All-22: Nick Foles Brilliant Against the Washington Redskins

The Philadelphia Eagles squared off against the Washington Redskins this past Sunday in what turned out to be another in a long line of classic NFC East divisional games. For the third straight week, Nick Foles lead a 4th quarter game winning drive in what my opinion was the best game he’s played in his career. Yes, even better than his seven touchdown performance against the Oakland Raiders last season. Foles put the team on his back Sunday and carried them across the finish line, and he took a heck of a beating while doing it. He completed just about every throw in the book on Sunday; square outs, curl routes, seam routes, fly routes, crossing routes, etc… and he did so while under extreme duress at times. So in this week’s All-22, I’ll take a look at some of the key passing plays from this past Sunday.

On this first play, Foles completes a touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews for Matthews’ first career touchdown. I highlighted this play to show the importance of the rushing attack for this offense and how geared up Washington was to stop it. Look at how linebacker Perry Riley bites hard on the playaction fake, leaving a wide open space behind him for an easy pitch and catch between Foles and Matthews.
01 foles TD to matthews

This next play comes on 2nd and 5 on the Eagles final drive of the first half. Foles rolls out to his left and is able to hit Matthews in stride for a first down. Foles makes this play look easy, but it is no simple task to hit a guy in stride while rolling out to your left. Not to mention that had this throw been just slightly behind Matthews it would have been broken up by safety Brandon Meriweather.
02 foles roll out left to matthews

Four plays later, Foles hits Matthews for another touchdown on the same route they scored the first one on. This time there is no playaction before the throw. Perry Riley has tight coverage on Matthews, but it doesn’t matter as Foles fits this ball in there perfectly and Matthews does a great job of hauling in the pass while getting both feet down in the end zone. Look at how Foles throws with anticipation on this play. At the time he begins his windup, Matthews isn’t even at the same depth as Riley, let alone behind him.
03 foles second td to matthews

Here is a look from behind the line so you can see what Foles was looking at on this play and how tight a window he was throwing into. The other key part about the timing of this throw is that by the time Riley turns his head to look back for the pass, it’s too late and he is unable to get his hands to the ball as it’s going over his head.
04 2nd td to matthews end zone view

This next play comes from midway through the fourth quarter on the Eagles’ go-ahead drive. It’s 3rd and eight, and Foles delivers a strike to Jeremy Maclin on a deep curl route in the face of pressure. Maclin does an excellent job of catching this pass and getting his knee down. This play was initially ruled as an incomplete pass but was overturned on a challenge by Chip Kelly. Once again, look at the anticipation by Foles. He begins his windup before Maclin even makes his cut. Had he waited until Maclin made his cut to throw, the cornerback would have had a chance to make a play on this ball.
05 foles to maclin first down

Here is a look from the end zone view so you can see the pressure Foles was under on this pass. The Skins run a double stunt to perfection on this play, freeing up Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan to get a clean shot on Foles. It is no matter though, as Foles stands tall, plants his feet, and delivers this throw knowing full well he is about to take a big hit.
06 foles to maclin end zone view

Two plays later, Foles hits Maclin on a seam route for the go-ahead touchdown. Maclin shows on this play that he knows the tricks of the trade when it comes to route running. Watch as he starts off on this play running on a slight angle to his right. This gets Meriweather’s hips pointed to the outside. Maclin then cuts back to the inside, forcing Meriweather to change his hip position as he turns to run downfield, during which time Maclin is able to get separation and beat Meriweather down the field. It’s those little nuances of route running that can make the difference between getting open and being covered.
07 go ahead TD to maclin

This final play was Foles’ last throw of the game. The situation is 2nd and 11 with 1:43 left to play. A first down wins the game as the Skins only have one timeout left. Foles is going to roll out to his left and hit tight end James Casey on an out route for the game clinching first down. Great playcall by Kelly, and great execution by Foles and offense. Foles fits this ball in there perfectly, throwing it into Casey’s gut as opposed to leading him out in front, preventing cornerback David Amerson from getting his hands to the ball. It should be noted that he was also able to do this while he had Meriweather coming full speed ahead at him.
08 game ending pass to casey

Here is a look from behind, so you can see the ball placement and how it prevented Amerson from being able to get his hands to the ball.
09 game ending pass behind view

If he hasn’t done so already, Foles is starting to really turn some heads and prove that he isn’t just a quarterback who can put up big numbers when things are going good, but a quarterback who can win games in the face of adversity. Even Chris Collinsworth seems to be coming around on him based on my “brief discussion” with him via Twitter last night.
Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 7.35.47 AM

Well that raps up this week’s All-22 review. The Eagles head out west to San Fransisco this Sunday as they look to improve to 4-0 in what should be a hard fought game.

