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Eagle Eye In The Sky: Who Do You Cover?

Posted Sep 17, 2013

Days after a loss are never fun, especially after a tight battle that realistically could have gone either way at the end. Players and coaches lament some of those "woulda, coulda, shoulda" moments throughout the game that could have led to a different outcome. While Sunday didn’t go exactly as planned against San Diego, there were plenty of bright spots as well as some lessons to be learned. The beauty of a short week leading up to Thursday’s game is that the team won’t have too much time to dwell on the negative, but rather will have to just fix the mistakes and keep moving. I have full confidence that will happen against the Chiefs.

Against the Chargers, the offense moved the ball at an extremely efficient rate, racking up 511 yards in just over 60 plays. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson posted 193 yards and a touchdown (and would’ve had another ... more on that later). Running back LeSean McCoy put up 167 yards from scrimmage. Quarterback Michael Vick threw for a career-high 428 yards and a pair of touchdowns, the first of which will be the first play we take a look at this week ...

The Eagles trailed 13-3 in the second quarter, but were driving deep into San Diego territory. On second-and-6 from the 13-yard line, the offense came out in 11 personnel, with one back (McCoy), one tight end (Brent Celek) and three receivers. The Eagles have shown a variety of formations from this grouping in the first two weeks. This one saw a bunch formation to the left, with Celek serving as the point man in the bunch with Riley Cooper flanked to his left and Jason Avant to his right. Jackson was lined up on the far side of the field.

As you can see above, the Chargers are going to play a version of Cover 1, with safety Eric Weddle serving as the deep safety in the middle of the field. Underneath, you have man coverage across the board, except with linebacker Donald Butler, who is playing as a "rat player" in the middle of the defense.

Out of the bunch formation, the Eagles will run a double-post combination, something that is very tough to defend in a single-high safety coverage (which the Chargers are in). The No. 1 receiver to that side, in this case Cooper (at the bottom of the screen), will run a post. Notice the width he will be looking to get on his route. This will be key to the outcome of the play. The other post route will come from Avant, who is the No. 3 man in the bunch set as the third man closest to center. He will be streaking across the safety’s face and attacking the middle of the field. Celek, who is the point-man, will be serving as flat control on the play, stepping back at the snap of the ball, delaying his release and heading to the flat on the left side to occupy the underneath defender.

At the snap, you can see the play start to unfold. Celek has barely moved from his pre-snap location, holding his defender in place. Cooper is starting to widen his stem to widen a throwing lane. Avant is breaking inside, and has the attention of both the cornerback as well as the deep safety, Weddle. A window is about to open ...

As Celek now begins his route, he will take his defender with him. Cooper is just about at the top of his stem, and is ready to break inside. Avant is in the middle of the field and Weddle is over top of him along with the opposing cornerback. The offensive line has done a great job of creating an incredibly clean pocket for Vick to throw the football.

Vick releases the ball, and look at the window he has to throw into. Cooper did a good job running the route which, paired with Avant, stretched the defense laterally and created a nice hole in the coverage. While he still has a corner on top of him, Cooper has worked himself open and the play is almost complete ...

Vick put the ball on Cooper’s back shoulder which is exactly where it needed to be. The cornerback is unable to jump on the route and the safety was in no position to make a play on the ball. Great throw and catch, great play design and great execution by the Eagles offense to make the score 13-10.

THE AMAZING DESIGN OF JACKSON'S NON-TOUCHDOWN

Midway through the third quarter, the Eagles were down 20-10. They had a first-and-10 at the Chargers' 37-yard line. The Eagles again employed an 11 personnel package with the same players on the field (in a different formation), and the Chargers are once again showcased a single-high safety coverage, this time in Cover 3.

In Cover 3, you will see three high defenders (in this case a cornerback and two safeties). The general rule of thumb for these three defensive backs is to stay as wide as the widest receiver, and as deep as the deepest. This is to prevent anyone from getting free behind the defensive secondary. Cover 3 also calls for four underneath defenders, which you see here in the form of three linebackers and the boundary cornerback at the top of the screen. It will be up to the Eagles to create a hole in the coverage by creating confusion and conflict in the secondary.

In this 3x1 set, the Eagles will be running four vertical routes. At the bottom of the screen, Cooper will run a vertical route. Next in line, you see Avant running a post, followed by DeSean Jackson (who is lined up directly on the left hash mark), who will sneak behind Avant and run a wheel route. Celek will put on a double move and will work up the field at the top of the screen. The Eagles will also be incorporating some play-action into this with running back LeSean McCoy, which in this case will actually serve as window dressing to help freeze the underneath defenders.

Let’s break this down one segment at a time. Start at the top of the screen, where you see Celek has executed his double move and is working upfield. Remember, Cover 3 states that the safety at the top of the screen (currently in the circle) has to stay as wide as the widest and as deep as the deepest, so he will be taken out of the play by Celek’s route. Conversely, at the bottom of the screen, you see that the cornerback is following the same rule, and is being taken out of the play by Cooper’s vertical route. In the middle of the field, Avant has the attention of the deep safety, Weddle, and an underneath defender (where have we seen this before?). Weddle is starting to break towards Avant because he is the first threat to cross into his area of the field. But he doesn’t see that Jackson, who delayed his route behind Avant’s, is coming up behind him, and is streaking towards an empty part of the field.

Looking at the play a step further, you can see that the underneath defender let Jackson go because he thought that he had safety help in Weddle. That wasn’t the case, because Weddle was concerned with Avant, who was his first threat in the middle of the field. This created a gaping hole in the secondary.

Once again, the offensive line did a great job protecting up front. Vick has plenty of time to sit back, read the coverage and hit Jackson downfield for a touchdown.

As you may remember, this play came back due to an illegal formation penalty, as rookie Lane Johnson was not properly aligned on the line of scrimmage. Four plays later, the Eagles would settle for a field goal. While this play was perfectly executed, one small mistake brought it back. Obviously this will serve as a lesson to Johnson, and the rest of the offense, to pay attention to detail each and every play. I have no doubt that this will be a learning experience for the talented first-round pick.

SAME COACH, DIFFERENT TEAM

As I do every week, I’ll conclude this piece by taking a quick look at our upcoming opponent and some of the things they’ve put on tape so far in 2013. This week, it’s a familiar face on the opposing sideline, as we welcome Andy Reid back to Philadelphia on Thursday Night Football. Over the last couple of seasons in Philadelphia, one of Reid’s go-to running plays was the sprint draw. It’s a play that he brought with him to Kansas City, where he’s used it with success early on this season.

The Chiefs come out in 20 personnel, with two running backs, no tight ends and three receivers on the field. It’s first-and-10, a down we in Philadelphia know is almost always a time to pass for an Andy Reid offense. At first look, it looks as if the two receivers at the top of the screen will be running a vertical route and Alex Smith will be sprinting to his right, something we have seen from this offense throughout the first two weeks as well as the preseason.

If you look at left tackle Branden Albert, his "high hat" set helps sell the fact that it will be a called pass play. From the jump, this looks like Albert is in pass protection and defensive end Jason Babin (another familiar name) sells out to rush the quarterback by getting upfield.

As Babin would soon find out, this is actually a running play, with Smith handing the ball off to running back Jamaal Charles, who has a wide running lane to work with. Fullback Anthony Sherman steps up to take the backside linebacker, and the Chiefs offensive line does a nice job getting a hat on a hat to give Charles space to make a play.

Charles gets to the perimeter, and is eventually brought down after a 15-yard gain.

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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