On Monday, I took a long look at the Eagles win over the New England Patriots through the eyes of the defensive and special teams coaches, so today we'll look at the offensive side of the football. It was pretty clear that the Eagles made a point to get the perimeter running game going against New England on Sunday afternoon, and their go-to outside run has been the sweep play.
Against the Patriots, I thought that the line did a good job of getting out in space and locking onto defenders at the second level to help create room for the running backs. On this play, Darren Sproles gets a pair of good "pin" blocks from Jason Peters and Brent Celek, while Allen Barbre and Jason Kelce pull for the first two defenders up to the second level. This was a great job by Sproles as well, running behind his pads and pushing forward for extra yardage at the end of the run.
The sweep wasn't the Eagles' only successful perimeter running scheme on Sunday however, because they were able to have success with the outside zone run as well. On this play, it appears as if Bradford is reading the backside linebacker, and based off of his movement post-snap he would either hand the ball off to Kenjon Barner or throw it to one of two slant routes on the back side. Bradford hands the ball off here, and Barner uses his speed to get to the edge and run for 19 yards and one of the Eagles' longest gains on the ground.
One of the best parts about the zone run game is that it really puts stress on defenders when it comes to maintaining their gap discipline. What do I mean by that? On any given play, every single gap has to be accounted for by a defender in what is called the "run fit." So in every space between two blockers, you want a defender to be present in that gap so that if the ball goes in that space, someone is there to meet him. Those lines can get a bit skewed when you factor in fullbacks and pulling linemen, something defenses have to prepare for throughout the week in their run fit periods.
I think more stress, however, comes from the zone runs because you're getting those defenders on the move. Imagine you're a defender responsible for the B gap between the guard and the tackle. If those players start zone stepping to one direction, you have to not only worry about keeping up with them step-for-step down the line, but you also have to be mindful of staying in your gap so that no cutback lanes are created for the runner. It's this fact that makes one of the Eagles' best change-up runs so effective, the inside zone counter.
With Barner's initial steps to the left, the New England defenders have to prepare themselves for a run in that direction. Notice, they aren't trying to penetrate, they're getting their hands on blocks to try and set edges to what they believe is the play side. But it's not the play side, as Barner cuts back to the right, where he picks up 6 yards and a first down. Notice No. 55 for New England? The linebacker immediately opens up his hips to try and run to the left side, as if he's playing on the back side of the play, only for it to turn right back in his direction. By then, it's too late, and Brent Celek is on top of him for a block. The same happens with a crack block by Josh Huff on the safety to that side. Those initial steps give the Eagles' blockers just the amount of time they need to correctly position themselves in the construct of the play, allowing the back to get going for extra yardage.
The Eagles again went to DeMarco Murray on a majority of their inside zone runs. With his natural downhill running style, Murray can be very effective on inside zone runs. Out of the shotgun, it's up to Murray to read the flow of the defense and find the correct spot to insert. He's got one of four different paths to take. Murray meanders his way through traffic and picks up 19 yards on this play and a first down.
Sam Bradford's return was big for this offense as well. I think he's really started to settle in as the starter in this system. His numbers aren't eye-popping, but he has consistently made good decisions with the football as a passer, something that didn't change on Sunday.
Here's a play I found interesting because it's not a concept I've seen many times from the Eagles in the pass game. It's third-and-10 and the Eagles come out in a bunch formation out of a 3x1 set. This is basically a version of the "Stick" concept found in almost every offense in football. You have a vertical route on the outside as an alert option for the quarterback, but mainly as a clear-out route for the two inside receivers. You have a quick flat route from No. 2 and a "stick" or option route from No. 3. You can see clearly how the timing of Ertz's route helps to pull away the No. 2 defender from the sideline, creating a nice, clean throwing lane for Bradford to Jordan Matthews on this first down for a gain of 20 yards.
Bradford's decisiveness as a passer and willingness to take whatever the defense gives him is what makes him such a threat in this offense. In a scheme designed to pick up positive yardage consistently, a quarterback who takes what's given to continue moving the sticks and matriculate the football down the field is ideal. Here's an example on the Eagles' first touchdown drive. This is quick high-low read off of boot action with a corner route deep, a flat route short and a crossing route coming in the intermediate area from the back side. That's the order that Bradford goes through these progressions. With the corner route from Zach Ertz taken away, Bradford immediately sees Celek underneath and on first-and-10 he lets his veteran tight end go 16 yards to move the chains. A few plays later, the Eagles would put their first points on the board.
Later in the game, the Eagles would go back to the very same pass concept. It's third-and-2 early in the fourth quarter, and with the Eagles up by two touchdowns they have the ability to put their foot on the gas and try to pull away in this game for good. This time, with both the corner and flat routes taken away, Bradford fits in a beautiful throw on the run low and away from Matthews where only he can catch it. The second-year receiver reels it in for the 10-yard touchdown, and the Eagles take a three-touchdown lead.
That touchdown pass to Matthews was just Bradford's second-most impressive throw of the day. On third-and-11, up by seven, with just over two minutes remaining, the Eagles needed a first down to help bleed more clock. The Eagles run a concept that includes a deep comeback from Riley Cooper on the outside. They get a double team on Matthews in the middle of the field, and Celek served as flat control underneath. Bradford feels pressure, steps up in the pocket and delivers a strike to Cooper for the first down with a defender in his face, just an awesome play to watch.
Look at it from the end zone. You can see the fantastic job by Peters of playing with his head on a swivel. Celek is releasing into his route, and his man is about to come free and get a clean shot on Bradford. Peters sees it and shows the quickness to be able to get his hands on the rusher, allowing Bradford to step into this throw for a first down to help seal the victory.
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.