All-22: Why the Eagles Failed In the Red Zone

Here’s the All-22 review of the Eagles’ offense, with a focus on why the team failed to score a touchdown on five trips inside the red zone against the Saints.

Play 1: On the first play of the game, Michael Vick might have been better off using DeSean Jackson as a decoy and going to Jeremy Maclin.

Maclin’s got all kinds of space in the middle of the field. This would have been an easy 15-yard gain to start the drive off. Instead, Vick takes a shot with Jackson. And to be fair, the decision is defensible. Jackson’s running away from the safety. If he can create some separation, the Eagles have a chance at a big play. But cornerback Patrick Robinson did a good job in coverage.

Play 2: Later on the first drive, the Eagles had a stretch of three straight sacks. The second one, by Brodrick Bunkley, was a direct result of defensive end Will Smith beating King Dunlap. Had the left tackle done a better job, the Eagles would have had a shot at a huge gain.

After the play-fake, Bryce Brown went out into his route, and there were zero Saints defenders nearby. If Vick’s able to get him the ball, it’s a big play. Maybe even a touchdown if Brown makes a man miss. But instead, Vick had pressure in his face, tried to scramble and took the sack.

Play 3: The first red-zone trip resulted in a pick-six. And while there are certainly things to criticize Vick about in this game (see below), I don’t know that this play is really one of them. He knew the blitz was coming and got rid of the ball quickly. Here’s a look.

I actually buy the explanation from Vick and Andy Reid that they thought Brent Celek was held. You’re not going to get every call, but this play draws a flag more often than not. With Celek blanketed, Vick’s throw had to be to the outside. And if the tight end doesn’t get held, we might be talking about what a good job Vick did of fitting it into a tight window.

You can see his other options on the play. It looked like he wanted to go to Clay Harbor (blue arrow) with his first read. Harbor’s open in front of the defender, but the safety blitzing from that side likely got in Vick’s way, and he couldn’t attempt the throw. In the middle of the field, Jackson is covered. On the right, Maclin has some room, but I’m not sure Vick could have turned around and gotten him the ball without first getting crushed.

Play 4: On red-zone trip number two, the Eagles went to the old reliable shovel pass. Perhaps you recall them using this once or twice over the years? The play here requires two things to take place to be successful. One is that the linebacker goes with Stanley Havili into the flat. The other is that right guard Dennis Kelly executes his block.

If one of the two things happens, maybe McCoy can make something out of nothing, which he is asked to do all the time anyway. But instead, neither of the two happen.

McCoy gets crushed for no gain. I’ve heard some argue that this play was too predictable, and I think that’s fair. The linebacker kept his eyes on McCoy the whole time and was able to make a play. The Eagles certainly did not catch the Saints off-guard.

Play 5: I will fully admit that I know far less about scheme than NFL coaches. But I can’t figure out how this 3rd-and-11 setup from the second quarter makes any sense. The Eagles go with an empty backfield and five receivers.

The offense had trouble protecting Vick all game long (all season long?) up to this point. The Saints were showing blitz, meaning he’d likely have to get rid of the ball quickly. But the Eagles needed 11 yards for a first down, so right away, that doesn’t seem like a recipe for success. And it wasn’t.

Three of the receivers (red boxes) are running vertical routes and are nowhere close to being open by the time Vick has to get rid of the ball. Maclin (yellow circle) isn’t open either, and even if he was, he’s not in a position to pick up a first down. So Vick fires it to Jason Avant for what would have been about a 2-yard gain had it been completed.

Nothing about this play made sense to me. If someone can help me out, chime in.

Play 6: After the special-teams takeaway, the Eagles had a chance to make it a 21-17 game. On first down, they got what they wanted too. Here, you’ll see Maclin wide open on the post.

The cornerback is trailing him, and the safety is occupied by Jackson. This should be a touchdown, but Vick tucks the ball and takes off for 14 yards. The Saints blitzed, and Vick did not have a clean pocket. But if he had kept his eyes downfield when he started to scramble, he would have seen Maclin.

