I get asked every year to break down some of the Eagles’ main concepts, so here you go. 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!
PREVIOUSLY IN THIS SERIES: Inside Zone
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
Split Zone - 11/12/13 Personnel
This is one of my favorite Eagles runs and I’m surprised to see they didn’t run it that much last year. However, it is a big part of the Eagles’ offense as they love to run RPOs off a similar look.
The anatomy of the play is very similar to what we covered last week with inside zone so go back and read that if you haven’t yet. The offensive line is pretty much doing the exact same as on inside zone and is looking to get an early double team and then get to the 2nd level as quickly as possible. The difference with split zone is you have the TE coming across the formation to block the defensive end. The idea is to get the tight end coming the opposite way to the offensive line to block the defensive end. If done well, this can create a natural crease because the defense should be flowing playside as they are reading the offensive lineman.
The running back can still attempt to get playside as he normally would, but split zone can create a fantastic cutback lane for a running back. On a normal running play, having a defensive end against a tight end one-on-one feels like a mismatch for the offense, but because he has a running start on the defensive end and doesn’t need to sustain his block for long, it isn’t the most difficult block. This leaves your offensive lineman free to block the rest of the defensive line without worrying about the defensive end. Just like pretty much every other zone running play, having a mobile quarterback helps as you can force the linebackers to watch the quarterback.
Here’s an example of the Eagles running it against the Vikings and the Packers last year. Goedert completely takes out the defensive end which enables Lane Johnson to completely leave the defensive end and help to double the defensive tackle. What is great about this is most teams will have better defenders against the run on the interior, so split zone enables you to get an inside double team that involves your tackle. As you can see here, the offensive line all take the first step up and out like standard inside zone and the tight end comes completely across the formation.
Split zone is a fantastic option against teams who are aggressively playing inside zone and preventing the offensive line from getting to the 2nd level. Sometimes you get lucky against a blitzing team, and the tight end can even get in the way of two defensive players who are coming crashing down. Just like this...
The impact a mobile QB has on the run game cannot be overstated. Look at the gap Hurts creates here with the read option. Split zone with Stoll coming across creates a huge lane for Sanders too. pic.twitter.com/unIi6ABaUd— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) November 1, 2022
However, the best thing about split zone is not the run itself. It’s pretty much just inside zone with a minor tweak anyway. The best part about split zone is that it is fantastic to use with RPOs because the defense will key on the tight end coming across the formation and aggressively play the run. This enables you to run some RPOs like Split Zone RPO slant/flat or Split Zone RPO curl/flat.
Split Zone + Slant/Flat RPO— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) October 5, 2022
IMO, this isn't a post-snap read but a presnap decision
This has 2 concepts (1 Run, 1 Pass) packaged into one play. Hurts decides to work the 2 vs 2 pass concept - Brown wins
Watch FS key the run action.. Nearly a 70yd TD!https://t.co/USvin3zZPg pic.twitter.com/9L0VugQyUd
I think the Eagles can continue to expand on this next year, and I would love to see some more split zone RPOs built into the offense.
Zone Read - 11/12 Personnel
For one of the greatest running teams we have seen.. can you believe the Eagles were this bad at running zone read last year? 2.7 yards per play?! Weirdly, I am not surprised! I said all year I was surprised how bad the Eagles ran the zone read and I do not think Hurts made the best decisions a lot of the time. This is something the Eagles need to improve on next year.
Zone read is a standard variation of inside zone where the quarterback can also keep it. It’s a pretty standard play that all teams with mobile quarterbacks will run. The beauty of zone read is that you can leave the EDGE defender completely unblocked, and the quarterback can ‘read’ him at the QB/RB exchange.
Here’s an example of zone read working perfectly. If you watch the offensive line, you can see it’s the same as inside zone with the exception of leaving the EDGE unblocked. Similar to split zone, it means the tackle can help with the double team of the defensive tackle. Also, EDGE defenders are usually freakishly athletic and can be really hard to block at times. By running zone read, you can completely negate one of the defense's best players, like Nick Bosa!
Here are the #Eagles running zone read leaving Nick Bosa unblocked on consecutive plays in Week 2 last year.— Deniz Selman (@denizselman33) January 27, 2023
Play 1: Bosa plays the RB, Jalen keeps, 9 yard gain.
Play 2: Bosa plays the QB, handoff to Miles, 7 yard gain. #FlyEaglesFly #NFCChampionshipGame #SFvsPHI pic.twitter.com/TeFrYdO0F6
This is pretty obvious... but if you don’t have a mobile quarterback then EDGE defenders will just do this. I say this all the time, but having a mobile quarterback is a cheat code in the run game. It changes the entire dynamic of your run game.
#10 By the end of the game, the Cowboys weren't respecting Minshew on read option plays. The edge was just crashing down on run plays which they can't do with Hurts at QB. The impact a mobile QB has on a run game cannot be overstated. Parsons was excellent against the run too. pic.twitter.com/8i7AbXmtSl— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) December 27, 2022
However, the truth is that the Eagles didn’t run the zone read well last year. One of the issues was that Hurts doesn’t actually read the exchange that well at all times and does make the wrong decision quite frequently. The biggest issue was that teams countered the Eagles zone read with the scrape exchange and the Eagles didn’t have an obvious counter. The scrape exchange is where the EDGE defenders crashes down on the running back and is ‘exchanged’ for a linebacker who ‘scrapes’ to the area that is left by the defensive end. The quarterback is told to keep it when he sees the defensive end crash down, so the scrape exchange is really effective at stopping the zone read. Here’s a simple diagram that shows you what the scrape exchange is.
Scrape exchange = gap exchange. DE crashed and takes the dive, linebacker plays the QB keep pic.twitter.com/8nA99DMbRK— James Light (@JamesALight) December 7, 2014
And here’s an example of the Eagles failing to adjust to a scrape exchange...
#6 Eagles need a better answer for teams that use the 'scrape exchange' (EDGE takes RB and linebacker 'scrapes' for the QB) against read option runs. It has happened quite a lot the back half of this season and the Chiefs used it really well to blow up a few read option runs. pic.twitter.com/FFy6NTQbOb— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) February 14, 2023
Here’s a fun way to end the article... what about if you combined the split zone with read option? It would look something like this! This is just beautiful.
For example. Zone read with an arc block. They leave Parsons unblocked and Hurts reads him. This play is set up for success. Hurts blocks Parsons, and he has two blockers out in front. Hurts makes the right read but Parsons speed and athleticism flashes 5/11: pic.twitter.com/kNPnYCKp3A— Ryan Sasaki (@ChipWagoneer) October 14, 2022
Hopefully, you can see how the standard inside zone run can be slightly modified to run a number of different concepts. These concepts can be expanded with different RPOs, run from different formations, with different personnel, etc. This is what makes the game so fun to follow!
Next up will be outside zone... any feedback and comments are always appreciated!