Week 17: Eagles vs. Giants Rewind

Two notes before we get to it:

1) There was almost nothing positive to take from that game.  On review, it was as bad as it seemed live (maybe even worse since the lack of effort was abundantly clear when each player was viewed individually.)

2) There weren’t many players of interest for the team’s future due to injuries.

In light of that, here are the Rewind thoughts, followed by some pictures:

– Anyone who watched Vick on Sunday should have a newfound appreciation for Nick Foles.  There are few things as annoying for a football fan than to watch the QB repeatedly miss open receivers.  The super-athletic “mobile” QB’s can have their speed, I’ll take accuracy over running any day.

LeSean McCoy is crazy good.  The lone bright spot this week, McCoy might have single-handedly made the Eagles head coaching job the most attractive available.  I have mixed feelings on Chip Kelly, but there’s no doubt that he must be salivating at the prospect of having McCoy/Brown as his backfield.

As far as turnaround plans go, the Eagles is fairly simple:  Let McCoy carry the offense behind a healthy line while you fix the defense and get a longer look at Foles.

– I mentioned that Graham would be a focus while reviewing the tape, so…he played an OK game.  Wasn’t nearly as disruptive as he has been over the past few weeks, but the Giants are among the toughest match-ups in the league for pass rushers.  Graham made a few nice plays and repeatedly drove his blocker backwards, but couldn’t get off the block to finish the job.  However, given the fact that everyone else on the defense either mailed it in or didn’t have the talent to be on the field in the first place, it’s probably not a game to draw anything significant from.

– The LBs for the Eagles had an absolutely embarrassing performance.  I’d prefer not to mention their names in the hope that they will just disappear from both the roster and my memory.  Demeco and Mychael can come back, everyone else needs to go.   Complete lack of ability.

Now the illustrations:

Hand-off to nobody – One of the most frustrating aspects of the Vick era can be seen below.  Most readers here will recognize it, since we’ve seen it much more often than anyone should.  Vick either fakes the hand-off with nobody in the backfield, or does it to the side opposite the runner.

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Running PA when you’re not a running team is problematic enough, but doing it without even having a RB to fake-accept the hand-off is downright obnoxious.  Normally I’d chalk this up to a miscommunication, but it’s happened often enough that simple miscommunication seems unlikely.  Additionally, though I haven’t gone back and checked, I don’t recall seeing this from Foles, which indicates it’s not by design.  Needless to say, I’m stumped.  Regardless, with Vick gone, let’s hope we never see it again.

Dear Colt, thanks for playing, better luck next career.

Though there were lots of plays that highlighted the myriad defensive holes of the Eagles, this one is particularly galling because of the situation.  The team is already losing 28-7.  There are just 10 seconds left in the half and the Giants are already in field goal range.  That means this is a pretty straightforward play for the defense:  KEEP THEM OUT OF THE END ZONE.  The Giants have 3 TOs, but with only 10 seconds remaining, they likely only have two plays left, this one and a field goal attempt.

The Eagles recognize the situation and line up accordingly in a quarters-zone prevent defense.  That means the two safeties and outside corners essentially split the field into four slices, with each of them responsible for one.   Meanwhile, the two LBs and Boykin (slot corner) each have an underneath zone.  The goal of the play is not necessarily to prevent a completion, it’s simply to force the Giants to complete a ball in bounds and tackle them in play, eliminating a TD as a possibility and forcing a field goal.  The DTs run a twist, but it doesn’t produce much pressure.

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With the above picture and situation in mind, lets jump to later in the play:

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This is the moment of the catch and the only correct response is either What?!? or various profanities strung together.  To recap, the Eagles’ only goal on this play was to prevent a receiver from getting behind them for a TD.  Not only does that happen, but Colt Anderson manages to wind up nearly 5 yards under his man at the catch!

So how did it happen?  Colt Anderson had a brain-cramp.

If you look back at the initial diagram, Cruz runs a seem, but stutter-steps twice.  His second stutter-step occurs just in front of Colt and causes Anderson to freeze.  The only thing Anderson CAN NOT do in this situation is stop moving and let Cruz behind him, so of course that’s exactly what he does.  Here is Colt’s freeze:

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An absolute disaster of a play for Colt and the Eagles, though it obviously wouldn’t have changed the outcome.  Even if Anderson gets thrown by the stutter-step, he absolutely MUST maintain his momentum moving backwards.  That way, even if he guesses wrong on which direction Cruz is going, he has a chance to recover.  Instead, he stands still, while Cruz is still near full-speed.  The chances of Colt catching Cruz after giving him a head start?  Absolutely none.  We knew Anderson didn’t have the speed to run with fast receivers, but we’ve also learned that he doesn’t know how to compensate for it.

