No-22: What We Saw From the Eagles’ Offense

The Eagles’ first-team offense had eight possessions Saturday night against the Jaguars.

The results? A touchdown, three field goals, two punts and two turnovers. Not disastrous, but certainly a bit choppy.

Here’s the No-22 breakdown of some of the things we saw after re-watching.

SPREAD TO RUN?

That’s at the foundation of Chip Kelly’s offense. Set up in shotgun, spread the defense and run the football unless that option becomes unavailable.

Yet, of the 45 plays the first-team offense ran, only 15 were designed runs. The Eagles went with four players split out on only 11 occasions. And only twice out of those 11 did the offense run the ball. Instead, we saw a lot of in-line tight ends and even a two-back set with Michael Vick under center.

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Essentially, this is the 4-TE look we’ve written about before. James Casey is in the fullback role LeSean McCoy’s lead blocker. You see Brent Celek and Zach Ertz. Clay Harbor, now practicing with the wide receivers, is split out wide.

Here, you can see the Jaguars have nine guys in the box. They rarely played with two deep safeties. As Jason Kelce explained after the game, that’s one of the reasons the Eagles passed the ball so much.

Kelly always wants to look for a numbers advantage. When the defense is stacking the box, the offense has a couple options. One is to forget the spread, pack it in and regain the numbers edge, as you see above. The other is to make the defense pay in the passing game, which the Eagles also tried.

THE ‘SCRAPE’ TECHNIQUE

Gus Bradley and company were ready for the Eagles’ zone read. Boiled down to its simplest form, the play leaves an edge defender unblocked. If that defender crashes inside to the running back, the quarterback keeps the ball and runs. If the defender stays home, the quarterback hands the ball off.

Under those terms, the offense really should always win if the QB makes the correct read. But that’s obviously not how it works on the field. When writing about how to defend the read option, Chris Brown of Grantland recently explained the “scrape” technique. The idea is that the unblocked defender crashes inside, taking on the running back, while a second defender comes up and fills his place to account for the quarterback.

The Jaguars got the Eagles using this scrape technique in the first quarter. Here’s the pre-snap look:

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You see the unblocked DE on the left side and the middle linebacker who is going to end up taking the quarterback.

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The DE heads towards McCoy. He doesn’t care if Vick keeps it. That’s not his responsibility. The middle linebacker loops around and runs behind him. You can see Todd Herremans is set to block him as if the linebacker is going to attack the inside run.

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The DE really sells out on McCoy. He’s tackling him to the ground even though he doesn’t have the ball. The middle linebacker, meanwhile, gets to the backfield untouched and brings Vick down for after just a 2-yard gain. You can see Herremans chasing him from behind.

Stopping the read option is going to be a highly-discussed topic all season long. This is just one technique, and it’s one that Kelly has probably seen hundreds of times before. There will be points and counter-points all season long between the league’s top offensive minds and its top defensive minds.

But the scrape is something the Eagles can expect to see throughout the year.

O-LINE MISCUES

The fact that Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Kelce, Todd Herremans and Lane Johnson are healthy enough right now to suit up together when the Eagles open the season against the Redskins in a couple weeks is a good thing.

But the truth is this unit had a rough go against Jacksonville.

At times, the offensive line got beaten physically, and other times, it suffered mental/communication errors.

For example, the Eagles had a 2nd-and-10 from the Jaguars’ 19 late in the first quarter and called a run to McCoy. But Herremans and Johnson went to block the same linebacker, letting defensive tackle Jeremy Mincey burst through the backfield untouched.

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Mincey dropped McCoy for a 5-yard loss, and suddenly the Eagles were faced with 3rd-and-15. They picked up 12 before settling for the field goal.

Later in the first half, the Eagles faced a 3rd-and-10 from the Jacksonville 17. The Jaguars ran a stunt with their right defensive end and right defensive tackle. The DT attacked Peters, while the DE looped behind him.

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Tough to know whether it was supposed to be Mathis or Kelce picking him up, but neither got a hand on him, and he got a clear path to Vick for the sack.

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The Eagles had a six-man protection against a four-man rush. That should never end in an unblocked defender, but that’s what happened here.

Of course, this is just the preseason, and August is the time to work out some of these issues. Four out of five of the starting linemen have proven track records in the NFL. Then again, four out of five (aside from Johnson) are coming off of injuries.

If the Eagles want to surprise teams offensively, they’ll need the line to lead the way. That means getting some issues resolved before Week 1 against the Redskins.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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