Here we are at Week 7 and with the Eagles at 3-3, we've seen a team improve since Week 1 in all three phases and continue to adapt to the new staff and the schemes they are implementing. There were a lot of positives to take from Sunday's win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Despite their record, they are a talented team with skill at every position on the roster. Before I move on to this week's huge matchup against the Dallas Cowboys, let me first break down some of the key plays and themes that led to Sunday's win.
I thought Nick Foles played very well against Tampa Bay, executing a strong game plan from Chip Kelly and his staff and playing within the scheme. They had an extremely talented Tampa Bay defense guessing for a good part of the day, and it was evident from the first play from scrimmage.
Before the snap, we see wide receiver DeSean Jackson lined up in the backfield to Foles' right. We've seen this look a few times this season, particularly early on against the Kansas City Chiefs, but it appears as if the Bucs are confused from the jump.
The Bucs are coming out playing man coverage underneath, and the idea is that cornerback Darrelle Revis would cover Jackson one-on-one. With Jackson in the backfield, there is some confusion by the defense. Look at Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David pointing outside. He's telling Revis (also in the circle) to get outside to cover wide receiver Jason Avant. Revis was initially unsure of where he would go. with Jackson in the backfield. This is a bad omen early on for Tampa Bay on this play.
The Eagles are going to motion Jackson to the left side of the formation on this play. Again, the Bucs are in man coverage underneath, and although they are showing two high safeties before the snap, will actually be in "man-free." Jackson's motion to the left side will help bring another defender to that side of the field post-snap.
At the snap of the ball, David blitzes. Running back LeSean McCoy appears to be his responsibility in coverage, but with McCoy initially looking like he is in protection on the play, David decides to come after Foles. This would be a costly mistake by the young linebacker.
McCoy initially looks like he will be part of the protection, but will actually be the target of a screen pass. With the Bucs in man coverage and no one to account for McCoy, there is a lot of green grass and a host of blockers out in front. He gets a great block from Jason Kelce 25 yards downfield (25!), and takes the first play 44 yards to set up the Eagles' first opening drive touchdown of the 2013 season.
LeSEAN McCOY DID PLENTY OF DAMAGE AS WELL
Foles had a great performance, no doubt about it, but something also needs to be said for the day McCoy and the offensive line had on the ground as well. McCoy became the first running back to break 100 yards rushing against Tampa Bay this season. While McCoy didn't get in the end zone, he was a factor throughout the afternoon. This next play shows one of the ways he was able to get free.
In the middle of the third quarter, it's second-and-8 from the Eagles' 27-yard line, and the Eagles come out in 11 personnel with one running back, one tight end and three receivers. To the top of the screen, you see Riley Cooper split out wide. At the bottom, you see a bunch formation with Jackson, tight end Brent Celek and Avant. Most importantly, look at how this is defended by the Bucs.
Over the bunch, you see four defensive players: two corners, a safety and a linebacker. Over Cooper, you see two defenders: a corner and a safety.
What does this mean? That means you've got a five-man box. The Eagles have spent the first two and a half quarters stretching the Bucs out in the passing game. This is exactly what you want if you're the Eagles offense. It's now up to the offensive line to block the five most dangerous players, and allow McCoy to do the rest.
That's exactly what you're going to see here. From left to right, we will see tackle Allen Barbre take the playside defensive end (No. 94 Adrian Clayborn). Evan Mathis takes on the three-technique Gerald McCoy. Kelce gets up to David at the second level, with Todd Herremans blocking down on the nose tackle Akeem Spence and tackle Lane Johnson blocking Daniel Te'o-Nesheim.
Look at the hole McCoy has on this play. He ends up taking this for 19 yards after making a defender miss in the secondary. This play shows us one of the key facets of this offense; spread the defense out to create favorable matchups in the run game. This was not a run-pass option at the line of scrimmage like we've broken down in the past. It was a designed run the whole way. It was a great example of scheme, play call and execution by all parties involved, and it resulted in McCoy's biggest gain of the day.
DeSEAN JACKSON JUST KEEPS GETTING BETTER
Jackson had one of his best days as an Eagle on Sunday, when he caught two touchdown passes in one game for the first time in his career. I want to take a look at both of his touchdowns, but let's start with the first one, which came midway through the second quarter on second-and-8 from the Bucs' 12-yard line.
This play seems simple enough, right? At the top of the screen, you'll see Jackson run a crossing route through the back of the end zone, with Brent Celek running a little drag route underneath. This play call ends up being executed to perfection by both receivers as well as Foles.
Let's take a look at how Tampa plays this. On the outside, we see Revis will be manned up on Jackson, with safety help inside from second-year player Mark Barron.
Revis plays this the right way. He covers Jackson with outside leverage and stays over top of him, shepherding him to the middle of the field. Revis should have help inside.
