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 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).
– 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.