The Philadelphia Eagles survived the loss of franchise quarterback Carson Wentz, and eventually thrived, by being innovative with their offensive concepts and adapting to their players’ strengths. This flexibility and forward thinking allowed them advance past the Atlanta Falcons, carve up the Minnesota Vikings, and out-sprint the New England Patriots in a wild track meet on their way to a Super Bowl Championship.
Credit can be given to head coach Doug Pederson, first and foremost, for being receptive to his coaching staff and their suggestions. Too often teams fail to evolve in season, relying heavily on their offseason installs and becoming predictable in their scripting. This was not the case for Pederson in 2017. He showed the ability to craft a new gameplan each week before unfurling a diabolical set of creative designs in the playoffs.
It would be cumbersome to include every inventive creation that sprang forth from the Philadelphia think tank this season, so the focus here will be strictly on the playoffs. Here are the best play designs from the 2017 playoffs, in no particular order:
BUNCH WING COUNTER (Divisional Round, Atlanta Falcons)
3rd & 3 @ ATL 24, 2nd Quarter (12:13), 3-0 ATL
One area in which the Eagles excelled this year was giving traditional looks for defenses to key on and then putting said defenses in a blender with a new twist. In this case, the alignment and toss action by RB Jay Ajayi screams Toss Bunch Crunch. Here’s how the assignments would look if the Eagles had run a conventional toss:
The idea of Toss Bunch Crunch is to have the two outside bunch players seal with crack blocks with the inside bunch man and playside tackle kicking out. Defenses have to be fast to flow to not only defeat the cracks, but to work through the wall the offense is trying to create. In short, the defense can not hesitate or it’s toast.
The Eagles have two of the three elements of Toss Bunch Crunch in play to sell their deception. WR Torrey Smith and TE Zach Ertz come down at the snap with crack blocks and Ajayi takes a toss track. The defenses reads this action and knows they’re about to have to chase down the most common pitch play in the league.
The two players that would normally kick-out to lead the toss on the outside, LT Lane Johnson and WR Nelson Agholor, take a different path. Johnson pulls and to his left, with Agholor behind him to receive a hand-off from Foles. On the left side of the formation, LG Steven Wisniewski pins the 1 tech, Halapoulivaati Vaitai seals and widens DE Adrian Clairborne, and the backside LB Deion Jones vacates his area by running off to Antarctica. This creates a huge void for Agholor to exploit, which he does for a chunk play.
This conversion set up a goal-line situation for the Eagles, leading to 4th and GL on the Falcons 1-yard line.
G-LEAD (Divisional Round, Atlanta Falcons)
4th & GL @ ATL 1, 2nd Quarter (10:32), 3-0 ATL
This playcall resembles something that could be mistaken, at first glance, as Power. Instead, the concept used is called G-Lead. So what is the difference between Power and G-Lead?
They’re nearly twin running concepts with one major difference. Instead of the backside guard pulling, G-Lead pulls the play-side guard, which in this case is Brandon Brooks.
This allows you to get your most athletic guard pulling and still run to his side of the formation. It also hits quicker than Power because your key block is coming from a short distance.
The G-Lead can also be called G-Kick, as the intention is to kick out the end man on the line of scrimmage. It doesn’t always work this way, depending on the angle of the force defender, it’s not a kick out, it’s a log block.
On a “kick” you would see the play-side guard engage the end man on the line of scrimmage from inside-out, with the aim of creating a lane inside of his butt. That’s where Blount initially presses his aiming point, but seeing the adjustment from Brooks, he bounces to the outside.
Watch it again in slow motion.
Like Power, the LT Lane Johnson and the TE Brent Celek down block. Brooks pulls to the play-side, which we’ll break down in detail in a moment.
Center Jason Kelce has a reach block, but in the confined spaces of the goal-line, can’t quite get to the outside of his man to seal him. Still, he gets a piece of DT Grady Jarrett, which proves pivotal as Jarrett was nearly able to chase down Blount to the corner.
Brooks shows off the athleticism and technique that got him to the Pro Bowl this year. His first step drives hard off his left, inside foot while his right foot pulls straight back in a “bucket step”. This turns his shoulders perpendicular to the line as he shoots his left foot in front of his bucket step.
