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Eagle Eye: How The Eagles Beat The Blitz

Posted Sep 28, 2015

It wasn’t always pretty, but the Eagles got a much deserved victory against a tough New York Jets football team on Sunday afternoon. The offense saw the run game come back to life after two tough weeks despite DeMarco Murray being out of the lineup, and we got to see glimpses of how dangerous this offense can be despite the fact that they still didn’t hit on all cylinders. Let’s take a look at how the offense was able to turn things around against New York.

For the first time in 2015, the Eagles busted out a look up front that we’ve seen here and there over the last couple of years, the unbalanced line.

This is Ryan Mathews’ 27-yard run on the Eagles’ third offensive play of the game. Jason Peters is lined up on the right side of the line, next to Lane Johnson. Brent Celek is lined up to the left side where Peters is usually lined up.

Chip Kelly said that these types of formations give the offense the ability to attack across the front. From a defensive perspective, there are concerns from a pass standpoint with a tight end(s) to one side, and then you have to worry about a really strong runside threat with two offensive tackles to the other. You’re forcing the defense to send secondary help (to defend the pass) over the tight ends, and the defensive line will often shift toward the side of the offensive tackles to help defend the run. The Eagles executed both run and pass plays out of this formation. You keep the defense honest by doing different things out of the formation.

On this play, the Eagles motion Riley Cooper tight to the formation, and get a fantastic block from him at the point of attack on safety Calvin Pryor. Give credit as well to Jason Kelce for his great reach block on Leonard Williams. Ryan Mathews makes two men miss and delivers a crushing blow on a third defender before falling out of bounds after a 27-yard gain, a play that helped set the tone for the Eagles for the rest of the afternoon.

Overall, the Eagles' offensive line was much better than they were a week ago against the Dallas Cowboys, and when you execute at a higher rate, you’re going to have an easier time moving the ball and keeping the team on schedule. They did have some issues, particularly in the second half, against a tough New York front seven, but there were more than a few plays when everyone did their job and it resulted in a first down.

Here’s another shot at a zone run play, one where the Eagles' tempo prevented the Jets from lining up properly before the snap. Andrew Gardner’s block on Muhammad Wilkerson and Kelce’s ability to get to the second level allow Darren Sproles to run through a solid alley into space. Give wide receivers Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor credit for taking care of business on the outside, resulting in a 12-yard run on third down.

The outside zone run play was particularly effective for the Eagles against New York. With the way the Jets play defense, whether it be with A-gap pressure from the second level or with defensive linemen stacked inside condensed fronts, it was going to be tough to run right up the gut against this team. The outside zone run, while it’s a north-south run by nature because of the back’s ability to get downhill, was able to take care of some of those issues.

Here’s an example of what many refer to as a "bear" defensive front with three defensive linemen "covering up" the center and two guards inside. It’s tough to run against looks like this because it’s hard to get double teams across the board. If you do, you’re going to often have unblocked defenders running free.

Look first at the back side of this run play from Jason Kelce back through Lane Johnson. All three linemen are able to reach their targets and cut off the back side on this play. To the front side, Allen Barbre has some issues with Leonard Williams, but Jason Peters and Brent Celek both get great movement to stretch the defense from right to left. The play of both sides of the line helps create plenty of running room for Mathews, who scampers for a 13-yard gain and a first down.

Here’s an example of the outside zone against interior pressure, with the Jets running a Triple A-Gap blitz right up the gut. The run scheme outleverages the defense, as Mathews is able to get outside as Pryor (the blitzing safety from the second level) takes himself out of the play. Celek again gets great movement at the point of attack, and Mathews picks up a first down on a 9-yard run.

Last week in my preview of the Jets' defense, I wrote that the Eagles will have to make the Jets pay on the ground by blocking Wilkerson and Williams and preventing them from wrecking the game. For the most part, the Eagles were able to do that, and while it wasn’t always pretty, you have to give credit to the guys up front for executing what they were asked to do.

This is the very first offensive play of the game for the Eagles and Celek is responsible for blocking Wilkerson one-on-one, a tough task for any tight end. Though he gets pushed initially, Celek works himself back into the play and is able to cut Wilkerson off, preventing him from making the play. Sproles picks up 5 yards to bring up second-and-5.

One of the other areas I covered in the Jets preview was their blitz and coverage schemes. Over the first two games, when New York wasn’t sending extra rushers at the quarterback, they played two-man coverage with two high safeties, five defenders lined up man-to-man underneath and just a four-man rush.

On this third-and-13 play on Sunday, the Jets lined up in that two-man coverage. The Eagles expected that and ran a pass concept that is perfect to attack that coverage. Wide receiver Jordan Matthews ran an outbreaking route as the No. 3 slot receiver inside.

