There are a number of reasons why the 2014 Eagles offensive attack is yet to be as explosive or prolific as the 2013 unit. In no particular order the most common themes are:
1) Teams have a full season of film
2) Nick Foles' regression
3) Issues in the running game
4) The loss of DeSean Jackson (to be debated)
I have tackled Points 1 and 3 at ChipWagon recently. The other thing to note is that the Eagles just haven't been ripping off the explosive plays like they did last year. Missing DeSean Jackson could be one factor, but we found several other ways to break explosive plays last year.
For example, last season the Eagles finished with 80 pass plays of 20+ yards and 18 plays of 40+ yards. So far this season, they have 18 pass plays of 20+ yards (on pace for 58) and 4 plays of 40+ yards (on pace for 12).
The one area I want to focus on today, is the screen game. In 2013, the Eagles screen game was a strong source of explosive plays as highlighted here. This year, not so much. Let's start by showing how defenses seem to be more aware and looking out for the screen. In the opening week against the Jaguars, the Eagles try and set up a screen to Sproles:
Kelce and Herremans get clean releases downfield and it's looking good:
However you see the Jags defensive end reading it well and staying back and closing the window for Foles' throw:
Here's another example against the 49ers. It's a play we used with great success last year. We would run misdirection one way (in this case, Jeremy Maclin in orbit motion) and then try and slip a screen the other way:
But the 49ers DE is not buying it:
He has Sproles covered and Nick has to take a sack:
With the more traditional HB screen not working in our favor, Chip has had to be creative with the screen game and has added several new looks and options for Darren Sproles and the WRs. These are looking better than the screen plays above, but execution has been the issue as they have just been a hair off from turning a number of these into explosive plays.
Despite our struggles, we've still managed to get a couple explosive gains out of the screen game due to good execution and Darren Sproles. We saw Chip's most creative use of Sproles to date on a couple of explosive plays. Here Sproles is initially lined up in the backfield. The entire interior OL is going to release downfield off the snap:
RT Andrew Gardner is to take away the chase defender and the other 3 interior OL are deployed downfield:
They get terrific blocks downfield, Herremans especially and Kelly gets just enough of his man:
Kelce and Maehl make nice blocks downfield and Sproles does the rest:
Also in this game, we run the 21 personnel grouping with McCoy and Sproles in the backfield at the same time. Pre-snap, Sproles motions out into the slot:
Peters, Kelly and Kelce all release to the second level off the snap and Foles quickly gets the ball in Sproles' hands and Zach Ertz makes the first nice block:
Kelce gets his man in front, and Peters takes out one of the backside players. Dennis Kelly is left to lead the way for Sproles:
To round out the HB screens, the Eagles ran an interesting look on Sunday vs. the Rams. This time they use 20 personnel with both McCoy and Sproles on the field at the same time. Unfortunately, the end result was disasterous. McCoy is in the backfield and Sproles is in the slot. Off the snap, Tobin and Peters to the second level to the left for a screen in front of Foles, however Herremans releases to the right side and McCoy will leak out on a screen on the other side:
The screen appears to be forming nicely for Sproles on the bottom of the screen and Foles pump fakes as he has a free rusher coming at him from that side:
Foles instead ends up dumping it off to McCoy who only has one lead blocker in front of him.
As you can see McCoy is surrounded by Rams and has no chance on this play. He's best off getting to the ground, but as we know he begins dancing back and forth and ends up fumbling the ball at the end of this play:
We ran a similar play quite effectively earlier in the season with the screen option on the bottom being Zach Ertz from the tight end position.
Dennis Kelly gets out in front of a screen option to Sproles. Foles fakes as he poses like the statue of liberty. Meanwhile the left side of the line is releasing downfield and Ertz slides off his block:
Foles loops the ball over the top for Ertz who has blockers in front of him:
and gets a nice gain for the first down:
Finally, Chip Kelly is using screen to get the ball to his outside receivers in space. We've used a variety of jailbreak and tunnel screens with different personnel and while the results have been generally good, there have been issues preventing them from being explosive plays.
Here against the Rams the Eagles are in a shortened double stack formation. Jordan Matthews is the target on this screen and Brent Celek will get downfield to block. Lane Johnson and David Molk will also release to the second level off the snap:
Celek and Johnson get nice blocks forming a nice tunnel for Jordan Matthews:
Who gets the 1st down:
We tried a similar play in the game starting out with a trips formation on the top, but Josh Huff came in motion to form the double stack:
Huff waits on the screen with Cooper blocking in front. Peters, Tobin and Molk release off the snap. A key thing to note on this play is that Huff had a defender follow him in motion which indicates man coverage. It also prevents the Eagles from getting a 3 on 2 match-up on the bottom on the screen play:
Peters gets out to the LB in front of Huff but Tobin has a tough assignment to get to DB who followed Huff in coverage. Molk also can't get over fast enough to take the trailing defender:
Tobin can't get there and it limits the play:
We ran the same concept against San Francisco on a key drive in the 4th quarter, this time with Brad Smith. The key defender to watch is Ray McDonald #91:
You'll recall last year Kelly describing the design of his screen game as a way of forming a sidewalk for the receiver along with an ambush player. Dennis Kelly and Celek get excellent blocks forming the "sidewalk" and Herremans is leading up the middle to prevent from any "leakage" in Kelly's words. Unfortunately there is no ambush player on this play to take out Ray McDonald. You can see Molk and Tobin ahead taking on one defender, can't help but wonder if one of them was responsible as the ambush player. You can see how much room Smith has to run with Herremans leading the way, but unfortunately, Ray McDonald catches him from behind limiting this play:
Much like has been described in the issues in the running game, explosive plays are there to be made, but the execution has been off just a bit. One has to believe that the complete lack of continuity amongst the offensive line is having a major impact on that.