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When wide receiver DeSean Jackson was released from the Eagles last March, questions were abound as to the reasons why. Was it because of his contract? Was it due to off-field antics? Was it due to his work ethic and attitude? The truth is, it probably wasn’t just one thing, but if I had to put my finger on the biggest issue, it would be Jackson’s attitude on the field. Chip Kelly has a certain vision about the way football is supposed to be played, and Jackson’s playing style didn’t really mesh with that vision. Namely, I’m talking about two philosophies that Kelly implements with his team:
1) It takes 11 players to run the football, and
2) There are no football positions, just football players
What that second part (which was one subject of Mark Saltveit’s must read book The Tao of Chip Kelly) means is that if you are a wide receiver, your job isn’t to just catch passes. Your job is to catch passes on a pass play, and block on a run play. It’s that second part that Jackson has always had an issue with. It’s no secret that Jackson has never been committed to blocking. This week, former Washington Redskins tight end turned radio host and analyst Chris Cooley was critical of Jackson’s blocking efforts. Here’s what he had to say:
“Do not allow number 11 to ever be involved in blocking for screens, blocking for bubbles, picking for players in the pass game, [or] run plays to his side of the line of scrimmage,” Cooley said. “He WILL NOT TRY on them. Do not put him in in those situations…Find another way to break that tendency, but don’t risk losing a play just because you think 11 might try…Unless he’s going to say ‘I’ll make a legitimate commitment,’ do not put him in on those plays. It was costly in four or five different situations where plays could have been better.”
One of those plays Cooley pointed to was a bubble screen late in the Redskins game against the Arizona Cardinals. On a third down with one yard to go, Kirk Cousins threw a bubble screen to Andre Roberts. Jackson, blocking for the screen, allows his man to get by him and tackle Roberts in the backfield, and the Redskins had to punt. Here is the play:
Hearing this talk is nothing really new to Eagles fans who’ve seen Jackson’s lack of effort in the run game for years. That’s why it was so refreshing to watch happened during Sunday Night Football between the Eagles and the Giants. LeSean McCoy gained nearly 150 yards on 22 carries, mostly on runs outside the tackle which put the receivers in a position to be lead blockers for McCoy downfield. This is a role that Jackson is not committed too, and that doesn’t fly if you are going to play for Chip Kelly.
Jeremy Maclin, who the Eagles re-signed this off-season, has completely bought into Kelly’s philosophies and has done a great job of hustling on run plays and making key blocks downfield to help spring the running backs for additional yards.
Here is a play from last year against the Green Bay Packers. It was second down with nine yards to go as the Eagles were trying to run out the clock. Foles is going to keep the ball on a zone read. Jackson starts off the play by setting up for a screen, but then as the play turns into a run, he gives up. Foles ends up picking up the nine yards, but what should have been an easy gain for Foles turned into a difficult one because Jackson let his man free to go make a play.
Here is another play from the game against the Cowboys last year. Jackson isn’t even able to get a hand on the cornerback because of his lack of focus on this play, and the corner easily gets right by him.
Compare those plays to the following play from Sunday night. Maclin also begins the play setting up for a quick screen, but look what happens afterwards. Maclin doesn’t just sit back and jog around after his initial move, he quickly gets into position, focuses on what he has to do next, and makes a key block on the cornerback to allow McCoy to turn the corner and pick up a first down.
Maclin also made a key block against the Colts that helped spring Darren Sproles for a touchdown as well. Maclin begins the play by running a curl route option. After he sees the ball get handed to Sproles, he turns downfield to block the corner, and he’s able to seal off his man from getting a hand on Sproles.
Another issue with Jackson’s blocking is that even when he does get involved, he’s not committed to finishing his block. Too many times he would (and still does) allow his man to get by him after giving him an initial shove. That’s not how you’re supposed to block. LeSean McCoy had a chance to turn the corner on this play from the Giants game last year, but since Jackson doesn’t try to lock his man up, he easily gets by him after the initial contact and tackles McCoy.
Compare that to the following efforts from Maclin. Look at how long Maclin holds his block for on this play. If not for that effort, this would have been a five yard gain at most. But thanks to Maclin securing his block, McCoy was able to get downfield after turning the corner and picked up the first down.
Here’s another one. Look at how Maclin drives his man to the sideline to give McCoy a clear path to turn downfield. Also notice Jordan Matthews’ awareness in the slot. He sees that the offensive linemen will be able to take care of the two defenders in front of him, so he sprints downfield to block the safety to help spring McCoy for additional yards.
