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Eagle Eye In The Sky: Cardinals Review

Posted Dec 2, 2013

Heading into Sunday’s game against Arizona, the biggest point of interest was going to be what (if any) differences or changes we would see from a schematic standpoint after a week off. The coaches’ time over the bye week is typically spent self-scouting. They review all of the game film from the season on all three sides of the ball. The coaching staff sees what plays and concepts worked, which ones need tweaking and what (if any) tendencies they’ve shown in every conceivable situation of a football game. Do you become too predictable with play-calling or personnel groupings on certain down-and-distance situations or in certain areas of the field? Is there a concept that has worked well that should be incorporated more into the weekly game plan? The bye week is about improving. So what did the tape show? Let’s take a look …

The first play takes a look at one of the staples of the Eagles offensive attack: the bubble screen.

It’s first-and-10 early in the second quarter. The Eagles are in their main personnel grouping, 11 personnel, with a running back, a tight end and three receivers. This look is very, very common, with three receivers to one side of the field. The first two receivers will block for the third, who will be the bubble option for the quarterback. The Eagles have used this play time and time again. Before the snap, the Cardinals guess that Riley Cooper will get the ball.

Before the snap, Nick Foles brings DeSean Jackson (the No. 1 receiver to that side) in motion. The Arizona secondary reacts, as they change their assignments in coverage.

Jackson will not come all the way across the formation. He stops on the hash just before the snap. He will now be the target of the bubble screen. Cooper and Zach Ertz will block out in front. This is a great way to disguise a play that is constructed to get their fastest player the ball in space. If the Eagles lined up Jackson in the slot from the start, the outcome may have been different.

Jackson catches the ball in stride and gets two great blocks from Cooper and Ertz on the perimeter. He gains 14 yards for a first down. This was great play design and something the Eagles didn’t show often in the early stages of the season.

HAVEN'T WE SEEN THIS BEFORE?

Chip Kelly has shown throughout the 2013 season that if a play works early in a game, he is not afraid to go back to it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Right? Well, here’s an example of that thought process against Arizona with a play that may look familiar.

It’s second-and-1 at the 50-yard line. The Eagles come out in 11 personnel, and will run play action with tight end Brent Celek coming across the formation. The movement from Celek and the get-off from the offensive line do a great job in selling the fake. Foles rolls out off the run-action, and will be working deep-to-short on his progression. His first option on this play is Cooper running the deep post. His second option will be Jason Avant running a sort of post-corner. If neither are open, he will have Bryce Brown in the flat after his run fake.

The main read for Foles here will be the deep safety. If the safety is deep and taking away Cooper’s route, then he will check away from it. If he’s driving down on Avant’s route, Foles has the ability to go over the top if he feels the throw is there.

While the safety drives down on Avant, the cornerback manned up on Cooper is playing over the top of him. If Foles throws this ball up, the corner will have a good shot at making a play on the ball.

Foles throws a pump fake, and checks down to his next option. Avant has created separation on cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, and is wide open. Foles makes the right read and gets the ball to Avant for a 20-yard gain and a first down.

It’s first-and-10 later in the second quarter and the Eagles come out in the same personnel package and same formation. This will be the same exact play, with the same exact progressions for Foles. He’ll look deep-to-short, first to Cooper on the post, then to Avant, then to McCoy in the flat.

Foles has a clean pocket which gives him plenty of time to sit back and find the open receiver. He’s still reading the high safety (the circle to the right), and judging by his depth, he has faith that he can get the ball up and over his head to hit Cooper in the back of the end zone. He pulls the trigger and goes for Cooper. Notice, in the circle to the left, Mathieu is sitting on Avant’s double move this time around. The rookie won’t be fooled twice, but his adjustment does not help the Cardinals on this play.

Foles throws the ball up for Cooper, who draws the pass interference penalty on cornerback Jerraud Powers. It won’t go down in the stat sheet for Cooper or Foles, but this play (which the Eagles ran multiple times in the game) put the offense on the 1-yard line to set up their second touchdown of the game. Why should this play look familiar? Coach Kelly broke it down on Eagles Game Plan following the team’s win over the Green Bay Packers.