When Matthews hits the top of his route, the two Jets defenders in that area have their backs turned. They have no idea that the ball is being thrown in their direction. When defenses play two-man coverage, those corners are able to undercut routes and make plays on the football. Here, the Eagles take advantage of that and get a first down to move the chains.

Against the Jets' defense that plays so much man coverage, it was going to be imperative for Bradford’s receivers to win their one-on-one matchups.

Here, tight end Zach Ertz is matched up on a linebacker in the slot. Ertz is able to win inside and the 9-yard gain gets the Eagles close to a first down. Ryan Mathews wins in space against a linebacker on a wheel route for a touchdown. Against a diverse Jets secondary that figured to match up against the Eagles' wide receivers man-to-man, the Eagles chose to attack the linebackers with Ertz, Mathews and Sproles, and it resulted in multiple big gains.

These plays came against just a four-man rush, the Jets didn’t blitz. But could the Eagles win their matchups when there was pressure on Sam Bradford? Could the Eagles "burn the blitz?" They would get a chance to prove that late in the second quarter.

It was second-and-5 from the 5-yard line. The Jets are sending a Cover 0 blitz at Bradford, with straight man coverage across the board with no safety help in the middle of the field. This is a six-man pressure, and with five eligible receivers releasing out into routes, that means that one defender will come free to Bradford. It’s incredibly important in this situation for the quarterback to recognize that and for the receivers to win their matchups and work open for him. The Eagles run the shallow cross concept. Jordan Matthews wins inside, running away from his defender, and Bradford hits him for a near touchdown on the run. This was a great job by the Eagles' offense to make the Jets pay for sending extra defenders, as this play would be the one to set up Darren Sproles’ 1-yard touchdown run.

That wouldn’t be Sproles’ only touchdown of the day, however, as he got the Eagles into the end zone with another huge play on special teams. Sproles is now just one punt return touchdown away from tying the Eagles record in a career with four after his 89-yard return, but there were a lot of great blocks along the way that helped make it happen.

Chip Kelly said in his post-game press conference that the "holdup" was great on Sproles’ return, meaning that the players up front did a great job holding up the New York coverage players, not allowing them to get down the field and tackle Sproles as the ball was being caught. The snapshot above is from when Sproles initially catches the ball, and as you can see there are 14 yards of green between Sproles and the first defender when he brings it in, giving him a good running start in the beginning of the return.

Let’s rewind a bit, however, and look at the play of a rookie who made one of the best special teams efforts of the season on this return.

Watch Eric Rowe at the top of the screen. I sped this up just a hair to fit it all in one Vine. Rowe holds up the gunner at the line of scrimmage, then puts him into the dirt at the 40-yard line. If Rowe had just stopped there, that would’ve been a really nice play, but he didn’t.

Rowe gets up off the ground, looks upfield and looks for more work. The rookie leads the charge for Sproles and takes the punter out of the play as Sproles follows his block down the sideline to finish off the touchdown. I’ve covered Rowe’s special teams toughness and effort before, and he showed it again on Sunday on this play.

What is one of the first things every fan, coach and player does after a big return? Look back to make sure there are no penalty flags on the field. When there aren’t, you know that either (a) the returner did a great job making people miss and running to daylight or (b) the players on the return team did a great job of trusting their technique to help create lanes for the returner. On this touchdown from Sproles, both happened to be true.

For players on the return team, when they’ve entered the blocking phase of the return, the biggest thing for them to remember is that they want to block shoulders, not backs. A block in the back is the easiest way to kill a big play. This requires not only the athletic ability to stay in proper position, but also the discipline to know when and when not to deliver a kill shot to draw a flag.

First, let’s look at linebacker Bryan Braman, one of the best special teamers on the roster, as he trails his man down the field. He got outleveraged on the play. Braman is beaten here. A lot of players would have panicked, or out of frustration would’ve clipped his man. Braman didn’t, staying shoulder-to-shoulder down the field just enough that when it came time for the Jet to break down and make the play, he was unable to do so, thanks in part to Braman’s presence.

Check out safety Jerome Couplin, who got a great holdup at the line of scrimmage and then stalked his man down the field. It took five seconds after the snap to even reach this point, so first give Couplin credit for taking his man this far out of the play, but then check out his technique on the back end of the play. Staying stride for stride with his man, getting his hand on the opponent’s hip, he puts himself in position where he is unable to clip him. He throws his hands up to the sky (what many coaches I’ve been around refer to as the "worship" technique), signaling that he’s not blocking his defender in the back. Sproles skates by to get farther upfield. Sproles, meanwhile, makes five men miss on his way to the end zone. His combination of quickness, burst and vision makes him one of the best returners in the league, and a threat to score any time he touches the ball on special teams.

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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