The Wheel Route strikes again.

This play is from earlier in the game, when the outcome was still technically in doubt.  The Giants are up 14-0 with 3:26 left to go in the 1st quarter.  3rd down with 4 yards to go.   The result of the play is a 41 yard completion to Bradshaw out of the backfield.  Here is the pre-snap setup:

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Nothing too crazy going on, though there is one big note to make.  See Colt Anderson’s assignment (safety to the bottom of the screen)?  Immediately after the snap, Colt moves to double-team the slot receiver.  Not sure exactly what Todd Bowles saw to make him call this up, but regardless, it results in a huge hole that the Giants end up exploiting.  UPDATE: To clarify: this looks a bit like robber coverage with Colt playing an underneath zone.  However, at the snap Anderson moves full speed at the slot WR with no regard to his route.  Therefore, it seems more like a double-team than a zone read that Anderson saw and reacted to.

Below is the key moment of the play.  Say what you want about Eli Manning, but the guy is very good at manipulating defenses, especially with the pump-fake.  Here, he uses it perfectly to shift Demeco Ryan’s coverage angle, resulting in the separation he needs to get the ball over top to Bradshaw.  I’ve highlighted Demeco’s angle as he falls for the pump-fake and attacks where he thinks the ball is going.  Also highlighted is Colt Anderson and the space he vacated, resulting in a huge window for Manning to deliver the ball.

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And finally, below, we see Bradshaw as he gets behind Ryans.

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The Wheel Route is one the Giants have used with great effect against the Eagles over the past few years.  The key is that it forces a LB into coverage, where they are typically uncomfortable, and then increases the pressure on said LB through the pump-fake.  The fakes are hard enough for CBs to resist, but even more difficult for LBs purely because they aren’t in coverage as often.  Normally, the safety would provide deep help and ideally break up the play, but Colt left for the double-team, resulting in a very tough matchup for Demeco and 41 yards for the Giants. This particular play is not an indictment of Colt.  It appeared as though the double-team was 100% by design.

Also of note: Kurt Coleman (the deep safety) misses a tackle on Bradshaw after the reception and DRC makes the tackle after chasing the play from more than 15 yards back.

End of the Rewinds

That’s the end of the Eagles Game Rewinds for this year.  However, I’ll probably diagram a few big plays from the playoff games.

Meanwhile, we’ll shift to a roster evaluation and see what the weaknesses are heading into the offseason before an in-depth dive into draft history to see how much is luck vs. skill.

Eagles vs. Redskins Rewind

This week:   All-22 thoughts and 2 plays diagrammed.  Unlike previous weeks, there were not many positives to take out of this game.  Starting to see clear evidence of the lack of talent at several positions for the Eagles.  I talked about some of this in the post-game, so I’ll try not to repeat myself.

All-22 thoughts:

– RG3 was clearly not 100%….That should scare you.  I’m really not excited that this guy is in our division.  He appears to have just about every tool you can imagine for a quarterback.  Eagles fans should hope the Redskins continue to neglect the defensive side of the ball, because that offense is going to be tough to stop for a long time if RG3 stays healthy.

– A mixed day for Nick Foles.  3 bad moments surrounded by a lot of positives, which is becoming a theme.  The fumble was a huge mistake, likely costing the Eagles 3 points on what should have been a throw-away.  The missed throw to Maclin was Foles’ worst attempt of the day.  It’s impossible to know whether his hand fracture is to blame, but in any case that is a pass he has to make.  The final play of the game was painful to watch.  It doesn’t look like there’s much more he could have done, but he has to know that his two choices are throw it out the back of the end zone or put up a 50/50 ball, can’t take a sack there (essentially what he did by grounding it.)

However, the rest of the day was strong, and he again showed that he has the ability to move the offense down the field consistently.  There were a few plays where he was hesitant to pull the trigger, even though he appeared to have a receiver to throw to.  Probably him being risk-averse, but he’ll need to become more confident in his reads.