The pass interference call set the Eagles up with first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. How did the offense respond? Let’s take a look at the touchdown pass to Brent Celek.

The Eagles’ success rate in the red zone has improved throughout the course of the 2013 season. One of the concepts that has worked really well for them is the use of crossing routes underneath to create interference. The use of crossers and mesh concepts has worked very well. Here’s another example.

Before the snap, Nick Foles brings Cooper in motion from the left side of the formation to the right, where he will run an in-breaking route with Jason Avant towards the middle of the field. Celek will be coming from the opposite side of the formation, and run underneath of their routes.

After the snap, Cooper and Avant create a “pick” for Celek to run through.

The Cardinals are in man coverage. Mathieu has no chance to keep up with Celek and pick his way through the garbage in the middle of the field. Celek breaks free and comes up with the easy touchdown catch.

ERTZ'S BREAKOUT DAY

In case you’ve been under a rock since Saturday, the Eagles offense featured a heavy dose of the tight ends on Sunday against Arizona. Celek’s touchdown catch was one of three by tight ends against the Cardinals defense. The other two came from Zach Ertz, who had a breakout performance on Sunday afternoon. Let’s take a look at Ertz’s longest touchdown, a 24-yard reception on the opening drive of the third quarter.

It’s second-and-12, and the Cardinals are in a two-safety shell on this play, with Rashad Johnson (bottom) and Yeremiah Bell (top) deep.

Notice the vertical route from Riley Cooper out of the slot. This route will be run right at the safety, keeping his attention to that side of the field.

On the opposite side, Ertz is in the slot running a corner-post route.

As the play develops, Ertz is about to make his move inside. Johnson has his hips turned to defend a route to the sideline. The job that Ertz does running the route really puts Johnson in a bad position to defend this play. The safety on the other side, Bell, will not be able to make a play on the ball either, as he is occupied by Cooper’s vertical route. Now look at Foles (circled), who is pulling the trigger. This was a great anticipation throw by the young quarterback, as he is going to put this ball right where Ertz is supposed to be before he even makes his break. Foles throws a strike, and Ertz comes up with the touchdown grab, his second of the game.

Let’s now take a closer look at Ertz’s first score of the game, which came on the first offensive possession.

It’s first-and-goal at the 6-yard line, and the Eagles appear to run a quick toss play out of the shotgun to LeSean McCoy. The line sells it. The receivers to that side sell it. Foles does a great job carrying out the fake. This will cause the defensive front to flow to that side of the field.

On the other side, however, Ertz and James Casey are going to run a “hi-low” on the cornerback with Ertz going deep and Casey in the flat.

The ball is snapped, and Foles is in mid-fake. Ertz is going deep and Casey (who is engaged with the linebacker after selling the run) short. This is a simple read for Foles, who just has to see where the cornerback (located between the two arrows at the top of the screen) plays. If he gets a lot of depth and takes away Ertz, Foles will check down. If he drives down on Casey, it should be easy throw to the rookie for a touchdown.

Foles is in mid-throw. With all of the space in the end zone, this will be an easy throw-and-catch. Touchdown Eagles.

The Eagles had success with this play early so they went back to it late in the game when it mattered most ...

It’s third-and-4 on the Arizona 9-yard line with 1:42 left in the game. If the Cardinals can hold the Eagles to a field goal attempt, there is enough time for one final drive to try and win the game. If the Eagles get a first down, it’s game over. The Eagles fake a toss to the left.

Ertz goes deep and Casey, once again engaged with the linebacker to sell the run, stays short. It’s a one-read play for Foles.

Casey gets held on the play, blatantly I might add, and the penalty results in a first down. Game over, Eagles win.

SAME CONCEPT, NEW WRINKLE

The mesh concept allowed LeSean McCoy to gain 49 yards on a reception against Washington two weeks ago. Kelly broke down the same concept on Eagles Game Plan last week. The Eagles used it against Arizona, except this time with a different wrinkle ...

