Chip Kelly was asked earlier this week why he called a run play on 3rd-and-9 against the Giants.
“We thought it was a good play call at the time based on the defense they were deployed in,” Kelly said.
He was pressed further about the percentages of calling a run and converting in that situation.
“Not if people are playing man‑to‑man coverage and totally turning your back on what’s going on and you have no run support,” Kelly answered. “That is part of the thought process when you do that. If you’re going to just totally abandon and you catch people when they’re just totally trying to play the pass, a lot of people pop runs in those situations.”
The truth is Kelly didn’t call a straight-out run.
We’ve discussed packaged plays for months now, but the Eagles introduced a new one on Sunday. Take a look at the pre-snap look.
The Eagles have four receivers set up in a 2×2 formation. The Giants are playing man-to-man across the board with a single high safety.
Look at what happens after the snap.
In this shot, LeSean McCoy already has the ball on a handoff. But the receivers are not blocking. Instead, they are running their routes.
You might have heard Kelly or offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur talk about “four verticals.” That’s the pass concept the Eagles are employing here.
“Four verticals is designed exactly the way you’d expect: four receivers run straight (more or less) down the field, dividing the field into segments,” wrote Chris Brown back in 2009.
There are many variations to the concept (Smart Football post here). The receivers are not all running go-routes. They have to make decisions based on how the defense is playing. But the basic idea is to set up one-on-one matchups and create conflict for the one safety who has to decide what to do on four vertical routes.
One of the core principles of Kelly’s offensive philosophy is to make the defense guard every inch of the field, and that’s what this play does.
Getting back to the line of scrimmage, here’s the pre-snap look.
The Giants have six in the box. The Eagles have five offensive linemen. That means Michael Vick has to account for the unblocked defensive end, Jason Pierre-Paul.
Pierre-Paul stays at home, so Vick hands the ball off. McCoy spots a crease in between Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans.
If you’re wondering how the offensive linemen know whether to pass block or run block, it’s the latter every time.
“All I know is I get the zone play or I get the power play, I get the man play in. And then we block that accordingly,” Kelce said. “What we do outside of that with bubble screens or reads or quarterback reads and runs, I have no idea for the most part.”
The power is in the hands of the quarterback. He has to decide whether to run or pass. If he decides to run, he has to choose between handing it off or keeping it. If he decides to pass, he has to get rid of the ball before the Eagles get called for an ineligible man downfield.
“Mike makes a lot of the decisions back there, and he made the right read,” said tight end Zach Ertz. “We almost had a long run with Shady. He just got tripped up by his ankle. It was close.”
Here, it looks like McCoy has a crease, but backside linebacker Spencer Paysinger does a good job of getting off of Evan Mathis’ block and stops the play after a 5-yard gain. Kelce was also called for holding on the play.
As always, the team that wins the one-one-one matchups generally wins. But you can see the design of the play from the other angle. The wide receivers didn’t have to block, but they took the defensive backs away from the linen of scrimmage just by running their routes.
The two outside corners are not even in the shot here. The two inside receivers run their routes outside the numbers, and those defenders have their backs turned to the middle of the field. If Paysinger doesn’t make the tackle, it’s McCoy one-on-one with the safety, who is 15 yards away from the ball.
The other factor is that Kelly would have considered going for it on fourth down. But the Kelce penalty rendered that decision moot.
As the weeks continue, we’ll see new wrinkles from the Eagles’ offense. Against the Giants, it was the inside zone read/four verticals packaged play.