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All-22 Review: Philadelphia Eagles vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

Welcome back to the NFL regular season Eagles fans. Here at Inside The Eagles, I’ll be providing you with
All-22 recaps of each game every week. To any new fans here, welcome and I hope you enjoy the analysis provided. To my loyal followers, welcome back. Let’s get started.

The Eagles came away with a 34-17 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars in week one it what could best be described as an erratic and up and down performance. Miscues on defense and missed opportunities on offense made this game much closer than it should have been (and that’s saying something considering the Eagles won by 17 points). I’ll start off with the negative plays and then finish with the positive plays to show how the Eagles came away with the win.

Offensively, quarterback Nick Foles did not look comfortable early on and just did not look like he was seeing the field clearly as he took a few bad sacks. The Jaguars played zone defense on a majority of the Eagles’ passing plays, and I think that caught Foles and the coaching staff off guard as they may have been expecting to see more man coverage. Playing so much zone defense can be a risky proposition against the Eagles’ high tempo offense. With plays being run so quickly, it forces the defensive players to really be on the ball and focused. With a zone defense, one guy being in the wrong spot can result in a huge play being given up. That happened multiple times this game, it just so happens that the Eagles weren’t able to capitalize on all of them. Here were a few instances where the Eagles left big plays on the field.

This first play comes from midway through the first quarter. A blown assignment results in wide receiver Jeremy Maclin running free downfield, but Foles doesn’t see him and ends up taking a bad sack and fumbling the ball.
02 Foles fumble maclin open

On this next play, Foles is able to freeze linebacker Geno Hayes with a playaction fake, but then is off the mark on his throw to wide receiver Jordan Matthews who gets open on a deep slant.
04 foles misses matthews

This next play comes from the third quarter. Once again Maclin is going to be open on a fly route, but Foles doesn’t pull the trigger. To make matters worse, Cooper ends up being left completely uncovered as Foles scrambles to his left. The end result is a five yard pass to runningback LeSean McCoy, but it could have been much more.
08 maclin and cooper open

Now onto some positive plays. The Eagles went back to the same play I showed above where Foles missed Matthews on the deep slant. This time, it’s linebacker Telvin Smith who bites on the playaction fake, opening up a throwing lane for Foles to hit Matthews right in stride for a 30 yard gain. Unfortunately, this drive ended with Foles throwing an interception in the red zone.
05 foles hits matthews

With the Eagles trailing 17-0 early in the third quarter, a Darren Sproles 49 yard touchdown run sparked their comeback. This play highlighted the importance of the Eagles’ versatility on offense as well as showed why defending against a high tempo offense can be so difficult. On the play leading up to Sproles’ touchdown run, it was third down and nine to go. The Jaguars were in a nickle package to defend against the pass. The Eagles ran a screen pass to Sproles which resulted in an eight yard gain, setting up a fourth and one. The Eagles immediately got lined up without subbing, meaning that the Jaguars could not sub out of their nickle package. So now it’s fourth down and one yard to go and the Eagles have called a run right up the middle. The Jaguars are left defending a short yardage run play with the same package of players that were on the field to defend against a third and long situation. This puts them at a huge disadvantage because offensively, the Eagles have no problem running an inside zone run with the same package of players that was on the field for third down. To make matters even worse for the Jaguars, not only do not they not have a package on the field suitable for the situation, but the Jaguars coaches had little time to get a play in to their defense and the defenders have little time to get properly lined up as only 15 seconds elapsed from the time Sproles was tackled to the time that the Eagles offense was lined up to run the next play. Here is the play:
06 sproles td run

