“The clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him.” – Sun Tzŭ, The Art of War
In Week 16 on their second drive of a scoreless game, the Philadelphia Eagles faced 1st & 17 on the Oakland Raiders 26 yard-line. The play only went for 9 yards, but it caught the attention of color commentator and new Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden.
“That’s the Philadelphia Wham… it’s an uncommon play in the NFL and it’s driving defenses crazy.” – Jon Gruden
What exactly is a Wham play? For starters, it can also be called a Crunch. What’s a Crunch play? A Wham/Crunch is a Trap, except the key block comes from the outside.
It’s far from a revolutionary run concept, for example Jim Harbaugh uses it at Michigan and he used it in the first year of his tenure as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Join me in the time machine to travel back to 2011, back when Colin Kaepernick had a job and Chip Kelly had yet to fall on his face in two consecutive head coaching gigs.
The idea of this isolation play is to cut a swathe in the defensive front by sealing the 3-tech and putting the MIKE linebacker in a conundrum. On this play, the key block comes from the wing in TE Delanie Walker (#46). The 3-tech is DL Ndamukong Suh (#90), you may have heard of him.
“So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.” – Sun Tzŭ, The Art of War
Harbaugh understands that it’s more beneficial and efficient to allow Suh up-field and block him at an angle with a significant leverage advantage. Additionally, you’re blocking him with one TE, as opposed to doubling him with two offensive linemen. The 49ers “Wham” with Walker on Suh resulted in a 47 yard gain by RB Frank Gore (#21).
Trap concepts were an extremely effective weapon for the Eagles in 2017. According to Pro Football Focus, they ran a league leading 40 plays (8.5%) that featured components of a trap play. Their 8.5% market share was well over the league average of 2.1%. Those 40 plays averaged 7.3 yards per carry, which was tops in the league among teams that ran 10 or more trap concepts and also 2.5 yards more than the league average. The Eagles run attack wasn’t versatile just for the sake of versatility, the coaching staff understood what concepts worked for them and continued to evolve those concepts as the season developed.
Narrowing our focus down and focusing on the topic of this article, the Wham, here’s the play that the Eagles ran against the Raiders that got Gruden so jazzed up.
These are the basic rules of a “Wham” as applied by the Eagles:
- The 3-tech lined up across from LG Chance Warmack (#67) is allowed a free run up-field, to be picked up by TE Brent Celek (#87).
- The 1-tech lined up to C Jason Kelce (#62) is allowed up-field, to be picked up by LG Chance Warmack (#67), which frees up Kelce to pick up the MIKE linebacker.
- RG Brandon Brooks (#79) seals the EMLOS, allowing RT Lane Johnson (#65) to climb to the backside linebacker.
- The RB Jay Ajayi (#36) starts with an “open cross-over” (watch his initial steps) and runs the “B-Gap rail” with his initial point being the outside leg of the play-side guard.
Along with the block by Celek, having an athletic center like Kelce is key to reaching MIKE linebacker Navarro Bowman (#53) to seal him off, assuming he isn’t already lost in the sauce. The play went for 9 yards, which is a win for the offense and set up a touchdown on a screen to Ajayi on the next play, another concept where players were let free up-field, to go ahead 7-0.
The Eagles would continue their success with the Wham concept in the playoffs. In the NFC Championship Game, tied 7-7 in the early 2nd quarter, the Eagles used some deception in their pre-snap shifts from a two tight end set (#GodErtz) to set up a Wham with LaGarrette Blount (#29).
“He who is prudent and lies in wait for an enemy who is not, will be victorious.” – Sun Tzŭ, The Art of War
This time it’s tight end Trey Burton (#88) with the block on Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Tom Johnson (92#). Straight up Johnson likely mauls Burton, but all Burton has to do in this scenario is be in a spot for a half second. Meanwhile, Kelce is free to climb to linebacker Anthony Barr (#55) to cut off his pursuit angle. This creates a 1v1 match-up with Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo (#34) and the powerful Blount. It does not end well for Sendejo.
It’s a simple philosophy, one that turns an opponents strength into a weakness while taking a weakness, like blocking a 300-pound man with a tight end, into a strength. Expect the Eagles to have success on the ground in 2018 no matter who is toting the rock, in part due to the diversity of the attack and in part due to the excellent game-planning by the Eagles coaching staff.
“He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain.” – Sun Tzŭ, The Art of War
Cheers to our “heaven-born captain” Doug Pederson. May he live for 10,000 years.