The Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles had a peculiar problem in 2017. Despite having a backfield featuring sledgehammers LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi, the red zone was not an area where they thrived pounding the rock.
They ranked towards the bottom of the league in rushing touchdowns and conversions from inside the 20 and struggled to punch through from 5 yards and in. The fault wasn’t that of Ajayi, however, who didn’t receive any touches from within 5 yards.
“They executed 21 run plays inside the 5-yard line with only 5 touchdowns, ranking 29th in touchdown rate (23.5%). Blount ranks 3rd in touchdowns from 5 yards or less to score from 2015-2017, but there’s more to the story. In 2017 he toted the rock on 12 of those runs, scoring only once and actually losing a yard when all was said and done after having 5 of his runs go for negative yardage.” - The “Blount Role” and In-House Answers
Projecting a positive regression to the mean regarding red zone efficiency, I cited Ajayi’s career 5 for 11 touchdown rate before coming to Philadelphia. In the season opener against the Atlanta Falcons, Ajayi added on to his past success. He toted the rock on 2 red zone carries for 12 yards and 2 touchdowns. The first came in the 3rd quarter; a go-ahead score from the 1-yard line on a well designed inside run.
What helps this play work is the Eagles use of jet motion and the unbalanced line. They screw with the snap timing a little, snapping it before tight end Josh Perkins screams across the formation. Instead of being merely used to take the defensive back with him, he lunges to get in the way of defensive end Vic Beasley.
This allows Jason Peters, who is lined up outside of Lane Johnson, to get a piece of linebacker Duke Riley. Johnson does his part by showcasing his elite athleticism, securing a reach block on Grady Jarrett with the help of Brandon Brooks. A tick late to the hole, Riley and safety Ricardo Allen are unable to stuff the powerful Ajayi.
The second of Ajayi’s touchdowns was even sexier. Down two points with a little over two minutes left in the game, the Eagles dialed up a pin-pull concept that they pulled off with flawless execution.
Here’s the pre-snap look and how it’s drawn up:
Eagles go heavy, so they’ve got their regular offensive line alignment, but they added Isaac Seumalo lined up outside of Lane Johnson. Zach Ertz is aligned outside of Jason Peters.
Falcons safety Ricardo Allen is initially aligned over on Ertz’s side, but before the snap he goes to the heavy side with Seumalo. As Allen is flying across the formation, Nick Foles stands up and wipes his chest, and it’s an educated guess in saying that he’s flipping the play.
To the playside you’ve got 4-on-4, here’s what happens:
- Ertz pins the 5-tech to allow Peters to pull.
- Left tackle Peters pulls into space and displaces linebacker De’Vondre Campbell who is attempting to set the edge, which is a huge size mismatch.
- Left guard Stefen Wisniewski pins the 1-tech allowing Jason Kelce to pull.
- Center Kelce cuts off linebacker Deion Jones who is shooting his gap.
- Right guard Brandon Brooks, despite being grabbed, climbs and reach blocks the backside linebacker Foye Oluokun to seal him off from the play.
- Right tackle Johnson, who is unable to reach Jarrett, transitions to a modified “slingshot” technique and finishes with a pancake.
- Ajayi reads hats on the edge and finds a line before running through the attempted tackle by Allen for a touchdown.
This is a positive grade for every player involved on this touchdown, with a bonus gold star for Johnson for his high difficulty slingshot. This is the type of execution that lacked at times for the Eagles and it’s of note that they didn’t attempt these pin/pull concepts to the left much when Halapoulivaati Vaitai replaced the injured Peters last year. The return of the athletic Peters allows the Eagles to use this concept ambidextrously and more effectively.
It’s still early, but so far the red zone running for the Eagles has been lights out. That’s a big boost for an offense that has yet to find it’s way with several starters missing from the line-up.