Josh Huff and Riley Cooper were also a huge part of the run game success on Sunday night. On this play, their efforts helped Darren Sproles turn the corner and sprint downfield for a fifteen yard touchdown.
The current core group of Eagles receivers get it. Maclin, Cooper, Matthews, and Huff all realize the importance of blocking and know that they aren’t getting paid to just catch passes. They are paid to be football players. They all have a selfless attitude and will do whatever it takes to help the team win games, and that’s why they are here.
The Philadelphia Eagles running game got going early and often on Sunday night against the New York Giants. In his Monday afternoon press conference, head coach Chip Kelly said, “I’ve said it all along, it takes 11 guys to run the football.” What occurred on Sunday night is as true an example of that as you’ll find. The offensive linemen, tight ends, and wide receivers all did an excellent job of hitting their blocks and finishing them, and the running backs hit the holes and made plays in open space. The end result was that LeSean McCoy gained 149 yards on 22 carries (6.8 yards per attempt), and Darren Sproles gained 39 yards on 7 carries (5.6 yards per attempt) as they helped lead the Eagles to a 27-0 victory.
The coaching staff also did a great job of adding a few wrinkles to their plays, going under center a little more often to disguise the run direction, using some mis-direction runs, and running out of more two tight end sets than they did earlier in the year. Let’s go to the tape…
This play was the first of many mis-direction runs the Eagles ran on Sunday night. The offensive line blocks to the right and Foles initially shows a handoff to the right, but the run is actually going to the left. Look at how the offense gets the Giants defense going in the wrong direction. Brent Celek does an excellent job of sealing the edge against defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, and Josh Huff seals off his block against safety Quintin Demps. The result is an 18-yard gain for McCoy.
The Eagles go mis-direction again on this play, creating a one-on-one opportunity in space against cornerback Trumaine McBride. McCoy jukes him to the outside, and a key block downfield by wide receiver Jeremy Maclin allows McCoy to turn the corner and pick up 15 yards and a first down.
This next play shows the kind of big play opportunities that can open up in the pass game when the run game is working well. The Eagles line up in a three tight end set. They are also in an unbalanced line as they’ve moved right tackle Lane Johnson out to the left side next to Jason Peters, with tight end Brent Celek lined up as the right tackle. Pre-snap, this looks like a sure-fire run play, but it’s actually a play-action pass. The offensive line sells their run blocks, Foles fakes the handoff to McCoy, and tight end James Casey is left open streaking across the field as the Giants defenders are out of position to defend this play.
This next play isn’t a huge gain, but it’s another example of how the blocking by the wide receivers and tight ends was instrumental to the success of the run game against the Giants. Once again Brent Celek is one-on-one with Jason Pierre-Paul and once again he wins that blocking matchup. Wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jordan Matthews then come in to seal off the edge and allow McCoy to take the outside and pick up a 9-yard gain.
The Eagles get a big gain on a sweep from the shotgun on this play. Todd Herremans and David Molk pull to the outside and take care of their men, and once again it’s the receivers leading the way downfield for McCoy after he turns the corner. Matthews shows great awareness in recognizing that Herremans and Molk are there to take care of the two defenders in front of them, so he heads downfield to block the safety. And that quick glimpse of two players on the left side of the screen as McCoy turns the corner is Jeremy Maclin blocking his man to the point that he’s almost taken him off the field. I’d like to see Matthews improve on his technique on this type of play as Demps was still able to get a hold of McCoy to slow him down, but that’s something that can be worked on.
Darren Sproles scores on a 15-yard scamper on this sweep play. Once again, Celek is isolated against Jason Pierre-Paul and wins this blocking match-up. Celek impressed all night with blocks like this. There aren’t many tight ends in the NFL that can be matched up with a defensive end and constantly win that battle. Jason Peters and Molk pull to the outside to lead the way for Sproles. Peters clears out linebacker Jon Beason and Molk does his best Jason Kelce impression by getting downfield and crashing into safety Quintin Demps. Huff and Cooper also do a great job of sealing off their blocks, keeping their defenders from getting a hand on Sproles before he gets into the end zone.
Here’s a look at the same play from the broadcast angle so you can see Huff and Cooper seal off their blocks. Look at how Huff hits his man, and then drives him to the left to help clear a lane for Molk to lead Sproles into. Huff really impressed me with his blocking skills on Sunday night. When he got his hands on a defender, that defender was taken out of the play. Very impressive.
