The Eagles team site releases a video every week of one of the coaches breaking down a few plays on the telestrator. The purpose is purely content-oriented: enough Eagles fans want to see that material that Ike Reese, Fran Duffy, and their excellent production team throw it together. Most teams in the league don’t have that, and it’s awesome to see.
This week, they got Dougie P on the show. Ol’ Douglas. Goat Pederson.
He’s always a good watch, with characteristic fun uncle energy. The first play he broke down against the Panthers actually illustrates a very important point, that I’d like to break down for you today.
The motion — bringing the tight end across the formation — is a key part of the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense. They incorporate it into just about as many plays as they can — and there’s a few reasons for that.
The first is the one that Pederson identified here. They’re trying to get the safeties to ‘rock ‘n roll,’ which is an awesome term that’s important to understand for fans of the Philly offense.
RnR (rock 'n roll) rotation, enabled by hybrid secondary defenders, allowed defenses to negate the leverage advantage generated by jet motion pic.twitter.com/5ZDXDZmOpt— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) November 17, 2017
Rockin’ and rollin’ describes the motion you see here of the safeties/nickelbacks — often at the college level, where positions like “SPUR” or “STAR” for hybrid safety players. As you can see on the pictured diagram, RNR rotations were use to respond to the quick jet motion action that’s been successful at the college level for years, and is seeing a huge uptick in usage at the NFL level.
Instead of asking that nickelback — the WS in the diagram above — to follow the jet motion man across the formation, racing to make the tackle on a potential jet sweep, the safeties rock ‘n roll. They each bump over one position, so that the $ defender can close on the jet sweep with an initially advantageous angle, without having to sprint.
So when Pederson references getting the safeties to rock ‘n roll with the H-back motion, this is the action he’s expecting — and it’s the action he gets.
The across motion here — that’s what we’ll generally call this switching of the H-back, though there are a bevy of different names for it across different systems — switches the strength of the offense. Originally, with three receivers to the field side (the wider side of the field; here, the right side, because the ball is on the left hash), the Eagles’ passing strength is to that side of the formation. That’s why you see more box defenders to the center’s right than you do the center’s left, before the motion.
At the motion, the Eagles switch the strength of their formation when they bring the H-back — here, Dallas Goedert — across the formation. Now the strength of their formation is into the boundary, with three receivers to the narrow side of the field. Carolina adjusts their defense by now aligning to the new strength, rocking their box safety back up and rolling their deep safety down into the box.
When you key in on a defense’s adjustment call in film study — “Oh, so they rock ‘n roll their safeties against across motion” — you can design red zone plays like this. It’s not a hard design — it’s a very easy read for Carson Wentz — but it’s painfully effective. Once the safeties rotate, CB 24 James Bradberry no longer has the inside help from the safety to his side of the field. That safety is now responsible for the flat to that side of the field, along with the potential run action from the backfield.
So, as you can see between the two screengrabs, Bradberry steps away from his outside leverage and into pure head-up positioning on Alshon Jeffery. It’s this motion that creates the space for Alshon Jeffery’s little front pylon route, and the double move only adds to the separation Jeffery is able to create.
In the business, we call that free money.
It may seem counterintuitive, but the ability of the across motion to pull defenders into the box actually helps Philadelphia in the running game. Philly loves to use their H-backs in the rushing attack — and rightfully so. The added depth of alignment forces the defense to worry about split zone action — something Philadelphia employs a lot — as well as traps.
The traps especially are a key point here, because to execute a trap, you need defenders to be up in the box. You’re asking your blockers — often TEs and WRs — to hold the line against bigger defenders by winning the angle to create a running path, so manipulating those defenders into the necessary positions is critical to the success of the trap.
You see the safety rush into the box to account for Zach Ertz’s motion across the formation? That’s Nelson Agholor’s responsibility as the tight WR on this strong-side trap (again, notice that the across motion is changing Philadelphia’s formation strength from the field to the boundary).
If Agholor had to climb all the way up into the secondary to get an angle on that player, the safety would have more time to process what’s happening, see Agholor coming, and generate a plan of attack. Here, you’ve taken a player unaccustomed to playing so close to the line of scrimmage and forced him to make a bang-bang decision. That’s a tough ask on the defender, who doesn’t feel Agholor and is sealed off from the play.
The cool thing here is, before this motion, Carolina has to be worried about split zone action heavily (H-back aligned opposite the running back), as well as potential traps to the field side. Once you introduce two potential route-runners to the boundary side — the same side as the running back — you now still have to worry about traditional zone flow and trap runs, but you also need to be concerned with two-man RPO games with those receivers to the back’s side of the field.
That’s why that safety has to come down into the box. If you don’t bring him, the Eagles will have numbers and space to run the quick passing game in that area.
What can we expect net from the Philadelphia offense in regards to this across/jet motion? With Pederson identifying the desire to draw out the rock ‘n roll motion, I want to mention something the Jets did last year, under since-released offensive coordinator John Morton.
Then the motion occurs, forces NE into conflict, and Cassius Marsh is forced to cover Robby Anderson in space. 16 yard gain. Beautiful. pic.twitter.com/CS5rq7f4ON— Ethan Young (@EthanYoungFB) October 17, 2017
By sequencing two motions together, Morton is able to first pull away the nickel player that would be responsible for initiating the rock ‘n roll motion against a jet sweep action.
It puts New England’s defense at a point at which they have to scramble and communicate on the fly (watch the two defensive backs at the top of the screen), and as such, there’s free space for easy money.
Philadelphia used multi-motion ideas against the Panthers, including the across motion of the H-back — but they never really got a look they could manipulate in terms of this rock ‘n roll technique. The umbrella idea is that defensive shells are built to handle motion, but the second motion can surprise them and force them into scramble situations. Every defender is quickly adapting to their new responsibilities and can often over-react to the first color they see. That’s the story on this long screen to Dallas Goedert, which was the first “1st/2nd and long” play the Eagles dialed up.
When the H-back motions to the boundary side, you can see the linebackers shift a bit, and the nickel corner to the field side cheats inside a little bit. When RB Corey Clement flares out to the right backfield, both that nickel corner and MIKE LB Luke Kuechly burst to handle the flare screen. That’s what vacates the middle of the field — that Kuechly run — for the Goedert backside screen.
Understanding the strength of the formation — and how to change it — helps you adjust the responsibilities of multiple defensive players with just a quick shift. By running that motion into several different looks and executing misdirection plays out of it, you get defenders in tricky spots forced to guess and think on the fly. That’s a free advantage for the offense, and one Doug Pederson and Co. seem interested in capitalizing on.