday? Let’s have a closer look.

I touched on it last week in this space, but the Colts have been a predominantly man coverage team under Chuck Pagano. They employ a pressure scheme that places second-level defenders on an island with one-on-one matchups across the board. Given the Eagles' variety of pieces on the offensive side of the ball, there would be matchups to be won, a theme that was apparent early in the game.

It’s 1st-and-10, and the Colts are lining up in straight Cover 1, with LaRon Landry as the single high safety and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson as the hole player underneath.

The Eagles conversely are running a "snag" concept, one they used often last season. Snag is a reliable pass play because it is effective against both man and zone coverage concepts, and can be used out of a variety of formations and personnel settings. Above, the Eagles have the No. 1 receiver at the top of the screen, Brent Celek, running a short curl route. The No. 2, Zach Ertz, is running a deep corner route. The No. 3 receiver is Jeremy Maclin, who is running to the flat.

What this route combination does is create what is commonly known as a "Triangle Read" for the quarterback. The triangle is made up of defenders, and how that triangle ultimately unfolds determines where the ball is thrown.

Look at how the defenders are displaced here. Since it is man coverage, Ertz is running free to the corner with loads of room for Nick Foles to fit the football. If the defense had played Ertz more to the inside (toward his help, what he is supposed to be doing in Cover 1), then Maclin may have been the target in the flat. But with Ertz having all that room, this is an easy read for Foles.

Let’s take a look at another example of the Eagles attacking the Colts in man coverage, this time with running back Darren Sproles.

On this play, the Colts are running a 5-man pressure, blitzing Jackson and playing man coverage underneath with one single high safety (man free coverage).

The Eagles send Sproles out of the backfield, anticipating a favorable matchup. He has one in linebacker Josh McNary. On this play, Sproles has a three-way go. He can break outside, he can break inside or he streak down the field, depending on how McNary plays him.

It’s all green in front of Sproles, and he takes it for a 57-yard gain and a huge Eagles first down.

As you know, Sproles was not done, as Chip Kelly pulled another play out of his bag o’ tricks in the fourth quarter to help put the Eagles in position to tie the game.

On this play, the Colts are in a combo quarters coverage.

Ertz will be a running a drag route across the middle of the field, carrying two underneath defenders with him.

As we’ve seen in this offense time and time again, when they attract your attention one way, there’s always some kind of action going to the opposite side of the field. Sproles leaks out on a screen and takes it 51 yards for a first down that helps set up the game-tying touchdown to Jeremy Maclin (more on that in a bit).

You can’t bring up Sproles without bringing up his touchdown run. It came on a simple inside zone play, with good blocking up front and a great finishing effort by Sproles on the back end.

You see the inside zone run at the snap, with two double teams at the point of attack. Andrew Gardner and Todd Herremans (right circle) are doubling down and sifting up to the linebacker. Dennis Kelly and Jason Peters (left circle) do the same. Jason Kelce and Brent Celek take care of their assignments as well.

Sproles presses the line of scrimmage, makes an alley defender look silly in space and takes advantage of his lower center of gravity by driving his way through contact, keeping his balance and plowing into the end zone. This was a great effort from Sproles to get the Eagles' offense back into the football game, and it started with great execution up front.

It’s no secret that the offense hasn’t hit it’s full stride as of this point, yet they still rank at the top of the NFL in yards and points. They’ve accomplished that feat by taking advantage of matchups, yes, but also by going back to some play concepts that worked well for them a year ago, and it led to some big yardage on Monday night. Let’s take a look.

Before the snap, the Eagles often brought a receiver in motion across the formation to run a bubble screen to the opposite side of the field, where multiple blockers waited out in front to create space to get downfield. But the Eagles paired another one of their staple run plays with it, to form a "packaged play" that allows the numbers to consistently favor the offense and create a mismatch at the point of attack. Here’s how.

Along with the bubble screen to the left (bottom of the screen), the Eagles are also running their sweep play to the right (top of the screen). Guard Todd Herremans and center Jason Kelce will pull, get out in front and create running room for LeSean McCoy ... if he gets the football. What determines that? The cornerback opposite of Jeremy Maclin (at the top of the screen).

If the corner were to follow Maclin across the field, that would create space to his side of the formation, allowing Foles to hand the ball off to McCoy. But since the corner stays home, the Eagles now have Maclin free on a bubble screen, with two blockers out in front to seal off two Indianapolis defenders. Either way, the Eagles win.

Maclin catches the pass and goes 15 yards for the first down. Here’s another example of the play, where the opposite occurs.

As you can see, the cornerback follows the receiver across the formation on this play. Foles sticks the ball in McCoy’s gut and he takes it for a 6-yard gain on first down. The Eagles ran this play numerous times on Monday night, as well as a shot play down the field off of it, and used it to create favorable matchups in the run and pass games.

Before we get to the defense, let’s quickly take a look at the game-tying touchdown to Jeremy Maclin, which came off another concept we saw a ton of in 2013.