Here is another single back mis-direction run, which is the same as the second play I showed in this post. This time McBride starts off in the box, and once again meets McCoy one-on-one on the outside. This time McCoy jukes him to the inside and Ertz does a great job of finishing his block on Demps to keep him from getting a hand on McCoy. At the end of the play, there is Maclin again blocking his man downfield which helps McCoy pick up an additional 10 yards on this play.
The last play I’ll show in this post is the failed reverse attempt to Josh Huff. Unfortunately, when Darren Sproles attempted to toss the ball to Huff, he hit his own left elbow and the ball fell to the ground. This play was set up perfectly though. Look at all of the open space Huff would have had in front of him had they been able to execute the handoff. You can be sure that we’ll be seeing this play again sometime in the near future.
That wraps up my review of the run game from Sunday night. The play calling, blocking, and running were about as perfect as you can get, and the result was a consistent ground game that picked up positive yards all game long. Out of the 29 combined carries between McCoy and Sproles, seven of them went for at least 10 yards. And just as importantly, only five of them went for one yard or less (and two of those came in the 4th quarter when the Eagles were already winning 27-0). What this means is that when they weren’t hitting big runs, they were still gaining positive yardage to put themselves in a good position for the next play.
The Eagles next game is against the Arizona Cardinals in two weeks. This will be a great test for the Eagles running game as the Cardinals have one of the best run defenses in the league. I think the Eagles are up for the challenge.
To get you pumped up for Sunday Night’s matchup against the Giants (not that you even need it at this point) here’s a video of my wife’s 2-year-old cousin doing his very first E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES chant. Gotta start em young.
The front seven for the Philadelphia Eagles defense had their best game of the season this past Sunday against the St. Louis Rams. They racked up four sacks, forced and recovered three fumbles, and were in quarterback Austin Davis’ face for much of the day. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis did a good job of dialing up blitzes to free up rushers, and the players did an excellent job of executing and making plays when called upon. Let’s go to the tape…
On this play, Connor Barwin and Trent Cole run a stunt on the left side. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans initially looks like he’s going to blitz, but then ends up covering running back Benjamin Cunningham out of the backfield. This allows Fletcher Cox to be one on one with center Scott Wells as right guard Davin Joseph has his eyes on Ryans. Cole and Cox are able to get pressure up the middle, and this forces Davis to have to scramble to his left where Barwin is there waiting for him. Barwin then does an excellent job of breaking down in his stance and tripping up the athletic Davis for the sack.
Bill Davis does an excellent job of disguising a blitz on this play, which gives Vinny Curry a free path to Austin Davis. Cornerback Nolan Carroll shows blitz at the beginning of the play and takes a jab step forward before dropping back into coverage. This leaves Curry unblocked on a free rush from the outside. The Rams have five blockers to match up with the Eagles five rushers, but center Scott Wells ends up blocking no one on this play because he was fooled by the fake blitz of Carroll. Curry finishes the play by attacking the throwing arm of Davis, knocking the ball loose for a fumble which Fletcher Cox recovers.
On this next play, Trent Cole gets a strip-sack of his own. Cole uses his speed and athleticism to explode by left tackle Jake Long with an inside move. Like Curry, Cole does a great job of attacking the throwing hand of Davis while making the tackle. This forces a fumble which gets recovered in the end zone by Cedric Thornton for a touchdown.
Malcolm Jenkins comes free on this blitz as once again Bill Davis does a good job of scheming to confuse the Rams offensive line. The Rams and Eagles have an even number of rushers and blockers, but the left side of the Rams offensive line ends up having two players blocking one. This leaves Jenkins unblocked. While he doesn’t get the sack, he forces Davis to have to throw this ball before he wants to and off his back foot and the result is an incomplete pass.
This play is from the last play of the game. It’s fourth down with 13 yards to go. Billy Davis dials up a blitz that gives the Eagles seven rushers to the Rams six blockers. Cornerback Brandon Boykin ends up being left unblocked as he races towards Austin Davis. This forces Davis to have to throw this ball up for grabs downfield, and it falls incomplete. This was a good aggressive play call from Bill Davis to end the game.
Getting pressure will be key in the Eagles upcoming game against the New York Giants. Eli Manning is dangerous when he has a clean pocket, and with the Giants new look West Coast Offense, he’s been getting rid of the ball more quickly than ever. Manning still has a penchant for turning the ball over in the face of pressure though, so if the Eagles are able to pressure Manning like they did Davis, they could force him to make some ill-advised throws.