The Eagles made it a three point game on the very next drive when Foles hit tight end Zach Ertz on a seam route for a 25 yard touchdown on 3rd down. Ertz runs his route straight downfield getting in between linebackers Paul Posluszny and Telvin Smith, and Foles does a good job with the timing of his throw to drop it into Ertz before the safeties can make a play on the ball.
07 ertz TD

This next play lead to the Eagles tying up the game on a 51-yard field goal from rookie kicker Cody Parkey. Foles is able to freeze linebacker Posluszny with a play-action fake just long enough to open up a throwing lane as Ertz runs his seam route downfield splitting linebackers Posluszny and LaRoy Reynolds. The result is a 26-yard gain that puts the Eagles in field goal range.
09 ertz playaction

On the Eagles’ first play of their very next drive, they run a play very similar to the one shown above (albeit from a slightly different formation). Once again the play starts off with a play-action fake and Zach Ertz is going to run a seam route with Maclin running a fly route next to him. The Jaguars are in zone defense with safety Chris Prosinski as the single high safety. As he sees the play develop, he charges forward towards Ertz thinking that the play is going to him again. By doing this, he abandons his deep coverage responsibility, and Maclin is left uncovered as he runs down the field. The result is a 68-yard touchdown pass.
10 maclin td

Defensively, things started off a little shaky for the Eagles. The offense didn’t do the defense any favors by turning the ball over in their own zone, but the defense still allowed two 20+ yard touchdowns to undrafted free agent receiver Allen Hurns.

This play is the first touchdown pass to Allen Hurns. As Hurns runs downfield and gets into his post route, cornerback Cary Williams takes an outside position and it looks as if he’s expecting safety Nate Allen to have deep help to the inside. However, Allen steps forward to cut off tight end Mercedes Lewis on an out route, which opens up a window downfield for quarterback Chad Henne to lead Hurns to the end zone for the touchdown.
01 allen deep TD

Two plays after the Eagles turned the ball over for the second time in their own zone, Henne connects with Hurns again for a 21-yard touchdown. Safety Malcolm Jenkins is going to move to his left after the snap as he’s reading the bubble screen to the slot receiver, however this opens up a window for Henne to throw to Hurns on a deep slant route, and Hurns picks up some yards after the catch to get into the endzone.
03 jenkins bites on td

The Eagles’ defense settled down as they only allowed three more points for the rest of the game, and this played a huge part in their come from behind victory. One of the key factors to the defense’s success for the rest of the game was their ability to get off the field on third down. This was an area they struggled with in 2013 so it was good to see them show some early improvements here. The Eagles were able to stymie the Jaguars on third down as they stopped them from picking up a first down on 12 of their 14 third down tries. Here are a few third down plays from the game.

This first play comes from late in the first quarter on a third down and ten. Safety Nate Allen is going to come on a blitz, and Trent Cole (lined up as a defensive end on this play) is going to fake a rush but then drop back into coverage. Cole does an excellent job of selling the rush, causing left tackle Luke Joeckel to completely miss Allen as he runs by. Allen is able to get to Henne and knock the ball out of his hands which goes into the stat book as a nine-yard sack.
def 01 allen sack

The Eagles defense stops running back Toby Gerhart from converting this play on third and one. Nose tackle Benny Logan does a great job of holding his ground and linebacker Conner Barwin does a an excellent job of crashing into tight end Mercedes Lewis, pushing him into the backfield to clog up the hole.
def 02 3rd down stop

The Eagles were able to stop the Jaguars from converting another third-and-one in the second quarter. Newly acquired defensive end Brandon Bair does an excellent job of holding the point of attack on this play as he’s being blocked by two offensive linemen. Bair not only holds his ground against two blockers on this play, but actually surges through and ends up making the tackle with linebacker DeMeco Ryans coming in at the end to clean up any mess.
def 03 blair stop on 3rd and 1

That does it for this week’s All-22 review. The Eagles head to Indianapolis for a Monday night showdown this week as the Colts look to rebound from their week one loss to the Denver Broncos. Be sure to check in during the week for my All-22 review of that game. You can also click the “follow” button on the right side of this page and you will get an email notification when it is up.

