Every tiny edge you can gain in playoff preparation is worth it. It could be a concept or coverage you saw from Week 8 or from 2012. All of it matters. All of it can be useful.
The defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles’ offense came fully prepared to play last Sunday. The top ranked Chicago Bears’ defense weren’t lacking on their end either. Both teams had intelligent game-plans.
So, what worked for the Eagles and what fell short? Why did the successful plays execute and why did the unsuccessful plays fail? Execution? Design? Digging into the film, there’s plenty of plays to dissect and it’s apparent how deep in the bag each coach reached for answers.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK...
“Run the Bawl!”
Number one, just about everything went wrong in the run game. The Bears limited the Eagles to 1.63 yards per carry and a 36% stuff rate. That stuff rate means that 8 of 22 of the Eagles runs went for zero or negative yards, which is an incredibly high amount.
The pairing of Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman that I dubbed the best interior defensive lineman duo in the league lived up to the billing. Per Pro Football Focus, the two big boys had 4 run stops each. Among interior defenders they tied for 1st with each other on the week. Even Khalil Mack’s “quiet” game featured 5 run stops, which tied for 1st among edge defenders.
Taking a Leak
Back in Week 8 the Eagles’ utilized a Kyle Shanahan staple to free up Dallas Goedert for a 32-yard touchdown. That concept is called “leak” and it has many variations.
The name is very self-explanatory. The goal of this play is to move the pocket one way and leak a receiver across the formation the other way.
In the Shanahan playbook the leak is often accompanied by a running back flat to help hold underneath defenders and provide an outlet. Instead, the Eagles send the checkdown to the front side in the direction of Carson Wentz’s roll-out to give him an easier throw if needed.
January 8, 2019
A major reason reason this deception works is the personnel grouping. The Eagles are in 13 (one running back, three tight ends). They run from that personnel 60% of the time, to which the Jacksonville Jaguars were acutely aware. This, combined with the vertical stretches and moving of the pocket all created a situation for Dallas Goedert to find plenty of space on his route for an easy throw and catch score.
But remember, this is the “What Didn’t Work” section and the Bears had an answer. His name is Roquan Smith. He’s a rookie linebacker, an eight overall pick, and boasts fantastic coverage instincts that pair nicely with his top tier athleticism.
Special play from #DaBears LB Roquan Smith to recognize the "Leak" & to display the athleticism to go from far hash to outside the numbers & catch up w/Tate (and I agree with the no-call) - pic.twitter.com/4Hm32jFjXP— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) January 8, 2019
It’s a favorite route concept of mine, especially in or approaching the red zone. It’s called “Double China-7” and it’s been a nuisance for defenses for years. There aren’t many calls that work well against this three-man route combination, but the Bears’ had one dialed up on Sunday. Perhaps they saw what scheme the New York Giants deployed in Week 12 and used it as a guide.
#FlyEaglesFly "Double China-7" vs NYG & CHI.. Cover 4 Match, perfect coverage call for DC-7 - pic.twitter.com/iN60gj6RU1— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) January 8, 2019
I could write a novel about this play-call and it’s variations, but if you want to learn more check out this article by Nick Turchyn of Inside the Pylon.
Going Back to the Well
What worked is what has worked before for the Eagles. That’s typically the case for Nick Foles. The Eagles’ often rehash ideas that hit for him during his tenure as starting quarterback in the Chip Kelly era. No, this is not another diatribe on mesh-sit wheel. In this situation, the Eagles called back to something more recent.
Reaching into their bag of tricks, the Eagles pulled out a play that has scored in the touchdown twice with Wentz at the helm.
VID 1, 2017 Week 12 vs CHI: RZ Spot concept w/a Copper (corner-post) variation to Ertz.— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) September 24, 2018
VID 2, 2018 Week 3 vs IND: RZ Spot concept w/a Copper (corner-post) variation to Goedert. pic.twitter.com/FxLYGuZH7O
I wrote about the execution of these two plays here.
“The spot concept is a common pass game scheme run from the high school level up to the NFL. It is known for its simplicity and ability to create both a horizontal and vertical stretch. Spot is a half field “triangle” read, and features a flat route as a horizontal stretch, a deep corner as a vertical stretch, and the quick hitch route coming underneath at about 5 yards and settling in an open zone coverage.” - Inside the Pylon
Simply, the Eagles run a variation of this by turning the corner route into a corner-post. In Eagles terminology it’s a “copper” route. Hence why I’m calling it “spot copper”.
It gets played differently by the Bears’ defense than it did in the previous cases, but the result is the same.
January 8, 2019
Goedert still has to develop as a route runner but this is nicely done. His initial outside stem gets Adrian Amos’ hips turned to the outside, clearing space to the inside. Goedert is physical at the top of his route and fights through the mutual contact to uncover in the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown.
We saw this a ton from both teams, especially from their 3x1 sets with the running back set to the Y-Iso side. The advantage of working the backside is you’ll often create a basic high-low read. This allows the quarterback to key in on one defender and base his decision-making of his actions.
The Eagles knew they could get Alshon Jeffery into single coverage and soft spots with these trips formations. They went with it early and Foles knew exactly where he was going with the ball.
January 8, 2019
Foles is reading the linebacker Danny Trevathan. When he steps up to pick-up Darren Sproles releasing out of the backfield the dig by Jeffery gets the green light. Not only is it off coverage by Kyle Fuller, but he’s giving up a lot in the way of size. It’s very difficult for 5’11, 190 pounds to work through 6’3”, 218 pounds and impact the catch-point when he’s already being boxed out via alignment and route design.
Turning Back the Clock
It wouldn’t be a “What Worked” article without the game-winning touchdown, would it? Pushing the tactics aside for a moment, the game-winning touchdown by Foles to Golden Tate was eerily similar to a previous game-winning touchdown.
I knew the game-winning TD felt familiar..— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) January 7, 2019
I was there live on 12/09/2012, Week 14.. Rookie Nick Foles snapping an 8-game skid for the Eagles w/a TD to Jeremy Maclin - pic.twitter.com/pAHLkTDV9q
Personal story.. I was at that game with a good friend who is a lifelong Eagles fan. After the touchdown, he turned to me and said, “Nick Foles is so cool.” He’s not wrong.
Here’s the game-winner to Tate on a similar concept and location in the end zone, because why not relive this moment for the hundredth time?
FOLES. TATE. SIX points for the @Eagles.— NFL (@NFL) January 7, 2019
: #PHIvsCHI on NBC #NFLPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/3aX8NEpche
This is part of what makes the playoffs great. Excellent coaching staffs pouring through hours, sometimes years of tape to find the smallest of edges that could matter in the biggest of moments. An incredible amount of thought goes into constructing these game-plans and the punch, counter-punch war games nearly match the drama itself.
The Eagles came out on top, but they’ll face an even bigger challenge against an established mastermind next week. Doug Pederson squaring up with Sean Payton is going to produce appointment viewing film and maybe.. just maybe.. a little bit of drama too.