All-22: How the Offense Operates With Foles

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All last week, Chip Kelly and his staff made one thing clear: The offense would not undergo a complete makeover with Nick Foles at quarterback instead of Michael Vick.

His argument didn’t seem all that convincing. After all, the two quarterbacks have different skill sets. Why not mold the offense to whichever guy was going to be on the field?


On Sunday, against the Bucs, we got a better idea of what Kelly meant. And for the most part, he was speaking the truth.

"We'd have played the game exactly the same way," said offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. "We would have had all the same plays in the gameplan, and we would have called it exactly the same way with Mike."

Several players backed up Shurmur's words. The Eagles piled up 425 yards and scored 31 points in their victory over the Bucs. Foles completed 71 percent of his passes and averaged 9.5 yards per attempt, accounting for four touchdowns.

Without a quarterback who poses a true running threat and facing a defense that liked to employ a lot of zone, the Eagles still found ways to play option football and had success with packaged plays all day long at Raymond James Stadium.

***

As a teenage athlete at Paradise High School in California, Jeff Maehl played in an offense that employed the Wing-T, a system he said generally offered four options: run, run, run and run.

Maehl was recruited to Oregon as a safety, but eventually switched over to wide receiver. He's only played 52 snaps on offense through six games, but has a unique perspective on Kelly's scheme. The key to Sunday's gameplan was that the Bucs played a lot of zone coverage, and the Eagles were able to put defenders in conflicting situations. It was Foles' job to read key defenders and give his teammates opportunities to take advantage.

"For a defensive player, you look at it and you're like, 'Holy crap. There's a lot of stuff going on.' " Maehl explained. "When really it's our base stuff that we're running. It's kind of cool to be on the offensive side of the ball and to know that they think that it's a super-complex deal when really we're just running our stuff."

What exactly is Maehl talking about? Let's take a look at one sequence in the second quarter.

The offense has a 1st-and-10 at the Tampa 31. Foles lines up under center with two receivers to the left and one to the right. Zach Ertz is the H-Back.

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Foles has three options on this play. He can throw the screen to DeSean Jackson. He can throw the screen to Maehl. Or he can hand the ball off to Bryce Brown.

The key is going to be the safety inching up. He becomes the seventh man in the box. That leaves Jackson one-on-one with Darrelle Revis, who is playing 9 yards off the line of scrimmage.

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Foles takes the snap, turns to his right and fires to Jackson. That sets up a one-on-one in space for one of the offense's best playmakers. On this particular play, Jackson picked up 4. But that didn't deter Kelly from coming back to the exact same play call on the very next snap.

Jackson was shoved out of bounds, tossed the ball to the official, looked to the sideline for the play and lined up in the exact same spot, as did everyone else.

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This time, there's a deep safety who can help on Jackson. On the left side, though, the defensive back inches up and will attack the line of scrimmage. That gives the Eagles a 2-on-2 matchup, and both defenders are playing 8+ yards off the receivers.

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This time, Foles tosses it to Maehl, and he picks up 5 yards. The exact same play run twice in a row gave the Eagles a 3rd-and-1.

"It makes it tough, especially with a team like Tampa that likes to play a lot of zone," Maehl said. "It's a good thing for us on the perimeter when we can get numbers out there. If they have a guy that comes in on the quarterback, then we can throw it out there. So we're constantly just looking out there at the numbers game. If we can get an easy throw and get a quick 5, 6 yards, then it's as good as a run play. So the coaches do a good job of putting us in the right situations when defenses give us that."

There are a couple other key elements at work. One is tempo. From the time the whistle blew on the first play to the time the Eagles were snapping the ball on the second play, about 20 seconds (real time) elapsed.

"You're compounding the fact that guys are seeing all these different reads, they don't know where the ball's going, they're trying to get the play, and all of a sudden, they feel that rush to get lined up," Jason Kelce said, speaking of defenses in general, not the Bucs specifically. "That's when you can kind of sense it. It's kind of like a sense of panic on that side."

Take note that the offensive line blocks run all the way on these plays. The quarterback can choose to throw the quick screen, but his decision has no effect on the blocking scheme.

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"A lot of the times when we get the play call, we have no idea whether the quarterback's gonna be able to throw it or not," Kelce said.

The Eagles actually ran the same play a third time, and Brown carried for 2 yards. Overall, on the eight-play scoring drive, the Eagles ran the same play on three different occasions. None was a huge gainer, but you can see the way they used the concept.

"I think all play-callers will run the same play if they have success," Shurmur said. "Sometimes developing a tendency is a good thing. That means you're good at stuff. I've heard that said once before, you know, but then of course you've got to be able to make it look like one thing and do another, as well."

Added Maehl: "We have three, four options of when we can throw it out there, give it, keep it. So this offense as a whole, having all those options, we really don't have to run a bunch of different plays. A lot of it's gonna look the same, and we're just gonna take what the defense gives us."

