All The All-22 You Need For The Wild Card Round

There has been a wealth of coaches tape coverage this season that I've been woefully negligent about linking to from this blog. Hopefully all of you have caught on without my help, but make sure to catch up on the work of our esteemed Philly analysts:

  • Sheil Kapadia has two All-22 posts this week. The first is on the introduction of the sweep run, with narrated insights from the offensive line. The second looks back at Mychal Kendricks' performance against Jimmy Graham in 2012 and against other tight ends in general. That'll be a key matchup in Saturday's wild card game.
  • Derek Sarley, meanwhile, took his usual scattershot approach over at the Daily News/ Looks like Monte Kiffin's main advice to his defense was to hold early and often, but Nick Foles bears some responsibility for the offense's misfires as well. The QB missed opportunities and made some surprisingly bad calls on packaged plays. Hopefully that gets worked out this week.
  • Last but not least, Ryan over at Chip Wagon gave us more diagrams of new packaged plays and run game tweaks.

Is The Eagles Defense One Competent Safety Away From Success?

Alright, no.

But as I was watching the Eagles-Giants game on Sunday, I was drawn to this question. The Eagles defense has problems across the board. The new corners can at least tackle better than their predecessors, but remain inconsistent in coverage. Even at their best, neither Cary Williams nor Bradley Fletcher scares an opposing quarterback. Meanwhile, the front seven is a transitioning mess. Sopoaga barely shows up, and two-gapping hides last year's stud Fletcher Cox. Connor Barwin has been solid, but Trent Cole is hit-or-miss at OLB. Mychal Kendricks makes terrifically athletic plays, then falls down in coverage. The responsibilities in the run game are unclear. The pass rush is nonexistent, which has led to the bizarre move of making Brandon Boykin a rush linebacker.

This is all granted. It's a bad defense with a lot of personnel and scheme questions. But unlike the offensive side of the ball, where a great quarterback or running back can carry a team at times, defense often seems to be about your weakest link. A smart, patient, accurate quarterback can find your weakness and exploit it. Such was evident against the Peytons, but I'm not sure how much there is to learn from a drubbing at their formidable hands.

The Elis posed a much less dangerous threat. The Giants offense only scored 7 points in the two previous games. Yet they put up three times that on Sunday. Why? Again, there are many problems with this defense. The front seven, most notably, failed to register a sack until the end of the game, against a banged-up Giants offensive line.

But looking at the tape and the numbers, I'd single out safety as by far the biggest problem. The Giants only had three scoring drives. The officials gifted them the last one on a bogus pass interference call on Brandon Boykin. On the other two, 80% of the Giants' total yards were gained on four plays of 20 yards or more. What all four plays had in common was the Eagles' safeties.

On the Giants' first drive, Hakeem Nicks caught a 49-yard bomb from Manning, the second attempt in a row to split Nate Allen and Bradley Fletcher. Two plays later, David Wilson plunged into the end zone.

The second scoring drive, in the third quarter, started with a 26-yard pass to Brandon Myers where the tight end found a huge hole down the middle between Allen and Earl Wolff. Two plays later, Manning found a wide open Reuben Randle for 20 yards. Looked like Wolff should have been covering that zone, but ran with Myers over the middle instead.

Finally, the drive culminated in a disgustingly easy 24-yard TD pass to Randle. We don't have All-22 yet, but let's break that one down anyway. The Giants have three WRs, one TE, and one RB. The Eagles are going to play what looks like (again, pre-coaches tape) a variant of Cover One Robber. The defense is in man-to-man across the formation. At the snap, Allen (in blue) is going to drop into a centerfield role while Wolff rolls into the short middle. The rookie's job in Robber coverage is to help in run support if necessary, then read the QB's eyes and jump into those short and intermediate crossing routes.

Below, you can see what happens after the snap. Kendricks has blitzed, and DeMeco Ryans is looping around him (and possibly reading the running back). That leaves Wolff as the sole middle-of-the-field defender. At the top, Randle is going to run a slant against Fletcher.

Below, Manning has stared down Randle, but as he throws, Wolff hasn't moved much. Meanwhile, Fletcher is dropping further back guarding against getting beat deep in man. This leaves a big hole in the zone where Wolff ideally should be:

As Randle catches the ball below, the defense has failed. He's about to pick up a first down because neither Fletcher, who dropped way back, nor Wolff were there to stop an easy slant. Still, with three guys converging -- including Allen from his deep role -- at least it should stop there...

Except wait, no, that's not what happens. You can see below that Wolff was not only late, but he took a terrible angle at Randle and didn't even lay a finger on him. Ditto for Allen, who does this all the time. Randle scampers in for the easy touchdown.

