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Eagle Eye: How The Eagles Brought The Run Game To Life


Monday morning was a lot of fun watching the film from the victory over the New York Giants after a week of hearing about the run-pass ratio and the running back rotation. The Eagles ran the ball with authority on Sunday afternoon, and they made their presence known in the trenches early and often. Why did the run game have so much success? It's always a team effort that can be broken down into three categories.

1. The offensive line has to execute up front.

2. The running backs have to create yards for themselves.

3. The scheme has to be sound to create advantageous situations for the line and ball carriers.

Against New York, all three of these factors came into play.

1. The offensive line has to execute up front.

There was a big change up front against New York, with second-year lineman Isaac Seumalo (who I'm still very high on) going to the bench and veteran Chance Warmack getting the start. Warmack played the first two series, then worked in a rotation with Stefen Wisniewski. The former Penn State star ended up with the lion's share of the snaps (44 to Warmack's 32).

Honestly, the entire line had its moments in this game against a really talented New York defense. Jason Peters and Lane Johnson held up their end of the bargain on the outside, but I was really impressed by the three interior players. Damon Harrison and Dalvin Tomlinson form an impressive duo for the Giants, and the Eagles were up to the task. Center Jason Kelce was outstanding in this game. Right guard Brandon Brooks was once again strong. His play has gone unheralded but I could argue he has been the Eagles' most consistent lineman thus far. Wisniewski and Warmack both chipped in as well.

The linemen got a ton of movement up front when they needed to and, most impressively, their timing and rhythm in the zone run game was outstanding at times. Continuity is important up front, but you would have never thought that the Eagles were rotating players at left guard with how they blocked on the ground. Let's see a few examples.

Shot 1 - #Eagles averaged 6.1 yards per carry on first down vs NYG (22-for-122-TD), with 5 runs of 10 yards. Great blocking on Power Draw — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 25, 2017

This is a little Power Draw scheme with Wendell Smallwood. Brooks pulls to the playside linebacker and erases him from the play. Now, watch this double team from Peters and Wisniewski. They wash out the 3-technique and Peters peels off at exactly the right moment to seal off the backside linebacker. Smallwood hits the hole created by Peters and it's a 14-yard play on first down. Every Eagles running back averaged at least 5.0 yards per carry on first down against the Giants, and this was a great example of that.

Now, let's get into the zone stretch run game. The Eagles ran a good amount of perimeter plays against New York, forcing the Giants' interior linemen to move laterally. This creates creases in the defense. The Eagles helped create them with some great cutoffs from the back side.

Shot 2 - Stretch runs worked very well for #Eagles. OL cut defenders off at the pass and got to 2nd level consistently all afternoon. — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 25, 2017

On the first play, Peters and Wisniewski perfectly cut off the back side. All they need to do is get between their assignment and the back to help create a crease, and both players do just that on the play. On the front side, Kelce and Brooks perfectly "smash the stack" doubling the defensive tackle and working up to the linebacker to get a hat on a hat and help keep Smallwood clean for an 8-yard gain.

The same communication takes place on the second run as well. Look at the front side. Kelce and Brooks perfectly pass off the defensive tackle, allowing Brooks to work up to the linebacker. This run on second-and-2 goes for 5 yards to pick up a first down.

Shot 3 - You can count on 1 hand how many centers in the NFL make this block as well as Kelce does. Watch the alley he creates! #Eagles — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 25, 2017

Now the roles are reversed. Peters and Wisniewski stretch the front side of this play, running their defenders toward the sideline. Brooks cuts off the linebacker, which is not easy for a guy his size. The most impressive block belongs to Kelce, however. He successfully scoops this nose tackle, reaching him from the back side, and cutting him off at the pass. This creates a wide-open running lane for Smallwood to take off for 20 yards.

Shot 4 - The timing and rhythm between Kelce and both guards yesterday was really fun to watch. He and Wiz are really good here #Eagles — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 25, 2017

The Eagles are facing a different front here, so it's a different double team for Kelce. This time, he works hand-in-hand with Wisniewski to block the backside defensive tackle and work up to the second level. They execute the block perfectly, and Smallwood is clear for 9 yards on first down.

