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Eagle Eye In The Sky: Quick Thinking

Posted Sep 22, 2013

Three games are in the books, and one of the most daunting tasks a team could possibly face to start a season is over. A trio of games in 11 days is tough for any football team, but factor in a roster with some turnover and a brand new coaching staff and it makes for an even tougher pill to swallow. The Eagles are 1-2 and while these last two weeks haven’t gone as planned there are plenty of bright spots to point to, and as Chip Kelly alluded to on Friday, it’s best to draw on the positives and fix the correctable mistakes. While the mistakes this week were, for the most part, different from the ones that occurred in Week 2, a long week to prepare for the Denver Broncos next Sunday will allow you the time to do a little extra quality control to self-evaluate the team and improve for Week 4.

From Week 1 to Week 2, we saw two very different defensive units. One defense got to the quarterback, capitalized on mistakes and played tight coverage on the back end for much of the game. The following week saw a number of communication errors and missed tackles, and an inability to get off the field on third down. Which defense did we see against the Chiefs on Thursday night? We found out early on, as the defense was put to the test early and forced to come up with stops on third down and in the red zone.

I chose this play for a number of reasons. It was third-and-7 early in the first quarter, and the defense stood tall in the face of a “sudden change” situation after a fumbled punt inside their own 10-yard line. A week ago, the defense allowed San Diego to convert on 66 percent of their third-down chances. On Thursday, they cut that number in half, as the Chiefs converted just 33 percent on third down. Also, after forcing two red zone turnovers against the Chargers, the Eagles defense once again looked stout deep in their own end of the field, holding Kansas City to just one touchdown on six red zone opportunities, and this would not be one of them. The Eagles come out playing “2-man” coverage, with two high safeties (Nate Allen and Patrick Chung) and man coverage underneath. It’s important for Allen and Chung to not only help their teammates out in coverage, but also have their eyes on the run as well. They must be able to help in run support this close to the end zone.

The Eagles will look to create pressure on third-and-long by playing some games up front, running a four-man stunt that calls for all four defensive linemen to shoot into opposite gaps to create confusion along the offensive line.

While the stunt doesn’t fully work, it was successful, as quarterback Alex Smith was forced to break the pocket and scramble to his right. As you can see, the Eagles did a nice job with coverage on the back end, and Smith has nowhere to go with the football. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who was active all night long, does a nice job keeping contain on Smith and deterring him from running for a touchdown.

Smith decides that his best course of action will be to head back across the grain and takes the green grass in front of him, making his way towards the back side where he thinks he has a shot at the end zone. Allen has other ideas...

Allen makes a bee-line for Smith, taking a good angle and bringing down the veteran for a sack. It was a great way to start the game for Allen, who got a pep talk from Brian Dawkins before the game, and a great example of how coverage in the back end and pressure up front resulted in a third-down stop in the red zone.

ANALYZING MICHAEL VICK'S CAREER-LONG RUN

One of the first looks we got at the creativity Chip Kelly would bring to the Eagles offense came in Week 1 of the preseason against the New England Patriots. Numerous times in the game, we witnessed the utilization of stacked receivers on the outside as the quarterback had the ability to call run or pass depending on the defensive alignment. We broke this concept down in the first week of Eagles Game Plan. It was out of this formation that we saw one of the biggest plays from Thursday night ...

We’ve seen this formation out of a number of personnel groupings throughout the preseason and the regular season. This time, it came out of 22 personnel that features two running backs, two tight ends and one wide receiver. At the top of the screen, you see tight end Brent Celek and wide receiver DeSean Jackson. At the bottom, you see rookie tight end Zach Ertz covering up running back LeSean McCoy. Second-year back Bryce Brown and quarterback Michael Vick are in the backfield. The defense is spread out with one high safety and two defenders over top of each stacked receiver on the outside. The numbers are in the Eagles’ favor to run the ball.

