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Eagle Eye In The Sky: Cowboys Review

Posted Dec 30, 2013

Ten wins.

The norm for nearly a decade was an elusive achievement over the last two seasons. The Eagles’ return to winning football in 2013 has been, and continues to be, a great ride and a great feat in Chip Kelly’s first season. A division title? Icing on the cake for many Eagles fans. Clinching in the final game of the regular season? In Dallas??? That’s a scenario Eagles fans across the world will take each and every year if given the opportunity. The season will continue on Saturday night against the New Orleans Saints. I’ll give more into them later in the week, but let’s first relish the huge win over that team down in Texas by taking a look at some of the notable themes I took away after watching the tape.

Running back LeSean McCoy set a number of records on Sunday night, and did so on a productive day that saw him run for nearly 5 yards a carry and come up with the first touchdown of the game, reaching the end zone thanks to some misdirection from Chip Kelly.

It’s first-and-goal from the 3-yard line, and the Eagles come out in 12 personnel with one back (McCoy, in the backfield) and two tight ends. Before the snap, quarterback Nick Foles brings wide receiver DeSean Jackson into the backfield.

This will be a run-fake, with Foles looking to run some outside zone run-action to Jackson to the left. This, paired with a crossing route from tight end Zach Ertz in the slot, will affect Dallas’ second-level defenders.

Notice the defensive flow to that side of the field. Several of Dallas’ linebackers and safeties will lean that direction at the fake.

What Foles really is looking to do, however, is come back to the right. This will be a simple high-low read for Foles, with McCoy in the flat and wide receiver Riley Cooper running to the back of the end zone.

This play worked to perfection, as both McCoy and Cooper are viable options for Foles on this play. Foles easily dumps the ball off to Shady, who takes it into the end zone to give the Eagles a 10-0 lead in the second quarter.

One of the Eagles’ staples in the run game over the last several weeks has been the split zone run. More often than not, it has looked exactly the same from play to play ...

Here the Eagles line up in a two-tight end formation, with James Casey flanking Brent Celek in a “wing” position. Most of Casey’s reps over the last few weeks have come as a blocker in this type of scenario, crossing the formation to block the back side on a run play (or a play-action pass play). This play is no different.

Look at what McCoy does to Dallas rookie linebacker DeVonte Holloman on this play. The rookie looks to be in perfect position to stop McCoy at this point, as McCoy looks to take this play outside.

McCoy isn’t taking this run outside, however. All he does is bait Holloman into playing the wrong gap, as he sticks his foot in the ground and cuts back inside, taking this carry for a 20-yard pickup. It was this run that gave McCoy the franchise’s single-season rushing record which was previously held by Wilbert Montgomery.

The Eagles’ use of the split zone run has had a common look over the last month. The Eagles showed off a new wrinkle against the Cowboys, however, a wrinkle that proved to be successful.

It’s first-and-10 in the first quarter, and the Eagles come out in 12 personnel once again. This is the look we’ve come to expect from the Eagles’ “split zone” attack, with Casey coming across the formation.

But before the snap, wide receiver Jason Avant motions into the box and lines up on the wing outside of tackle Jason Peters.

Instead of this being a run to the right with Casey coming across to block the back (left) side, this will actually be a run to the LEFT with Avant coming across to block the back (right) side.

What’s great about this play is that Dallas cornerback Orlando Scandrick, who was responsible for Avant in man coverage, followed him across the formation at the snap of the ball. He completely runs past McCoy, who has a wide open hole and takes this carry for 20 yards and a first down. The Eagles ran this numerous times on Sunday night and were able to consistently move the football at a steady clip. Avant was a big part of that.

Avant didn’t just have an impact on the run game against Dallas, as he showed up in the pass game as well, hauling in three passes for 45 yards. None was bigger than this play at the start of the second quarter.

It’s second-and-9 and the Eagles come out in 11 personnel, with one back (McCoy) and Ertz split out wide to the left. At the top of the screen, Jackson (near slot) will be running an over route across the field. Next to him, Avant is running a wheel route, while Riley Cooper is running a post. This is the exact same play that the Eagles ran on Nick Foles’ interception against the Minnesota Vikings, and is a concept that is VERY popular in the New Orleans Saints passing game (more on that later this week).

This concept can be effective against both man and zone coverage, but is especially tough to for a man scheme. The outside cornerback runs with Cooper on the post, leaving a ton of space down the sideline for Avant to run into. Avant, matched up against rookie undrafted free agent Jeff Heath, will have room to go get the football after Foles gets rid of it.

Foles puts the ball up, allowing Avant to go up and get it, and the former high school basketball star brings it down for the huge completion to set up an Eagles touchdown.

It was apparent that the Cowboys’ rookie safety would be a target early on, as the Eagles attacked him in a number of ways. It’s first-and-10, and the Eagles are running a version of the “snag” concept, which was very prevalent early in the season but wasn’t featured as much in recent weeks (I broke down the snag concept back in Week 4). Ertz is lined up in the near slot, and is running the corner route on this play.

Ertz is matched up one-on-one against Heath on this play. Look at Heath’s body positioning at this point. With his back to the sideline, he is trying to keep Ertz inside.