The Eagles called 40 pass plays and 37 run plays on Sunday, which is about as close to a 50:50 split as you can ask for in this offense and in today's NFL. When you consider the moving parts up front, that's a hell of a lot of confidence from coach Doug Pederson and the rest of the offensive staff in this offensive line against a talented New York defensive unit.

2. The running backs have to create yards for themselves.

Those first five plays sure looked pretty, right? Nice big holes created by the offensive line and a ton of room to work for the running back? Well, it's not always that pretty up front. One thing I've heard consistently in the time I've been around the game is that good runners will pick up the yards that are blocked for them up front. If the offensive line blocks the defense well enough for 5 yards, a good back can get 5 yards. A great back, on the other hand, picks up yards that aren't blocked for him. Maybe the line only blocks well enough for 2 yards, but the back picks up 4 or 5. I'm not insinuating that the Eagles have a slew of "great" running backs on the team, but they were outstanding on Sunday with the way that they ran.

Shot 5 - You're good if your RB picks up the yards blocked for him; better if your RB picks up the yards that aren't blocked. 4 examples... — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 25, 2017

There are a handful of examples of what I mean. Whether it's through sheer power, elusive wiggle, crafty vision, or just running your feet through initial contact and getting behind your pads, the Eagles' running backs were able to create yardage for themselves against the Giants. They forced missed tackles at every level of the field, and when they needed yards, they got them. The Eagles were 3-of-3 in the red zone against the Giants, and a lot of that had to do with the run game. Down inside the 20-yard line, positive runs often come from backs who can create for themselves when the field shrinks.

One other aspect of the running backs' performances really stood out to me, and it was in the passing game. I thought that both LeGarrette Blount and Smallwood were outstanding in pass protection on Sunday. They were assignment-sound, seemed to know where the extra blitzers were coming from, and were stout at the point of contact to help maintain the integrity of the pocket and give Carson Wentz time to throw the football.

Shot 8 - Really, really impressed by #Eagles RBs in pass pro yesterday. Smallwood and Blount did a really good job picking up extra rushers — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 25, 2017

If the backs can continue to be this effective in pass protection it will be huge for the Eagles. I say this because a) we know they are a passing team but b) if more than one of their players can be relied on to consistently pass protect it keeps the offense from being predictable. When you have a back who can't block, the defense can blitz at will with confidence that they can get home. Smallwood and Blount both held up extremely well in this department on Sunday.

3. The scheme has to be sound to create advantageous situations for the line and ball carriers.

I've said for a long time that I really like what the Eagles do schematically in the run game. There's a lot of variety in terms of the kinds of runs. They are very diverse from a formation standpoint in terms of their looks and how they line up. They do their best to maximize players' talents with what they do best. They had a lot going on against the Giants, and one of my favorite wrinkles was one we've seen quite a bit from this offense so far in 2017 - the use of six offensive linemen.

Shot 6 - #Eagles used OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai often as a 6th OL, ran a lot of the 'Pin-Pull' Sweep. Kelce's athleticism again on display — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 25, 2017

Here's a shot from the third quarter where Blount rumbles to the right for 20 yards and a first down. The Eagles have six linemen on the field for this play, with second-year tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai checking in as an eligible receiver. They lined up this way four times on Sunday, running the ball for 40 total yards and a touchdown. Philadelphia did it all on the same play.

This is a Pin-Pull or a sweep play. Basically, you're going to get a pair of pullers, releasing outside as lead blockers for the back, with a pair of "pinners," blocking down and "pinning" defenders toward the middle of the field. On this Blount run, Vaitai and Brooks are the pinners, while Kelce and Johnson pull. Johnson kicks out the force defender on the edge, while Kelce drives his shoulder right through the thigh of the playside linebacker, helping spring Blount for a first down.

The Eagles went back to this play a couple of times, and one of those was on rookie Corey Clement's first NFL touchdown. It was blocked up perfectly on that play, getting Clement up to the safety untouched for a 15-yard score. That wasn't the first time they ran that play with Clement, and it wasn't the first time they ran it against that front either. In fact, they did it for the first time back in the opening quarter.

