There was a lot to like from Saturday's win over Baltimore. The crowd was great, the defense was stout, the special teams was again effective and the offense moved the ball up and down the field. But the number one thing that fans and analysts wanted to see from this matchup was quarterback Sam Bradford and how he performed after rehabbing from his 2014 knee injury. Anyone who has been at practice has seen the arm strength and pinpoint accuracy first hand, but how would he perform under pressure? Would he be mobile? How would he fare after he took a hit? The last question was the one that interested me the most, and we got to see that a couple of times on Saturday night.
The hit from the Terrell Suggs is the one that has sparked plenty of conversation, but the hit that I was more focused on was the second shot he took, right into his upper body, just because of the impact. This was a clean hit in the pocket just as he released the football, and was the type of collision he will have to handle as an NFL quarterback.
I loved the fact that his target, Nelson Agholor, was his third progression on the play. There was a little bit of hesitation in the throw (Bradford admitted to being a little "amped up" for his debut) and it was a bit high, but it showed his willingness to stay in the pocket, go through his reads and take a hit. How did he react? He got up, ran to the line of scrimmage, and after a run play that went for negative yardage he hit Josh Huff on a shallow cross for a first down on the way to a touchdown drive to open the game. I thought it was really encouraging to see this kind of resilience from Bradford, who has now been through two long rehabs. I'm really excited to see him take even more snaps on Saturday in Green Bay.
Chip Kelly seemed very pleased with how his running backs carried the ball on Saturday, and for good reason. He mentioned in his post-game press conference that "they hit it and came out the other side." What he's referring to is that all five players had runs where they trusted their blocks in front of them, saw a crease, and shot through it for positive yardage.
Here's DeMarco Murray's first carry as an Eagle, an inside zone run where he gets downhill quickly for a 7-yard gain on first down. Look at Murray read the block of left guard Allen Barbre and bang it right off his hip for a big gain. A big, physical back like Murray (and Ryan Mathews for that matter as well) who has quality vision and decisiveness is a great fit in a zone run scheme.
I love the job done by Andrew Gardner on this play as well. Gardner (No. 66 at right guard) gets up to the second level and seals off second-year linebacker C.J. Mosley on the play. Gardner has provided great movement at the point of attack all preseason, but it's blocks like these out in space where I feel like I have seen the most improvement when comparing this year to last with the veteran lineman.
The additional layer to this offense, other than the smash-mouth nature of the rushing attack, that makes these backs so effective is the misdirection element and the different ways they dress up plays.
On this first-and-goal run from the 2-yard line, the Eagles bring Josh Huff in motion across the formation. The Ravens respond by bringing a defender from that side away from the box (which is okay from their perspective, because he's replaced by the cornerback who initially was lined across from Huff).
In this shot, the Ravens outnumber the Eagles in the box (8-7 by my count), but they are able to get Murray into the end zone untouched. Look at the effect that Huff's motion has on Ravens safety Will Hill, who gets his eyes stuck in the wrong place as the Eagles rack up six points on the scoreboard.
It wasn't just Murray who had success on the ground on Saturday, as Mathews got in on the action as well. It was great to see the rotation the Eagles' offense employed on that long touchdown drive to open the scoring, with a number of different running backs and receivers all seeing action and being targeted on the 12-play drive.
Greg Cosell did a great job breaking this play down in our All-22 Review this week, but just in case you missed it, I felt the need to share the blocks here by Jason Peters and Brent Celek on the back side once again. The veteran duo worked together to create a crease for Mathews, who read the play beautifully on his way to the end zone.
There's a lot to be excited about when you think of the way Darren Sproles is going to be used on offense this season. The versatile, do-it-all weapon has shown that he can be a force on the ground, through the air and on special teams. I expect that we'll be seeing a lot of him this fall out in space. We saw some examples of this on Saturday.
On Sam Bradford's first third-down play of the game, the Eagles came out in 20 personnel (two running backs, no tight ends and three wide receivers). Sproles is lined up to the left in the slot.
Just before the snap, Bradford brings Sproles in motion to the right, and lined him up stacked behind Jordan Matthews.
Now, if the Eagles broke the huddle this way (well, you know what I mean), the defense could have had time to prepare. One way you see teams defend a stacked formation like this in the middle of the field is by making an "in-and-out" call, where the defenders will man up on the receivers, with one defender taking whomever breaks inside, and the other taking whomever breaks outside. Former Eagles linebacker Ike Reese said that, under former defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, they'd call this a "Banjo" call. With all of this happening right before the snap, however, they don't have time to make the call, and the defenders are forced to stay with the receivers they were originally lined across from. That works right into the Eagles' hands.
