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 dagger route concept. The dagger concept is one that’s most effective against cover 1, cover 2, or a coverage with two deep safeties, or a split safety look.
I want to start off with the primary read of dagger. The purpose of the route combination, which features a dig route (square-in route broken off around 12-15 yards downfield) and a go/fade route (running straight downfield). The dig route will pretty much always be ran by the receiver on the outside, while the fade is ran by the receiver shaded inside of him. What the purpose of the concept is is to clear out an area by occupying a deep safety or linebacker with the fade route, opening up an area for the dig route.
Unfortunately the play above is from the preseason and peasants like myself don’t have access to preseason all-22. Fortunately, Fran Duffy of the Eagle Eye in the Sky podcast did have access to this play and confirmed it to be dagger.
As you can see in Fran’s clip, the Dolphins are running a single-high coverage. Based on how the defense is aligned pre-snap it looks like man coverage, confirming cover 1. The job of the slot receiver — Nelson Agholor — who is running the fade route is to carry his man and the safety deeper to clear out the middle of the field to make the underneath throw to Alshon Jeffery — the receiver running the dig route — easier. The Eagles run this concept here off of play action which pulls the linebackers up, making the window and throwing lane wider. Jeffery easily gets inside leverage on his man and breaks off of his route to the middle of the field where the inside help is vacant due to play fake.
The Eagles ran dagger again here against the Redskins in Week 7. This pass wasn’t completed because the protection couldn’t hold up long enough to allow the route to develop. Wentz had a chance to potentially make an anticipation throw — a throw to a spot that anticipates the receiver will be right on time when it arrives — but the defender was playing with inside leverage and Wentz wants to keep the ball out of harm’s way if possible.
While the dagger combination hasn't been quite as successful for head coach Doug Pederson and the Eagles this year, he’s doing an excellent job of building plays within a play, giving Carson Wentz as many options as possible and taking advantage of the voids the dagger concept creates. In the play above, from the same Redskins game, the Eagles run dagger to the right side of the formation with three receivers. The two outermost receivers execute the route combination, while Zach Ertz who is in a tighter split runs a deep over route. The deep defender identifies the vertical route on dagger and runs with it, but what that does is clear area for Zach hertz to run to. The other safety on the field came up on the crossing route that Alshon Jeffery ran from the left side of the formation, completely vacating the area Ertz was running to. He should allowed Jeffery to be funneled towards the sideline, but drives, vacating the deep area of the field. This leaves the deep safety in a bind where he can’t abandon the vertical clear-out because the Redskins have seen this concept before, and have been burned on it.
Just as the play before, Pederson has concepts built into the dagger concept that serves as a secondary option is Carson Wentz doesn't like the dig route. The second option here comes in the form of Zach Ertz, who is running a drag route underneath. The route carries him into the area of the field that was vacated by defenders because of the dagger concept. This works in a similar way as the high-low read concepts I mentioned yesterday. All of the working route concepts are kept in front of Wentz so that he can make a decision based on how the defense reacts to the concepts they’re presented with.
I’ve mentioned that the fade route is primarily a decoy that, much like the fade route in the flood concept, rarely sees any action, but it is possible based on the personnel and how the deep safety reacts that the inside receiver could become an option. I mentioned earlier that the Redskins had been burned by the Eagles on the fade route, and the play above is where that happened. This took place in 2016 and was one of the early indicators of Pederson’s ability to scheme and Wentz’s talent. The Redskins come out with two deep, split safeties. The safety at the bottom of the screen widens as the receiver running the dig route gets vertical. This opens up the middle of the field for Jordan Matthews who is matched up against a defender that is trying to carry him to the deep part of the field. Matthews is able to eat up the cushion and get a little bit of separation on this throw. The play is made more so by Wentz, who put the pass on Matthews’ outside shoulder, where only he could make a play the ball.
This concept is limited by personnel and formation to an extent. You can run it with two and three receiver sets to either side, but it does require speed and the ability to break in quickly and separate. As I mentioned earlier, Pederson has done an excellent job to build in concepts and present as many options as possible for his young quarterback.
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. Now that I have a few of these rolling, I’d love to hear your suggestions. Hope you enjoyed!