The Case for Jeremy Maclin: A Response to Bleeding Green Nation

You may have read Allen Rodgriguez’s recent post on Bleeding Green Nation about Jeremy Maclin. In his post, Rodgriguez builds up his case against Maclin being a good receiver, going through a list of points before ending with his conclusion: “In this process, I suppose I have figured out Jeremy Maclin’s one elite skill: tricking people into thinking he’s a really good receiver. Maclin’s production is deceptive. He lacks skills, and most inexcusable is his lack of effort. Now entering his 5th year, I fail to see anything that makes me excited about Maclin’s return. I’ll be happy to be wrong, but I’m unable to be optimistic.”

Before I get started with where I disagree with some of Rodgriguez’s points, I’ll begin with what I agree with him on. I agree with his point regarding misleading statistics, such as the “stat” that some people have been pointing to, showing that Maclin is one of five receivers to register 250 catches, 3500 yards, and 25 touchdowns before their 25th birthday. The other 4 receivers? Larry Fitzgerald, Hakeem Nicks, Randy Moss, and Isaac Bruce. When an accomplishment or “record” has so many qualifications, usually it’s stretching to make a point. For instance, if a receiver had registered 248 catches, 4000 yards, and 40 touchdowns on their 26th birthday, they wouldn’t make it onto this “exclusive” list, but does that really mean anything? I also agree that to date, Maclin hasn’t fully lived up to the expectations of a first round pick. He hasn’t had a breakout year yet, but make no bones about it– he has been a solid receiver.

After that, many of Rodgriguez’s points are crafted and defended using carefully selected stats (i.e. not including the data that would hurt his argument) and carefully selected comparisons (i.e. only comparing DeSean Jackson to Maclin in cases where it makes Jackson look better.) An example of this selective comparison is Rodriguez pointing out that Maclin had 0 catches in his first NFL game, meanwhile Jackson had a 47 yard catch on his second NFL play. But he ignores the fact that it took Jackson 77 games to finally have his first career multi touchdown game, meanwhile Maclin had a multi touchdown game in his 4th career game, and has had three more since then. Also, most of the statistics Rodgriguez references for Maclin are only from the 2012 season, ignoring the rest of his career. Using that logic, I could show that LeSean McCoy is a below average running back using only the 2012 numbers. You can read my previous post where I lay out the case for why Jeremy Maclin can be a very productive receiver in this offense.

So let’s delve further into the numbers Rodgriguez provides in his article.

Hands
In the section on Maclin’s hands, Rodgriguez states, “Maclin dropped 11.7% of catchable balls. League average of all WR was 9.7%.” This was true for the 2012 season, but why ignore 2009 to 2011?

  • In 2011, Maclin had a drop rate of 8.7%, which was ranked 40th out of the 95 receivers who played 25% of their offensive snaps. Meanwhile, DeSean Jackson had a drop rate of 13.43% in 2011, which ranked him 77th on the list.
  • In 2010, Maclin had a drop rate of 9.09%, placing him at number 46 out of 89. Where was DeSean Jackson? Just “slightly” behind him in 87th place, with a drop rate of 18.97%.
  • In 2009, Maclin had a drop rate of 8.33%, ranking him 54th out of 101. DeSean Jackson was ranked 45th with a drop rate of 7.35%.
  • So essentially, from 2009 to 2011, Maclin was in the middle of the pack for drop rate from the receiver position, and then had one bad year in 2012 when it came to drops. Meanwhile, Jackson had two bad years when it came to dropping the ball during that same time period (including a year where literally only two receivers were worse). Curious that Rodgriguez would choose to leave this DeSean Jackson comparison out of his piece.

    Yards After Catch (YAC)
    In this section, Rodgriguez states that “Maclin has been disgraceful after the catch. His yards after catch per reception was 4.2, compared to a league average for all WR of 4.5.” How can Maclin be “disgraceful” after the catch, if his yards per catch per reception is right around average? Wouldn’t it be more accurate and factual to simply state “Maclin has been average after the catch”?