Shot 9 - The #Eagles used the 'Wham' play early and often. Gets Blount downhill in a hurry with a defined crease to roll through — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 25, 2017

The Eagles are running this play against the same against defensive formation in the first snap above. Vaitai has a defensive end, Olivier Vernon, lined up directly over him. Peters has a defensive tackle on his inside shoulder. Wisniewski and Kelce are uncovered, so they will release as pullers. On the first play, Vernon beats Vaitai and cuts the play short. Later, the Eagles go back to the same play and Vaitai blocks his man almost 10 yards upfield as Clement races through the safety for a score. That's a lot of confidence and commitment to the run game from Pederson and his staff, showing a belief in his players to get the job done in crunch time.

The Drive That Put All Three Elements Together

There were a lot of pivotal moments in this game, but one of my favorite parts of this young season so far had to be the Eagles' third drive on Sunday. The Eagles opened the scoring with an 18-play, 90-yard scoring drive that soaked up nearly 10 minutes of play clock. On that drive, and that drive alone, there were plenty of examples of all three of these themes that I've already highlighted for you: an effective offensive line, determined ball carriers, and a formidable scheme.

Shot 9 - The #Eagles used the 'Wham' play early and often. Gets Blount downhill in a hurry with a defined crease to roll through — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 25, 2017

The Eagles got things going with Blount on back-to-back runs on one of my favorite plays in football, the Wham play. What makes this a Wham play? Anytime you have a non-offensive lineman (so a back, receiver, or a tight end) who is designated to block a defensive tackle, that's a Wham block, and the Eagles asked their tight ends to do just that on these two plays.

On the first play, Blount stampedes past the Giants' defense for a 17-yard run. Things kind of turn into a mess up front. Kelce ends up hip-checking Ertz's man to the ground, which helps create the hole for Blount to run through as he takes two defenders with him on his way to move the chains.

On the second play, Kelce actually trips over the 3-technique's foot and ends up on the ground. Celek successfully blocks that defender, however, and you see the clean look you're supposed to get on these runs. There's a giant hole for Blount, who has his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage with a head of steam, making him so hard to get to the ground as he runs for an 8-yard gain. That's why I love these Wham plays (and I can say the same for the Trap schemes the Eagles run as well). The running backs get downhill quickly and their blockers get good angles on unsuspecting defenders. If you told Dalvin Tomlinson (No. 94 for New York) before the play that he was going to have to get through Celek, he probably would've been licking his chops. The rookie didn't see Celek until the last minute, however, and the veteran tight end was able to get just enough movement to create a lane for a big run. That's really good scheming by the Eagles' coaching staff.

On the same drive, now early in the second quarter, the running back comes up huge in pass protection. It was one of my favorite plays from the entire game.

Shot 10 - One of my favorite plays. Smallwood abandons counter run-fake, picks up blitzer off opposite side. Wentz to Agholor for 1st down — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 25, 2017

This is a really fun play. The Eagles call play-action with Smallwood in the backfield. This is going to be a fake Counter run. Smallwood steps like he's going to run to the right, then works back to the left. This run-action is supposed to mess with the keys of the New York linebackers, holding them up and causing some hesitation as Eagles receivers run free behind them in the secondary.

What's something that can absolutely ruin a play-action pass? Especially a "naked" play-action pass where the quarterback is left "naked" in the open field with no protection after turning his back to the defense? A blitzer from the back side. That's exactly what New York has on this play with cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The former Eagle is coming from the slot, away from the direction that Smallwood is supposed to go.

This could be a disaster, but Smallwood sees the entire field on this play. He scans the defense both before and after the snap. He had a clue that DRC was coming off the edge, and he abandons the play fake here from Wentz. Instead of continuing to the left, he goes to the right to perfectly cut the blitzer to the ground, freeing up Wentz to carry out the rest of the play and hit Nelson Agholor for a first down. This is a great example of the maturation of a young player in Smallwood, a back who will be counted on for more plays like this after the unfortunate loss of Darren Sproles.

