Despite the "We Want Dallas" chants resonating through the stadium early in the second half of Sunday's game against Tennessee, the Eagles had to beat the Titans before worrying about Dallas and they were able to do just that. In what was a full-team victory, with nine different players catching passes, three forcing turnovers, three generating sacks and, oh, another special teams touchdown, the Eagles handled their business and now travel down to Dallas for a battle for division supremacy. Let's jump to the tape and see how the Eagles were able to come away with the "W" against the Titans …
The running game was certainly able to put up big numbers as running back LeSean McCoy rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown. The offensive line was able to get into a rhythm in the zone run game, and there were holes for McCoy and Darren Sproles all afternoon long. On this play in the first quarter, McCoy and Sproles are both in the same backfield. Sproles motioned out to the right just before the snap. As you can imagine, that set off all kinds of alarms for the Titans' linebackers, who have to account for the dynamic Sproles in space.
This was an inside zone run to the left. The Eagles got a great double team from guard Evan Mathis and center Jason Kelce on the nose tackle and got up to the linebacker (who had his eyes on Sproles' motion just before the snap). McCoy gained 12 yards and a first down.
The offense got great movement up front all day long. The line is starting to get into a groove and get their timing back in the zone run game. Here's another inside zone run from early in the second quarter, as McCoy took this for his longest gain of the year, a 53-yard scamper. This came from an unbalanced look (notice tackle Jason Peters to the right side of the line), but look at the double team from Mathis and Kelce, who again get up to the linebacker. Tight end Brent Celek did his job (very well) at the point of attack, and McCoy was off to the races.
The Eagles have had a lot of success this season, particularly since the shutout win against the Giants, with the inside zone counter play. Here the offensive line zones to one direction, while the back cuts against the grain. This is a great complement to the zone run game, as several Tennessee defenders lost leverage on the play, as McCoy ran for 14 yards and a first down.
In the passing game, the Eagles went back to a play on Sunday that was very successful for them a year ago, a shallow cross concept with three routes over the middle of the field to create traffic for defenders to work through.
On the outside, there was a wheel route from the backfield paired with a dig route from receiver Jeremy Maclin. This concept was on display throughout the game and the Eagles had a ton of success with it against Tennessee.
On the fourth play of the game, the Eagles executed the concept for first time. Sanchez dropped back and first looked at the wheel route to McCoy. With that taken away, he came down to the crossing routes over the middle and saw Brent Celek break open underneath. Sanchez hit him for a 15-yard gain and a first down.
The Eagles went back to the play on the next drive. Sanchez pulled the trigger this time on the wheel route to McCoy, who went up and made a great play on the ball in the air. Unfortunately, a questionable-at-best offensive pass interference penalty was called on McCoy and the gain was negated.
The Eagles called the play again later in the second quarter. This time the ball went to Matthews, who despite having a defender on his back, gained 20 yards and a first down. The utilization of a big receiver like Matthews to run these shorter routes typically results in great opportunities for yards after the catch.
One of the great complements the Eagles worked in later last year was on display as well against Tennessee. As defenders start to jump the crossing routes to take them away, the Eagles receivers can stick their foot in the ground and pivot back toward the sideline. The read stays the same for the quarterback. The receivers are in the same place when it's all said and done, but the people in those places are different than what the other plays were. On this play, Sanchez hit Ertz for a 9-yard gain and a first down.
The Eagles are a great play-action team, specifically in the bootleg game with the quarterback rolling out to one side of the field because of their ability to run the ball. The touchdown pass to James Casey showcased just that. Sanchez rolled right, with a smash read to the playside. There was a hitch route on the outside and a corner route from Casey, who started the play lined up in the slot. Sanchez read the cornerback sitting on the hitch route and beat him over the top to Casey.
On defense, the Eagles got off to a great start by forcing four three-and-outs on the Titans' first four offensive drives. There was constant pressure on Mettenberger. The front was stout against the run and there were three turnovers on the game. I thought those first 12 plays got the Eagles off to a great start that helped propel them to victory. Let's take a look at some of the key plays from that stretch.
On the first play of the game, the Eagles came out in man coverage with a single-high safety (Nate Allen) and man coverage on the outside with Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams manning the receivers and Malcolm Jenkins manned up on tight end Delanie Walker in the slot.
