The Eagles earned a huge win over the New York Giants on Monday Night Football. The big story on offense may be the inconsistent play of quarterback Sam Bradford, but I came away feeling as good about the state of the Eagles running game as I have at any point this season. Coming into this week against a Giants defensive front that, while I don't think they were exactly as good as this rating, was ranked as the No. 2 run defense in the NFL when it came to yards per game. With players like Johnathan Hankins, Jon Beason and Cullen Jenkins in the front seven, there were some potential disruptors. The Eagles still came away with probably their best overall performance on the ground of the season. Let me show you why.
As has been the case for a good chunk of Chip Kelly's time here in Philadelphia, the sweep play was a big part of the team's success. Ryan Mathews, who was questionable entering the game with a groin injury, thrived in that scheme on Monday.
Tight end Brent Celek holds up well at the point of attack. Tackle Jason Peters cuts Hankins. Guard Allen Barbre and center Jason Kelce get out in front for Mathews, who picks up 9 yards on this play for a near first down. They ran this play in the direction of the running back, another example of the Eagles "breaking the trend" of what many have deemed as a "tell" for this run game, where they always run "away" from the position of the back. Here, Mathews lined up on the left, and the play went left, as he waited for his blocks to develop and picked up a great gain on first down.
The biggest part of this rushing attack on Monday night however was the play of DeMarco Murray, who earned his first 100-yard rushing game as an Eagle. After inconsistent play up front along with an injury resulted in a slow start for the reigning rushing champ this fall, the coaches have tried a number of different ways to get him going. They've lined up under center. They've run a number of different running schemes, but on Monday they were able to get things going against New York with something we hadn't really seen with Murray since the first week or so of the season, inside zone running out of the shotgun.
It's first-and-10, and the Eagles line up with Bradford in the gun with Murray offset to the right. He's lined up slightly behind Bradford in the backfield, not right next to him. This is important in the structure of the play. What we had seen from the Eagles' outside zone run (a play that Murray enjoyed so much success with down in Dallas in 2014), was the stretch concept where Murray would run parallel to the line of scrimmage before sticking his foot in the ground and getting downhill. For the reasons we highlighted above, those runs came with mixed results. What did we see on Monday?
With more inside zone, Murray was able to get downhill quicker because he's already more square to the line of scrimmage. His depth before the snap, lining up slightly behind Bradford, allowed him to hit the line with a head of steam, and he was able to get going quickly on the ground.
Here's another example from later in the game, where the last play went front side. Murray was able to see his blocks clearly, find the lane to the backside and get downhill for an 11-yard pickup and a first down. This was a trend throughout the game with Murray, who repeatedly was able to pick up chunks of yardage on this play from the shotgun because the line was able to prevent penetration and he was able to hit the hole untouched.
This was the case on his touchdown run. No one laid a finger on Murray until the safety tried to get a hand on him in the hole, but Murray wasn't having any of it. DeMarco outtough's Brandon Meriweather one-on-one, and he rolls in for the score to help seal the win. Getting the run game started is going to be a huge part of this team's success moving forward, because the run game fuels the passing game in this scheme. That point was proven time and time again on Monday, as the Eagles found numerous ways to attack the Giants through the air off of the threat of the run.
It's first-and-10 in the opening quarter. With Mathews in the game, the Eagles call a screen to Josh Huff that comes off of run-action to the right. Look at how the run-action carries the second level of the Giants' defense away from the play. Huff gets a great block from Miles Austin and another from Peters out in space to spring him for a 15-yard gain and a first down.
The Eagles are a huge proponent of the bootleg passing game, getting the quarterback on the run by getting the defense to flow to one side and then rolling out to the other. This exact play resulted in so many big plays for Jordan Matthews a year ago as a rookie. It netted him 19 yards on second down here in the third quarter, again off of run-action to the opposite side.
One of the other ways the Eagles get going off of run-action is with four verticals. It provided them with a huge gain in the third quarter on Monday night. The Giants appear to be in some kind of Quarter-Quarter-Half coverage (with Quarters to the wide side of the field and Cover 2 to the short side). The run-action holds that Quarters safety (Meriweather) for just a second. It results in him being in no man's land, left to defend two vertical routes from Austin and Celek. Bradford hits Austin for a 37-yard gain and a first down in another example of how run-action helped the Eagles attack down the field. It wasn't the only time they appeared to attack that Quarter-Quarter-Half coverage from the Giants.
In the first quarter, the Eagles got on the board with a 32-yard strike from Bradford to Riley Cooper that came against the same look from the Giants. Cooper runs a deep over route from the slot at the bottom of the screen, right into the area of the half-field safety. But that safety has no idea that Cooper is coming, because the run-action paired with the route from Celek holds his eyes just long enough for Bradford to float the ball in for a touchdown. The ball could've been thrown better, no question, but the schematics of the play worked against the perfect coverage. The whole offense executed for the touchdown.
The final way that the true threat of a dangerous running affects the Eagles' passing game is with the use of what is widely termed as "packaged" plays. These concepts are essentially "read-option" plays for the quarterback, but instead of deciding whether or not he should hand it off to the running back or run it himself, he decides whether to hand it off or throw a pass to receivers running a route. These types of concepts have risen in popularity all over every level of the game, and the Eagles have always had them in their arsenal. They probably run similar concepts a couple of times a game on average.
On this play, Bradford hits Zach Ertz for a 12-yard gain and a first down on a quick hitch route, a play that they hit on at least three times in the game. The benefits to plays like this are multifaceted. First, if run correctly, the defense is almost always wrong, especially if you're running the ball effectively because defenders will have to respect that. Secondly, it helps get your quarterback in a groove with quick-hitting passes. Last, but certainly not least, it picks up easy yardage. If the Eagles can continue to run the ball effectively with Murray and Mathews, the pass game will continue to put up numbers because the scheme allows it to do so when it's executed at a high level.
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.