Opponent: Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach: Chip Kelly Offensive Coordinator: Pat Shurmur Quarterback: Mark Sanchez Primary Running Threats:
- Jeremy Maclin – 18
- Jordan Matthews – 11
- Riley Cooper – 14
- Zack Ertz - 86
- Lesean McCoy – 25
- Darren Sproles – 43
When Chip Kelly came to the NFL in 2013, bringing with him the fast-paced and high-powered offense he became famous for at the University of Oregon, there were questions about whether that system would translate to the NFL. After almost two full seasons at the helm, and a sustained level of success despite four different starting QBs in 29 regular-season games, Kelly’s offense is viewed as one of the most dangerous and explosive in the league.
This is a fairly unique blocking scheme that the Eagles use a ton to get McCoy and Sproles out into space where they thrive. In this case they are running to their right, which is the closed (or strong) side of the formation. You can see the TE, Brent Celek, blocking the Packers OLB who is over his nose, and RT Lane Johnson blocking down on the 3-technique DT, allowing RG Andrew Gardiner and OC Jason Kelce to pull outside and lead the way for McCoy, who reads the flow of the defense, and either beats them to the corner, or allows them to over pursue and cuts back behind them.
This is another scheme that the Eagles run over and over, and one that Jordan Matthews was able to get a touchdown in the Cowboys Thanksgiving day match-up with Philly. On this play, Sanchez fakes the same sweep we just looked at above, and boots to his left. The route combination is extremely common and basic for boot passes. The “X” Receiver (Cooper, bottom of screen) runs a 15 yard comeback route, the “W” (Matthews, in the slot) runs the “Over” or deep crossing route, and the “Z” (Maclin, far side), runs a deep post. This play-action combination puts the slot-coverage player in a major bind, as he has significant fill responsibilities against the run, but in man coverage also has the responsibility to run with Matthews all the way across the field.
The goal here is to get Matthews open on the move for an explosive catch and run. As Sanchez rolls, he has the option to throw early, just after his WR crosses the near hash, or to wait until he is crossing the numbers, and they have had a great deal of success with it, beating Dallas 3x on this scheme in the first quarter alone.
On this play, Darren Sproles is in the backfield, and Sanchez sends him on a “Bullet” motion out wide to the left. The route combination to the play side is the 3-man “Snag”, or “Spot” concept (Corner, Slant-Curl, Flat). This is a route combination you will see on the field at AT&T stadium the next couple of weeks as the Texas High School Football state playoffs wrap up, as well as in every NFL playbook, where it is emphasized in the red zone. This play is difficult to defend, because if the defense is in a zone coverage, the threat of the RB to the outside will pull any flat are defender wide, leaving Cooper open (if Cover 3) or Matthews one-on-one running an outside breaking route against a safety playing with inside leverage, and if they are playing man, it is very difficult for a LB or Safety to keep from being out leveraged by Sproles at full speed.
One of the most prominent “man-beaters” in the NFL is the shallow cross, or drag route, where a WR runs across the formation at a depth of about three yards, giving him the opportunity to run away from the DB similar to a deep ball, but giving the QB a much easier higher percentage throw. Many teams will attempt to protect their CBs by leaving a player, usually a safety or LB, in the short middle of the field in a robber type role to make plays on the ball, or help make quick tackles on these types of routes.
The scheme we see from Philly above is Kelly’s way of opening things up for his crosser. By sending Riley in motion towards the formation, creating a stacked alignment at the snap with Matthews, he is able to ensure his WR gets a clean release against tight man coverage. Running the two curl routes, particularly with the TE sitting right in the middle of the field, he is able to occupy that robber player, allowing Cooper to run free, and get separation from his man without the threat of the interception or the big hit.
This scheme is a variation of the most basic route combination in football, Four Verticals. In a traditional Four Verts, the slot receivers or TEs, run seam routes, and the outside WRs run go (or fade) routes. This tests the defense horizontally, and is very effective against single-high coverages. However, here, Kelly has his pass catchers running a “switch release.” This particular release acts as a bit of a pick to open guys up against man coverage, as well as testing the integrity of underneath coverage in zones.
The bullet motion by the RB, forces the defense to widen quickly to that side, and in this case opened up a wide area to the far side to throw the “Wheel” route to the TE Zach Ertz for an explosive gain. Other times when the Eagles have run this concept, the bullet motion has freed up a down-field player on the motion side.
The Eagles offense is not an overly complex one from a scheme perspective, and it’s not all that overwhelming from a multiplicity of scheme standpoint. They have their bread-and-butter plays, that the run over and over, even running the same play on back-to-back snaps to open the Seattle game, and they run them at a high speed. For the most part they depend on their tempo, and misdirection to keep defenses off balance just enough to allow the Eagles to out execute their opponents. The Cowboys must play assignment-sound defense if they want to avoid giving up the big plays they surrendered on Thanksgiving and give themselves a chance to win.