Revis' help isn't there, however. Why? Look at Foles here as he is in mid-pump fake to Celek on his underneath route. His pump fake freezes Barron, who hesitates and is frozen in place. His eyes are on Celek. This leaves a huge void behind him in the secondary, a void that is about to be filled by Jackson.
As we switch to the end zone angle, look at where Foles is getting ready to put this ball. He's already started his throwing motion, and Jackson isn't in the frame yet. He's already thrown the pump fake to freeze the safety, and now hits Jackson in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.
This was a great example of anticipation by Foles. Think back to Week 4 where I broke down Michael Vick's touchdown pass to Jason Avant against Kansas City. It's a different play call, obviously, but a similar situation in the red zone. Here, Foles understood the construct of the play, read what the coverage was giving him and made a snap decision under pressure, same as Vick did against the Chiefs. The pump fake was just icing on the cake, as it helped manipulate the defense and help create an even bigger hole for Foles to get the football.
Now let's take a look at Jackson's second touchdown catch. Last week, I detailed quarter-quarter-half coverage, and how the Buccaneers utilized it in their secondary. Well, that's exactly what we saw in this play from Tampa Bay.
At the top of the screen, you see Revis and safety Dashon Goldson each have responsibility for their quarter of the field. At the bottom, you see Barron has the middle of the field all to himself. The cornerback to that side, Johnthan Banks, will be flat player in this situation, and will not be a factor in the outcome of the play.
Here, you'll see at the bottom of the screen that Brent Celek will be running a 15-yard comeback route. Jackson, lined up in the slot, will be attacking the field vertically and run over the top of Celek's comeback. This combination is going to be incredibly tough for Tampa Bay to defend ...
After a play-action fake to help hesitate the underneath coverage, we see the play develop here. The coverage goes just as planned for Tampa Bay early on. At the top of the screen, you see Revis occupying his quarter of the field by covering Cooper's vertical route. Inside the numbers, you see Goldson occupying his quarter of the field, as he is on top of Jackson's vertical route. At the bottom, Barron is sitting on top of Celek's comeback route. At this point, the Bucs seem like they are in good shape. Unfortunately for them, this is where it all goes wrong.
I'll remove the coverage responsibilities and remind you of where the Eagles receivers are heading in this situation. Celek will be running his comeback route right in front of Barron, while Jackson is about to cross the field behind him.
This puts Barron in conflict, even though he may not even know it. His responsibility is the deep half of the field, covering from deep to short. He doesn't see Jackson coming behind him, and is crashing down on Celek. Goldson, meanwhile, is fine with passing Jackson into that zone because he is under the impression that Barron will be there to pick him up. There's no one there, however, and Jackson comes down with a 36-yard touchdown grab. This was the absolute perfect play call against this coverage.
This play will be analyzed more in depth this week on Eagles Game Plan, and there's a facet to it that makes it even more fascinating that we will reveal on the show. Trust me, it gives this touchdown even more meaning and really gives you a great perspective on the idea of game planning for an opponent. I won't ruin the surprise here though! Make sure you tune in.
WHY DID CHIP KELLY PRAISE THE D-LINE?
Chip Kelly met with the media on Monday and talked about the performance of the defensive line, particularly Fletcher Cox, and their success against Tampa Bay. Frankly, I couldn't agree more. After the defensive line was intrical to the victory over the Giants a week ago by pressuring Eli Manning into three fourth-quarter interceptions, they were incredibly disruptive yet again, this time against the run.
It's first-and-10, and the Bucs are running one of their staples in the run game, iso lead.
On this play, I want you to see the penetration Fletcher Cox gets from his spot as the 4-technique. On the play, he drove Tampa Bay's guard Ted Larsen 4 yards into the backfield, forcing running back Doug Martin to cut back.
Martin tries to cut back, but with Ced Thornton and Nate Allen both holding leverage there, he has nowhere to run but right up the middle to the waiting arms of Mychal Kendricks, who did a great job shedding fullback Erik Lorig on the play, and tackled Martin for no gain. This play all started up front with Fletcher Cox.
It wasn't just Cox who stood out on Sunday, as the entire defensive line came out and played well. Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga played arguably his best game of the season, while Thornton also continued to flourish in Bill Davis' scheme. Here's an example of the impact Thornton is having on the run game, as we see the Bucs again trying to run off left guard against the Eagles' nickel package.
Thornton wins off the snap of the ball on this play. He plays with great pad level, getting underneath of center Jeremy Zuttah's pads, getting his hands inside and literally bench presses him 2 yards into the backfield and towards the direction of the play. Notice No. 55, Brandon Graham, also playing with great leverage and setting the edge on the play.