– Tough day for the defense against the run.  Allowed 4.6 ypc and 128 total rushing yards.  Alfred Morris is a tough match-up for anyone, but the Eagles really need to do a better job of stopping the runner at first contact.  You can’t expect to win every one-on-one battle, but there were several plays where Morris dragged multiple Eagles defenders for additional yards.  When you’ve got 2+ defenders in contact with a runner, he should not gain any additional yards.  The LBs were a bit exposed, though they didn’t get much help from the safeties….

-Speaking of safeties, Colt Anderson had a bad game.  I know he’s become a fan favorite, mostly due to his clear effort and big-play ability on special teams, but the guy really shouldn’t be anywhere near the starting safety position.  He missed several tackles and was beat in coverage for a TD by Santana Moss.  Great effort on every play, but clearly doesn’t have the athleticism to do that job full-time.

– OL had another poor game.  Not something to really focus on, as it’s about what you’d expect from a bunch of depth players, but it’s worth noting that Foles was pressured often.

– Bryce Brown?  Absolutely unacceptable to ignore Bryce Brown, regardless of his “fumbling problem”.  The sole purpose of this team for the last few weeks of the season should be getting young players game experience and trying to evaluate the talent they have.  4 carries isn’t getting it done.  The only reason for it is Andy Reid putting his own performance above the long-term best interests of the team (can’t blame him but it still sucks.)

I liked the idea of him at KR, but he was far too hesitant on Sunday.  The returner needs to pick a seam and attack it.  Hopefully he’ll step his game up against the Giants, but it’s a tough mindset to get into if it’s not natural.

– Questionable play-calling from Marty.  The Eagles continue to use a lot of draws, the reason for which is beyond my comprehension.  The general idea of the draw is twofold: it shows pass, which holds the LBs, and it also gives the DEs time to rush themselves out of position, hopefully opening up running lanes for the back.  However, it also gives the DL extra time to attack the backfield.  Considering the poor quality of the OL for the Eagles, is making them protect longer really the best strategy?  I’ve seen far too many of these plays get blown up in the backfield, yet the Eagles continue calling them.  They’ve had some success running PA while faking the draw, but those gains have been nowhere near great enough to offset the negative plays.

Play 1:  Foles to Maclin

1st and 10 at the Redskins 27.  10:24 remaining in the First quarter.

This was a very nice play all-around for the Eagles, as all 5 linemen handled their assignments, picking up an extra rusher, while Foles delivered a perfect ball to Maclin, who was running a corner route.  Below, we can see every player’s assignment.  The defenders noted with red circles all rush the QB at the snap.

The key to the play is the Redskins alignment.  They’ve chosen to blitz (sending 5 rushers, all on the LOS at the snap.)  In order to gain that extra rusher while still marking all Eagles receivers, they’ve left themselves with just a single deep safety, positioned in the middle of the field.

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Riley Cooper’s route gives Maclin the space he needs to complete the TD.  Cooper runs a seam or a dig (he cuts it off inside after the play develops, can’t tell if it was part of the design), which holds the safety in the middle of the field.  Unable to commit until the ball is thrown, the safety isn’t quick enough to get to the sideline and break up the play.

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Above, there are three things to note as the play is in progress:  the OL has given Foles plenty of space/time, the safety’s only movement has been two steps backwards, and Maclin’s CB has failed to recover after trying to jam the WR at the line.  The CBs play has allowed Maclin to get behind him, which gives Foles the window he needs to make the throw.

Below we see the final shot of the play, just after Foles releases the football.  Notice that the safety has just reacted and is just a step from his starting position.  Riley Cooper is about to break inside, but his job is done, as he forced the safety to honor his route and kept him from getting to Maclin.  Maclin has just made his cut and now has separation from the defender.  Foles is able to step into the throw, which he delivers perfectly, allowing for an easy TD catch.

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The takeaway from this play should be familiar: when the OL diffuses the blitz, the odds shift dramatically in the offenses favor.  That, combined with a smart route combination (Riley seam + Maclin corner) led to a relatively easy TD throw/catch for the Eagles and a quick start to the game.

Play 2: Blitz Backfire

3rd and 10, 1:37 to go in the 3rd Quarter.  Ball on the Eagles’ 22 yard line.

This is the Santana Moss TD.  Similar to the play above, the key is that the Eagles rush 6 at the QB and don’t get home, leaving Colt Anderson in single coverage against Santana Moss…a poor matchup for the Eagles to say the least.