On one hand, Vick left a touchdown on the field. On the other hand, is it really reasonable to expect him to be patient here, given the beating he’d taken all game long? This play’s a pretty good example of why the offense is such a mess right now.

Play 7: Since going with the empty backfield made so much sense earlier, the Eagles try it again. The Saints show six at the line of scrimmage, but the key is they only rush five. One linebacker drops back into coverage.

Of course, the Eagles do not know the linebacker is going to drop back when the ball is snapped, so they slide protection to the right and let the defensive end come unblocked. Vick’s hoping to go to Celek, but because the linebacker dropped back, a throw to the tight end would likely result in a turnover. In a way, Vick shows progress here for not forcing it.

As you can see, nowhere to go with the football. The sack occurs (unofficially) 1.9 seconds after the ball is snapped. No chance.

Play 8: On the very next play, Vick has Maclin on the post in the end zone again. He’s got the cornerback trailing.

Watching live, I thought this was just a throw that Vick sailed. But the safety dropping adds to the degree of difficulty. And the result is an incompletion. It also doesn’t help that Dallas Reynolds gets beat and Vick gets hit (again) as he got rid of the ball.

Play 9: There’s at least one sack (actually two) we can say definitively was on Vick. Here, he’s got Harbor running across the middle of the field, but doesn’t pull the trigger.

He had about 3.6 seconds before he was sacked. The Saints only rushed four. This is a play Vick’s got to make.

Play 10: On the fourth red-zone trip, Vick missed a potential touchdown on what would have been an easy throw.

McCoy (red circle) is all by himself in the flat. There are no defenders to that side of the field. At the very least, he gets inside the 10. There’s a good chance he scores. But Vick launches one out of the back of the end zone for Jackson instead. This one’s on the quarterback. It was a four-man rush without pressure.

After this play, the Eagles just imploded. Demetress Bell had two penalties and allowed a sack. McCoy had a drop. And Celek fumbled.

On the fifth red-zone trip, which took place when the game was essentially over, Harbor and Avant had drops.

Two more quick things: One, if you’re wondering why I didn’t show more of the protection breakdowns, those were covered in an earlier post. And if you’re going to comment that they should have used McCoy more in the red zone, you may have a point, but it’s not quite that simple. I’ll cover why in a future post.

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  • atlvickfan

    Mike Clay (who posts on the Eagles website) was on Twitter talking about how Play #3 was Vick’s fault. I certainly didn’t see it that way at the time and looking at the All-22 I am even more convinced Vick made the right play.

    • saunhi

      It is irrational to blame Vick considering the O-line injuries (no time for reads, just stay alive). Steve Young on Espn said any other QB would be sacked twice as much or knocked out.

  • Pomo

    Good Read.

  • Kimbafuzz

    Good and depressing breakdown. Basically, the problems with the offensive line are at least 70% of the problems if not more. Great. And now we’re down another starter with DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer coming to town. Just great. All the people who want to see Foles may get it this week cause this line is seriously going to get Vick killed (metaphorically speaking)

  • Al

    As for play 5, could it be that they wanted to gain decent yards and then go for it on 4th down around midfield? With how bad the line was playing maybe MM thought he could not get 11 yards on 3rd down either way, so he tried to get a quick throw and then have a manageable 4th down try. That may be giving him too much credit, but that’s the only way I could see emptying the back field make any sense in that situation.

  • UncleCarm

    Play 5- empty backfield with blitz showing. I see this across the league every week. Every other quarterback brings a man in motion toward the line to help even things up. The Eagles never do. I have no explanation. On Play 6, I have said it before on these pages: during the scramble, the elite quarterbacks continue to look for the play downfield. Vick, in the vast majority of chances, does not consider the pass once he starts his scramble. This evaluation of course excludes his roll out scrambles (where he has shown he is still looking downfield)and mainly addresses his up the middle scrambles.

  • Absecon

    While Vick may or may not have had a fair shake at managing games due to the O-Line’s problems, I think it is VERY clear that under this offensive scheme he is not an adequate manager. Reid and MM misjudged his abilities meshing with their offensive calls. Week in and week out Sheil’s All-22 shows Vick misses too many opportunities with players that are not the first read that develop during plays that I have to believe the top QB’s in this league would find a way to complete a higher percentage of them than Vick does.

