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Eagle Eye In The Sky: New Wrinkles

Posted Oct 7, 2013

Sunday was far from perfect, I think anyone on the roster or coaching staff would tell you that. Anytime you’re able to get a win over a division rival though, regardless of their record or standing within the NFC East, it feels great the next day. There were a lot of good things to take away from the win over the Giants and with a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that is better than their record suggests (especially on defense), on the horizon, we’ve got a ton to break down.

First, I wanted to take a closer look at the touchdown pass from Nick Foles to Brent Celek. It was a "sudden change" situation for the offense, having just gotten the ball back off of Mychal Kendricks’ interception off Eli Manning, and Chip Kelly wanted to strike with a "shot play" on first down.

Let’s start with the end zone angle. From the jump, it looks like it will be a stretch play to the outside, with Nick Foles under center in a "12 personnel" look with one back (LeSean McCoy) and two tight ends to the left (Brent Celek and James Casey). As a side note, we saw a lot more two-tight end sets against New York than we have seen throughout the previous four games.

From the sideline, we see DeSean Jackson will be running a crossing route across the middle of the field. From the start of the play, this will also have a look of a run play, with Jackson coming down on a crack block.

All three Giants linebackers bite on the run action. It was a great job by the offensive line selling the run, and Foles did a great job carrying out his fake on the rollout.

The fact that the Giants sold so hard on the run allowed Celek, who was delaying his release by acting as a blocker in the beginning of the play, to create separation as he starts his vertical route. You can see the linebacker to his left is already in a bad position to make up for lost ground in coverage.

As they were for almost the entire day, the Giants were playing with one single-high safety. On this play, you see the safety's eyes are squared in on Jackson, who was coming across the field. He has no idea that Celek is running into the open void on the back side, and even if he did, he is in no position to cover it.

Foles made a fantastic throw. Dropping the ball in only where Celek could get it over top of the coverage. Give credit to Celek as well, who came down with a tough grab in a clutch moment that gave the Eagles the lead for good. What an example of a great playcall by Chip Kelly and great execution by all 11 players on the field.

A NEW WRINKLE

Throughout the 2013 season, we’ve seen the Eagles utilize the sweep play from week to week with great success. Whether it be with LeSean McCoy or Bryce Brown, from a balanced or unbalanced line, with a lead or coming from behind, this has been one of the key run plays since Week 1 in Washington. This week, Kelly used the sweep again, but this time with a new look.

It’s second-and-10 from the Giants' 15-yard line midway through the second quarter. The Eagles are lined up with three receivers to the left with Celek at the bottom of the screen and Vick in the shotgun with McCoy to his left. Before the snap, you see Vick motion McCoy to the left of the formation, carrying linebacker Spencer Paysinger with him. All this does is create more space for the play to develop by removing two bodies from the fold.

Center Jason Kelce and guard Todd Herremans will pull and get to the outside. Tackle Lane Johnson will block down on the three-technique, Cullen Jenkins (No. 99). Guard Evan Mathis will take the nose tackle Shaun Rogers (No. 95). Brent Celek will block the six-technique, defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka (No. 94). If you look at the way the line will be blocking up front, it is exactly how it would look if it were Vick handing the ball off to McCoy in a halfback sweep. Except with McCoy out of the picture, Vick is the ball carrier. He will follow the blocks of Herremans and Kelce.

Vick gets a great block from Herremans, who erases cornerback Trumaine McBride from the play. Vick now has one defender between him and the end zone, with a whole lot of green space in front of him.

While Vick didn’t score, he picked up 14 yards and took the Eagles to the 1-yard line, where McCoy would score a play later. I wanted to show you this last picture, because I want you to notice Lane Johnson. While he wasn’t able to reach safety Ryan Mundy in time to block him, it was the third defender the rookie got a piece of on the play. Johnson has had some good and bad moments this season, but regardless of the situation he has always given top-level effort and has shown supreme toughness early in his NFL career. His athleticism and grit showed on this play, another great call and design by Coach Kelly.

MILD SALSA

Entering this game, Victor Cruz was the Giants leading receiver, posting 26 catches for 425 yards at 16.3 yards per catch, with four touchdowns. He has been a thorn in the Eagles' (and the rest of the NFL’s) side since 2011. On Sunday, he was limited to five catches for 48 yards, a poor performance from a production standpoint by his standards. One of the big questions after the game was, how did the Eagles do it? The answer is, it was a number of different ways, but it certainly had a lot to do with cornerback Brandon Boykin. The second-year player had a great game on Cruz, but he wasn’t alone in covering the Pro Bowl wideout ...

On this play the Eagles came out with one single-high safety, Nate Allen, and will be playing with man coverage underneath. Cruz is in the slot to Manning’s right, and Boykin is aligned over him, but will he be the only one? Let’s take a look ...

