Last week, I lamented the lack of Dallas Goedert in the game plan — as did many.
When I heard that Goedert “wasn’t in the game plan,” per Pederson, I was suspicious. How could you not install Goedert into those positions he played in training camp/preseason? — the flex tight end, the backside WR. He can do Ertz-esque things as a route-runner — is he really not a better alternative to Kamar Aiken and Josh Perkins?
As it turns out, the Eagles’ coaching staff had greater aspirations for Goedert — plans we saw realized against the Colts. Watch Dallas’ film from South Dakota State, and you see a potential great flex tight end at the NFL level. As a blocker, sure, he looked strong and effective — but that was against FCS competition, which he easily outclassed. And why ask a player of his downfield talent to block?
The Eagles already have a stellar downfield tight end — and while Goedert adds further color to that deadly vertical picture, what he offers as a blocker is what got him on the field for Philly.
Ertz has always been a shaky blocker, good for a quick wall-off on a wham or toss, but not a guy you want matching up with defensive linemen for extended periods of time. The Eagles used Goedert as a straight in-line blocker, responsible for first level to second level reads and angles.
Now, young tight ends often struggle with this in NFL transitions — but Goedert’s first performance was as encouraging as they come.
The Eagles felt very comfortable running zone to the strength of the formation with Goedert as the lead blocker, and they worked power to his side as well. The Colts shift their front up a lot — Goedert faced 7-techs and 5-techs as a run blocker — which means that he had to make decisions on a snap-to-snap basis in terms of how he fit within the blocking scheme as whole.
Take for example, the first two plays in the cut-up — back-to-back plays on the opening drive. Goedert is head up on a 7-technique on both reps, outside zone to his side. But on the first rep, he swims through #97 Al-Quadin Muhammad to climb to the third level and seal off the closing safety (#29 Malik Hooker); and on the second, he stays thick on the line to drive Muhammad off the line.
These two plays, juxtaposed and compared, draw a quick picture of Goedert as a blocker. He gets to Hooker almost 10 yards off the ball on the first rep — Hooker swims him inside, which isn’t a great decision given Hooker’s responsibility to fill the alley on the outside. Goedert is able to re-leverage his hips and drive Hooker where he wants to go.
Which is out of the play.
On the second play, it’s not about the mobility and agility in space, but rather the hand placement and phone booth power. When Muhammad twists Goedert with his right arm in an effort to disconnect and disengage, Goedert’s torsion strength through his core and his grip strength inside of Muhammad’s pads are both tested — and both pass with flying colors. Goedert activates his hips to generate rolling power and put Muhammad on his heels. Look at all that green space!
Man oh man, if Goedert is able to block this well throughout the year, it will keep him on the field for a major percentage of the snaps.
But it will also continue to cause confounding problems for defenses — as it did for the Colts all game long.
Philadelphia incorporated a ton of HUNH (hurry-up no huddle) pacing into their game plan against the Colts, likely because it allowed them to attack the Colts’ poor linebacking corps (and secondary, if we’re being honest) while taking the gas out of their pass-rushers up front. But on top of that: Philadelphia sequenced similar plays and formations to manipulate the Colts’ back seven — it was truly a Doug Pederson game plan, in that it offered variability, manufactured easy yardage, and always stayed aggressive.
Dallas Goedert, in that he is a great blocker and great pass-catcher, fits right into that system. He doesn’t dictate run or pass the way Zach Ertz often did when he was an in-line tight end last season, and by keeping him and Ertz on the field together, you force the defense to play with light boxes or risk getting beaten down the field.
Let’s take a look at a cool grouping of play calls, starting with Crack Toss. I can’t remember seeing this play on 2017 Philadelphia tape very frequently, but with the frequency of 12 and even 13 personnel against the Colts, it was an understandable inclusion in the game plan.
Philly’s out on the field right now in 12 personnel, with Kamar Aiken and Nelson Agholor as their wide receivers, Josh Adams as the running back, and of course GodErtz as the tight ends.
This formation is what you would call “Tight Duo” — Duo because of the two tight end stack at the end of the formation opposite the two receivers on the other side, and tight because the receivers have been pulled in to the center of the field. You need to be “Tight” to run Crack Toss because the innermost receiver (Aiken) is going to crack block the defensive end, which allows OT Jason Peters to climb out into space.