Shot 11 - #Giants disguise their coverage really well, take options away from Wentz. He's able to create a first down; sets up opening TD — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 25, 2017

The drive continues, and I would be remiss if I didn't include this play by Wentz. Give New York credit, because the Giants disguised a lot of coverages on Sunday, and at times they got the best of the young quarterback. They didn't force any bad interceptions, but they certainly forced him to hold the ball longer than he would've liked on a couple of plays. Here, on third-and-9, the Giants take away Wentz's options downfield, and after Peters clears some space to his left, Wentz takes off for a first down.

You don't want your quarterback to rely on making plays outside of structure. That's no way to live in the NFL. However, you want your quarterback to be able to make plays outside of structure or when a play breaks down. Wentz has shown time and time again the ability to do just that, and he did that there for a big play to move the chains.

Shot 12 - Only a 2-yard run, but we're starting to see Smallwood run harder and get behind his pads. Creates yards here #Eagles — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 25, 2017

Ho hum. Just a 2-yard run. Right?

I'd disagree. This is a really competitive run from Smallwood here, and something that I know he has greatly improved since arriving here in Philadelphia. Smallwood makes contact right at the line of scrimmage. This run may have gone for zero yards or maybe even a loss last year. Now, the former fifth-round pick runs behind his pads, leans forward, and churns his feet through contact to pick up a tough 2 yards and help get the first down.

Shot 13 - Blount running hard on 2 plays to close out drive, but need to point out Brandon Brooks as well. Has been strong all season so far — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 25, 2017

The Eagles finish the drive off with Blount, again getting him downhill quickly. This inside zone counter run is a great misdirection play that again messes with the keys of the linebackers while also getting the ball carrier downhill in a hurry, and Blount nearly scores. On the next play, he powers in a carry off the same concept to get the Eagles on the board and cap off an extremely impressive drive that had so many different elements to it. It was one of my favorite parts of the game on Sunday.

The Drive That Won The Game

The Eagles ran the ball to control the game all afternoon, but they threw the ball to win at the end. On second down with just seven seconds left on the clock, the Eagles had one chance to move the ball to get anywhere close to field goal range or within a North Dakotan arm's shot of a hail mary. The trick was doing it before time ran out. Well, as you know, they got it done. Let's see how they did it.

Shot 14 - What set up the game-winning FG. 3-level stretch becomes a hi-lo on Eli Apple, who falls for Wentz's pump fake in flat; first down — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 25, 2017

The Eagles line up in a bunch formation here with three receivers to the boundary on Wentz's right side. The play concept is one of the Eagles' staples - the three-level stretch.

The point man in the bunch is Torrey Smith, and he's going to run straight down the field and try to carry coverage with him, in essence 'taking the top off the defense.' He accomplishes that, carrying two defenders with him downfield and helping create a void in the intermediate area.

Lined up to Smith's left before the snap is Nelson Agholor. He's going to run right to the sideline, serving as "flat control." We'll get back to that.

Alshon Jeffery is lined up to the right and will be the primary target. He's going to run a sail route, running what is basically a corner route into the intermediate part of the field.

Now, with the top of the defense gone thanks to Smith, this essentially becomes a "high-low" on the cornerback to that side, Eli Apple, a talented young corner. The trick here for Wentz is that it isn't really a "high-low," because the only option is to go high. This ball has to go to the intermediate route for the Eagles to have a chance. Apple's sole responsibility here is to not let the Eagles get a completion across midfield, and to absolutely not let the receiver get out of bounds to stop the clock.

The ball is snapped, and Wentz drops back. He peeks to his left to Zach Ertz, presumably to hold any middle of the field defenders for even a split second. Now he works to his right, and he sees Apple there right at midfield.

What does Wentz do? He does what he can do considering the time crunch. He throws a quick shoulder fake to the flat, in the direction of Agholor. It wasn't much, but it was just enough of a closed stance to make Apple believe that's where the ball is going, and he begins to drive on the throw.

The Apple, one could say, was bitten.

With the safety taken away by Smith, and Wentz's fake to Agholor further widening the void in the middle of the field, the quarterback delivers a dart to Jeffery over another defender and into the tight window along the sideline. Jeffery meets the ball mid-flight and takes it out of bounds with one second remaining on the clock. It was a thing of beauty, and it gave the Eagles a chance to put the game away. Well, we know how that worked out ...

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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