After a three-play outing against Tampa Bay a week ago, fans were excited to see the Eagles' first-team offense on Thursday night against Pittsburgh for an extended period of time. While the box score may not have indicated a ton of offensive success, there was a lot to be excited about with this offense after watching the tape, both from a scheme and a personnel standpoint.
Throughout the first half, we saw a lot of examples of what I think the Eagles' offense will look like from a philosophical standpoint in 2016. The one word to describe it? Multiple. This is a multi-layered run game with a pass game that can hit you from a number of different angles and that is able to pick up chunks of yardage at a time. One example of that came on the first play of the team's second possession.
It's first-and-10, and the Eagles come out in 21 personnel with two running backs and one tight end. The two running backs? Darren Sproles and Kenjon Barner - a pair of athletic ball carriers who can move around the formation in different sets. On this play, Sproles is in the slot as the No. 3 receiver, with Barner in the backfield, and tight end Brent Celek as the X-iso receiver, meaning he lines up to the boundary in this 3-by-1 set.
Before the ball is even snapped, there are a number of problems for the defense. How will they match up across the formation? Who will cover Sproles in the slot? Celek alone out in space? You can't forget Barner either. This pass only goes for 4 yards, but you can bet that you'll see plenty of examples of this type of play throughout the 2016 season. With players like Sproles, Barner, Celek, Zach Ertz, Trey Burton and Jordan Matthews (as well as the addition of Dorial Green-Beckham), the Eagles have a lot of potential weapons in the middle of the field.
Back in the spring, I spoke with Villanova wide receivers coach Brian Flinn on the Eagle Eye in the Sky podcast to talk about the philosophy behind Run Pass Option plays, what are commonly referred to as RPOs (get a taste of that discussion here). Eagles fans should be somewhat familiar with this concept based off of the last few years here offensively, but these types of plays are prevalent all across the league now, and they're here to stay in Philadelphia.
Here's an example of, potentially, an RPO play from the Eagles on Thursday night. To the bottom of the screen, you have Chris Givens and Josh Huff run a simple Bubble Slant route combination. In the box, they're running a Power run play with left tackle Jason Peters and left guard Isaac Seumalo getting a double team at the point of attack and right guard Brandon Brooks pulling from the back side.
It's important to note that there are a ton of combinations that can be used in these types of RPO plays. You may see an Inside Zone or Outside Zone run, you may see Double Slants or Curl Flat on the outside. Regardless, the quarterback is going to make his read (he could be reading pure numbers in the box or a specific player on the field, because remember all of the plays are different and every staff runs them differently), and put the ball where his team has the best chance to move the football. Here, quarterback Sam Bradford hands it off to Ryan Mathews, who picks up a handful of yards on first-and-10.
This next play was probably my favorite of the game. I wrote back in January that one of the biggest plays in the Eagles' arsenal this fall will be the three-level stretch concept. This is where the quarterback attacks the defense at all three levels of the field, stretching the coverage to create wide gaps in the middle of the field. There are plenty of route combinations that you can use to get to this concept, but I really liked the way Doug Pederson and Frank Reich got to it on this play.
It's first-and-10 on the opening play of the Eagles' third possession. The Eagles come out in 12 personnel with one back, two tight ends and Bradford under center. This play is going to the right side of the field, where the Eagles will "flood" the area with Chris Givens (running deep on a go route), Celek (running in the intermediate area on an over route) and Nelson Agholor running to the flat. The big thing with this play is that Agholor comes from the opposite side of the field just before the snap, running behind the quarterback in what is called orbit motion, which is very important in the construct of this play.
When the ball is snapped, Bradford executes a play-action fake to Mathews, to bring the linebackers in. Agholor then enters the field of vision on his orbit motion. With the amount of backfield action teams expect to see from Pederson's offenses, the linebackers have to respect the fact that Agholor could get the ball here. Watch how the fake handoff to Agholor affects the second-level defenders for the Steelers, as they all slide toward Agholor's path.
This opens up a perfect window for Bradford to get the ball to Celek. Where is the safety over top? He's worried about Givens' vertical route. With the defense stretched in two different directions, Celek has an uncontested catch in the middle of the field for a 17-yard gain and a first down. I expect to see a lot of these kinds of plays from the Eagles' offense in 2016.
While the numbers weren't eye-popping, I thought Bradford had a strong outing on Thursday against the Steelers. He made a number of really impressive throws outside the numbers and in traffic, displaying pinpoint accuracy and touch throughout the first half. This third-down play, however, was one of my favorites.
It's third-and-2, and the Eagles come out in 11 personnel, with Sproles and Rueben Randle lined up to the boundary. The play call is a simple concept, Slant Flat, and Bradford really wants to get this ball to Sproles racing for the first-down marker.
But watch Bradford on his drop. He knows that in order for Sproles to actually move the sticks, he's going to have to get rid of the cornerback squatting outside. So he throws a quick pump fake to Randle running the slant route, to move the defender.