    To give you the full picture:

  • In 2012 Maclin ranked 48th in YAC per reception out of the 105 receivers who played at least 25% of their team’s snaps. Again, this is average, but certainly not disgraceful.
  • In 2011, Maclin ranked 52nd out of 115 receivers with a YAC per reception of 4.4. (Note: Pro Football Focus has 115 receivers listed for YAC but only 95 listed for drop rate.) Interestingly, in 2011, DeSean Jackson had a YAC per reception of 4.3, good for 58th place. So, if we’re just going by one year and making comparisons between Maclin and Jackson, it’s interesting that Rodgriguez left this comparison out.
  • In 2010, Maclin ranked 59th out of 110 receivers with a YAC per reception of 3.9, slightly below average.
  • And in 2009, Maclin ranked 44th out of 107 receivers with a YAC per reception of 4.5.
  • Overall, when looking at his career in totality, Maclin has been middle of the pack in terms of YAC per reception.

    Rodgriguez then posts a few gifs showing some of Maclin’s negative plays. Here are some gifs of Maclin making good plays to keep this thing balanced.

    Here’s Maclin making a nice sideline catch at the end of the Denver Broncos game in 2009 to set up the game winning field goal.
    Maclin catch vs Denver 01
    Maclin catch vs Denver 02

    Here’s Maclin showing some great concentration and field awareness bringing in this long bomb against Washington in 2010.
    mac long bomb

    Here’s Maclin showing some great effort against the Giants in the Miracle at the Meadowlands Part II. On this pass to Celek, Maclin hustles downfield to stay with his man and then de-cleats him to ensure that Celek has a clear path to the endzone.
    Maclin block

    And from later in that game, here’s “self tacklin’ Maclin” (according to Rodgriguez, via Jimmy Kempski) scoring the game tying touchdown late in the 4th quarter, putting a move on the defensive back before picking up a couple of “disgraceful” yards after the catch.
    Maclin tying TD

    On this play from 2011 against Atlanta, Maclin catches a short crossing route over the middle, and then turns up field splitting two linebackers and diving forward to pick up a key first down on 3rd and 8.
    self tacklin maclin

    And finally, here’s Maclin with another clutch grab. This time it’s the game winner with 0 seconds left on the clock against Tampa Bay in 2012.
    maclin game winning td

    I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Maclin has proven that he is a stud receiver. He hasn’t. What he has proven thus far in his NFL career is that he has been a solid starter who averages 65 catches, 863 yards, and 6-7 touchdowns per year. Plenty of Superbowl winning teams had either their #1 or #2 receiver finish the season with similar (or even worse) production (see Golden Tate- 2013, Torrey Smith- 2012, Donald Driver and Jordy Nelson and James Jones- 2010, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem- 2009, etc.)

    I’ll leave you with this. Here are a few things many of us thought we “knew” upon entering the 2013 season. We “knew” that DeSean Jackson was a one trick pony who would never get more than 65 catches in a season. We “knew” that Riley Cooper was a #4 receiver at best, and a bad #4 at that. But we all saw how playing in Chip Kelly’s offense with Nick Foles at quarterback changed things. So before we write off Jeremy Maclin as destined to never be more than average, and before we try to selectively look at certain stats of certain years to portray him as a below average receiver, can we at least give him the same fair shot that the receivers in this offense got last year? If Riley Cooper could go from being a non-factor to being an important contributor on one of the best offenses in the NFL, it’s certainly probably that Jeremy Maclin can go from being a solid receiver to a very good one.

    Can Jeremy Maclin replace DeSean Jackson? The Answer is Yes

    DeSean Jackson may have had some issues with teammates and coaches in the locker room, but there is no doubt that he was a very productive player on the field for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013. But I have to think that the Eagles made the move of releasing Jackson with the belief that Jeremy Maclin will be able to step in and fill the void. And when we take a closer look at the numbers, maybe that’s not such a far fetched idea after all.

    Jackson had a career year this year, with career highs in catches, yards, catch % (percentage of targeted passes that were caught), and equalled his career high in touchdowns. But how much of that is due to Chip Kelly’s system and having Nick Foles throw him the ball? Obviously, Jackson has a lot of talent and is a very good player. So I’m not saying that he’s just some also-ran receiver that can be replaced by anybody. But what I am saying is that you can’t look at his numbers from this year and compare it to what Maclin has done the past 3 years, because we didn’t get a chance to see what Maclin can do in this system, and there’s a good possibility that Maclin sees the same type of explosion in production that Jackson saw.