Thornton's presence closes down the hole for Martin, who has nowhere to go on the play. DeMeco Ryans comes in clean and drags down the talented second-year back for a 1-yard gain.
Maybe the Bucs will have better luck to the other side of the line? This time, they try to run off right guard, in the direction of defensive end Vinny Curry.
Curry will have none of that, as he drives veteran guard Davin Joseph 3 yards into the backfield, winning with pad level and explosion.
Nose tackle Bennie Logan helped occupy two blockers inside, and with Curry's dominance on the play, Martin again has nowhere to go but into Ryans. The Bucs face a third-and-long after the stop for a 1-yard gain by Ryans. The defense held Martin to just 67 yards on the day, an impressive feat against an offense that prides itself on its ability to run the football.
THIS WEEK'S CHALLENGE: COWBOYS WR DEZ BRYANT
Let's take a look at the Dallas Cowboys, shall we? This is obviously one of the most productive offenses in the entire NFL. Quarterback Tony Romo is off to a hot start, and with a talented group of pass catchers there are plenty of targets for him through the air.
I want to focus on Dez Bryant, however, and his ability to make plays with the ball in space. At 6-foot-2, 222 pounds, Bryant is a big, physical receiver who can run well after the catch. The Cowboys utilize his abilities in every way, using him in the slot as well as on the outside. They will throw the fade to him in every area of the field and will run him vertically to stretch the defense. But one area I want to hit on is his ability to make plays over the middle, where they like to get him the ball in space and give him room to run. How do they do it? Well, there is no one answer, but let's take a look at some of the ways they've shown on tape thus far in 2013.
There are multiple concepts that they use to get Bryant the ball underneath, and one of them is the "Drive" concept. If this looks familiar, it's because we broke it down in Week 2 preparing for the San Diego Chargers (and if it doesn't look familiar, here it is). Out of the backfield, you're going to see running back DeMarco Murray run a wheel route. On the inside of the formation, you'll see tight end Gavin Escobar run a curl, with Bryant running a drag route underneath.
The curl and drag routes paired together, against man coverage, would serve as a good way to create separation for Bryant against an opposing cornerback. You see that the Broncos are in zone coverage here, however, as no one runs with Bryant. Instead, you see that he is running directly into the area occupied by the "rat player" in the middle of the field, linebacker Nate Irving. Bryant does a great job avoiding Irving and taking the Romo pass 27 yards for a first down.
One of the other ways the Cowboys try to get Bryant the ball in space is by running a series of vertical routes to clear out an area of the field, and run him into the void. We see that here on this play.
If we just focus on the bottom of the screen first, you'll see the football team from Washington is in man coverage. DeAngelo Hall is matched up against Bryant, and linebacker Perry Riley is manned up on tight end James Hanna, who is running to the flat out of the backfield.
Bryant knows the Redskins are in man coverage, and uses it to his advantage. He knows that with Hanna running to the flat behind him, that he can use Riley as interference to help gain separation on Hall.
Bryant gets the pick he wants, and with the two receivers at the top of the screen running vertical routes he has a huge void to run into in the secondary.
This is another example of how the Cowboys scheme to get Bryant the ball in the open field, as he takes the pass 17 yards for a Dallas first down.
With his size, Bryant is real problem for opposing secondaries after the catch. When he and Romo are on the same page, they are a deadly combination. Look at this play from Week 4 against San Diego.
Bryant is going to run a dig route to the middle of the field. I want you to notice that Bryant is lined up with a minus split, inside the numbers, at the beginning of this play. Notice the width he gets on his route, as he tries to expand the coverage laterally by taking his route outside the numbers before cutting back inside. This will be critical to the outcome of the play.
The Cowboys are running play-action to help freeze the underneath defenders. Their eyes are in the backfield at the start of the play, meaning that once they realize it's pass they will have to rush getting back to their landmarks to handle their responsibilities against the pass.
Bryant is now at the top of his stem, and is cutting back inside towards the middle of the field. Notice the cornerback on top of him, and how wide he had to get. The linebacker underneath is also getting width to account for Bryant. There is now a huge window over the middle of the field for Romo to throw the football.
Bryant makes a catch away from his body, brings the football in, makes a defender miss (see circle) and takes it in for a 34-yard touchdown grab. Bryant's abilities as a route runner, hands catcher, physical presence and playmaker were all evident on this play. It's this combination that makes him one of the scariest receivers in the NFL, and one of the toughest covers for opposing defenses.
For a more thorough breakdown of the Eagles' matchup against Dallas, be sure to tune into Eagles Game Plan on Saturday night at 12:05 AM and Sunday morning at 11:35 AM locally on 6-ABC. All Eagles Television Network shows can be found on PhiladelphiaEagles.com on the day of the game. Next week I'll be back to break down the big game against Dallas.