[BLG Note: Please give a warm welcome to our newest writer, Michael Kist! Michael is one half of BGN Radio’s new Kist And Solak Show.]
With surprising contributions and elevated play from a bevy of Philadelphia Eagles in their 2017 Super Bowl winning campaign, you could argue none surprised the fan base more than the emergence of rookie running back Corey Clement. Undrafted due to concerns about his character and athleticism, Clement’s draft profile from the official NFL website reads like a player that should have been avoided.
“Clement’s lack of durability combined with a lack of value as a third down option could hurt his draft stock, but negative feedback from inside the program could be just as big at this point… appears to lack the fluidity, decisiveness, and vision needed…”
While Clement contributed as a runner for the Eagles with 74 rushes, 321 yards and 4 touchdowns, it was his versatility as a third down back that made him stick as a productive member of a three-headed monster.
Over his 39 game career at Wisconsin, Clement amassed a mere 29 receptions for 279 yards and 2 touchdowns and never had more than 15 catches in a season. In the Super Bowl, Clement went off for 4 receptions, 100 yards and 1 touchdown. It’s a testament to the Eagles coaching staff, which was able to get the most out of their players despite whatever perceived limitations they had.
One of the routes the Eagles utilized with Clement is the RB Wheel, which according to most social media users is “undefeated”. There’s plenty of reason for this love affair. Combined with the right concepts and alignments, it can be a deadly tool in an offensive gameplan.
There’s no fancy window dressing with the wheel route that makes it more effective. The offense is simply putting a linebacker or safety in a position where he has to run and cover both horizontally and vertically. That defender has to have the combination of tools necessary to cover the route, those being short area burst, top end speed, hip fluidity and ball skills.
If you throw traffic in the best path for the defender to cover the wheel, it’s an even bigger advantage. This puts them in a conflict and creates a simple read for the quarterback. This alignment provides the opportunity for a two-man route combination and by condensing the weakside to a “numbers split” and it creates a large void for the route and the throw.
The important part about a wheel route is that it’s not born as that, it’s technically a flat route to start. On a flat route, the defender is going to have to attack downhill to make a stop near the line. A flat route that turns into a wheel exploits this, by capitalizing on those responsibilities and forcing the defender to turn and run from a disadvantageous position. Any hesitation is death.
The Eagles utilized this concept in key moments during their Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots. As mentioned above, the Eagles create space for the route and throw by condensing WR Torrey Smith to a “numbers split”. This presents traffic for the conflict defender; on this play it’s safety Jordan Richards who is assigned with man coverage on Clement.
While it’s best case scenario for the offense to achieve a match-up with a linebacker on this concept, it is of note that Richards tested well below his peers at safety in regard to 40 time (4.65 – 19th percentile), 10 yard split (1.63 – 15th percentile) and 20 yard shuttle (4.22 – 40th percentile). For comparison, all three of these numbers test below Eagles LB Mychal Kendricks. In short, the difference between Richards’ athletic profile and a typical coverage linebacker is negligible.
The drag route by Smith, part of a Hi-Lo mesh concept with WR Nelson Agholor and TE Zach Ertz, forces Richards to decide how he will choose to avoid the pick. If he goes over the top of Smith and the traffic, the throw is early and to the flat. If he attacks the flat, the throw comes late to the wheel. There is no right answer.
With the down and distance of 3rd & 3, Richards is further stressed to get to the flat route and make a stop short of the sticks. This plays to the Eagles advantage. With Richards coming downhill to stop the short route, Clement keeps himself clean with a chop to Richards’ outstretched arms, allowing him to burst and uncover up-field. QB Nick Foles processes this post-snap action correctly and puts a throw directly on Clement in space, resulting in a 55 yard gain after some hard-nosed finishing from Clement.
If this play looks familiar, it’s because it was a staple of the Chip Kelly offense. The Eagles coaching staff did a phenomenal job incorporating concepts that Foles had success with during his bust out 27 TD year back in 2013 and it paid off on the biggest stage. Just as important was the coaching staff’s ability to take a square peg, in this case Clement as a receiving option, and mold him to fit a round hole over the course of the season to fill a vital role in the offense.