Here is the alignment at the moment of the snap.  The Eagles are in the nickel, with 3 CBs, 2 LBs, and 2 Ss.  The DL is in the Wide-9, and the LBs (Ryans and Kendricks) are on the LOS in the A gaps (to the left and right of the Center.)  Kendricks backs out at the snap, but the Eagles bring the slot corner blitz (leaving Colt to cover Moss), for a total of 6 rushers, highlighted by the red circles below.

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There’s nothing fancy to the Redskin’s play design.  The key is that the RB stays in to block, leaving 6 blockers (5 OL + 1 RB) for 6 rushers, and everyone hits their assignment.  Meanwhile, Santana Moss runs a route similar to Maclin’s TD, just on the opposite side of the field.  Anderson underestimates Moss’ speed and his ability to maintain it through his break, allowing the WR to run past him and gain separation shockingly fast.

Below, we can see the play in action.  Notice RG3’s pocket, he’s got plenty of time to let Moss get downfield despite the blitz.  Anderson is still flat-footed, with 6-7 yards of space between him and Moss.

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Finally, we see Moss just after his break and Griffin’s throw.  At this point, Anderson is in good position, however, now it’s just a footrace, which obviously Anderson loses badly (Moss is one of the faster players in the league, Colt is….not.)

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Two final things to note on this play:  First, RG3’s throw was phenomenal (roughly 45 yards through the air with pinpoint accuracy.)  Exhibit A of why this guy scares me as a an Eagles fan (Exhibit B would be his running, but he decided to leave that at home on Sunday.)

Second, very questionable defensive play-calling here by Bowles.  It’s 3rd and 10, meaning if you play a standard defense you should have a very good chance of holding them to a field goal attempt.  Additionally, the ball is on the 22, so a sack doesn’t take the Redskins out of field goal range.  Therefore, rushing 6 men at the QB is really a High-Risk/Low-Reward decision.  This is something coaches do fairly often, and I find it infuriating, as it’s clearly not an optimal decision.  Some may argue that Bowles was trying to keep Griffin from having the time to complete a long pass, but the fact is that a 10 yard route does not take very long to develop and rushing TWO extra men leaves a lot of holes in the secondary, which NFL QBs typically do not need a long time to find.  The blitz needs to be used intelligently and sparingly…3rd and 10 in the red zone (practically) is not the time.

Week 14: Eagles vs Bengals Rewind

Sorry for the long delay, but as some of you know, the All-22 footage isn’t available until the Wednesday after the game.  So at the risk of bringing up the memory of a game most fans would like to forget, here is the All-22 breakdown, featuring notes on key figures and breakdowns of three big plays:


Overall – A better game then the score indicates, as I described in the post-game notes.  Key figures:

Nick Foles – Played a much better game then most are giving him credit for.  The interception was a terrible throw, but other than that he made good decisions.  Some will point to a couple throws at the end of the game that clearly weren’t high-percentage passes, and they’re correct, but I would argue that down 24 points with time running out is exactly the time to engage in higher risk plays.  Throwing an interception at that point doesn’t really decrease the odds of winning since they are so low to begin with.

He again showed good pocket mobility, though this game he didn’t make his progressions quite as well as he had been doing previously.  All-in-all another encouraging game despite what most are saying.  (That’s precisely why we just look at the tape rather than going off what we hear.)

Colt Anderson Colt played a better game than I gave him credit for.  In the post-game notes I mentioned the nice pass break-up but nothing else.  Colt made some nice plays in the run game (his strength) though he did have trouble bringing down the runner at the point of contact a few times (getting dragged a few yards).  A solid game, though, and certainly higher quality than we’ve seen from any of the safeties in a while.

Jamar Chaney – From now on Chaney will be referred to as either “The Invisible Man” or “Human Practice Sled”.  It is really amazing how he can play so much and yet have so little impact on the game.   The box score will tell you he had 7 total tackles (by far his highest of the year), but most of those came from him chasing down a man he should have stopped earlier.  By my count, he made just 1 positive play, bringing the runner down at the line of scrimmage. The best thing you can say about him is that he takes 1 blocker out of the play (which in fact is about the worst thing you can say about a LB).

Fletcher Cox/Brandon Graham – This was easy to see for most watching the game, but both of these players had a huge day.  If they can keep up this level of play, the Eagles have the potential for a great d-line.  Cox has already shown himself to be among the best pass-rushing DTs in the league, which is what the Eagles hoped for when they picked him.  Graham, however, has been a revelation (considering how low his stock was preseason).  In addition to the sacks, Graham played with a lot of energy on each play, including coming completely across the field once and bringing down a scrambling Dalton from behind on the opposite sideline.  Any fan looking for a reason to get excited has found it.