This is the Eagles' shallow cross concept, featuring a wheel out of the backfield and three receivers crossing over the middle of the field. The Eagles used this to beat man coverage time and time again last year, and with the Colts playing the amount of man they did on Monday night (specifically in the second half), the Eagles went back to "old reliable."

You see the reaction from two Colts linebackers, both of them react to McCoy out of the backfield. Foles sees that and shifts his focus back inside. He works through his progressions, sees Maclin work underneath of Celek’s interference and makes a nice throw to a spot for a touchdown. Great play call, great job going through the progressions by Foles and a great way to tie the game up late.

Defensively, the Eagles performed very, very well against a dangerous Indianapolis offense. The captains at the second level, DeMeco Ryans and Malcolm Jenkins, were rocks up the middle, while Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan performed very well against a run scheme that the Colts didn’t show as extensively on tape. Indianapolis showed some reps using an unbalanced line, but not to the extent of what everyone saw on Monday night, and by the time the Eagles adjusted, the team was in shape to change the game. First, let’s see how the Eagles thrived through the air, where they held Andrew Luck to one of his worst statistical performances of his still young NFL career.

This is an early third down in the game, and the Colts came out in an empty set. They will be in "scat" protection, meaning just the offensive line will be in charge of protecting Luck. If more than five men rush, the extra rushers will be Luck's to beat.

With just five men in to protect, the Eagles bring six rushers. Connor Barwin comes free, and Luck is forced to get the ball out quickly. Jenkins does a great job tackling the receiver before the sticks, forcing fourth down. The Eagles, over the last year, have been a pressure defense. While the sack numbers are not always there, Bill Davis’ unit gets after the quarterback and affects throws consistently. The Colts accounted for that by limiting their vertical passing game to more of a quick short-to-intermediate attack. That is a credit to this defensive unit and the coaching staff. Let me show you another example of this.

The Eagles are in Cover 3 here, with Bradley Fletcher, Jenkins and Cary Williams splitting the deep field into thirds.

The Colts are going to run their "Flood" concept, a play we covered last week to preview the game. This is one of their go-to concepts in the deep passing game. This ball will end up being an incomplete pass out of bounds, and here’s why.

Even if they can’t get to the quarterback, this defense focuses on getting a quarterback "off his spot." Get a quarterback out of his comfort zone, out of his rhythm and force him into mistakes or to throw the ball away. Above is the box they want to keep Luck out of.

Some great stunts up front and additional pressure from the backside force Luck out of the pocket to throw the ball out of bounds.

Focus on Cox and Cole here. Cole fights through two blockers and provides pressure to Luck’s blindside. The quarterback feels the heat, rolls outside of the pocket and Cox shows off his movement skills mirroring Luck step by step, getting his arms up to deter a throw and force an incomplete pass. Great play call and great execution by the defensive front.

Let’s quickly fast-forward to the last defensive play of the game. It’s 3rd-and-5. It’s a tie game and if the Eagles can force a punt they will be in a good position to drive down the field for a chance at a game winning field goal ... obviously you know how this turns out.

The Colts will be running a high-low concept commonly known as "levels." The No. 1 receiver will run a drag route underneath, while the No. 2 receiver will run a dig further down the field. The Colts are hoping that the drive route will carry away any underneath coverage, opening up a throwing lane to hit the dig, and it works!

The lane is there for Luck to deliver the football. But the ball does not come out. Why? More pressure up front from an aggressive defense.

Another blitz from the Eagles' defense featuring a double A-gap pressure. This time, the Eagles are in a "dime" package, with Nolan Carroll II in the game. Carroll does a great job staying alive and working to get back into the face of Luck. Barwin does a great job initially moving the quarterback off his spot, and between the two of them, the throw can’t be made and the Eagles' defense gets off the field to set up the game-winning drive.

You didn’t think I’d get through this without the Jenkins interception did you? Before we wrap it up, we’ll quickly look at how that play ended up in the Eagles' favor.

The Eagles are in a form of 2-man coverage, with two high safeties (Jenkins and Nate Allen) and man coverage across the board underneath. Jenkins and Allen, this close to the end zone, are free to help break on the ball, and that’s exactly what Jenkins does on this play.

You see Colts' wide receiver T.Y. Hilton in the slot working against Brandon Boykin. Boykin, within 5 yards, has his arms on Hilton but is not grabbing or pulling him down (hence why no penalty was called). Look at the route recognition from Jenkins, who breaks on the ball and pulls it in for the clutch interception to keep the Eagles in the game.

In case there was any doubt about whether or not this should have been a penalty, keep an eye on the bottom left-hand corner of the screen. Boykin and Hilton come into view, and you can clearly see Boykin’s hands are open, there is no grabbing or pulling, as Hilton falls and Jenkins comes up with one of many plays of the day.

Fran Duffy is the producer of “Eagles Game Plan” which can be seen on 6abc Saturdays at 7:30 PM. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast each week online and 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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