Waiting through the Eagles’ bye week was 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. You can find the previous installations of this series here.
Today I’ll be taking a look at the “Levels” concept. This is a concept that targets lower depths to pick up quick and easy yards.
The thing you’ll want to focus on here is the route combination to Carson Wentz’s right. Typically in levels the quarterback wants to read that inside defender, whether it’s a linebacker or slot cornerback.
If that defender backs off for the deeper route, the read is to hit the shallow receiver and allow him to get yards after the catch. If that defender comes up, the quarterback wants to hit the receiver in behind that defender. It appears on this particular play the primary reads were to the left where there is a combination of a corner route (slot receiver) and a fly route (outside receiver). Neither receiver is there and Wentz comes back across the field to Zach Ertz, who was running the deeper dig (a square-in route). The throw made by Wentz was the correct one, but it came too late. If Wentz were to have read that side of the field first, he likely would've had an easy completion to Zach Ertz.
Once again, the Eagles run the levels concept here and the Cardinals bring a cover 0 blitz (leaves the defenders in a one-on-one situation). This play was run on 3rd and 19, but Wentz recognizes the blitz and instead of throwing to Zach Ertz (the deep dig route), who was open on the play, Wentz elects to throw the ball upfield where wide receiver Nelson Agholor has a one-on-one situation. Wentz ultimately makes the right decision but the levels concept created a favorable matchup against the blitz. The vertical route from Agholor also serves as a sort of pick to lose the defensive back who’s playing man-coverage on Ertz. This adds separation to Ertz’s route on the deep level and adds a dagger element to the play.
Again, the Eagles run levels to the right side of the offense. Wentz is reading to the left side, looking to go to wither Zach Ertz or Brent Celek. The Chargers have too many defenders over in that direction so Wentz whips back to the other side of the field and hits Alshon Jeffery, who is on the lower level of the read.
While the concept above looks similar to levels, this is actually called hi-lo, which is short for high to low read. That sounds self-explanatory because it is. The Eagles will run both hi-lo and levels, and while both look similar, the key difference is that hi-lo is more often than not ran out of a stack formation - two receivers closer together. In the play above the Eagles have three receivers bunched to the right side of the offense. Unlike the levels concept, where the quarterback reads underneath to overtop, in hi-lo he is tasked with reading high and then going low. Just like levels, the underneath linebacker helps to dictate where his play is successful. Here, the linebacker comes up on the low read, vacating the middle of the field for the high read, Mack Hollins. Wentz notices this immediately and on 3rd and 16, hits Hollins for a first down conversion on a drive that ended in a touchdown.
The levels and hi-lo concepts work so well because they can suck the second level of the defense up or push them back, forcing them to give up one route or the other to the offense. In addition to an easy play, this again keeps the quarterback’s reads directly in front of him where he was two options that allow him to come to a quick, easy decision. There are other variations of this play that Doug Pederson has woven into his mesh concepts, but we’ll save that for another day. These concepts, particularly levels are ones that Peyton Manning ran efficiently during his time in the NFL. Manning’s offense also ran additional routes out of that concept that included a corner route, but I have yet to notice Doug Pederson incorporate that wrinkle with this offense.
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, where you can follow me for more analysis like this. I’ll try to get two or three of these rolling and then get to some suggestions. Hope you enjoyed!