Look at how the Indianapolis defense is aligned here. They are mugging the A-gap with one linebacker, but the other ‘backer and the box safety both are rotated to the tight end side of the field — that is the running strength of this formation. Three secondary players — two far off the ball — account for the two receivers to the field side, as that’s more likely the passing strength of the formation.
11 personnel is the most common personnel in the league — but with a third receiver instead of a second tight end to the boundary side of the field, you won’t draw in as much attention from the run defense. Of course, Philadelphia goes the other way with the football, forcing a single-high safety to race 20 yards down the field as the fill defender against the run.
Now, one of the Eagles’ few explosive passing plays came against the Colts — again in 12 personnel. Here, instead of running the play out of Tight Duo, the Eagles are in traditional Duo alignment.
Because the receivers are now flexed out over the length of the wide side of the field, the safeties naturally have to widen. The Colts go for their more typical Cover 2 look, with one safety playing directly over the two tight ends, and with the other capped on top of the #2 receiver to the opposite side.
The result? A big space left open in the middle of the field.
Philadelphia immediately puts that safety in a place of conflict with two vertical releases from Goedert (first) and Ertz (second) alike. Goedert eats up space with urgency while Ertz runs with a little patience, letting Goedert sucker in the deep safety with the corner route before breaking into the space for the post.
This was a 2nd and 10 play call — a down and distance that Doug wisely chose to pass on, while many offensive coordinators would have elected to run. You’ll notice that, because there is no receiver outside of the two tight end set, the corner to the boundary side can leak into the box, just as the overhang defender to the field side peeks into the box. This is a poor numbers situation to run the ball.
But if you extend that second tight end into the boundary as a flexed out receiver, you remove that corner from the box. That opens up the space to run.
(whispering: the Eagles are still in 12 personnel. Dallas Goedert is still the in-line tight end.)
This play immediately followed the long Ertz throw captured above. The formation is almost exactly the same, save for Zach Ertz, who has now extended off of the formation as a flex tight end. This is an 11 personnel sort of look — the formation is Doubles, the classic shotgun formation — but the Eagles ran it out of 12 in order to execute their hurry-up offense on this drive.
Because the corner has widened out, Philadelphia essentially has a six man box against six blockers — we don’t need to worry about that creeping overhang defender from the weak side, as he likely won’t be quick enough to make the play.
But you will notice that Nelson Agholor runs a little bubble route to the field side as the overhang defender closes. Agholor is theoretically covered by that deep safety, so that bubble route should be free yardage given the space in front of him. That bubble route is packaged with the single back power run — Carson can choose, pre-snap, whether to hand the ball off or throw the bubble screen, depending not only on down and distance, but also defensive alignment.
While this play is still a run-pass option, the option for Carson is not after the snap — it’s before it. Others would categorize this play as a “packaged play,” in that two plays are packaged into one: single back power to the boundary side, and bubble screen to the field side.
Philly ran it multiple times against the Colts, especially when they got into the near red zone.
Of course, this play is in the same formation, but this time we’re in 13 (!!) personnel — the isolated receiver to the top is actually TE Josh Perkins. But he is immaterial to this play call and design — make him anybody you want.
In that there are three receivers to the field side (count the running back), the Colts defense has to account for the passing strength there — but, fearful of Goedert on the backside, they have to keep a safety over the top of the other two receivers. With Goedert and Ertz both on the field and potentially working the seams, it is very difficult to play single-high shells against the Eagles. Accordingly, you have to put defenders — such as the pink-box overhang defender — in conflict. That plays right into Philadelphia’s hands.
Put another way: RPOs characterized the Eagles’ 2017 offense. They shredded their way through the playoffs on the back of ‘em — Cris Collinsworth could tell you a little more about that, if you like. The typical counter to defending RPOs is to spin safeties down into the box as extra defenders and deploy single-high coverage. But to do that is to weaken the seams, and with 12 personnel on the field, teams will be very wary of doing so.
Play two-high and lose to RPOs; play single-high and let GodErtz roam free. That right there is a rock and a hard place.
Boy, just wait until Alshon comes back.