DRC –  DRC reminded everyone why he’s so well-known.  He was matched man-to-man against Green nearly the whole game, and held him relatively in check.  The TD fade is a tough one, DRC has to know that’s coming and find a way to stop it, but that’s easier said then done for any corner up against a receiver of that caliber.

Kendricks – Another young player to watch.  Kendricks had a tough game and was largely missing from the action.  He did have one pass defended, but was made to look foolish by Andy Dalton (on Dalton’s TD run).  Kendricks’ performance has definitely taken a hit outside of last week’s game.  Let’s hope he rebounds, otherwise the LB core is again pretty weak.

Now for some plays:

The Maclin Fake-Screen:

2nd and 3 at the PHI 38 yard line.  This is a great play not just because of how well it was drawn up and worked, but because the Eagles started setting this up the week before.  Remember all those WR screens they ran against Tampa?  Well they came out this game and early-on ran a couple, giving the Bengals plenty to recognize and key off.  Laying that groundwork paid off in this play, which ultimately led to a TD.

Here is the pre-snap look:  The Eagles come out trips-right with Riley Cooper on the opposite side (total of 4 WRs).  On this play, the Bengals are in a nickel defense, which means they only have 3 CBs on the field.  To account for the discrepancy, the Bengals’ safety takes responsibility for Maclin.

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Just after the snap, seen below, the Eagles are showing the WR screen.  Notice the safety covering Maclin has stepped up and crossed the 50.  To this point there is no real sign that it’s a fake, as Maclin could just be running to set up blocking position between his man and the receiver.

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Finally, we get the payoff picture.  At first glance it doesn’t look like much, the safety covering Maclin is still farther downfield.  What’s key though, as we can see from the above picture, is that at this moment Maclin is at full speed, whereas the safety covering him has just realized it’s a fake and is starting from a dead stop, giving him no chance of matching Maclin’s speed.

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A very well-drawn up play, but fairly simple.  The key was setting it up with actual screens both early this game and in the week before.  I know some people have mentioned Foles should have hit Maclin in stride (leading to a TD on this play), but I think Foles was really just trying to ensure a catch and got a bit conservative with his throw.

Play 2:  The Cooper TD

This play occurs shortly after the previous play.  Nick Foles hits Riley Cooper, who is wide-open at the goal line.  How did he get so open?  Below is the pre-snap.  The Eagles come out with 5 WRs and bunch 4 of them just off the line to the right side.  As you can see from the diagram, bunching 4 WRs (one is actually RB Lewis) together makes things very difficult for the defense.  If they are in man-coverage, the defenders are susceptible to “pick” plays or running into each other as they try to run with their man.  Zone coverage alleviates this problem, but means the defenders have to be communicating with each other perfectly, or else they may accidentally double-cover a WR and leave another open.  The second option (zone) is what appears to happen here.

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Riley Cooper is the WR lined up closest to the O-Line on the right side.  Pay close attention to his route.  See how it runs between the two defenders (shown as red circles)?  That ends up being the key to the play.  Of those two, the outside defender takes Dion Lewis, the Eagles WR furthest right in the above picture.  The inside defender actually disrupts Cooper’s route (seen below), forcing him towards the sideline.  However, this defender, after running with Cooper, sees Dion Lewis break back inside, therefore entering his zone.  He breaks off his coverage of Cooper and picks up Lewis.  The outside defender doesn’t get the message and also covers Lewis, leaving Cooper wide open on the goal line.

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Above, we can see Cooper being disrupted.  Lewis is about to break back towards the inside, which causes Cooper’s defender to leave him, sticking to his zone.  Below is the moment this happens.

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And here is the moment of the  pass.  Notice Cooper coming open and the two defenders covering Lewis.

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Bunching 4 WRs caused confusion in the defense and led to a very easy throw-and-catch for a TD.  It must also be noted that this play only succeeded because the O-Line gave it enough time to develop.

Play 3:  One for the defense.

Second Quarter, 1st and 20 at the 2 minute warning.  This is the fumble forced by Cullen Jenkins and recovered by Tapp.  There are two things that make this play interesting: it comes from the wide-9 alignment, and it involves Jenkins coming over top both the other DT (Cox) and DE (Cole), which means the DBs did a good job in coverage to give him time to do that.