He is now at the proper depth of 2 yards behind the line and needs to locate his target with his eyes. By his fifth step, he’s decided the blocking technique required. The end man on the line of scrimmage OLB De’Vondre Campbell, left intentionally unblocked, has pressed inside off the butts of the down blocks. This means Brooks needs to log, not kick.
On a log block, the intention is to turn the defender from facing towards the backfield into facing the sideline, walling him off. It’s called a log block because Brooks rolls his man’s shoulders from facing one way to another, like you would roll a log. Brooks pulls this off masterfully, engaging Campbell with length while his hands/hips/feet all work in unison.
With the play sealed off, TE Trey Burton, acting as a fullback, gets a key block on LB LaRoy Reynolds to win the corner. Blount outruns Jarrett and S Kemal Ishmael to the end zone for a touchdown on a ballsy call from head coach Doug Pederson.
COUNTER WING PLAY ACTION (NFC Championship, Minnesota Vikings)
3rd & 4 @ PHI 14, 3rd Quarter (5:00), 31-7 PHI
Part of successful playcalling is putting a concept on tape, showing the same set up in a similar situation, and playing off that previous tape with a new wrinkle.
This is, for all intents and purposes, garbage time. But as Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer pointed out coming into the game, the scoreboard doesn’t matter to Pederson, who will dial it up no matter how dead and buried the other team may be.
In this case, the Eagles show a similar look to the first play cited in this article, the Counter Wing which saw an inside hand-off to Agholor. The Vikings defense has seen this on tape and a flurry of communication happens before the snap. Every defender is alert to the possibility of a hand-off to Agholor.
If the Vikings defense had a motive to bite to the opposite of the strength of the formation anticipating some chicanery, the Eagles give them extra incentive. The zone steps to the left by the offensive line helps create a flow away from where the routes are developing.
Not only do the Eagles run play action, but RB Corey Clement darts to the flats and the combination of routes resembles a “spot concept”. This provides a defined horizontal and vertical reads for QB Nick Foles.
Zach Ertz gets a quick chip on the EMLOS, simulating a blown block, and finds a void in the defense to sit in for an easy catch and run that moves the chains.
POST, OUT-AND UP (NFC Championship, Minnesota Vikings)
1st & 10 @ PHI 31, 2nd Quarter (:23), 21-7 PHI
I could use a bunch of fancy coach-speak to explain this play but it comes down to two major factors.
First, the Eagles play the situation against the Vikings beautifully. With only 23 seconds remaining on the clock, the Vikings defenders are going to be aggressive in covering the sidelines.
Second, Doug Pederson doesn’t care about who he’s attacking, he’s going to run his offense. Vikings safety Harrison Smith is one of the best in the league at his position and most coaches would prefer stay away from him. Instead, the Eagles put him in constant conflict and even outright attacked him, as they did on this play.
To start, the offensive line does well to pick up the blitz that comes heavy to the left side. With WR Torrey Smith running a post, the Eagles run a variation on the post-wheel. Replacing the wheel, Ertz runs a similar route, the out-and-up, which is designed to stretch the defense vertically all the same but integrates situational deception.
With the sideline approaching Smith anticipates the throw and bites hard on the out. Taking advantage of Smith’s aggression, Ertz uncovers up the sideline and ultimately gets into range for more points on the way to a 38-7 win.
Hi-Lo Mesh Wheel (Super Bowl, New England Patriots)
I highlighted this play in “Corey Clement, the Unexpected Hero”, but it’s such a fitting design that highlights all the fantastic parts about what the coaching staff accomplished this year, so here it is again.
Incorporating elements of the Chip Kelly playbook to make Foles more comfortable and utilizing an undrafted free agent running back in a key situation is a microcosm of what made this season so special.
Philly Special (Super Bowl, New England Patriots)
4th & GL @ NE 1, 2nd Quarter (:38), 15-12 PHI
The most iconic play in Eagles history, the Philly Special blends creativity, deception, and big balls. The most impressive part about this play is the exchange that happened before hand. With a crucial 4th down looming, Foles asked Pederson if he was ready to risk it all. Pederson looked Foles in the eyes for a full beat, saw a reflection of his own daring nature, and decided to put the fate of the Super Bowl in the literal hands of his backup quarterback.
That’s the stuff of which legends are made.