Sunday's win was monumental for a number of reasons. It was the first home win in over a year. It was over a division rival. It gave the Eagles first place in the NFC East. It was a great way to go into the bye week. One thing that stood out to me, however, was how it really was a full team effort that led to victory. The offense, defense and special teams all made major contributions at critical stages of the game to get the win, and that was something that really goes a long way down the stretch in December.
Offensively, you saw a great effort unit-wide, but especially from quarterback Nick Foles, who made great decisions in the run and pass game all day long and took care of the football. Defensively, Fletcher Cox played one of the best games of his young career and was all over the field. Bennie Logan stood out as well, chasing down plays from the back side and defeating blocks at the point of attack in the run game. Connor Barwin, Cedric Thornton and DeMeco Ryans continued their high level of play. On special teams, Donnie Jones was simply fantastic. Coverage was again suffocating, with players flying down the field and bringing energy to the third phase of the game.
Now, on to the breakdown ... I want to start on offense with two passing concepts that have worked very well for the Eagles throughout the entire season.
It's first-and-10 late in the first quarter, and Washington comes out in "man free" coverage with one single-high safety and man coverage underneath. Notice the alignment of the safety to DeSean Jackson's side of the field.
The Eagles will be running a "mesh" concept here, a concept we've broken down before when we saw Brent Celek's touchdown catch against the Oakland Raiders. On this play, you'll see both Celek and Jackson run crossing routes across the middle, creating a situation where defenders can get lost in man coverage.
What we're also going to see on this play is a wheel route out of the backfield from LeSean McCoy. With Washington in man coverage, this could present a huge matchup problem for the defense.
Look, first, inside the circle at the 50-yard line. You can see the mesh concept working to perfection there, as Jackson comes free and will be open underneath. Nick Foles, however, sees that the defense is in man coverage, and he knows that there's a whole lot of space for him to get the ball to McCoy on the wheel route. Look back at that safety, he's still outside the opposite hash mark, and is in no position to make any kind of play on the football. Foles throws a beautiful ball, hits McCoy in stride and he takes it for a 49-yard gain on first down to set up the first touchdown of the game.
You may remember early on in the game against Dallas, Foles missed on a couple of these wheel routes to McCoy and to Bryce Brown. My, how far we've come!
Let's fast-forward a bit to the beginning of the second quarter. Again, it's first-and-10, and while the Eagles come out in a different personnel grouping this will be the same exact play that we saw earlier. Check it out ...
Again, we see the mesh concept with a wheel route from McCoy.
And again, we see the same type of result. Underneath, we'll see Jackson come free from the mesh as Celek's route serves as a pick on his defender. McCoy's wheel and Jason Avant's in-breaking route clear some space for Jackson, and Foles hits him in stride. This play goes for 26 yards and another Eagles first down.
The mesh concept isn't the only thing working for the Eagles right now for Chip Kelly through the air, as we've seen a lot of success come from the screen game as well. Let's take a look.
It's the first play of the second quarter, and it's first-and-10. The Eagles come out in 11 Personnel, with one back (Brown) and a tight end (Celek). Before the snap, Foles sends Brown in motion to the right.
This motion does not go unnoticed by the Washington defense. They already had three defenders aligned over the Eagles two receivers on the outside, and Brown brings a fourth defender away from the box as a linebacker follows him outside the hash.
At the snap, Foles pumps to his right, faking a screen to Brown, then turns to his left. Celek did a great job selling the screen, blocking linebacker Brian Orakpo for a two-count before releasing him. Orakpo thinks he has a clean shot at the quarterback.
Before he takes the hit, Foles releases and gets the ball into Celek's hands. The tight end has a host of blockers out in front. Celek is one of the most prolific players at his position at getting yards after the catch over the span of his career. Jeff Maehl (circled) is already working over his man, while Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis are working towards the second level. Todd Herremans has his block square in his sights, as he peels back towards the catch.
Herremans completely de-cleats his man (defensive tackle Stephen Bowen).
Mathis takes out two defenders downfield. The great downfield blocking, and not to mention the speed and vision of Celek, lead to a 42-yard catch and near-touchdown for the Eagles offense. We've seen this play executed on more than one occasion this year (think back to Tampa Bay and Oakland), and this one was no different; a great play by the Eagles offense.
The screen game wasn't just fruitful to the tight ends, as another long gain came from the running back position ...
It's a bit later in the second quarter. On first-and-10, the Eagles come out in 11 personnel again, with Bryce Brown and newly signed wideout Brad Smith lined up in the backfield. Before the snap, Smith gets motioned out to the left of the formation.
Three Washington defenders turn their attention to Smith. Just like in the last play, however, that pre-snap motion serves as window dressing.
The play is actually going to the offense's right, where Brown already has four blockers out in front.
Again, notice the downfield blocking from the Eagles offensive line. Kelce gets his man on the ground, while Herremans puts a block on his man, giving Brown enough room to run for a 24-yard gain and a first down.
You may remember this play from earlier in the season. It was the first play the Eagles ran against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, except instead of Brad Smith in the backfield it was DeSean Jackson who served as the pre-snap decoy.
BILL DAVIS IS AT IT AGAIN
Another week, and another example of defensive coordinator Bill Davis picking apart opposing protection schemes. This was something that FOX analyst John Lynch brought up on the broadcast on Sunday against Washington, and it's been true each and every week. As is typically the case, it all starts inside with nose tackle Bennie Logan (who played a very inspiring game on Sunday, for what it's worth). His presence over center cuts the offensive line in half, as the center will almost undoubtedly look to block the rookie defensive tackle.