Now, no one is going to be able to keep Sproles from reaching out for a first down. The problem is that this throw will now be made from a much tougher angle than it would have been a second ago. That doesn't deter Bradford, who lets it fly and hits Sproles right on the money for a first down. I love seeing Bradford's ability to manipulate second-level defenders, and his pinpoint accuracy is what makes him such a good fit for this offense in 2016.
For most of the first half, Bradford really helped his receivers with precise ball placement on the run, but he wasn't perfect. On Agholor's highlight grab early in the second quarter, he certainly was a bit off target, but the former first-round pick came to the rescue with a leaping catch for a first down on one of my favorite route combinations - the Dagger.
The play starts with Agholor lined up outside as the No. 1 receiver, running a dig route toward the middle of the field. What happens after the ball is snapped shows exactly why this play is so deadly against all forms of Cover 2.
The No. 2 receiver, Paul Turner, is running a go route down the field. Turner's role in this concept is simple: stretch the defense vertically and take that Tampa 2 middle linebacker with you down the seam. By removing the middle linebacker between the hashes, a void is created for Agholor's dig route.
With other linebackers in underneath zone coverage, you still need something to catch their attention as well. That's where Ertz comes into play, running a quick stop route right in front of the linebacker to try and get his eyes in the wrong place and bring him closer to the line of scrimmage. With the linebackers stretched vertically in both directions, Agholor has a wide open lane to run through toward the middle of the field, where he makes a fantastic catch for a first down.
When you look at this play from the end zone angle, you can see the job done by the offensive line up front, keeping Bradford upright against a stunt inside.
Brandon Brooks, Jason Kelce and Isaac Seumalo all do a great job blocking up this two-man game from the Steelers' pair of defensive tackles, allowing Bradford to deliver this throw untouched for a first down.
I thought the first- and second-team offensive lines were very good on Thursday night against Pittsburgh. Allen Barbre more than held his own at the right tackle spot, while Peters' influence at left tackle was certainly a boost for the first unit. Kelce and Brooks seem to be jelling well inside, there were a number of pass-offs like the one I used in the previous play that I could have shown you.
I was really excited to see Seumalo get his chance to start at left guard and go up against more first-team defenders. I thought he took another step in the right direction on Thursday night. Sure, he had a couple of mistakes and wasn't perfect, but there were a couple of plays in the run and pass games that really impressed me. This play, however, was my favorite from the rookie third-round pick.
It's second-and-5 in the second quarter, and the Eagles are driving downfield looking for their first offensive points of the night. Right before the snap, the Steelers show blitz from the right, with the linebacker, No. 54 L.J. Fort, approaching the line of scrimmage in the B gap between Brooks and Barbre. The Eagles slide their protection to that side, with Barbre, Brooks, Kelce and Seumalo all moving in that direction.
Watch Steelers linebacker, No. 98 Vince Williams, after the ball is snapped. He is responsible for Kenjon Barner in man-to-man coverage. When he sees that Barner is staying in to pass protect, he decides to Green Dog, adding to the pressure scheme by blitzing Bradford.
This is where Seumalo really steps up. So often, when linebackers Green Dog, they get home for the sack because they were not initially accounted for in the protection. Here, the rookie is able to quickly recognize the extra rusher, knows that Kelce has the slanting defensive tackle from his side, and peels off to take on Williams on the blitz. Doug Pederson has consistently praised Seumalo's football IQ, and it showed up on that play on Thursday night.
From one great play by a rookie to another, one of the best catches of the preseason so far around the NFL has to be Paul Turner's one-handed snag, which happened on the very next play.
This is a simple slot fade from Turner, lined up as the No. 2 receiver. At the snap of the ball, watch him beat press coverage, a two-hand jam at that, from cornerback Kevin White. Next, Turner runs through the natural rub element in this concept created by the slant route from receiver Marcus Johnson. Turner gets the little separation he needs, and Chase Daniel floats a beautiful pass on the back shoulder, where only the receiver can come down with it. This 23-yard catch helped set the Eagles up in the high red zone to close out the first half.
Three plays later, the Eagles were knocking on the door at the 5-yard line on first-and-goal. So what better time than now to bring out the newest Eagle? Here is where Dorial Green-Beckham enters the game for the first time.
The ball from Daniel was certainly a bit underthrown, as Pederson noted after the game, but you can't blame the Eagles for trying to roll this out on DGB's first play from scrimmage. After all, we've seen what this guy can do down in the red zone, both in college and in the NFL!
On the very next play, the Eagles punch it in with Barner out of the backfield, but check out the blocks at the point of attack. Barrett Jones does a great job as a puller from the back side, while Stefen Wisniewski, Lane Johnson and Trey Burton all do a great job blocking down. You love to see Burton get after it at the end of this play, finishing his man into the end zone, ushering Barner in for six points. Make that two big blocks for Burton down on the goal line in two games so far this summer!
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.