All offseason, there was talk about how much Chip Kelly would incorporate the read option into his offense at the NFL level.
Three games in, we have some answers. And the biggest takeaway? It’s been perhaps the most successful aspect of what the Eagles have done so far.
After having gone back and charted all the running plays using the coaches tape, here are some numbers through the first three games. Note that there are some grey areas since we don’t know the exact play calls.
* The Eagles have run the read option 46 times in three games, or 22.4 percent of the time.
* On those plays, the offense is averaging 8.3 yards per carry (46 carries for 384 yards).
* Overall, the Eagles have run the ball 83 times (not counting QB scrambles). So the read option has made up 55.4 percent of the run game.
* Michael Vick has kept the ball on the read option just six times. But on those attempts, he’s gained 119 yards for an average yards-per-carry of 19.8.
* Running backs have gotten the ball 40 times on the read option and picked up 265 yards for a 6.6 YPC average.
As you can see by the numbers, the Redskins, Chargers and Chiefs had zero success defending the Eagles on read-option plays. San Diego and Kansas City often brought a safety into the box to help against the run, but even then, the Eagles found ways to pick up yards on the ground.
Overall, the run game has carried the Eagles. They are averaging 209 yards per game on the ground, 58 yards more than the No. 2 team. The Eagles are averaging 6.6 yards per carry, 1.3 yards better than the No. 2 team. And they have six runs of 20+ yards, second-most in the NFL.
Below is a look at why the ground game is working.
Vick is averaging 10.4 yards per carry on 18 attempts. He’s piled up more yards on the ground than some of his younger counterparts like Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton. Some of those runs have been improvised. The defense is playing man coverage, no one’s open, the defensive ends are caught upfield, and Vick takes off, picking up big chunks of yardage.
But other attempts are within the design of the offense, like his 61-yarder against the Chiefs last week.
The Eagles set up with double-stacks to both sides. They used this formation quite a bit in the preseason (full breakdown here) and have used it in each of the first three games.
Take note of the ‘22’ personnel – two running backs, two tight ends and one wide receiver. It was the only time all game the Eagles went with that grouping. Zach Ertz and LeSean McCoy are at the bottom of the screen; DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek at the top. Bryce Brown is in the backfield.
At the line of scrimmage, the Eagles are going to leave the 3-technique Mike DeVito unblocked. Evan Mathis makes a beeline for the linebacker. Jason Peters will handle Tamba Hali.
Vick takes the snap and has four options. He’s got screens set up to both sides if he wants to pass the ball to the perimeter.
But with 2-on-2 matchups on the outside, the better option is to run the ball. The Chiefs have six in the box; the Eagles have five blockers. But DeVito heads for Brown and is essentially “blocked” by the running back. That sets up hat-on-hat assignments for the other five players.
Note that Vick has only run the ball six times on 46 read-option calls. That is the way Kelly prefers it. He wants the quarterback to hand the ball off unless the defense doesn’t allow him to do so.
Five NFL players have three runs of 20+ yards. Vick is one, and McCoy is another.
In the second half, the Eagles got a look with seven Chiefs in the box. But they’ve got Brent Celek in-line as a blocker. This time, it looks like Vick is reading safety Eric Berry, who has cheated up, although it’s possible this was a straight handoff all the way.
The key here is Mathis quickly coming off of his double-team and getting to the linebacker.
Here, you can see Vick’s eyes focused on Berry, who stays at home. Mathis gets to the linebacker, and Peters does a nice job on the lineman. That creates a nice alley for McCoy.
McCoy in the open field is always a win. Here, you can see Berry start to give chase, and he eventually helps bring McCoy down. But it’s a 30-yard gain and another big play through the run game.
Next up is McCoy’s 41-yard touchdown. Again, Vick is reading Berry, who sets up on the left side.
It’s six blockers against seven defenders. But Vick occupies Berry. Jason Kelce does a great job on Dontari Poe (No. 92). Also take note of Todd Herremans. One of the keys to the Eagles’ run game is the ability of their athletic linemen to switch off double teams and get to the second level.
That’s what Herremans (yellow box) does effectively here.
McCoy again getting to the open field. This time, no one catches him until he’s in the end zone for a 41-yard touchdown.
Check out where Berry (blue box) is. He was accounting for Vick and is completely out of the play.
And finally, there are straight runs where Vick is not reading anyone.
“There are a lot of times where Mike is handing off the ball and carrying out a fake and people think it is a zone-read play,” Kelly said. “It’s just one play that’s called. He was supposed to give the ball 100 percent of the time and gave the ball 100 percent of the time.
“Sometimes there’s never an unblocked defender because you only have five guys in the box. We can block five‑on‑five. That’s not a zone-read play. That’s a give‑the‑ball situation, carry out a good fake and see if you can take somebody from the secondary out of the play.”
That’s what happened in the play below.
Here, you can see it looks like linebacker Derrick Johnson is unblocked and in position to make a one-on-one tackle on McCoy.
But again, Mathis switches off his double-team and gets to the linebacker. Kelce, meanwhile, does a great job on Poe.
Here, Vick had no option to run the ball himself. The Eagles had seven blockers against six box defenders. It was a straight handoff all the way.
But where Vick comes in is carrying out his fake. Check out safety Kendrick Lewis (No. 23) focusing his attention on the QB. This is another way to take defensive backs out of the play when McCoy gets into the open field.