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Duffy: How Brian Johnson and Jalen Hurts teamed up to beat the blitz

Jalen Hurts
Jalen Hurts

Earlier this week, I wrote about the Minnesota Vikings' defense and Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores’ pressure package. This has historically been one of the most difficult puzzles to crack in the NFL in recent seasons, and has been known to give quarterbacks, both young and old, fits over the years. The Vikings blitzed more than any team in the league in Week 1 while also managing to lead the NFL in 3-man rushes in the same game. That's a wild combination that can keep quarterbacks guessing about what they're going to get. Last week, the Bucs began the game 0-for-6 on third down, but managed to crack the code and create some big plays late in the game. The Eagles found a different, and more explosive, way to do the same thing with some mid-game adjustments, all while facing a different kind of coverage.

Last week, on a third-down snap late in the first quarter, Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick ran a coverage that stumped CBS Color Commentator and longtime NFL quarterback Tony Romo.

On the play, it looked like Cover 0, an all-out blitz with straight man-to-man coverage across the board. Except ... it wasn't. It was a well-disguised zone match coverage, and it helped get the Patriots off the field on third down. Flores ended up leaning on the very same coverage in this game against the Eagles and a chess match ensued.

It's important to note that the Vikings did NOT run this coverage last week against Baker Mayfield and the Bucs, so this was an unscouted look from Flores (who came up in coaching under Belichick). Hurts' recognition of the coverage on a similar route concept on a similar down-and-distance was very impressive, with his ability to then avoid the rush and run for a first down added on top. That's a great job to open the game.

Once the Eagles realized that this was Minnesota's plan, a counterpunch was put into place. Rather than relying on quick-game throws only to beat the blitz, Brian Johnson and the offensive staff used vertical routes to stretch the defense out vertically, creating more room for those quick-game routes underneath.

Once those quick game routes started to work, then it became bombs away for the pass game and Jalen Hurts. Instead of using the vertical routes to soften things up underneath, they used the underneath routes to open things up over the top. Hurts delivered a beautiful post throw to DeVonta Smith with a free rusher in his face to extend the lead on a 63-yard touchdown.

On the very next drive, the Eagles came inches away from hitting another one. Again, the staff found a way to prey on the tendencies of the coverage. The DBs are trying to pass off quick-game routes in zone, but they have man-to-man responsibilities once those routes attack vertically. The Eagles' offense found multiple ways to attack it, and it helped light up the scoreboard in the second half.

On the day, Hurts was blitzed on 17 dropbacks (according to Pro Football Focus), finishing 10-of-13 for 179 yards and a touchdown. Was it a perfect day? No, there's plenty to improve on. But against a very difficult pressure package, they were able to find ways to create explosive plays and move the ball while staying efficient.

All that goes without even mentioning the other major adjustment the offensive staff made in this game – and that involves the rushing attack.

Minnesota tried to muck things up for the protection scheme by standing linebackers up on the line of scrimmage, creating doubt about who would blitz and who would drop. Rather than try and sort through that on every play, the Eagles ran the ball straight at them, taking advantage of some huge size mismatches on their way to 259 yards on the ground. Those adjustments in both phases of the offense are a great sign of things to come on both sides of the ball.

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