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Eagles Concepts: Inside Zone

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to a new series! I get asked every year to break down some of the Eagles’ main concepts, so here you go. The Eagles’ run game with Jalen Hurts is one of the best the NFL has seen in recent years, so I thought I would start by looking at the run game. Using Logan Radke’s Eagles’ offensive manual to make this easier, I wanted to go and look at what makes the Eagles’ run game special.

All of the data here is from Logan’s breakdown of the Eagles’ offense, which is one of the best things I have read in a long time. The only thing missing are videos of the plays, so I am going to add some detail by showing the plays below. I asked Logan before doing this, of course, so please go and read his work! And let me know if you enjoy this, and I will do some passing concepts if you do. It’s the offseason, after all.

Success Rate Parameters

1st Down Play: 4 Yards or more

2nd Down Play: Gaining half or more of the yardage needed (ex: on 2nd and

10, a 5-yard gain would be successful. On 2nd and 4, a 2-yard gain would be successful)

3rd/4th Down Play: Successful conversion

Explosive Play Parameters

Run Play: 12+ Yards Gained

Pass Play: 16+ Yards Gained

Inside Zone – 11 personnel

Inside zone is a staple of the Eagles’ offense that the Eagles run a lot of stuff off. The Eagles were very successful on zone runs from 11 personnel, in particular on 2nd down and in the red zone. I think the Eagles’ staff will feel pretty disappointed that they only average 4 yards per carry from 11 personnel.

Obviously inside zone looks different depending on the formation, alignment, personnel, etc, but the basic premise is to run inside the tackles. The beauty of a zone running system is that the offensive lineman change who they are blocking based on the defensive front, and it can create easier matchups and angles for the offensive lineman. You will normally see a double team upfront, but it’s vital for offensive linemen to get to the 2nd level (the defenders behind the defensive line). Whenever the Eagles break a big run from inside zone, it feels like Kelce gets to the 2nd level every single time.

The major tell that it is inside zone is to watch the movement of the offensive lineman. You will normally see them get upfield quickly at around a 45° angle rather than taking a lateral step, as they will in inside zone.

From a defensive point of view, you want defenders to hold up the double team and stop one of the linemen from getting to the 2nd level, as this can allow the linebacker to make a play on the ball carrier without having to get off an offensive lineman. The best of doing this is coming downhill fast and having linebackers who can take on blocks, even if they don’t make the tackle on the ball carrier.

As a running back, there are hundreds of things that can happen, but in very simple terms you will normally see one of three pathways taken. 1) ‘Dive’ – the back will run down the middle and follow the blocks. Simple. 2) ‘Cutback’ – if a back sees a gap to the weak side, he may cut it back. Shady McCoy was awesome at this. 3) ‘Bounce’ – if everything goes wrong inside or the EDGE defenders are leaving the outside unblocked, the back may bounce it to the outside. Fast running backs like Miles Sanders are sometimes too keen to use option 3 when it should not be used often. Running backs need to make extremely quick decisions in order to not waste any steps and hit the hole when it develops quickly.

Here’s an example of inside zone from 11 personnel working... look at how quickly Kelce/Seumalo move the defensive tackle which allows Kelce to get to the 2nd level and block 55 who is coming straight into the gap. That’s why defensive tackles who can take up 2 blockers are vital, even if they don’t end up making the tackle.

And here’s an example of it not working... look at how quickly the Commander's linebackers get to the offensive line in order to prevent any double teams from taking place. From an offensive point of view, you probably don’t mind this! This tells you as a staff that the other team is really selling out to stop the run and play-action should work well. Both these clips highlight that the key to inside zone is getting to that 2nd level and stopping the linebackers from making the stop.

Inside Zone – 12 personnel

As someone who loves the Eagles' use of 12 personnel and is always calling for more of it, I am not surprised to see the Eagles average 0.5 yards extra on a per-carry basis.

The principles of inside zone stay the exact same whether it’s 11 personnel or 12 personnel. The benefit of running it from 12 personnel is that you get an extra blocker usually. The downside is that teams can stack the box which creates less space and makes it harder for running backs to find a gap. This is why some heavy inside zone teams (such as Chip Kelly’s offenses) love to spread the defense out with 3 and 4 wide receiver sets as it makes it easier on the offensive line to see who to block and the running back to find a gap. The Eagles excel at 12 personnel as teams are often still too scared to stack the box because of the talent the Eagles have on the outside.

Here is a lovely example of inside zone from 12 personnel working. The Giants have refused to stack the box here and are playing with a 4-man front, which means the Eagles are essentially 7v4 at the LOS. Look at the beautiful double blocks. Also, check out Jack Stoll climbing to the 2nd level and stop the safety who is creeping into the box.

And here is an example of inside zone not working. You can see the benefit here of playing with a 5-man front as the Giants stop the obvious double teams on this play. 93 and 94 are one-on-one and they do enough to close the gap. You can also see just how congested it can get at times when trying to run from 12 personnel.

This is a very simple explainer of what to look for with inside zone, but I hope some of you found it useful! There are a lot of very, very detailed breakdowns online, but I had some comments asking me to go through some of the Eagles’ concepts this off-season, so this is my plan. I want to build on this and then look at how the Eagles run different concepts off inside zone, so please do let me know if you found this useful.

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