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The key to the play, other than the coverage, is Cox and Cole’s ability to attack the center of the offensive line.  As I illustrated above and we can see below, the combined power of these players collapses the left side of the Bengal’s o-line, giving Jenkins the space he needs to come around.


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Above we can see Jenkins in motion and Cole setting the edge.  Below we can see Jenkins as he’s coming around the line.  Notice that the stunt action towards the center has drawn the Bengals’ LT to Cole, meaning there is nobody left to block Jenkins, whose original blocker  can be seen doing nothing in the picture below.

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Finally, the moment of the strip  Jenkins gets there just in time, as Dalton is about to release the ball (and fortunately just before his arm starts coming forwards.


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A big defensive play out of the wide-9, who knew?  In any case, this is the type of action the Eagles should be able to generate with Cox/Cole.  Both are great pass rushers (Cole not as much this year but he still has to be respected) and are used here to create space for Jenkins, leading to a turnover (something they haven’t created nearly enough this year.)  Let’s hope we see more plays like this in the next couple games.

Week 14: Eagles vs. Bucs

This week:

Notes from the game, with a focus on Nick Foles and the defense.

The Catch (and throw)

Foles to Avant Part 2 (Illustration of pocket awareness).

First, Nick Foles:

– Hello West-Coast Offense!  It seems like the Eagles have finally found a QB that is a perfect fit for the west-coast offense.  What you saw on Sunday was precisely how it is supposed to work, with many short (5 yd) routes and pinpoint throws substituting for a running game.  One of the strangest aspects of the Andy Reid era has been his insistence on running a west-coast scheme without finding the right QB for it.  Neither McNabb nor Vick were accurate enough.  In fact, the offense McNabb ran really wasn’t a true West-Coast scheme (Andy Reid just used that as cover for why he threw the ball so much), as it relied on deep throws and big plays.

-The Tampa Bay pass defense is the worst in the league.  However, Foles did exactly what a good QB should do against a terrible pass defense, and after reviewing the tape, this clearly was not a case of a terrible defense making a QB look good.

– Particularly encouraging: Foles finally showed he has the ability to make more than 1.5 progressions before hitting a check-down.  In fact, he often used his legs to buy time while keeping his eyes downfield and making all of his reads.  Perhaps more importantly, he was remarkably accurate when throwing on the run, which in any case is a good sign, but especially since the Eagles O-line didn’t do him any favors.

-For the most part, his decision making was strong, though he had a few ill-advised passes.

-Considering how bad the running game was (more on that in a moment), fans should be very encouraged that Foles was able to handle carrying the whole offense.

-One note of caution: we still did not see evidence of an ability to hit a deep ball.  He had several opportunities, but was not accurate in any of them (one could argue the left-sideline bomb to Riley Cooper was accurate since it he got his fingertips on it, but he would have had to lay out for it while keeping himself in bounds in very limited space).

Overall, though, I think this game definitely improved Foles’ value, regardless of the last second heroics (which have been a little overblown in my opinion).  He clearly knows how to use the pocket and seems extremely comfortable now that he has a few games under his belt.

The O-Line:

– The O-line was completely overpowered, especially when run-blocking.  Not a huge surprise, given the Bucs lead the league in rush defense, but this was definitely a step back for a unit that had improved modestly over the last couple games.

– While the Bucs did register 6 sacks, several were coverage sacks, and late in the game the O-Line did a good job of giving Foles both the time and space to make some plays (and he helped them by scrambling intelligently, stepping upfield rather than pulling a Vick special and rolling sideways into a DE).

The Defense:

– In the first game of the post-wide-9 era, the defense certainly appeared to improve greatly.  Don’t get too excited though, Josh Freeman played a terrible game and missed badly on some throws he should have completed.

– Though I think things like “effort” and “attitude” are usually over-valued by most commentators, the defense really did seem to be playing harder.  Whether that’s a direct result of Washburn being gone is unknown, but it was nice to see nevertheless.

– Among the most encouraging signs was the team’s tackling, as they did a very good job of bringing down receivers at first contact.  Doug Martin caused some problems, but nothing unexpected (he’s a very strong runner) and when he did break a tackle, the rest of the defense was there to prevent a breakaway.

– Though they only managed 2 sacks, the D-line was active all game and did a good job of disrupting the pocket for Freeman.  Would have liked to see some more direct pressure, but it was better than the stat line would suggest.