This play will see inside zone run-action with left tackle Jason Peters sealing Kansas City linebacker Tamba Hali on the outside, guard Evan Mathis sifting to the linebacker at the second level and the trio of Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans and Lane Johnson blocking the three most dangerous men in front of them. In the circle above, you’ll see defensive lineman Mike DeVito, who the Eagles will not block. It will be up to Vick to read DeVito and decide what he will do with the football. Will he give it to Brown, or tuck it and run? The Eagles have left interior linemen unblocked on numerous occasions throughout the season, including on Vick’s touchdown run against the Redskins back in Week 1.

DeVito does what the Chiefs did throughout the night. He attacks the mesh point on the read option between Vick and Brown. Vick sees he has running room, and decides to tuck the ball and take his chances in the open field.

Vick easily gets around DeVito and now has a two-way go thanks to the great blocking up front. Mathis does a great job getting to the second level on his man, and the rest of the offensive line does a great job getting a hat on a hat and finishing their blocks.

Vick gets into the open field and has one man to beat, Chiefs safety Kendrick Lewis. We’ve said it since the beginning of the season both in this space as well as on Eagles Game Plan and that’s that one of the beautiful things about this offense is that it forces the defense to win one-on-one matchups, whether it’s in man coverage against the Eagles speed, single blocks along the offensive line or make a tackle against one man in the open field. With the amount of stress that the offense causes both laterally and vertically, it really comes down to man-on-man football on a majority of plays the Eagles run offensively.

Vick finishes with a career-high gain of 61 yards after he makes Lewis miss and stiff-arms another Chiefs defender. It was a wonderfully executed play by the entire unit.

A BEAUTIFUL READ-AND-THROW FROM VICK

To conclude this week’s piece, I wanted to take a look at the Eagles’ touchdown from Thursday night, a 22-yard touchdown pass from Vick to wide receiver Jason Avant. It’s second-and-6 and the Eagles come out in their usual 11 personnel grouping with McCoy, Celek and three receivers ...

Other than the fact that this play results in a touchdown, there’s something that was really appropriate for me for this week. In this week’s Eagles Game Plan show, I had NFL Films Senior Producer Greg Cosell talk about the Eagles offense and the success they’re having not just with spread concepts that are prevalent in the college game, but also with staple pro-style passing game concepts that are used around the entire league. What you see above is one of the most common NFL passing concepts in existence, the ‘Snag” concept. You see the No. 1 receiver, Riley Cooper, run a quick slant at the bottom of the screen. Next you see Avant run a corner route, followed by DeSean Jackson who will flash to the flat in the form of a swing pass.

You see a trio of defenders directly over top of the three receivers, and coincidentally, this creates what is known as a triangle read for the quarterback. Depending on the defensive alignment and coverage on the back end, Vick will make his read and get rid of the football in space.

For instance, if the Chiefs play a Cover 2 shell with two safeties high, Vick will read the cornerback over Cooper. If the corner follows Cooper, he knows he has DeSean in the flat with space to run. If the corner stays put, he knows that he will have Cooper on the quick slant. But at the snap of the ball, Vick sees that it will be just one safety high, and it becomes clear who his read will be ...

The Chiefs came out showing one high safety (Lewis), so when Vick sees that the second safety, Eric Berry, crashes down on DeSean Jackson in the flat, he has a good idea that it will be a one-high look with the Chiefs in man-free coverage. Lewis will be a single-high safety, which means that Vick’s best option is to throw it to Avant on the corner route. It’s important that he throws it to space, to keep it away from the safety, and make Avant go get the football. In the circle, you’ll see linebacker Derrick Johnson is coming at Vick untouched, so he has maybe a second to make this decision and get the ball out of his hand.

Again, Vick knows he has a single-high look from his pre-snap read, looks to his left and sees what he believes to be man coverage. With a veteran Pro Bowl linebacker bearing down on him, Vick gets rid of the ball.

Vick makes a spectacular throw after an excellent read of the defense. He understood the play, read what the coverage was giving him and made a snap decision under pressure. Vick put the ball in a perfect spot with great touch. There were other facets of this play that helped with the final result, including the play-action, and Celek’s vertical route at the top of the screen to also help deter the safety from playing over the top of the three receivers to the left, but what stands out to me is Vick’s ability to make that read before the snap, diagnose and make a perfect throw.

For more analysis of the All-22 coaching tape and a look inside the matchups for this Sunday’s game against the Chargers, 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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