The Titans ran a Switch concept with the two receivers to the top running a pair of vertical routes with a "switch" release. Jenkins did a great job fighting through the catch point to disrupt the throw and the pass fell incomplete to bring up second down.
On second down, Tennessee called a screen pass to running back Dexter McCluster. Bennie Logan and Fletcher Cox sniffed the screen out from the jump, pushed the blockers responsible for them back into McCluster as he attempted to exit the backfield and forced Mettenberger to eat the throw to bring up third-and-10. This was a great heads-up play by both Cox and Logan.
On third-and-long, the Eagles called a 'you' stunt with Trent Cole and Connor Barwin on the right side. As Ross Tucker and Ike Reese explain in the video above, Cole's pressure kept guard Andy Levitre's eyes outside, allowing Barwin to loop around back inside and come up with his first sack of the game. The Eagles had a ton of success with those T-E stunts throughout the game against the Titans, and that showed up on the very first series.
Whether you were at the game or watched it on TV, the phrase "Number 68 is eligible" is probably ingrained in your head because of the amount of times the Titans brought in tackle Byron Stingly into the game as an eligible receiver along the line of scrimmage. That happened for the first time on the Titans' fourth play, as they lined up three tight ends (including Stingly) to the defense's left. This caused a shift in the Eagles' defensive front ...
This is why offenses utilize those tackle-eligible formations. In order to maintain sound gap integrity and fit the run effectively, the Eagles' defensive line has to shift farther toward the strong side of the formation. Bennie Logan, typically located over the center, is now lined up over the guard. Fletcher Cox lined up directly over the center. Ced Thornton lined up over the "tight end" (Stingly). The Eagles' front is now in position to effectively defend a strong side run from the Titans, and that's exactly what they get.
Logan ate the double team from the guard and tackle, while Thornton took on a double team of his own from Stingly and tight end Chase Coffman. It's Thornton and Cox who end up making the stop for a minimal gain to bring up second down.
On second-and-6, the Titans attempted a stretch play to the right (a play the Eagles will see often on Thursday against the Cowboys). Fletcher Cox did a great job disrupting the play in the backfield, forcing Bishop Sankey to slow-play the run and allow Trent Cole to make the play from the back side for a 3-yard gain. The Titans threw an incompletion on the next play to bring up a punt - two straight three-and-outs from the defense.
To start the next drive, the Titans called a bootleg to the right with a high-low read to the playside, a play similar to Casey's touchdown.
The Eagles had the perfect call in place. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks' blitz off the edge ran him right into Mettenberger, who is forced to dump the ball for an incompletion that may or may not have been intentional grounding. Regardless of the result, it was a great play call from Bill Davis at the right time to bring up second-and-10.
The Titans ran a route combination from a bunch set with McCluster leaking into the flats from the backfield. Brandon Boykin read it, reacted quickly and made a violent tackle in space. The defense played with a bit of an edge against Tennessee, which was great to see after the Green Bay game.
On third-and-6, the Eagles came out in a form of 2-man coverage where Allen and Jenkins lined up closer to the line of scrimmage to help take away the most dangerous receiver to either side of the field.
Tennessee called a rub route (that actually gets called offensive pass interference), but the play was defended perfectly by the secondary. Brandon Boykin and Williams in-and-out the play. Boykin defended whichever receiver came inside and Williams took the outside receiver and Allen helped over the top. The receivers switched at the release. Boykin took the in-breaking receiver (initially aligned across from Williams) and broke up the pass to bring up fourth down.
The next series started off with a 9-yard run from the Titans. On second-and-1, they ran the very same play, a counter to the left. Look at all three defensive linemen on this play. Logan again fought through a double team. Thornton pushed his man straight into the backfield and Cox helped to create a wall to give Sankey nowhere to run as the play ended with a 2-yard loss.
On third-and-3, the Titans called a sweep play to the left. Look at the job that Cox did of reading the play, evading the block and forcing the back to change his angle on the run. Nate Allen also did a great job reading the play, keeping himself clean of a pulling left tackle and bringing the ball carrier down for a 2-yard gain to bring up fourth down. The Eagles' defense rebounded nicely against the Tennessee Titans, and will need to bring forth a similar effort on Thanksgiving against a tough Dallas Cowboys team.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on 6abc Saturdays at 7:30 PM. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast each week online and 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.