The Eagles run a great "rub" concept here, with Matthews working an outside release up the field and Sproles taking his initial steps outside. By working outside, the defender is completely out of position to defend the route by Sproles, who breaks back inside over the middle of the field for a first down to move the chains. This is great play design and execution by Bradford and the Eagles' offense.
The Eagles were able to feature Sproles in the screen game as well, but not from the backfield. I explained packaged play concepts last week with Nelson Agholor's touchdown against the Colts, and this was a similar type of play from Mark Sanchez to Sproles down in the red zone.
The Eagles are running a basic inside zone run play, as you can see by watching the offensive line and the path of the running back. But with the four receiving options in stacked formations on the outside, they're running quick "smoke" screens, where the receiver stacked on top, closest to the line of scrimmage, blocks the defender in front of him, and the intended receiver takes one step and turns to face the quarterback, expecting the ball.
For the quarterback, it's a simple numbers game. If there is only one defender over the pair of receivers, then he should distribute the ball to the outside to the matchup he feels best about. If not, he should hand the ball off because the numbers should favor the Eagles inside.
With the cornerback in off-coverage and the safety too far away to make an immediate play on the ball, Sanchez takes the called run play and turns it into a 7-yard gain on a screen pass. These kinds of plays just steal yardage from opponents, as first-and-10 turns into second-and-3 to keep the offense on schedule for points early in the game.
With the three-headed monster in place, the battle for the fourth (and potentially fifth) running back job is heating up. Kenjon Barner, Raheem Mostert and Kevin Monangai have all had their moments this preseason, and that bared itself to be true yet again on Saturday. Mostert carried the ball well late in the game, and Barner scored his third touchdown in two games, with his second punt return for a score, against Baltimore. Let's look at that play and how it unfolded.
First, look at the top of the screen to see the job done by cornerback E.J. Biggers, who rides his man out of bounds before. Ed Reynolds help seal him off for the first big block of the return, come back and set up the second block, as Barner zips right off his outside shoulder. Biggers has been a big part of the special teams unit thus far this preseason, and plays like this will go a long way toward earning the veteran a spot in a suddenly deep group of cornerbacks.
Next, check out wide receiver Jeff Maehl in the holdup phase of the return, as he keeps his man from advancing downfield to help corral Barner. Maehl does phenomenal work here staying on his man's backside hip (and therefore not blocking in the back), to put himself in position to execute a great block when he's needed most. This allows Barner to get into the open field, where he makes two men miss before turning on the jets on his way to the end zone. Great job by Barner, again, who not only has been belting off the big plays in the return game but has been very steady with picking up 10-plus yards per return as well.
Mostert ran the ball very well against the Ravens. The burst in a short area is evident whenever he touches the ball, but I thought he ran hard and was very decisive on Saturday night as well. Like Barner, Mostert has been a member of the special teams units as well, and his ability to be a game-breaker gives him plenty of value.
Like we saw from Murray on his first carry, look at Mostert just have trust in his linemen as he scampers for a 15-yard gain and a first down. This is a great job here by left guard Julian Vandervelde and center David Molk, who get good movement on nose tackle before sifting up to the linebacker to create a crease for the back to insert and pick up a big gain.
It was good to see Mostert execute runs like this where the line did its job and he was able to press the ball to the play side, but what about when things weren't as clear up front?
On this third-quarter run, there isn't as much movement up front to the play side. But look at how quickly Mostert recognizes it, sticks his foot in the ground and knows where the crease will be on the back side, as he runs off the hip of his tight end (Eric Tomlinson) for a 20-yard gain and a first down.
If Mostert and Barner continue to have this kind of success, they're going to make it really difficult for the coaching staff in a couple of weeks when it's time for roster cuts. Monangai (fumble aside) had a strong game as well, and it'll be fun to watch the competition work itself out in the next two games.
Early in the second quarter, Mark Sanchez hit Nelson Agholor for a 20-yard gain down in the red zone on what looked like a run-of-the-mill "over" route that we see the Eagles run numerous times each game.
Pretty simple, right? Well, let me explain why I think the coaching staff was specifically pleased about this one rep.
