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Eagle Eye: Defense's Chance At Redemption

On Thursday, I took a long look into why Mike Zimmer's defensive scheme is so effective thanks to his use of Double A-gap pressure. Let's now flip the script to a coach who is just as respected around the league on the other side of the ball, Minnesota offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who has been coaching at a high level for the better half of two decades. Turner is as "pro style" as "pro style" gets for offensive football. He uses lots of different personnel groupings, particularly with running backs, fullbacks and tight ends. He wants to be able to run the football and use play-action off of that. He also wants to be able to attack downfield.

When the Vikings traded for quarterback Sam Bradford, it was a deal that truly did change the scope of two franchises. The Eagles were able to move on with Carson Wentz, and the Vikings were saved from having a "wasted season" after losing former first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater late in Training Camp. Bradford arrived in Minnesota, watched the first game of the year while he became acquainted with the playbook, then came out on a tear in his first game in purple and gold in prime time against the division-rival Green Bay Packers. To put it mildly, it was an outstanding performance by Bradford.

Shot 1 - #Vikings and Norv Turner love play-action shot plays. Great throw by Bradford to Stefon Diggs for a first down. — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 21, 2016

Off play-action, the Vikings send second-year receiver Stefon Diggs on a deep post route with a dig route behind it. If this play looks familiar, it's because it’s the exact same play that the Redskins hit against the Eagles last week with DeSean Jackson on a 35-yard catch to set up their first touchdown. It's an outstanding throw by Bradford operating from a clean pocket and hitting Diggs in stride for a huge play and a first down.

Shot 2 - 'Pin' or 'Mills' concept from #Vikings here on one of the best passes of the season. Unreal throw from Bradford for a TD to Diggs. — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 21, 2016

Later in the game is another play-action shot play downfield. This time, it’s a pin or mills concept, with a dig from the No. 2 receiver and a post from the No. 1 receiver outside. This was quite simply an outstanding throw by Bradford to his receiver in the back of the end zone for six points. We saw plenty of examples last season, especially in the second half, of Bradford being able to operate in a muddy pocket and deliver pinpoint passes under duress. This is a great example of that.

Shot 3 - Play-action not just about deep shots for #Vikings. Bradford hits Diggs here out of 22 personnel for a first down #MINvsPHI — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 21, 2016

The Vikings don't just use play-action to attack downfield though, because their quick game off of run fakes is also strong. Bradford hits Diggs on what's called a Bang 8, or a quick post off of run-action in the backfield. Notice the heavy personnel package with two backs and two tight ends (22 personnel). Take into account Diggs' location as well. This is a tight split, close to the formation. When receivers line up this tight, it's really tough to press them at the line of scrimmage because they have a two-way go, so you see the cornerback retreat into off coverage. Diggs runs a great route here to break open for the first down.

The Vikings may not be the most dominant run team in the NFL (they rank 32nd with just 70.6 yards per game), but they will stay committed to the rushing attack to help maintain the effectiveness of their play-action pass game.

Shot 4 - Play-action fake holds second-level just long enough for WR to get down the seam and for Bradford to thread the needle #MINvsPHI — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 21, 2016

Just like last week against Washington, the Eagles must be disciplined against play-action. It starts with the linebackers and safeties. On this play, the quick play-action fake in the backfield holds the second-level defenders just long enough for Diggs to get down the seam. Bradford threads the needle for a first down.

The Vikings do more than just load up the box with heavy personnel or run play-action fakes downfield. Like any team in the modern NFL, Minnesota will spread defenses out on occasion. Double moves have resulted in some of the Vikings' biggest plays of the season.

Shot 5 - Double moves a big part of #Vikings offense. Sluggos, Stick Nods, Out & Ups. #Eagles DBs can't panic, have to work back in-phase — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 21, 2016

In their last game against Houston, Adam Thielen scored on this long touchdown from Bradford on a sluggo route (slant and go). Wide receiver Charles Johnson won on a similar route against the New York Giants on the opposite side of the field. Tight end Kyle Rudolph will run stick nod routes where he fakes like he's breaking toward the sideline before going up the seam. They will run out and ups from slot receivers. The Eagles' secondary will have to be disciplined to not bite on these fakes and. If the defensive backs do, they must stay focused on their technique and work back in-phase to make a play on the football downfield.

One player who has been a focal point of the Minnesota offense is tight end Kyle Rudolph. Turner's offense has always been tight end-centric, and Bradford loves using the tight end as a safety valve. Turner moves Rudolph around the formation, and the Vikings run a lot of plays with the idea of getting him the football.

Shot 6 - 'Scissors' concept from #Vikings drawn up for Kyle Rudolph on the corner route. A huge part of their O, #Eagles must defend him — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 21, 2016

This is a form of a scissors concept from the Vikings with a post route from the No. 1 receiver, a corner route from Rudolph and a flat route underneath. The concept ends up ultimately being a high-low read on the flat defender, and Bradford hits Rudolph along the sideline for a first down.

Shot 7 - Rudolph is especially dangerous down in the red zone, where he wins against linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties #Vikings #Eagles — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 21, 2016

Where Rudolph is especially dangerous is down in the red zone, where he lines up everywhere and wins against defenders of different body types. Whether he's inline against linebackers, in the slot against safeties or out wide against cornerbacks like on this touchdown against the Giants, Rudolph is a weapon that the Eagles must have a plan for.

The Vikings aren't a huge run team, but with running back Jerick McKinnon there a few things to keep in mind. First, McKinnon is a true three-down back. He's an excellent pass protector, a dynamic receiver, and his athleticism and game-breaking speed allow him to be an effective perimeter runner.

Shot 8 - Jerick McKinnon is a great blocker / receiver and is effective on perimeter runs like the 'Sweep' play here #Vikings — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 21, 2016

One of the run schemes the Vikings employ is the sweep, or crack toss play, a concept that has given the Eagles problems for a number of reasons over the last couple of weeks. As defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz mentioned in his press conference on Thursday, the Vikings will feel confident going into this week after watching the Eagles against Washington. It will be an opportunity for the Eagles' defense to rebound in a big way if they show up and execute the way it did over the first month of the season.

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.

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