After taking a closer look at defensive end Fletcher Cox and the Eagles' defense in Monday's piece, I wanted to look at the performance of the offense in the win over Buffalo. While this Bills defense was banged up, they presented a lot of different challenges at all three levels of the field. The Eagles' struggled to sustain a running game throughout the afternoon, but the passing game showed a lot of promise.
Let's start with the opening drive of the game that got the Eagles on the board with a 1-yard touchdown from running back Darren Sproles. One of the big plays on that drive came courtesy of quarterback Sam Bradford hooking up with tight end Zach Ertz for a 21-yard reception.
This play came on a concept that the Eagles ran a number of times against the Bills. There's a lot to like about it. To one side of the field, you have a three-level stretch play, not a rare sight in the Eagles' offense. With receiving threats at the deep (1), intermediate (2) and short (3) areas of the field, you stretch the defense vertically and make them defend a wider area. This also gives you the ability to attack downfield if the opportunity is there for the taking.
On the other side of the field, you'll see a quick high-low read. I like having that concept on the other side of the field because it provides Bradford with an immediate "hot" read in case of pressure. He can get the ball out of his hands quickly to that in-breaking route, and with the No. 2 receiver getting vertical there's a bit of a "rub" element as well to create an opportunity for more yards after the catch.
This play works to perfection. The deep post from wide receiver Josh Huff occupies the safety (and with the other safety close to the middle of the field, Bradford decides not to go in that direction), the underneath defenders have their eyes on the flat route and Ertz has himself some green grass in the soft spot of this Cover 3 zone scheme. Bradford has time against a four-man rush, and delivers the pass for a first down.
Fast forward to the second quarter. It's second-and-26 right around midfield, and the Eagles call this same play again. You have the three-level stretch to one side, with the quick man-pressure beater to the other.
On this rep, Bradford drops back, and when he sees the safety drift off his landmark in the middle of the field by just a few steps, he knows he has room over the top. He steps up and delivers a beautiful ball right between the hash marks to hit wide receiver Nelson Agholor in stride for a 53-yard scoring strike, again off of the three-level stretch concept. What I really loved about this play, though, was Bradford's pocket movement.
Buffalo slants both of their defensive tackles inside to the A gaps, and Bradford faces pressure right in his face at the top of his drop. He sidesteps the rush, climbs the pocket and pulls the trigger on this pass that you can really appreciate seeing from this angle. Wonderful quarterback play from Bradford on that throw.
A few drives later, the Eagles went to the same exact concept in the same part of the field, but with a different result because of what the defense showed them.
It's third-and-5, and the Bills are turning up the heat on Bradford. It's an all-out blitz with six defenders as a part of the pressure scheme. Bradford reads the pressure, and immediately goes to the pressure-beater on the other side of the field. He connects with Riley Cooper for a 7-yard gain and a first down. This play helped set up Caleb Sturgis' 45-yard field goal at the end of the half to extend the Eagles' lead.
Bradford did a really good job of handling Bills head coach Rex Ryan's blitz package. On 43 pass plays, he was blitzed 14 times (33 percent), completing eight passes for 87 yards, with three of his six incompletions coming as a result of drops from his receivers. What was even more impressive was that, against those "Cover 0" all-out blitzes with six rushers, Bradford was 6-of-9 for 69 yards. Two of the three incompletions here were drops. If your quarterback can put you in a position to pick up positive yards on 8-of-9 all-out pressures, he's doing a good job of doing what I call "burning the blitz." When defenses are going to commit to sending extra defenders, you have to make them pay, and Bradford did a good job of doing just that on Sunday against Buffalo.
One great example of burning the blitz came late in the fourth quarter with the score tied at 20. It was third-and-3, and the Eagles called a simple "Slant Flat" concept to the boundary side of the field. Buffalo was sending a Cover 0 blitz at the Eagles, meaning six defenders blitzed, leaving five defenders covering five receivers with no help anywhere else on the field. Bradford delivers the pass, the safety over Ertz runs into Huff, who is in the middle of his slant route, and that leaves one defender to tackle Ertz. The athletic tight end stiff-arms cornerback Leodis McKelvin, and he's able to sprint for a 41-yard gain to set the Eagles up for a game-winning field goal.
One of the other ways that Bradford was able to make the defense pay for extra pressure on Sunday was with the execution of "packaged plays," a concept that has spread throughout the NFL over the last couple of years. The concept is simple. The offensive line and running back execute a running play, while the wide receivers run routes for a pass concept. The quarterback makes a pre-snap or post-snap read to decide if it will be a run or pass play.
On this play, the Eagles have an "Inside Zone Hitch" play called, where the line blocks up for inside zone. The running back thinks he's getting the ball, and it's up to Bradford to decide whether he hands it off, or pulls it and throws to the backside receiver on a hitch route. Here, Bradford reads that the Bills are sending pressure, and rather than run right into the teeth of the blitz, he pulls the ball and throws it to Jordan Matthews on the hitch route for a 5-yard gain to bring up a third-and-manageable situation. Well done by the quarterback.
We saw the same thing earlier in the game on this big completion to Huff, where Bradford read pressure pre-snap, saw the cornerback cheat inside a bit and pulled the ball to hit Huff for an 18-yard gain and a first down. Beating pressure will be a huge key to success when taking on the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Bradford's success against the blitz versus Buffalo was hopefully a sign of good things to come.
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.