The Eagles’ run game troubles continued against San Francisco on Sunday as LeSean McCoy was held to just 17 yards on 10 carries. After reviewing the game film, the biggest problem that stood out to me was that on almost every running play, someone lost a one on one blocking battle which resulted in either the hole collapsing or, even worse, a defender getting into the backfield. In this week’s All-22 review, I’ll break down eight of McCoy’s 10 carries from Sunday and show what went wrong.
This first play was probably the one run from Sunday in which I thought the blockers actually did a good job, and McCoy might have made the wrong choice by bouncing this run to the outside as opposed to running north-south and hitting the hole hard.
This next play is an inside run. The Niners have six men in the box to match up with the Eagles’ six blockers. So the Eagles have the proper numbers on this play to make for a successful run. Left guard Matt Tobin is going to pull to the right to lead the way for McCoy, but the play breaks down as center David Molk and right guard Dennis Kelly fail to create a surge on their blocks. Tight end Brent Celek also fails to get good leverage and positioning on this block as his man gets inside to make the tackle.
This next play is an outside zone run to the right. The Niners have seven men in the box, but Foles can freeze the unblocked defender on the left, so once again the Eagles will have six blockers matched up against six defenders. Molk and Kelly are going to start off with a combo block on defensive end Ray McDonald, and then Kelly is supposed to get off the block and get to the second level to block linebacker Michael Wilhoite. However, Kelly trips and falls on his way there leaving Wilhoite unblocked. This forces McCoy to have to bounce this run to the outside for no gain.
On this play, once again the Eagles and Niners have even numbers in the box. The offensive line does their job and opens up a nice hole for McCoy, but safety Antoine Bethea comes down to fill the hole and McCoy is unable to shake him. Credit has to be given to Bethea as well as he does an excellent job of wrapping up McCoy and bringing him down. Thanks to Bethea’s play, what could have been an extra yardage play for the Birds turned into a five yard gain. It should be noted that Bethea had a great game on Sunday and was around the ball at all times. McCoy had a few one on one opportunities with him but was unable to make him miss, which is uncommon to see.
On the following play, it looks like there was some miscommunication between Jason Peters and Matt Tobin as they allow Justin Smith to get into the backfield untouched. This forces McCoy to have to abandon the play and try to cut back across the field to get back to the line of scrimmage.
This next off-tackle run was set up nicely and looked like it had a chance to go for big yardage. Justin Smith crashes inside and takes himself out of the play which plays perfectly into the Eagles’ hands. Dennis Kelly is able to get to the second level to block linebacker Patrick Willis, and it looks like the Eagles are going to be able to spring McCoy to the second level untouched. However, Zach Ertz is unable to hold his block against linebacker Dan Skuta, as Skuta throws Ertz down to the ground and makes the tackle on McCoy. Once again, this play goes for five yards but had a chance for so much more if Ertz had been able to win his one on one battle with Skuta.
The Niners stack the box on this run, and there are multiple problems with it from the start. As you can see before the play, Bethea is calling out the direction of the run, so right from the start the defense is ready for this play. Matt Tobin then allows defensive end Demarcus Dobbs to get by him and bring down McCoy in the backfield for a four yard loss. Even if Tobin would have made his block, this run still wouldn’t have been successful because there were other breakdowns in the play. Once again, Ertz can’t hold his block against Skuta as Skuta sends him to the ground. Also, Patrick Willis shoots the gap on this play, which prevents Kelly from being able to get to the second level to block him. So Willis and Skuta would have been waiting in the hole for McCoy regardless. An audible may have been a good idea on this one as the Niners knew what play was coming.
McCoy gains five yards on this run, but it should have had a chance for more. Once again the Eagles have six blockers to six defenders. Kelly is going to pull to his left and then lead the way for McCoy downfield. However, when he goes to block Willis, he doesn’t get great positioning on him. I think McCoy was expecting Kelly to hit Willis square on, but Kelly ends up being on the side of him which forces McCoy to have to make a jump cut to the outside. Had Kelly gotten in front of Willis, he would have been able to seal off the hole and McCoy would have had a one on one opportunity with Bethea for a chance at a big gain.
That does it for this week’s All-22 review. The Eagles will look to get their ground game going this Sunday as they host the 1-2 Saint Louis Rams. Lane Johnson is back from his four-game suspension which will bode well for the depleted offensive line and allow Todd Herramans to move back to right guard. I’d look for head coach Chip Kelly to use a good amount of unbalanced line formations with Johnson lined up next to Peters to try to get something going on the ground.
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