    So let’s get into the numbers so I can show you what I’m talking about.

    Leading up to the 2013 season, here were DeSean Jackson’s numbers:
    71 games, 274 catches, 524 targets, 4785 yards, and 23 touchdowns.
    On a per game basis, this comes out to: 3.9 catches, 7.4 targets, 67.4 yards, 0.3 touchdowns.
    Extrapolated to a 16 game season, this comes out to: 62 catches, 118 targets, 1078 yards, and 5 touchdowns.
    Note that leading into the 2013 season, DeSean had only caught 52.3% of the passes thrown his way, and that his career high in a single season came in 2011 when he caught 55.8% of the passes thrown his way.
    Now, here are Maclin’s career numbers:
    59 games, 258 catches, 426 targets, 3453 yards, 26 touchdowns.
    On a per game basis this comes out to: 4.4 catches, 7.2 targets, 58.5 yards, .44 touchdowns.
    Extrapolated to 16 games that comes out to: 70 catches, 115 targets, 936 yards, and 7 touchdowns. Note that Maclin’s catch % for his career is 60.5%. So leading into the 2013 season, Maclin actually averaged more catches and touchdowns per year while catching a higher % of passes thrown his way, while Jackson averaged more yards.

    Now here were Jackson’s numbers for 2013: 82 catches, 126 targets, 1332 yards, and 9 touchdowns. Compared with his career averages, that’s a 32% increase in catches, a 24% increase in yards, and an 80% increase in touchdowns. And in 2013 he caught 65% of the passes thrown his way, that’s nearly 13 percentage points above his career average entering this season, and 10 percentage points above his previous highest single season mark.

    Earlier in this post I mentioned Nick Foles. The reason I did that is because without Nick Foles, DeSean Jackson was on pace to have another year where he caught less than 60% of his targeted passes. Here is the breakdown of complete stats for DeSean Jackson from each quarterback this past year:
    Michael Vick: 25 catches out of 44 targets (57%), 463 yards (18.5 yards per catch and 10.5 yards per target), and 2 touchdowns (1 touchdown per 12.5 catches 22 targets).
    Matt Barkley: 7 catches out of 12 targets (58%), 61 yards (8.7 yards per catch and 5.1 yards per target), 0 touchdowns.
    Nick Foles: 50 catches out of 70 targets (71.4%), 808 yards (16.2 yards per catch and 11.5 yards per target), and 7 touchdowns (1 touchdown per 7.1 catches and 10 targets).

    So it’s clear that with Nick Foles throwing him the ball, Jackson became a much more efficient receiver, hauling in 71% of the passes thrown his way, which was the highest mark of ANY wide receiver in the NFL this past year.

    If Jeremy Maclin sees just HALF the increase in production that DeSean Jackson saw last year, his numbers for 2014 will look like this: 81 catches, 1048 yards, and 10 touchdowns. If he ends up seeing the same increase in production, his numbers will look like this: 92 catches, 1160 yards, 13 touchdowns.

    So is it really that far outside of the realm of possibility that Maclin puts up numbers somewhere in the range of the 2 sets of values I just posted? Considering what playing in this system did for DeSean Jackson, I don’t think so.

    “But Larry, Jeremy Maclin put up those numbers in Reid’s system while playing next to DeSean Jackson, he won’t have that luxury this year” That’s something I’ve heard from many people when I tell them that I think Maclin will have a career year just like Jackson had last year, and it is certainly a valid point. Now, it’s a small sample size but remember that at the end of 2012, DeSean Jackson was out with an injury for the final 5 games of the season. So we saw then the same scenario we are going to see this year, with Foles as the quarterback and Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper as his starting receivers.
    Here were Maclin’s numbers over those 5 games;
    28 catches, 353 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Over a 16 game season that would come out to 90 catches, 1130 yards, and 10 touchdowns. Now like I said, it’s a small sample size so I’m not saying that he would have produced those exact numbers in 2012 had he been the primary receiver and Jackson not have played. I’m just using that extrapolation to show that those numbers over a period of 5 games is solid production.

    So there you have it. That is my case for saying that Jeremy Maclin will step up this year and have a career year in this system and will replace the void left by the departure of DeSean Jackson.