Ertz does a great job “attacking Heath’s technique,” getting his hips flipped around and gaining separation at the top of his route. With the outside cornerback held by the flat route, there’s plenty of space for Foles to put the football, as Ertz comes down with the 17-yard completion and a first down.

Ertz had another play that really stood out to me on Sunday night, and it’s the second week in a row he’s made a play like this ...

It’s first-and-10, and the Eagles run their all too familiar “mesh” concept with the shallow crosses and a wheel route out of the backfield. Ertz is the curl route over the middle (blue arrow). Chip Kelly really dove deep into this concept on Eagles Game Plan last week. The first read is the wheel, and if that isn’t there, Foles will work to that cross combination. Ertz is the second read in that combination.

Foles feels pressure and is forced to break the pocket. Ertz does a great job working his way back to Foles and getting open for a 14-yard gain and a first down.

Ertz wasn’t the only tight end to come up with big plays in the game. James Casey had a great block on Bryce Brown’s go-ahead touchdown run. Brent Celek also chimed in with a touchdown of his own, and later posted one of the plays of the day, a diving catch deep down the field.

It’s a “sudden change” situation for the offense (meaning they’ve just gotten the ball off a turnover), and it’s first-and-10 right near midfield. Typically, you can expect some type of “shot” play down the field from this offense in this type of situation, especially in this area of the field. That’s exactly what you get here, as this will be a throwback to Celek down the left sideline.

After a play-action fake sucks in the Dallas linebackers, Foles rolls to his right on the bootleg. The defense, initially flowing to the left in reaction to McCoy, now has to go the opposite direction with Foles rolling right. Chances are, players get lost in the shuffle defensively, and that’s something the Eagles count on.

Celek will attempt to sneak out the back door on this play, and will hopefully run down the sideline uncovered for Foles to make an easy throw and catch.

But Celek is covered. This play is actually pretty well-defended by the Cowboys, as linebacker DeVonte Holloman sticks with Celek through the play. Foles, having full faith in his tight end to go make a play, delivers the football regardless of the coverage, putting it up over the top and allowing Celek to come down with a huge diving catch.

This play may seem familiar, and that’s because the Eagles ran this exact same play back in Week 5 against the New York Giants (Kelly broke that play down here). That play also came in a sudden change situation, after a Mychal Kendricks interception, and in the “fringe” or “high red zone” area of the field. It had been 12 weeks since the Eagles had run that play again, and they dusted it off and executed it to perfection, a huge 35-yard completion at a critical stage of the game.

Time to move over to the defense. Obviously, there were some plays that this unit would like to have back, but as a whole I thought they stood tall against a very talented Dallas offensive attack. Wide receiver Dez Bryant, tight end Jason Witten, running back DeMarco Murray, wide receiver Terrance Williams, tight end Gavin Escobar, the list goes on - this is a dangerous group. I thought there were some incredible efforts throughout the game. We’ve come to expect a high level of play up front from Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton and Bennie Logan and we got that again. Cary Williams made a number of plays in coverage, and was in great position against Bryant on the failed two-point conversion to try and tie the game. Brandon Boykin made a number of huge plays (other than the game winning interception - more on that later). One of the guys that stood out to me, and to everyone else I’m sure, was Mychal Kendricks. This was one of the biggest plays in the game, and it came on the first series.

It’s first-and-10, and the Cowboys are going to run a simple inside zone play to the defense’s left. Dallas brought an extra offensive lineman in as a blocking tight end, and they play to run right behind him. Kendricks isn’t going to let that happen.

Kendricks does a great job using his hands to keep himself free from the right tackle. His eyes stay on the ball carrier, and when Murray hits the hole Kendricks is there to meet him.

Kendricks knocks the ball out, forcing a key turnover on the opening drive of the game. He set the tone all game long, leading the Eagles defense in tackles, and turning out one of his best performances of the season.

He may not have come up with a sack this week, but Trent Cole made his presence felt in the run game all night long, as has been the case for most of 2013. This play on third-and-short was no different.

On third-and-3, the Cowboys are running a toss play to Cole’s side of the field.

Cole does an amazing job fighting through the down block from Witten, spinning off the veteran and maintaining his pursuit angle to the sideline.

Watch him regain his eyes on the ball carrier, and track him down ... a true hunter closing in.

Cole lays out at the last second, and brings the running back down for a 2-yard gain. It’s fourth-and-short, and the Cowboys are forced to go for it. On the next play, Connor Barwin knocks down Kyle Orton’s intended pass, and the Eagles take the ball. How different would the game have gone if Cole doesn’t make that play? Does THIS play even happen …?

It’s first-and-10, and the Eagles are playing a type of man-free coverage with a safety deep in the middle of the field and man coverage underneath. The Eagles appear to be bracketing tight end Jason Witten on this play, with Mychal Kendricks and Patrick Chung responsible for him in coverage.

Brandon Boykin, manned up on Miles Austin in the slot, is playing with outside leverage and is sitting on Austin’s back hip. He knows he has additional bodies inside, and at this stage in the game decides to take a chance. Orton throws it to Austin’s back shoulder. Boykin comes up with the interception, and just like that, the Eagles are NFC East Champs.

Fran Duffy is the producer of Eagles Game Plan which can be seen on 6abc this Saturday at 7:30 PM before the Saints-Eagles Wild Card game. 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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