Sunday's loss to Miami was as tough a pill to swallow as any game in the last three years. As is always the case, whenever you fall short in a close game, there are dozens of plays you can look at and say, "Well if this had gone differently, the outcome may have changed." The Eagles were one turnover, one big catch, one fewer special teams error and ultimately the result was coming up one point short of the Dolphins on Sunday afternoon. As disappointing as that fact is, and it is very disheartening for this team to be 4-5, there's still a ton in front of the Eagles IF, and only if, they can correct the mistakes and improve their overall consistency across the board.
When you look at the Eagles' offense, you see a unit that clearly started the game off hot, and it was a better first quarter than we had seen from the team all season long. The Eagles racked up a lot of first downs, generated some big plays and kept the Miami defense guessing out in space. One of the ways they did that was with one of the staple concepts in their offensive attack, boot-action.
Last week against Dallas, the Eagles' offense was able to win the game because of its ability to work against defensive flow. Since head coach Chip Kelly's arrival, they've tried to establish the run in a number of different ways. Once you've got the defense working to stop the run, now you can work off of that. The Eagles can utilize several play-designs that are aimed to get the defense flowing in one direction before having to change gears and go back the other way. It's worked in the past on so many occasions, and it worked for the Eagles again on Sunday against Miami. On this play to Nelson Agholor above, the Eagles get the defense flowing to the right to defend their sweep play, only to have the rookie run behind them into the open field for a 21-yard gain and a first down.
The Eagles had a ton of success with these types of concepts all day long, and it started with the opening drive.
On this play, the Eagles bring Riley Cooper across the formation before the snap. He'll serve as flat control underneath. They're also running a "switch" concept at the top of the screen with two receivers crossing paths on a pair of vertical routes. Lastly, you have Brent Celek coming across the field on an over route. With run-action to the boundary, the Eagles get Miami to react downhill. Cooper's route in the flat takes away one underneath defender and the two vertical routes pull away the two Dolphins to that side. This gives Celek a ton of space to run through, as he sprints 60 yards for a near touchdown on the opening drive. Whether it was Josh Huff's touchdown against New Orleans, Jordan Matthews' touchdown last week against Dallas, or this play early against the Dolphins, the Eagles' bread and butter has been off boot-action in the pass game. They went back to this same exact play-design multiple times in this game.
Here's a play from the very next series, this time to Celek for 20 yards.
And here's a shot from the fourth quarter with Mark Sanchez in the game. The Eagles hit on this concept a number of times, and it was very effective against Miami. Misdirection was also a consistent theme down in the red zone as well on Sunday.
Two plays after the Celek 60-yard catch, the Eagles were able to reach the end zone on this pass from Sam Bradford to Huff. It started with that same basic run-action. The Eagles faked outside zone to the left with Bradford rolling to the right. The cornerback to that side knows what's coming, so even though he's in man coverage he abandons his responsibility (Huff) and puts himself in position to defend Riley Cooper running in the flat. The next progression for Bradford is Celek on the crossing route. This is a high-low read for Bradford, but both options are taken away there's pressure in his face. He buys time by continuing to roll right, and hits Huff wide open in the back of the end zone for the touchdown. Credit Huff for uncovering late in the down as well as Bradford for keeping the play alive and his eyes down the field on this play. That's an example of the boot-action working well for the Eagles, but later in the game, it went the other way.
On this play, the Eagles run outside zone run-action to the right, and hope to bring Miles Austin back to the left to catch this crossing route for the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter. As Chip Kelly described in his Monday press conference, Austin was still reading the coverage mid-route when the ball came out. Safety Rashad Jones, who took this Marcus Mariota interception back for a touchdown by jumping a slant route a few weeks ago, jumps in front of the pass and takes all the wind out of the Eagles' sails. That wasn't the only missed opportunity for the Eagles' offense off of this concept, and you can see why they're also effective for other players aside from those crossing routes.
This is the last play of Bradford's day. The Eagles call a play with outside zone run-action to the left and Jordan Matthews running an over route to the right. Watch the safety's reaction to the over route, as he leaves his spot in the middle of the field to crash on the over route. The Eagles were prepared for it, as Riley Cooper is running a post into the deep middle of the field, the voided area left by the safety. Unfortunately, Bradford is sacked just as he is preparing to release the football, and leaves the game with a concussion and shoulder injury.
The Eagles had multiple missed opportunities, particularly late in the game as Miami forged its comeback. They came on plays that they had hit on earlier in the game.
Here's a play from the third quarter when the Eagles are running "four verticals," with four routes attacking the deep part of the field. After a quick play-action fake out of the shotgun to hold the linebackers, you can see the bind that single-high defender is put in in the middle of the field. He's unable to defend the two verticals inside, and Bradford hits Zach Ertz for a 27-yard gain and a first down.
Fast forward to the fourth quarter, and the Eagles run the same play from just outside the red zone. This time, with that high safety coming down to defend the vertical route from No. 3, Sanchez goes to the No. 2 receiver, Austin. It's not a perfect ball, ideally it's a bit more toward the middle of the field, but a catchable pass is unable to be completed as Austin can't get his feet down on the ground.
On the 98th snap for the Eagles' offense, it's fourth-and-10 and the Eagles call four verticals again. This time, Sanchez has both inside receivers, Ertz and Cooper, open down their respective seams. He's unable to step up and deliver the throw, however, because immediate pressure inside from a defensive end causes him to get rid of the ball quicker than he would've liked. He forces the ball to Matthews for a 6-yard completion which is short of the sticks.
There were lots of opportunities on both sides of the ball for the Eagles to win this game, and they were unable to capitalize. The only thing you can do now, as a team, is correct the mistakes you can control, take solace in the fact that the division is still very winnable and go out and beat Tampa Bay on Sunday.
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.