– The defense deflected 9 passes, suggesting strong coverage throughout (an in fact it was mostly strong).  Kendricks played a particularly active game, deflecting 3 balls and making a bigger impact than we have seen from him recently (he was shifted to WLB and seemed much more comfortable in that role).

– Nnamdi will likely not be on the team next year.  He struggled all game, and although it’d be nice to blame it on his injury and praise his toughness in coming back, this isn’t an isolated instance.  He hasn’t performed anywhere close to his paycheck all year, and I can’t see the Eagles holding on to what’s clearly a poor value proposition (if he’s willing to take a pay cut then perhaps there’s a deal to be made).

-I’m very puzzled by the game-plan for the Bucs.  The Eagles have been susceptible all year to PA and the Bucs didn’t run much of it, despite getting a lot of traction on the ground with Martin.  Also, Colt Anderson was not tested much in coverage, which as far as I’m concerned is a massive error by the Bucs coaches.

Now for some key plays:

Play 1 Avant’s Catch (really could be called Foles’ Throw):

– By now we’ve all seen the replay of Avant’s amazing one-handed grab, however, Foles’ throw on the play has been repeatedly overlooked.

3rd and 16 in the second quarter, this play led to a Henery field goal.  Below is the set-up. Although the Bucs line up with 3 down lineman and 3 LBs, this is essentially a Nickel D (with one rusher standing in an attempt to disguise the rush).  From this, the Bucs send a big blitz, overloaded the left side of the Eagles line.  Notice the MLB’s route, as he comes across the center to ensure the left side of the Eagles line is outmanned.  Also, the safety begins his rush presnap so his distance to the QB is not as great at he start of the play.  While this helps the Bucs get pressure, it also ensures that Avant has single coverage.

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Just after the snap, we can see the blitz in progress.  Notice the safety-blitz has created a lot of space on the left side of the field.  Avant’s corner takes inside position, knowing his team is blitzing from that side and ensuring that Avant can’t break to the middle (which would be vital if Foles rolls out away from the blitz).

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At the moment before the throw, Avant is just getting out of his break.   Harder to see is what Foles is dealing with.  The rush is successful, and Foles not only can’t step into the throw, but actually has a defender grabbing him when he releases the ball.  Also, note how deep the remaining safety is.  With 6 rushers (and one delayed when the LB realizes he has nobody to cover), the Bucs are forced to keep a defender very deep in an effort to prevent a touchdown if the rush doesn’t get home.

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Here is a good look at Foles the moment he throws the ball.  We’ve all seen the resulting catch, but take note of how impressive the throw is.  With a man on him and no space to step up, Foles throws a perfect ball 40 yards to Avant, putting it high enough to get over the CB (who remember is playing inside so is between Avant and Foles) while still giving Avant a chance to make the catch.

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In all, a great play by both Avant and Foles.

Foles to Avant Part 2:

1st and 10 in the 3rd quarter.  This led to Henery’s missed 31 yard field goal.

This play is a great example of Foles using the pocket to beat a blitz and complete a big play to Avant.  The Bucs line up with 5 men on the line (4 in 3 point stances, 1 standing up top).  Again, they bring a safety blitz around the end while rushing the MLB at the center.  In all, 6 men end up as pass rushers, with the end on the bottom of the screen falling back into coverage (though he ends up doing nothing).  Meanwhile, Avant is lined up in the slot, and despite getting tripped by the lineman who drops into coverage, he manages to get himself open across the middle, giving Foles the outlet he needs.

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Here is Foles at the depth of his drop.  Avant is just breaking and will gain separation in another moment.  However, the rush is closing in on Foles, particularly from the ends.  Notice the open space ahead of Foles, he is about to put it to good use.

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Below we can see Foles as he is about to step up in the pocket.  We can see the end closing in on him from the right, meaning if he doesn’t step up at this moment he’s taking a blind side sack.

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Here is the moment of the throw.  Foles has stepped up, giving himself just enough time to get the ball to Avant, who is now streaking across the middle of the field (though hard to see below, Foles is just ahead of the 50 yard line).

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In summary, a good example of Foles’ pocket awareness, which was strong the entire game.  Despite his lack of speed (see the amazingly slow TD run), Foles seems to understand how to use the mobility he has.  It’s nice to see a rookie with such awareness.

Additionally, the ball is delivered accurately, which allowed Avant to break the initial tackle and gain an additional 14 yards after the catch.