Focus first on Sanchez. You may remember last week that Sanchez missed Jordan Matthews on almost the exact same play, rolling to his left on a crossing route. Kelly said after the game that it was a matter of the quarterback setting his feet. Well on this play, Sanchez did a better job throwing from a proper passing position and he fit the ball in for a completion to the rookie downfield.
You also may remember Matt Barkley's interception against the Colts a week ago, and after the game Kelly talked about a missed blocking assignment on the play. That's where Trey Burton comes into play. Burton's man came free to pressure the quarterback and force the interception a week ago, this week he stays strong up front in this shot and gives Sanchez the proper time to complete the pass.
With all of the injuries in the preseason around the league, people question why key players are on the field. Plays like this are why the preseason exists. Young players and veterans alike need the extra work before the games really count in September.
Defensively, the Eagles were once again stout up front against the run. I really can't say enough good things about the talent in the front seven. Individually, players up and down the line of scrimmage made plays against the run on Saturday.
On the second play of the game, the Ravens run a stretch run play to his side. Look at Barwin lock out against the right tackle, set the edge, dispose of the blocker and make the play on the ball carrier for a short gain. We've seen Barwin do this time and time again since joining the Eagles, and his ability to set the edge in the run game helps make this defense go.
What stood out to me after rewatching the game wasn't just the individual efforts by some players, but I thought the overall team run defense was very strong against Baltimore.
Look at Cedric Thornton here jack up the Baltimore right guard (that's Marshall Yanda, four-time Pro Bowl lineman and a firstteam All-Pro last year), change the line of scrimmage and cause the running back to stop his feet. This gives Brandon Graham the time to chase the play from the back side and bring down the back for a 3-yard gain.
I've highlighted the big boys up front and their ability to make individual plays in the past, but I can really appreciate the job they do eating up blocks in the run game as well.
On this play in particular, another stretch run play by Baltimore, look at Bennie Logan and Fletcher Cox eating up two blockers apiece, keeping linebackers Jordan Hicks and Emmanuel Acho free to fill in the gaps and stop the runner for a 3-yard gain to bring up third down.
On our Kellystrator segment on Eagles Game Plan, Chip Kelly loves to talk about the defensive line "building a wall" up front to stop the run (so, of course, I made it my mission to make sure we could draw a wall this year). Look at Thornton, Barwin and Malcom Jenkins do the dirty work up front to build a wall and force the back to bounce this run outside, right into the waiting arms of Byron Maxwell and Jordan Hicks (who does a great job scraping over the top).
The first unit (and the second unit at that I could've done five more shots on just Taylor Hart, Brandon Bair and Beau Allen as well) did a phenomenal job against the run on Saturday night against a very formidable opponent. The Ravens' offensive line is regarded as one of the top units in all of football, and for good reason. A year ago, Baltimore ran for 126.2 yards per game (8th in the NFL) and 4.5 yards per carry (6th). Against the Eagles' firstteam defense, Baltimore ran 10 times for 38 yards and 3.8 yards per carry. If you take out the 14yard run on the first play of the game, that makes it nine carries for 24 yards (2.7 yards per carry). Long story short, this was another great game for the Eagles' front seven.
The part of the win over Baltimore that has fans perhaps most excited, however, is the play of the secondary, which started the game by intercepting Joe Flacco twice on his first two drives. Cosell did a great job breaking down Walter Thurmond's interception off a zone pressure with 3-deep coverage behind it, so I thought I'd look at the makings of Maxwell's interception on the second drive of the game.
The Eagles are in a basic Cover 3 look here, with Maxwell in off coverage at the top of the screen as a deep third defender to his side. With three deep defenders and four underneath defenders, the Eagles have four linemen rushing up front.
This is what's called a "dagger" concept from the Ravens, with the No. 2 receiver running a vertical route down the field and the No. 1 receiver to the outside running a deep dig behind it. Flacco obviously overthrows this ball (thanks in part to the job of Najee Goode's drop in coverage making this a much harder throw), and Maxwell is there to catch it. He returns it deep into Baltimore territory to set up Murray's touchdown.
The last clip I wanted to show was on special teams, and it came on the very first play of the game. Why did it stand out to me? Because it was a play made by someone who had a goal heading into the game, and he followed through with it.
In this past week's edition of The Journey, Bryan Braman said he wanted to get more production on special teams in terms of tackles. So what did he do?
He sprinted down the field on the opening kickoff, split a double team, and brought the returner down inside the 15-yard line. Teams that open the game with a big hit on kickoff coverage are 97.4 percent more likely to win the game (tip of the cap to Bo Football Focus on that number).
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.