It's worth pointing out that Boykin (bottom) is basically standing still in the last screenshot. If you re-watch the play you'll see that he slows down, seeing what we did, that the Eagles have three defenders set to shut Randle down. As the receiver breaks free instead, Boykin has an "Oh $&!#" moment, where he briefly tries to recover and help out. But it's too late.

So overall, what do we learn? The Eagles defense has a lot of problems, but the biggest mistakes all came from the two safeties. I'd venture that without those, the Eagles might have held the Giants to only 7 or 10 points. That's why I wonder how much better this defense would be with just one competent safety. Getting Patrick Chung healthy again will certainly help some, but I'm already looking ahead to the 2014 free agent class. Jairus Byrd? Donte (W)Hitner? An above-average player at that position would do wonders for this team.

Game Rewind: 15 Screenshots From the First 15 Minutes of the Chip Kelly Era

On Monday, before the Eagles' opener, I downplayed the notion that the Eagles would be able to put many wins together this season, noting that what we're really looking for is a season like Andy Reid's foundation-building 1999. I WAS WRONG.

Well, at least I was wrong about the team's potential to win games this season. Looks like the offense Kelly brings may be good enough to be more competitive more quickly than I expected. Not to mention exciting. I'm riding high off that win, especially the first quarter that became one glorious offensive wet dream.

Still, I'd caution against reading too much into Monday's game. Not only was the offense new, the defense was also unexpectedly shifty. That's a positive development from their listless preseason performance, but as the game wore on Washington adapted to Billy Davis' schemes (and he backed off some). Some flaws were exposed and others soon will be by opposing coordinators now getting a fresh look at Eagles tape. Without the Redskins' early turnovers, the Eagles might not have gone home as happy.

Because the game turned out to be so long, and the coaches' tape isn't up yet, I only managed to re-watch the first 15 minutes of the game. Here are 15 screenshots from that giddy first quarter... (Click to embiggen)

Most of what I want to highlight are variations on the zone read play Kelly loves to call. Below is one where Vick appears to be reading the slot corner. When he stays home to guard against the bubble screen, McCoy gets the handoff up the middle. Also note, the blue block is Lane Johnson, firing up to the second level after lining up on the right next to Jason Peters. Freezing one defender and then running Shady behind two tackles like Johnson and Peters is frightening:

Similar play below. Again, Vick is reading the slot corner (#26). Washington had that corner come on the blitz a few times, including this one. Reading him is a perfect counter. Vick fakes the hand off and throws a quick bubble screen to DeSean:

Then the Eagles take the above concept and add another option for Vick -- a pop pass to the tight end over the middle. Now he's reading the middle linebacker London Fletcher (#59) in addition to freezing the rest of the right side of the defense via the bubble screen threat (which he may change to given pre-snap read). When Fletcher turns to pick up Brent Celek, Vick hands it off to McCoy:

Like any other running play, success is contingent on the men up front maintaining their blocks. But because of the passing options, by the time McCoy gets to the second level, there's no one there to meet him. London Fletcher, with four Pro Bowls, 15 years of experience, and over 1300 career tackles, has taken himself out of the play:

Later we see essentially the same play run to the right. This time, Fletcher takes a step forward, looking at McCoy. Vick throws to a wide-open Ertz instead, picking up an easy first down:

Below is another zone read where Vick is either reading the LB or the DT. I highlighted the former, but it depends who you think Celek is trying to block. Either way the threat of the QB keeper makes it devastating when he actually hands off to McCoy -- who follows a pulling Jason Kelce into a hole manned by the unbalanced line of Peters and Johnson on the right:

The Eagles didn't play much defense in the first quarter, but here's one play we can take a quick break for. The Redskins execute a great screen. They manage to get Alfred Morris the ball with three linemen poised to crush Mychal Kendricks and anyone else. But Kendricks, showing this may be a breakout season, dodges two of them and makes a textbook open field tackle:

One problem I kept noticing was Vick being indecisive on what should be quick reads. Here the pre-snap read is clearly going to indicate throwing the bubble screen right away. Only one of the three DBs to the bottom is within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage:

Vick should throw this ball immediately in the screenshot below. DeSean is open and Avant is just beginning to engage the first DB:

Instead, Vick holds on to the ball and sprints out. This brings pressure on himself and allows the safety to come down. But worst of all, he's letting Avant block downfield for a couple of seconds before the pass is thrown. The referees called an easy offensive pass interference on this one:

Vick also needs to make quicker decisions under pressure. Below he has a free rusher in his face and instead of dumping the ball off to an outlet receiver (or just throwing it at their feet), he freezes and takes a dumb sack:

Alright, now check out the play below. It's another zone read sweep where Vick is reading the defensive tackle. He sees the DT crash down, so he pulls the ball and runs upfield. Todd Herremans springs to the next level to block the linebacker, while Brent Celek (obscured) tries to cut block his man:

Some people speculated during the live game that Vick ran head first into the scrape-exchange. But really this is just a simple execution problem. Celek's cut block is awful but slows down his man. It's Herremans who totally whiffs on the linebacker, leaving Vick exposed. Note, Vick probably would have had better luck running to the sideline instead of cutting back inside:

One of Vick's sacks came when Herremans and Johnson had some kind of blocking miscommunication. Herremans blocked down on the defensive tackle while Johnson eyed the blitzing linebacker. Neither of them picked up Ryan Kerrigan:

Before even helping Vick up, the rookie turned to Herremans to hash things out:

Eagles-Jaguars Preseason Thoughts: How To Combat The Scrape-Exchange

Is it too late to talk about the Eagles' third preseason game? Hope not, because that's what I'm about to do. 

  •  When we last talked, I was remarking about how bad Trent Cole looks in his new role. Shocker: he's still bad. In the few nickel snaps that he put his hand in the ground and rushed the passer, Cole got some good pressure (as he always has). But putting him in space does no one any good in coverage and it has so far hindered his naturally good run defense. Especially bad: any play that has him line up over the slot receiver and blitz. First, it's not fooling anyone. Second, he's too far away from the quarterback to do any damage.
  • Luckily, the rest of the linebacking core is shaping up well so far. DeMeco Ryans has been solid, if unspectacular. Mychal Kendricks was a force all over the field against the Jagurs, and was often brought on blitzes up the middle (with Cole dropping back though). On the other side, Connor Barwin continues to impress. His interception was the most athletic feat we've seen an awhile at linebacker. Interesting note: on that play, the Eagles kept their base defense in on Jacksonville's 2nd and 19, against 4 WRs and 1 TE. Odd choice.
  • I am a paying member of the Patrick Chung fan club. He's not a star, but watching him come up and make solid tackles is a revelation. 
  • I didn't think Michael Vick was as horrible as the post-game narrative suggested. He held on to the ball too long a few times and threw one bad pick. But Vick also made some laser completions and showed ample mobility. He was never going to be as perfect as he had shown through the first two contests. Plus, the offensive line wasn't exactly in peak form early.
  • In truth, the offense Chip Kelly had Vick run seldom resembled that of the previous games. There was more under-center snaps and down-the-field passing routes than we were shown before. As some remarked, it looked at times more like an Andy Reid offense than one run by Kelly.
  •  Sheil Kapadia has a good breakdown of what looks like the Jaguars using the scrape-exchange to combat the zone read. Here's what it looks like below. As in their typical zone read play, the Eagles let the defensive end go unblocked, with Lane Johnson crashing down on the guard, and Todd Herremans releasing to the second level. However, in the scrape-exchange, the defensive end is trained to immediately come down the line at the running back, forcing the QB keeper. The linebacker Herremans must reach arcs around the outside instead (away from the would-be block) and gets in Vick's face right away:
Scrape Exchange.png
  • It worked great in the above play, but not only is the scrape hard to pull off, it's not all that difficult to combat either.  The first way is simply for Vick to get better at running the QB keeper and executing the second option. On this play he ran vertically too quickly instead of laterally, negating any chance to throw the quick bubble screen to DeSean Jackson.
  • The second way is even easier: just don't run the zone read. Think about what happens in the above play if the Jaguars defenders get too comfortable executing the scrape, only to have the Eagles block normally. If Johnson and Herremans take on their defenders straight up and the linebacker comes around the edge instead of up the middle, there's going to be a huge hole for the running back. The offense can use further deception with an H-back in the backfield. That player come across the formation to lead blocker with multiple choices about who to attack. The below image comes from Chris Brown's (always excellent) breakdown of this technique:

  • Want another option? How about stop reading the defensive end? By mixing up the read, you can keep defenders unsure of their responsibility. Last time we talked about a play where the Eagles read a defensive tackle. Here's a similar play in which Vick reads the linebacker(s):
  • And here's even more variation. This time the Eagles read the end, but if Vick keeps it he's running behind a pulling guard in Evan Mathis. Bryce Brown picks up 11 yards to the left on this run after the zone read freezes the unblocked defender, but I wonder how many yards Vick would have gotten had he pulled it down himself to the right:
  • By the way, Jamar Chaney did seemingly everything possible to try to get cut over the last couple of years. What finally did him in? Not being able to block a punter on special teams. Ouch.
  • And what is the Toddfather doing below cavorting with the enemy, aka Jason Baboon?
Babin Herremans.png