The Eagles will blitz linebacker Najee Goode on this play, and are slanting up front on the defensive line. The linemen will be slanting into the gaps immediately to their left, with the aim being to carry the offensive linemen lined up directly across from them.
Everything goes as planned. Logan takes the center's attention (left circle). Fletcher Cox and Trent Cole occupy Washington's left guard and left tackle (right circle), and Goode comes free off the edge. Goode hits Robert Griffin III and comes up with his first career sack.
By now, you know that the Eagles defense has been incredibly stingy in terms of allowing points on the scoreboard. The Eagles defense has held its opponents to 21 points or fewer in each of the last seven games, the only team in the NFL to do so over that span. They've been especially tough in the red zone as of late, allowing just two touchdowns in the last 12 red zone opportunities, forcing three turnovers in two weeks. How have they been so productive with their backs against the wall? Per the usual, there isn't any one answer, but one of the ways is bringing pressure, and relying on tight coverage on the back end to supplement it.
It's second-and-goal midway through the second quarter, and Washington has the ball at the Eagles' 5-yard line. Griffin III is lined up in the pistol, with four receivers split out wide, leaving just five players on the line of scrimmage along with the running back in protection.
The Eagles are going to blitz this protection by sending six rushers (from left to right, Barwin, Thornton, Logan, Goode, Cox and Cole). Middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans (who has been playing at a Pro Bowl-level all season long) is manned up on running back Roy Helu in the backfield. Helu is Ryans' responsibility. You see seven Eagles defenders in the frame, which means there are four left in the secondary. Those four defenders are lined up in straight man-to-man defense against the Washington offense. They are all on an island, and have no help. Tight coverage will be necessary for this to work.
Before the snap, Goode approaches the line of scrimmage, showing blitz. The Washington offensive line will have to adjust accordingly.
The ball is snapped, and if you look at the Washington offensive line, they have all picked up an Eagles rusher. Two men are free, Barwin and Ryans. Barwin immediately attacks Helu, who stays in to protect. If Helu breaks out on a route, Ryans will be responsible for him in coverage. If Helu were to block Barwin, Ryans could have the option to "green dog," or blitz the quarterback since his man is not running a route.
Fortunately, Ryans isn't needed, as Barwin runs through Helu and makes his way to Griffin III. Not only does Barwin get to the quarterback, but he forces a fumble as the ball pops into the air into the waiting arms of Fletcher Cox. This was a huge play in the game, and a great job of execution and design by Bill Davis' defense.
And again, keep in mind, none of that is possible without the coverage on the back end. Cary Williams, Nate Allen, Patrick Chung and Roc Carmichael all do a great job plastering the Washington receivers, keeping Griffin from getting rid of the football.
Last week, I posted a piece scouting Washington's offense and a few facets of their option attack, most notably their use of the triple option. They used the play multiple times on Sunday, with minimal results. Here's a look at a case where they used it to try and deceive the Eagles defense.
Like I showed in last week's piece, we see a receiver motion into the backfield just before the snap.
At the snap, this play looks just like triple option, with running back Alfred Morris running the dive play inside, and Griffin III having the option to give it to him, tuck the ball and run to his right down the alley or pitch it to his receiver on the outside. As I noted last week, they will run this play numerous times in a game, and will run play-action off of it, faking the dive and getting the defense to run to the perimeter (to defend the pitch), opening up the middle of the field. That's just what they did here on this play.
Washington faked the run-action with Morris and Griffin III will actually be dropping back to pass. Notice the Eagles' second-level defenders, none of them are biting on the play fake. Everyone stays home and is defending their responsibilities in coverage, against a passing concept that they run ad nauseum. Washington's basic principle is, run one receiver deep, one on an intermediate route and a safety valve underneath.
Griffin III is at the top of his drop. He has nowhere to go with the football. He tucks it and breaks the pocket and runs out of bounds for a short gain. This has been Washington's issue for much of the season, as they have been unable to get it going in the deep passing game.
Their issues downfield have resulted in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan relying more on the screen game this year. I broke down their ability to get Pierre Garcon the ball in space in the screen game. They use tight end Jordan Reed and running back Roy Helu in that role as well, as they are all quality receivers. The Eagles defense knew that and came prepared on Sunday.
It's third-and-long, and the Eagles come out in a sub-package with a very different front, as you can see. The front isn't important here, however, as Washington will be running a screen play right in the direction the pressure is coming from. Shanahan couldn't have scripted this better. It should go for a long gain and a possible first down.
Earlier, I mentioned that Cox may have had one of his best games as an Eagle, and I stand by that. He nearly had two interceptions. He had a number of big stops against the run. He was incredibly disruptive against the pass, and threw Washington offensive linemen around like rag dolls for much of the game. This was one of his most impressive feats, however. We saw that before the snap he was lined up outside the tackles. Just before the snap of the ball, he lined up inside. As the ball is snapped, look at where his eyes are. Griffin III is literally on the second step of his drop. Cox already knows it's a screen play, and he sticks his foot in the ground and retraces back towards the intended receiver (Helu).
Cox, all 300 pounds of him, tracked down Helu for a short gain and a stop on third down. This was an example of great recognition and athleticism from the former first-round pick who has really settled into his new role in this defensive scheme. As you can see, Ryans is also right there to make a stop on the play. This defense is really coming together.
For a more thorough breakdown of the Eagles' win over Washington, be sure to tune into "Eagles Game Plan" this weekend, and I'll be back next week to preview the Arizona Cardinals.