Week 13: Eagles vs. Cowboys

This week on Eagles Rewind:

-Initial Thoughts From Eagles/Cowboys

-Why Wide-9 Sucks (In Pictures)

-Let’s Talk About Nick Foles Part 1 (In Pictures)

-Let’s Talk About Nick Foles Part 2 (In Pictures)

-You Mean We Should Cover Jason Witten? (In Pictures)

Initial thoughts:

Nick Foles had his best performance, by far.  For the first time this season, Foles managed to consistently make more than one read and was finally given an opportunity to throw some deep balls, which he did with some success.

He reaffirmed my view that he is much more mobile than he was given credit for coming out of Arizona, and he was able to repeatedly use his legs to buy himself time (and delivered accurate throws when he moved out of the pocket)

However, Dallas’ defense is mediocre, so let’s not get too excited just yet.  A lot of the passes Foles completed were to open receivers and though he delivered the ball in stride to most, he didn’t have to (or didn’t try to) fit the ball into tight windows.

In any case, he certainly showed a lot more promise then he has over the past few weeks. But remember that Andy Reid made AJ Feeley look like a starting QB or a little while.  It’s best to focus on his progressions, accuracy, and decision making over the rest of the season rather than look at his stat line.

Bryce Brown really is that good.  Granted the fumbles are a problem, but a McCoy/Brown tandem definitely has the talent to be among the best running attacks in the league (and it’s a near certainty that the next coach will run the ball more than Reid has).

The safeties really are that bad.  With every game, my opinion of Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen gets worse (which is really remarkable considering how low it was to start the season).  I really don’t see any way for either of these two players to become dependable starters.  Both are weak in coverage and take terrible angle’s when stepping up to make a tackle.  Neither shows any evidence of a reasonable football IQ.  Though I realize it sounds like hyperbole, after watching lots of tape, I really do believe the Allen/Coleman duo is among the worst in recent history.  Just really dreadful play all season, and frankly, most of the time I feel embarrassed for them when watching the replays.  There’s still a slight chance its scheme-related, but I think the odds of that are now very low.

Play 1:  Why the Wide-9 Sucks

At this point, most people realize the huge weaknesses of the Wide-9 , and thankfully the Eagles have moved on from it.  However, I felt it would be helpful to show a quick example that illustrates why it’s so easy to beat.  Here is Dallas’ first play from scrimmage:

Eagles Cowboys 1

The result of this play is a 14 yard run.  Notice the Wide-9 alignment of the Eagles d-line.  At the snap (below), both ends rush straight upfield, leaving a large hole on either side of the line (Demarco Murray will rush left).  At this point, as we can see from the picture, either the corner needs to shed his block and make a tackle or the safety needs to step up.  Here, Coleman makes the play (barely, he takes a bad angle) and pushes Murray OB, but not before Murray has a large gain.

Eagles Cowboys 2

Obviously this is a very exploitable weakness, because the Cowboys take advantage of it again on the very next play:

Eagles Cowboys 4

Eagles Cowboys 5

Look familiar?  Again, both ends rush straight upfield, leaving gaping holes on either side of the line.  Here, Asomugha makes a good play, getting off his block and limiting it to an 8 yard gain.

Sadly, the plays above have been run repeatedly against the Eagles the entire season, and it took until this week for Reid to finally admit that the Wide-9 as a base alignment is a terrible strategy.

Play 2:  Let’s Talk About Nick Foles (Part 1)

This play is one that a lot of people have highlighted, and rightfully so.  It’s 1st down, with the Eagles up 7-3 and the ball on their own 19 yard line.  Dallas shows a big blitz, though ends up rushing just one extra, with 5 defenders going after Foles.  Here is the pre-snap alignment:

Eagles Cowboys 6

At the snap, Dallas’ slot corner (top of the screen) blitzes , with the safety picking up coverage.  The left DE (seen standing above) will actually drop into coverage, while the strongside LB blitzes.  This is a very well designed blitz.  The DT on the strong-side (top of the screen) stunts towards the middle, bringing the guard with him.  Meanwhile, the corner blitz forces the LT to pick him up wide, leaving an open lane for the LB to come through.  Seen below:

Eagles Cowboys 7

Above and below are both shots of what Foles is looking at just before he gets hit (with the picture below taken as he releases the ball.  Notice (particularly in the shot below) the big lane on the left side of the line.  This is why the LB got pressure so quickly.  However, Foles beats this blitz for a big gain, as the Dallas LB does not get enough depth on his coverage drop, leaving a hole for Celek in the middle of the field.

Eagles Cowboys 8

Seen above, Foles delivers the ball between the LBs and hits Celek at the hash-mark for a gain of 19 yards.  This particular play is one with which Vick struggled mightily (both leading his receiver and throwing into the face of a blitz).

Also note, Foles’ size gives him a big advantage when facing this type of pressure, as he can both see over the rusher and is tall enough to deliver the ball over him without getting it tipped.