It’s first-and-10 late in the second quarter, and the Eagles come out in 11 personnel. This time, Chris Polk is in the game at running back, flanked to Nick Foles’ left in the shotgun. Lined up beside him is wide receiver DeSean Jackson. The Eagles have run a couple of different plays and concepts out of this formation, most notably screen plays, but this is something new.

Before the snap, Polk is motioned out of the backfield and into the slot to the right of the formation.

Along with Celek, Polk will run a crossing route over the middle of the field.

Avant runs a curl route over the middle of the field, with Cooper crossing the formation underneath.

Jackson runs a wheel route out of the backfield. He will be the first read for Nick Foles on this play. With all of the action going on in the middle of the field, there should be plenty of interference to keep defenders from catching up to Jackson out of the backfield. If for some reason the wheel to DeSean is taken away, he has a host of underneath routes to choose from (in the plays against Washington, Foles hit McCoy on a wheel route, then came back and hit Jackson on the crosser). This is a great concept to use against man coverage.

Why is this a great concept against man coverage? Before the snap, Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson is lined up opposite him, in the box, and will be covering him man-to-man on this play.

After the snap, look at the “trash” Peterson has to sift through to cover Jackson on the wheel route. Peterson (in the small circle) has five bodies to evade on his way to the perimeter of the field, ground he will have to make up against the lightning quick Jackson.

Peterson does his best to get in position and actually is able to make an attempt at the pass, but it’s a perfectly thrown ball over Jackson’s shoulder (DeSean ran a great route on the play, giving Foles ample space on the outside to get him the ball) and he brings it down for a 25-yard gain.

This concept is common throughout every level of football. In fact, this play to Jackson wasn’t the only time the “mesh” concept was on display Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field...

It’s third-and-5 in the fourth quarter. The Cardinals desperately need a first down to keep this drive alive and try to keep pace in the game. Wide receiver Michael Floyd lines up in the slot and runs straight up the field.

The Cardinals use the same “mesh” concept we’ve seen from the Eagles over the last few weeks, with two crossing routes underneath and a curl over the middle of the field. There’s only one thing missing …

The wheel route out of the backfield. In the Cardinals preview of Eagle Eye In The Sky, the Cardinals’ use of the wheel route was documented. With running back Andre Ellington out of the lineup, this route is run by Stepfan Taylor. This will be the same type of read for Carson Palmer. Taylor is the first progression on the wheel route. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks will be responsible for Taylor in man coverage.

Kendricks (in the smaller circle) will have to move through a similar amount of interference to catch up with Taylor out of the backfield.

Kendricks does a great job sifting through the garbage and getting in a position to defend the wheel. Palmer throws it to Taylor but the pass falls incomplete, forcing a punt.

A PERFECT MARRIAGE: PASS RUSH AND TIGHT COVERAGE

After the game, defensive coordinator Bill Davis discussed how he had to leave the cornerbacks on an island at times in one-on-one situations. It will be up to the defensive back to play tight enough and the defensive pressure to get there quick enough to prevent a big play. For our last play, let’s take a look at one example of this – Trent Cole’s sack-fumble.

It’s third-and-6, and the Eagles are playing “2-man” coverage with two safeties high and man coverage underneath.

In the circle at the top, Cary Williams is manned up on Michael Floyd. At the bottom, Bradley Fletcher is lined up against Larry Fitzgerald. Williams will have no help on this play. Fletcher has the potential for help inside in safety Nate Allen.

At the top of his drop, Carson Palmer has the ball knocked out by Cole and it’s recovered by Bennie Logan. It’s a give-and-take with the coverage and pass rush, where both need to help each other throughout the course of the game. When both are working together, the defense typically keeps opponents out of the end zone and is able to create turnovers. This play was a great example of that.

Fran Duffy is the producer of the Eagles Game Plan show which can be seen on 6abc Sundays at 11:30 AM. 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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