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Eagle Eye: The Empty Set And The Galilean Transformation

Posted Dec 6, 2017

The theme from Sunday’s loss against Seattle was certainly missed opportunities.

Defensively, I wouldn’t say there was one direct theme that led to the unit allowing the most points in a game since Week 7. The Seahawks, however, were able to make some key plays in clutch situations to come away with the victory.

One area where the Seahawks had a TON of success was in a phase of the game that I wrote about last week - their empty set. From this formation, with five passing targets spread around the formation, things become very easy for the offensive line and for Wilson in the backfield. They can get playmakers in space but, most importantly, they’re able to quickly diagnose what coverage the defense is in and attack the weak spot. Seattle used a lot of "rub" concepts out of the empty set which are lethal against man coverage.

In all three of those cases from the empty set, Wilson picks apart the secondary on these rub routes. The ball gets out of his hands quickly which negates a ferocious pass rush up front. In the secondary, it’s tough for a defense to execute "pass-offs" because the receivers are so far spaced out. The defensive backs typically make an "in-and-out" call when they expect a rub where the outside corner picks up whichever receiver comes outside while the slot corner picks up whoever comes inside. If Seattle was "stacking" its receivers, putting them close together before the snap, this would be an easy decision for the Eagles. When they’re spaced far apart, however, it becomes increasingly difficult (and risky) to do it.

What happens if there is a double move, where the inside receiver pretends to run outside before breaking back to the middle? What if it’s just Double Slant, and both receivers dart inside? The outside corner will be late to defend the backside post and there could be a big play. They’re tough plays to cover, and that’s why they’re so effective. The Seahawks were able to have a lot of success with them on Sunday night.

The Seahawks had a lot of success deciphering what coverage the Eagles were in thanks to the use of pre-snap motions. When they felt they had man coverage, which was often the case down in the red zone, they dialed up a perfect play to beat it. Here are three examples of the Seahawks attacking man coverage for each of their touchdowns. These plays involve great play calls, perfect throws against tight coverage, and players winning one-on-one matchups. The stat that mattered most in this game, to me, was in the red zone. The Eagles were 0-for-2 on offense, while the Seahawks were 3-for-3. That’s a huge point swing that changed the outcome of this game.

On third down, the Eagles' defense is a top 10 unit across the board in the NFL over the course of the entire season. While this game against Seattle wasn’t quite up to that standard, they still had some success against Wilson and the Seahawks. Against that team, you have to account for Wilson breaking the pocket on third down and creating a play down the field in the passing game. The defensive line has to keep him contained, and when he does break the pocket you need eyes on him from the second level to force him into a quicker throw than he wants to make.

The Eagles utilized "Cover 3 Lock" coverage on Sunday night, where the Eagles played Cover 3 zone on the wide side of the field and man coverage on the short side (also known as the "boundary"). On the first play, the underneath zone defenders have eyes on Wilson as he breaks contain, and they get him down before the sticks. On the second play, Wilson breaks the pocket and just as he’s getting ready to be tackled; he pitches the ball out in the now infamous Galilean Transformation.

It wasn’t just zone coverage on third down because the Eagles kept eyes on Wilson with the use of man coverage and a spy in the middle of the field as well. The spy was always Nigel Bradham. Here he takes off to pressure Wilson when he breaks the pocket. On one play, the defensive line keeps him corralled. On the second play, he breaks contain, a receiver gets open downfield, and the Seahawks net a first down.

The Seahawks are a big play-action team. The Eagles did a good job of hugging up receivers after a run fake for the most part (except for one key play on an important drive, which I highlighted above). Why is this so important? The Rams are one of the best play-action teams in the NFL. It’s a large, large part of their offensive game plan. The Eagles' defense needs to be ready to defend play-action passing concepts and be disciplined with their eyes at the second and third levels. Malcolm Jenkins, on the first shot, was picture perfect. The linebackers in the second shot were not perfect, and it resulted in a key first down as the Seahawks marched downfield to seal the victory.

From a pass rush standpoint, one scheme that has worked time and time again for the Eagles has been their use of their primary nickel subpackage, where Brandon Graham slides inside as a defensive tackle next to Fletcher Cox. With a four-man rush, the offensive line must pick its poison when it comes to declaring the protection. Will they slide to Cox, so that he’s not left in a one-on-one battle? Or will they slide to Graham, who also is a mismatch for a guard? Here, the Seahawks decide to double-team Cox, a wise choice, but Graham makes them pay with 1.5 sacks. This has been a staple for the Eagles' defense in third-and-long situations thus far, and I expect it to continue through the rest of the 2017 season.

All in all, I would not describe this as a bad game for the Eagles' defense. It was far from perfect, and there are some things to clean up, but the Eagles were beaten by a quarterback who is capable of making jaw-dropping plays with both his arm and his legs. They got burned on a blitz downfield. The Seahawks utilized some crafty concepts against man coverage, and they had a couple of self-inflicted wounds with penalties and missed assignments downfield. There are plenty of teaching points for the coaching staff to work on this week out in Los Angeles, and I expect a bounce-back performance against the Rams on Sunday afternoon.

Fran Duffy is the producer of “Eagles Game Plan” which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. 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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