Play 3: Let’s Talk About Foles Part 2

Here is a play that did not grab as much attention as the previous one, though I think it’s a great example of one of Foles’ strengths as well as a clear illustration of how much yardage Vick left on the field as a result of his poor accuracy (inability to hit receivers in stride).

The Eagles have 3rd and 6 on the Dallas 33.  After the first down the Eagles will proceed to score a TD, with this play the most important of the drive (aside from the scoring play of course).  Pre-snap, the Eagles have a single back set, with 2 WRs split to either side.  Jeremy Maclin is lined up in the left slot and will motion across the formation from left to right.

Eagles Cowboys 9

The ball is snapped just as Maclin clears the line:

Eagles Cowboys 10

Maclin runs a slant while the other two receivers run deep outs (10yd and 15 yd), clearing their defenders from the middle of the field.  As a bonus, the DB covering Maclin gets caught in the traffic, giving him the space to make an easy catch. Below is at the moment of release, we can see Maclin breaking towards the middle of the field, which as a result of strong play design, has no defenders in it.

Eagles Cowboys 11

What ultimately makes this play successful though, is that Nick Foles delivers the ball to Maclin in stride, meaning Maclin isn’t forced to sacrifice his separation by waiting for the ball.  So even though Maclin catches the ball at the 30 yard line, he is able to maintain his speed and isn’t tackled until he reaches the Dallas 12.  Below is Maclin catching the ball.  Notice the progression from the picture above, he is still moving forwards at the time of the catch, and look at the ridiculous amount of open field ahead of him.

Eagles Cowboys 12

Play 4:  You Mean We Should Cover Jason Witten?

Our final play rewind is one I’m sure everyone who watched the game remembers.  Keeping the spirit of the season alive, the defense decides to let Jason Witten run clear down the middle of the field for a TD (he’s tackled at the 1 yard line and Murray runs it in from there, but this is essentially the scoring play).  At this point the Eagles are up 14-3 with about 1 minute remaining in the 2nd quarter, so to say this is a pivotal moment of the game is an understatement.

So how did it happen?

The Cowboys have 1st and 10 on the Eagles 29 yard line.  Here is the pre-snap look:

Eagles Cowboys 13

The Eagles are in a Nickel defense, with the Cowboys lining up with 3 WRs and a single back to Romo’s left.  Witten is on the right side of the line and will cut underneath the LB before running a seem-route (straight up the middle of the field).

Below is after the snap as Romo reaches the depth of his drop. The Eagles have only rushed 4, meaning there should be plenty of defensive help in the d-backfield (The Eagles have 7 defenders back versus the Cowboys’ 4 receivers).  However, in the shot below we can see the start of what goes wrong.  Kurt Coleman (eager to keep his crown as Worst Eagles Starter) can be seen running to double-cover Dez Bryant (on the bottom of the picture).  Let’s forget for a moment that the corner here is Nnamdi, who was really never suppose to need help in the form of a standard double-cover (as opposed to over-the-top deep help every once in a while).  Meanwhile, Nate Allen, the other safety, is rolling towards the top of the screen.  This appears to be the designed coverage, as the defense shouldn’t allow one half of the field to be played 2 v. 2 when there are extra defenders, though the final look makes me think Allen may have messed up.

Eagles Cowboys 14

Though it’s impossible to know exactly who’s mistake it was (without someone admitting it), it’s very clearly either Coleman (the obvious choice) or Nate Allen (which I’ll explain in a moment).  regardless, in the picture above we can see Witten coming upfield between the LBs, who let him go and maintain their zone.

Below is just after the pass has been thrown, and we can see a wide open Witten in the middle of the field, with no defender within 7 yards (or even looking at him for that matter).  Outrageous breakdown in defense, especially when you consider two things: ITS JASON WITTEN, one of the greatest receiving TE’s in the history of the league and Romo’s favorite target, and HE ALREADY HAS 4 CATCHES and has been thrown to 6 times, easily leading the Cowboys for both receptions and targets.  In light of both, he should probably have been a focus of the defense.

Eagles Cowboys 15

Final note on this play from the picture above.  Notice Nnamdi’s coverage on the bottom left of the picture.  It certainly looks like he is playing over top, while Coleman appears to be in a decent underneath position.  This may be a coincidence, but if the Eagles were bracketing Dez Bryant, this is what it should look like.  Conversely, the coverage to the top of the screen is pretty clearly single man-to-man.  If this is the case, then it’s probably Nate Allen who screwed up (perhaps he was confused by Witten’s route, which cut from one hash mark (on Allen’s side) to the other before becoming a seam route.

Final Notes:

– Brandon Graham had 1.5 sacks and 4 QB hits.  He is quietly starting to show at least some of the skill that made the Eagles draft him so high.

– The Eagles were 3-3 in the Red Zone.

– Tony Romo’s QB Rating was 150.5, continuing the historically bad stretch for the Eagles Pass Defense.

– Nick Foles was sacked just once and hit only 3 times.  In general, the O-Line played much better then it has all year, but making the jump from terrible to mediocre isn’t overly encouraging.

– Oh yeah, the Eagles had a return TD.  Remember when everyone was excited that we hired Bobby April?

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