On Tuesday, I took a long look at the performance of the Eagles' defense against the Detroit Lions, most notably what I saw from rookie cornerback Eric Rowe in his most extensive action of the season. Today, let's look at the offense, a unit that struggled to move the ball against a versatile, athletic defensive front seven throughout the game on Thursday afternoon. As has been the case for much of the season, the offensive line did not play well enough to win against Detroit, and it started in the run game.
This is a simple inside zone run from the Eagles out of the shotgun with DeMarco Murray. This play is all about building a wall up front, with the offensive line "combo blocking" up to the linebackers. The running back has the ability to press the path and hit any one of four potential holes, but this is built as a downhill running scheme. On this play, with the way the defense lines up, Jason Kelce and Allen Barbre are blocking the nose tackle before sifting up to linebacker Stephen Tulloch to the offense's left. The ball is snapped, and the Eagles are unable to get to the second level, leaving Tulloch free in the backside A gap. Murray sees this and knows he can't hit this inside. He tries to bounce it outside, carrying the run to the left sideline where he gets tripped up for a 1-yard gain.
Two plays later on the same drive, the Eagles again go to the inside zone run. This time, they are unable to block the backside 3-technique, who gets early penetration and changes the line of scrimmage. Kelce isn't able to get any movement on the nose tackle, but Murray somehow gets 3 yards on the play to bring up second-and-7.
On this play in the second quarter, you can see that the Eagles are trying to mix things up. Mark Sanchez is under center here, and Trey Burton lines up at fullback in a "pro-style" formation. The Eagles have mixed these looks in here and there, and we saw it again on Thursday. This is the "Split Zone" run, with Burton coming across the formation to block the backside edge player, but the basic inside zone rules apply elsewhere. The backside nose tackle again gets too much penetration, changing the line of scrimmage and completely erasing where Murray wants to go with the football, which is downhill. Burton is unable to block defensive end Darryl Tapp, and Murray goes down for a loss.
The offensive line struggles weren't just limited to the run game. The Eagles struggled to protect against a four-man rush for most of the afternoon. Days like that tend to have lingering effects on most quarterbacks late in games, and I thought you could see a little bit of that from Sanchez on Thursday.
It's third-and-4, and the Eagles call a version of their "mesh" concept with three routes over the ball. Tight end Brent Celek is breaking free and open for a first down. Sanchez, however, is not settled in the pocket, and the pressure gets to him. He is brought down for a sack and the offense is forced to punt.
It wasn't like it was all bad for the offense. While the offensive line struggled for much of the day, there were plenty of examples where they were able to put it all together and finish drives. This group has shown throughout the year that they can get it done in spurts. It's a matter of consistently getting it done and that has been the issue thus far through 11 games.
Take this play for example. It's the Eagles' third series of the game. On first-and-10, head coach Chip Kelly calls a sweep to the left. Burton will block down on the defensive tackle. Kelce has to scoop the nose tackle. Lane Johnson pulls left to take care of the playside defensive end and Barbre pulls up to the playside linebacker. All four guys up front to the playside do their jobs correctly. Murray gets some help on the outside with a block from Miles Austin, and he goes 19 yards for a first down.
On the next play, Sanchez is able to connect with Trey Burton on a big 43-yard completion. The first read in the progression is a quick high-low concept on the outside with Austin and Jordan Matthews. Sanchez reads man coverage, and sees those routes taken away so he immediately checks to Burton and delivers an accurate pass on the run for a big gain. Notice that the protection on this play allowed Sanchez to stay comfortable in the pocket, get through his reads and deliver the football on time and on target.
Three plays later, on third-and-2, the Eagles go back to a version of their mesh route, and Celek is open for the score. The safety had a lot to run through and got to the catch point a hair late. The veteran tight end plunges into the end zone to tie the score at 7-7.
The Eagles' offense has shown flashes throughout the season, but hasn't really put together a complete game to this point. If they can be more consistent up front, it will go a long way toward helping to turn things around in the final five games 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.