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.

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

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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.

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The ball is snapped just as Maclin clears the line:

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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?

Week 12: Eagles vs. Panthers

So…a once promising season has devolved into a series of embarrassing performances, which have significantly altered the path of the entire franchise.  My thoughts from the last couple weeks:

– Nick Foles has not shown anything that makes me believe he can be a franchise quarterback.  It’s fair to suggest a full judgment wait until he has some semblance of an NFL-caliber offensive line, but right now i think the odds are much greater for him being a mediocre player rather than a good one.

– Following is a breakdown of the Panthers’ second touchdown.  What went wrong?….the same thing that almost always goes wrong, the defense falls hard for PA.  This has gotten to be so bad that I’m almost convinced they’re doing it on purpose.  Maybe Lurie, realizing that this season is blown, made a deal with NFL films to provide some great teaching film.  Or perhaps there is some sort of bizzaro bounty system in place, with the winner decided by who can take themselves farthest from their correct position.

The Panthers have lined up with 3 WRs and two in the backfield (one of these is a TE that was motioned pre-snap from the left into position to Cam Newton’s right).  In the left slot for the Panthers is Brandon LaFell.

NOTE: Judging from the pre-snap look (the Eagles are in a nickel D, with 5 DBs for 3 WRs), a 43-yard TD pass would be among the least likely plays to happen.

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So how did they fuck it up?

Step one:  BLITZ!  The slot corner (Boykins I believe) will blitz, as will the weakside safety (Coleman i think).  Something to keep in mind here is that at the snap, Coleman is a full 16-18 yards from Cam Newton.  Forget for a moment that Newton is hard to bring down for anyone, let alone as bad a player as Coleman, but the odds of Coleman even getting to the QB are low given the huge distance he has to cover.  Meanwhile, Boykin blitzing from the slot leaves LaFell without a defender, meaning either on of the LBs or the deep safety has to pick him up.  As you probably guessed, this doesn’t happen.

Step Two: LBs bite hard on PA.  Perhaps feeling left out, the LBs (both of them) decide that they will show everyone that can bite just as hard on PA as the safeties can.  This takes both of them (Ryans and Kendricks) out of the play.  Below, you can see the moment Cam fakes the handoff.   The LBs have barely moved from the pre-snap position, though a moment later they will both take a step forward.  You can also see the safety blitz in progress just above the LBs (and the corner coming from the slot).  At the time of the handoff, Coleman is still roughly 10 yards away (ignoring the fact that there are several 300 lb men in the way).

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Step 3:  If you look at the above image, you can see the final piece of the puzzle fall into place.  With the corner blitzing, and the LBs eager to show how quickly they can commit to all fakes, the last remaining hope is for Nate Allen, the deep safety, to see the gap in coverage and save the day.  However, he is already rolling over to the weak side WR, ensuring that he too, even after the throw is made, will be out of position to stop a TD let alone break up the pass.

Finally, we can see the “Oh SHIT!” moment below, as LaFell is open to streak down the middle of the field.  The LBs at this point have realized their mistake, but arent close to fast enough to make up the gap.  Nate Allen either hasnt noticed or doesn’t care.  Nnamdi is left as the only DB on the left side of the field, but he has to stick with his man.  Also, anyone see Kurt Coleman?  No?  He’s predictably caught up in the O-Line, still 5 yards from the QB just before the pass is thrown…

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That gentlemen, is how you throw a football game.  Not a single defensive player made a positive move.  Nobody on the line got any pressure (you can see from the three pictures that there was absolutely no penetration.  Neither blitzer came close to getting home, and Colemans presnap position essentially made this a 11 v. 10 play.   The LBs bit on PA, taking them out of position, and the deep safety didn’t adjust and was too slow to get over and stop a TD even after the throw was made.

Further thoughts:

-The Eagles suddenly look like they can very realistically finish the season at 3-13.  Remaining games are against Dallas, Washington, Cincinnati, Tampa Bay (not in that order).

-Vinny Curry made a few nice plays.

-If you watch the remaining games, the guys to pay attention to are Curry, Graham, Bryce Brown, DeMaris Johnson (I think he’ll start getting some real playing time), Kendricks….thats about it.

– This years draft doesn’t have a can’t-miss QB in it (naturally), so expect the Eagles to be bad (bad = non-contenders) for a couple of years as the new coach essentially starts from scratch.