Not only is Boykin in man coverage against Cruz, but he will be getting help from linebacker Mychal Kendricks. The defensive coaching staff has talked about Kendricks’ athleticism since their arrival, and they showed the trust they had in the second-year linebacker in this situation. We saw this a number of times throughout the afternoon, and Cruz failed to register a catch when facing this defensive look.

Also of note on this play was the job by the defensive line. While this unit may not have made an impact on the stat sheet in terms of sacks, they were extremely active throughout the day, forcing quarterback Eli Manning to get rid of the football before he wanted to early and often. Here, you see Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry impact the play ...

Graham (in the right circle), and Curry (left circle), both defeat their blocks and get pressure on Eli. Having nowhere to run because of the contain by DeMeco Ryans (who was in man coverage against Brandon Jacobs, who stayed in to block), the pressure from Graham and Curry forced Manning to throw the ball into the dirt. This is a great example of pressure and coverage marrying together to form a defensive stop on third down.

But back to Boykin vs Cruz. Like I said, there were times when coordinator Bill Davis gave Boykin help in coverage, but there were also times where he was alone on an island ...

It’s once again third down, and the Eagles are expecting a pass from the Giants, showing a two-high shell with Nate Allen and Earl Wolff (more on him in a bit). The Eagles are once again playing man coverage underneath, this time with Boykin matched up one-on-one with Cruz.

Once again, great pressure up front forced Manning to abort his drop and he has to step up into the pocket under pressure. Boykin (in the right circle) is in trail technique. He knows that he has two safeties over the top, and can play underneath of Cruz. From this position, Boykin does a great job running with the receiver and breaking on the ball. He runs the route better than Cruz, and with Eli under pressure from Fletcher Cox, Boykin breaks on the ball and takes it away with Cruz with one of the plays of the year thus far in 2013. This play was eerily similar to the interception Boykin made back against Washington. Same coverage, same technique and (almost) the same route with the same result. Former Eagles linebacker Ike Reese broke that play down on Eagles Game Plan back in Week 2.

Boykin’s performance was incredible. Cruz didn’t register one catch against him in man coverage. However, he wasn’t the only one who did well against him in man coverage. Rookie Earl Wolff was put on an island against Cruz multiple times as well, and fared well in those situations.

SUNDAY: A TRIP TO REVIS ISLAND

This week, the Eagles head down to Tampa Bay to take on the Buccaneers, who have a host of problems of their own but have a lot of talent on the roster, particularly on the defensive side of the football. This unit is loaded with young players, with a mix of pure talent and experience. Gerald McCoy is one of the best defensive linemen in football, and he anchors a line that features another first-round pick (Adrian Clayborn), a former second-round pick (DaQuan Bowers), a talented rookie (Akeem Spence) and a former Eagles third-round selection in Daniel Te'o-Nesheim.

At linebacker, Lavonte David is one of the most athletic players at his position in his second year, and Mason Foster anchors the middle of the defense. On the back end they had a lot of issues last year, as the Eagles saw in their last victory of the season. They revamped that unit, however, and have turned it into a strength. 2012 first-round pick Mark Barron is paired with free agent prize signee Dashon Goldson to form a dynamic safety duo.

The top acquisition of the offseason by any team may have been Darrelle Revis, whom the Bucs traded for in the spring from the New York Jets. He’s paired with second-round pick Johnthan Banks out of Mississippi State, a talented player who was drafted later than most expected and is playing well. Throw in nickel corner Leonard Johnson, who saw a ton of time for the Bucs a year ago after going undrafted last spring. He’s flourishing inside in the slot. This is a talented defense that is going to keep improving as the weeks and years go by. First, let’s look at their impressive secondary, and one way in which the addition of Revis has boosted their defensive production.

One thing Tampa Bay likes to do with Revis in the fold now is play a coverage that not many talk about, a Quarter-Quarter-Half coverage. Above, you’ll see an example of that. At the top of the screen, you’ll see the Bucs are playing "quarters" coverage, meaning the two defensive backs are splitting their half of the field into two quarters. Those two players are Banks (at the top), who has the area between the sideline and the numbers, and the safety Goldson (the second circle from the top of the screen), who is responsible for the numbers to the hash. At the bottom, you’ll see safety Ahmad Black (who has since been released), who has his half of the field to himself. Underneath, you see Revis manned one-on-one with Arizona Cardinals star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who is all alone on "Revis Island."

Revis is a great cornerback, easily one of the best in the NFL. But his abilities are rendered useless if you don’t have a good pass rush. There’s only so long one person can hold up in man coverage before he loses his receiver. Here, you see Revis blanketing Fitzgerald, but look at the pressure by McCoy ...