    • Um…did you actually read the ALL-22. ALL quarterbacks miss opps each game. Of all the play there’s may one (max two) that VIck left on the field. He’s experiencing pressure or getting hit/sacked almost every down – what exactly would you have him do?

      • Absecon

        Point is Vick misses things even when he has time or he is improvising. It’s not about just last week’s game and what he did or didn’t “leave on the field” (which I think you’re being very charitable about). It’s about the decisions made in a split second, and whether the choice is taking advantage of what the play is giving you. It’s about reading defenses at the line. Sure, if he gets sacked in 2 seconds or less that’s not his fault. You can get caught up in the short-term line issues, but I think by now it’s pretty clear what we have. This is the third year, and it’s a broken record. Good line or bad, we don’t have a QB that’s going to win a title. I have no problem with him playing right now, or till the season’s mathmatically over. It’s his job. It’s next year I’m concerned with. This has to play out He gives it his best in an impossible situation. But if he had guys that could block, I think it’s still a problem because the league’s coaches have him figured out. He couldn’t sustain what he started in 2010, because his skill set is limited to a couple things that he can do amazingly well, but they are defensible.

        • Atrocious line. 6 of 7 sacks happening in under 2 seconds. 1.5 seconds a hit on the year. Not an elite QB in the league is making throws in UNDER two seconds MOST downs. These aren’t short term line issues or a “bad” line, this is a line full of people who shouldn’t be on an NFL roster or starting regularly.

      • Geezer

        1. Throw to wide open Maclin
        2. Nothing he could do ;I don’t expect him to see wide open B.B., I just wish he would have.
        3. He did the right thing.
        4. He did the right thing.
        5. Read coverge pre-snap and get 1st down. Receiver on left side is given a 12 yard cushion on 3rd and 11. When Vick threw the ball, receiver on left was 1 stride from first down, and DB was till 6 fricken yards off!!
        This one pissed me off.
        I believe the QB needs to understand the concept of the play and needs to evaluate what he sees of the Defense when he is at the los and make a good decision. None of that happened. I don’t blame just Vick, I hold Andy responsible.He has done a horrible job of coaching this QB up to speed.
        6. Throw the TD pass to open Maclin. That was a no-brainer. Unfortunately anticipating receivers coming open is not something that Vick does, so I really should no longer expect him to make this kind of play.
        7. Vick needed to make Roman Harper miss. That’s a lot to ask. Not Vick’s fault.
        8. He saw the field and made the right decision, just a tough throw, not accurate. It would help if he connected on a throw like this but it is a tough throw to make.
        9. Throw it to Harbor, as any good QB would do with that much time and that good protection.
        10.Good protection again. Really it is hard to fathom how he didn’t see McCoy that wide open with no New Orleans player within 10 yards and no New Orleans players anywhere near where Vick’s line of sight should have been. I would expect him to make this play.

        • 5. You’re reaching
          6. Missed the Maclin – got a first down and then some on the run – it’s a wash

          8. Was hit as he was getting rid of the ball.

          9. He missed that one
          10. He missed that one

          So like I said one maybe two plays he left on the field. In this case two.

          • And clearly Shell has pointed out that no one was open by the time he had to throw the ball…he threw to the first person who was…there is not xtra second there to get it to the guy who came open AFTER Avant since he was clearly going down with the blitz coming.

  • T

    Play 5 is from Tecmo Super Bowl. The Buffalo Bills had a play in which QB Bills avoids a sack by running straight back as long as he can and fires the ball 100 yards into the other end zone. Beebe usually catches it. I’m not sure why it didn’t work, but Vick may not have the arm strength that QB Bills had in Tecmo Super Bowl.

  • Play 8 was a difficult throw and would have been a very difficult catch however it was still catchable! The top receivers in this league can make that catch. Maclin or any of our receivers other than avant (who has no wheels) cannot make big time tough catches with their hands. I like celek but his hands are awful. Rarely does he catch a ball cleanly with his hands, needs to be hit in the body. Just other issues on top of the more obvious ones…..