Waiting through the Eagles’ bye week has been a bummer. To help ease the absence of our favorite 8-1, Super Bowl-bound team, I’ve decided to compile a mini-series that focuses on plays the Eagles run with frequency out of different formations with different personnel and how they’re successful.
The Three-Level stretch
There are a variety of different names for this play. Some call it the Y-sail, some call it flood. The concept remains the same: stress a zone defense by forcing them to pick their poison. The play works well against either cover 2 or cover 3 because the route combination guarantees that there will be an open receiver.
The Broncos come out paying what appears to be cover 3 zone. To the play side you can see that the Eagles have three receivers, matched up with two defenders. One of those three players will be open. Nelson Agholor, who is closest to the line of scrimmage run to the flat, Torrey Smith who is to his left will run a vertical route and Alshon Jeffery who is closest to the sideline will run a a corner route. Alshon is the main target here as the Eagles want to hit that corner route. Sometimes the vertical route will be there, but more often than not, it’s just a decoy to create a hole for the corner. The flat route is used to get underneath defenders to drive up and vacate that zone even more to make the throwing lane to the corner even more open. The result of the play is an incompletion, but the throw was there to be had. You can see Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby on the back end carry the vertical and pass it off to the safety, but in cover 3 he can’t risk driving up because if he does Smith can run open as Wentz tries to hit him near the boundary.
One of the cool things about Doug Pederson’s offense is how he runs these same concepts consistently out of different alignments and personnel groupings. The previous play against the Broncos featured one tight end and one running back — recognized as 11 personnel — while this play utilizes 12 personnel — one running back, two tight ends. The Giants aren't in a zone here, but the play-action fake distorts the coverage and everyone’s favorite safety Landon Collins doesn’t bother to cover Zach Ertz who is running to the corner. The running back chips before releasing into the flat, but the play design and personnel help this win. Typically out of 12 personnel sets, you’re not going vertical with the ball, that keys the Giants to a possible run play. They bite on the play action and miscommunication occurs, getting that corner route open.
Just as they did in the previous play, Pederson and the Eagles disguise the play with the personnel. Here the Eagles have 13 personnel — one running back, three tight ends. The Giants bring the blitz off of the play fake and Darren Sproles, the running back, has to stay in and pick it up. This works because again, the player in the flat’s job is to bring the defender up. Play fakes can do that just as effectively. The corner route to Ertz is open here, but a late miscommunication between the corner and safety allows Bryce Treggs to slip behind the coverage on the vertical route. Wentz notices Treggs getting behind the coverage and throws a bomb to move the Eagles down the field. Again, the vertical route typically serves as a decoy, but there are times, depending on how the play unfolds, Wentz will take the deep shot. The play to Treggs is an example of that, and Mack Hollins’ 64-yard touchdown earlier this season against Washington is another one that was a result of this same play.
Again, this play is versatile and successful because the Eagles disguise it well and run it out of several different formations and personnel groupings. Out of the pistol with two receivers to the left, the Eagles use play action again to pull the linebackers up. Jordan Matthews sells a nice inside fake before pivoting back to the corner. The underneath defender is concerned with Darren Sproles, and the safety and corner, having already been burned once by Treggs are concerned about him beating them deep. This opens up the pocket to the sideline for Matthews to slip in, wide open.
While the three-level stretch does an excellent job of scheming less talented receivers open, one of my favorite aspects of it is how easy it makes the quarterbacks job not just from the perspective of creating open receivers and throwing lanes, but it keeps three reads to one side, all in the same line of vision. As you can see in the play, Wentz pumps, which brings Giants cornerback Eli Apple up and vacates the zone for Alshon to slip in behind him. It looks like Wentz is hesitating after seeing Apple drive, and afterwards sees Alshon open up, which forces him to reload. With the reads grouped together so easily, Wentz is afforded this luxury instead of having to move across the field or completely reset on a play.
While the version above is a little different, it stresses the same concept. We all know that Doug Pederson has brought over concepts from Kansas City with his play designs. This is a version of the play that I have yet to notice the Eagles run this year to this year, at least exactly like this, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it pop up in the play book going forward. The Chiefs utilize their receiver underneath by having him run a smoke route while the other receiver on that side of the field goes vertical. Travis Kelce, who’s on the opposite side of the field, runs a crossing route designed to get him into the vacancy similar to how the corner routes are schemed in the plays I’ve already shown. This play works so well because the underneath defender doesn't have eyes on Kelce where he’s on the other side of the field and the deep safeties are occupied with the vertical route. The only way to defend this is for a defender to successfully carry Kelce to the sideline, and that’s typically going to be a mismatch. This is a version of the stretch that I’d love to see Pederson incorporate to get more mismatches for Zach Ertz or Alshon Jeffery going forward.
I hope I was able to shed a little light on how the Eagles utilize scheme and personnel to get looks that they like. If there are any other plays you notice with frequency, feel free to drop a comment or send a tweet to @TJackRH. I’ll try to get two or three of these rolling and then get to some suggestions. Hope you enjoyed!