McCoy is right in Palmer’s face, and forces the veteran quarterback to get rid of the football. The ball is incomplete, and the Cardinals will have to punt. Protection against the Bucs will be critical for the offense this Sunday.

Common knowledge of the NFL says that when Jon Gruden and Monte Kiffin left Tampa Bay, so went the vaunted “Tampa 2” defense, right? Well, if you thought that the answer was "yes," you may want to change your answer. The Bucs under defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan actually play a lot of the “Tampa 2” defensive scheme that we saw for years in the early 2000s under Kiffin. Let’s take a look at what that entails below ...

The "Tampa 2" is a form of Cover-2, which obviously means you have two high safeties, which you see here in Goldson (at the top of the screen) and Barron (at the bottom). Think of the safeties over the years who succeeded in this role, including former Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson.

One of the key features of "Tampa 2" that sets it apart from other zone coverages with two high safeties is that your middle linebacker drops back down the middle of the field. This linebacker has to be incredibly athletic to run with receivers and tight ends down the seam, and is really left on an island in the middle of the field, as he will only get safety help once the ball is thrown his way. He is vital to this call’s success.

Last, the corners in a "Tampa 2" defense will be playing their respective flats. Revis, at the top, and Johnson, at the bottom, have tough jobs to do, with run responsibilities on the outside as well as coverage behind them underneath the safety. The outside linebackers will also drop as hook players underneath. Again, the Bucs don’t line up in this look all the time. They are much more of a man coverage defense than zone, but the fact that they have this wrinkle is a critical thing to remember when preparing for this defense.

Why is this so important? Look at New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees here. As he drops back, he thinks the Bucs are in man coverage. He sees linebacker Dekoda Watson underneath with eyes on the running back out of the backfield, so he thinks he can zip that ball behind him to receiver Lance Moore on the comeback. Brees was fooled.

Even though Watson’s body language said man coverage, he was actually a hook player in this "Tampa-2" look. He was in zone, and was sitting right in Brees’ throwing lane, and comes up with an athletic interception.

If the "Tampa 2" is so good, why don’t the Bucs use it more often? Well, the defense does have its holes. Obviously, you can run against it, with two high safeties leaving fewer men up in the box. Attacking the seam is a possibility if you think you match up well against the middle linebacker in coverage. But there is one particular soft spot I want to highlight ...

Let’s look at the top half of this shot only. Again, to the left side you see a safety covering his half of the field. Underneath, you have a cornerback, Revis, covering the flat. In between you have a gap, or the potential for a gap if you know how to manipulate the defense. This gap is commonly known as the "Turkey Hole." How can you attack this spot? Well, the Eagles have shown us on a number of occasions this year, and it came up repeatedly against the Giants on Sunday.

Above, you see Zach Ertz running a corner route, with running back Chris Polk going to the flat. DeSean Jackson is running a crossing route from the other side of the field. It’s the same basic idea as the “Snag” concept I broke down two weeks ago after the Week 3 game against the Kansas City Chiefs. This type of three-level stretch can create gaps in the defensive secondary, and can cause problems for a number of coverages. Now, I know this is not a Cover-2 look on defense, but these types of route combinations work against man coverage with a single-high safety as well. Let’s take a look at an example of the conflict this combination can put a defensive back in ...

Look at what this has done to the defense. I’ve highlighted cornerback Trumaine McBride. He is conflicted about what to do defensively. Does he get more depth to help with the corner route behind him? Or does he crash down to the flat on Polk? Notice, Ertz is going into the same area of the field that I highlighted two shots ago. This ball goes to Ertz on a beautiful throw and catch, and is a great example of how to attack the "Turkey Hole."

The Eagles ran this combination a number of times against the Giants, and every one of their other opponents this year. They run it from a number of different formations and a number of different personnel groupings. Again, same concept, same area of the field, same result ...

This time, DeSean Jackson is lined up with an inside split on the numbers, and is running the corner route. McCoy is running to the flat and Avant is coming across the field. Foles places a beautiful ball after reading the corner. Jackson makes an unreal adjustment when the ball is mid-flight, completely turning his body around and makes a great catch along the sideline to put the Eagles in field goal range before halftime.

This route combination has been a staple for the Eagles regardless of defensive personnel or alignment, so you can bet we will see it on Sunday against the Bucs. For a more thorough breakdown of the Eagles' matchup against Tampa Bay, be sure to tune into Eagles Game Plan this weekend, and next Monday I’ll be back to break down the game.

For more analysis of the All-22 coaching tape and a look inside the matchups for this Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay, be sure to tune in to “Eagles Game Plan,” Saturday night at 12:05 AM and Sunday morning at 11:35 AM locally on 6-ABC. All Eagles Television Network shows can be found on PhiladelphiaEagles.com on the day of the game.

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