***

For a split-second on one play during the Eagles' first drive, Kelce thought McCoy was about to run past him for a big gain. The next moment, he was lamenting giving up a hit on the quarterback.

This is a play we've seen the Eagles run several times through six games. It combines an outside zone run with a screen to the other side and a pop pass to the tight end down the seam. The defender Foles is reading is the inside linebacker.

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If he creeps up to the line of scrimmage, the pop pass to Ertz should be there.

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Foles was a little hesitant on this play. It looked like he had an opening to fire the ball to Ertz, but he instead waited for the rookie to clear the linebacker, who recovered and dropped back into coverage after initially inching up.

At this point in the play (image below), Kelce thinks the Eagles have it blocked up pretty nicely for a McCoy run.

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"Right when the D-Linemen went to the left, I was like, 'Oh, yes!' because I thought the running back was gonna run wide-open outside," Kelce said. "And then I saw Foles throw the ball, and I was like, 'This is gonna be bad.' "

Not bad because the play wasn't going to work. Bad because the guy Kelce was blocking saw the play develop, switched directions and ended up hitting Foles.

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Watching live, this might have looked like a breakdown in protection - both from Kelce and Jason Peters. But really, the linemen all completed their assignments on this play.

"There are some plays where we're blocking for the run, and then he'll pull it and we won't know that it's gonna be thrown," Kelce said.

The point once again: The power is in the hands of the quarterback on every run-pass option play. The receivers and running backs are left in the dark until the play develops.

"You just gotta be alert," Brown said. "You could get the ball, he could pass it. You've just gotta be alert of what he decides to do. You try to get a pre-snap read sometimes, but sometimes it don't work that way."

Added Ertz: "Just being decisive by the quarterback, making those fast decisions is the big thing. The receivers, we always have to expect to get the ball. The running back always has to expect to get the ball. And then Nick and Mike just do a great job of making the right decisions."

***

With 10:23 left in the game, the Eagles clung to a one-point lead. That's when Kelly called on a play the offense had used in the second quarter: a run-pass option that combines an outside run with two receivers running hitches.

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On this occasion in the second, Foles hands the ball off to McCoy who picks up 2 yards.

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In the fourth, the Eagles went back to the same concept.

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This time, Foles catches the Bucs blitzing the safety to Cooper's side. Many of the Eagles' plays are set up to give their skill-position players one-on-one matchups. That's exactly what happens here.

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"It was a run play, and I had a hitch on the back side," Cooper said. "And Foles just threw it to me, and he kind of led me inside so I kind of took it that way. I saw the defender kind of screaming down hard inside so I just brought it back out."

Cooper broke a pair of tackles en route to a 44-yard gain. The Eagles scored on a 36-yard TD to Jackson on the next play.

"I think Nick did a tremendous job," said guard Evan Mathis. "If you look at some of the plays that were the run-pass option, they might have been bringing a blitz right into the run or had one more than we could block. Nick recognized that immediately and got it out to the receiver for some good plays. He made some tremendous decisions in this game."

***

Against teams that are playing zone, the packaged plays present conflicts to defenders. Those issues don't exist when a team is playing man coverage, which is why we didn't see many of these same concepts in previous weeks.

The calls would have been the same with Vick in the game, but with so much power in the hands of the quarterbacks, the actual plays might have looked different.

"I still think it's the same plays," Kelce said. "But I think that there's different things… maybe a couple of those since Mike likes to run the ball, he runs it. Or Nick likes to throw it, so he gets it outside. It's all about taking advantage of numbers, and I think it's still pretty much the same play-calls.

"On a lot of our runs, the quarterback has the option, and no two guys are gonna be the same. And obviously Vick has a different skill set than Nick does."

All signs point towards Foles starting Sunday against the Cowboys, while Vick's hamstring continues to heal. After that, Kelly will likely have a decision to make.

And while defenses will continue to present new wrinkles, the overall offensive scheme is unlikely to change drastically regardless of who the quarterback is.

"That's the beauty of our offense," Brown said. "You've got a lot of opportunities, a lot of choices you can make. And it's just about us doing our thing and making the right ones."

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

    Well it’s good news that Monte Kiffin runs a zone defense

    • Token

      Shurmer said they have been running a lot of man with single high safety. Im thinking we probably see that a bunch on Sunday.

    • aub32

      You must not have watched the Redskins game.

      • Basscase

        Agreed. They played a lot of man, which left them open to big plays. I think the offense will do fine, but Monte’s smart enough to know how everyone else was playing this team.

        Also, Schiano’s an idiot.

  • Vick Must Go

    Shortest article ever: “How does Offense operate with Foles?”
    Article: “Flawlessly.”

    Next year: “How does Raiders Offense operate with Vick?”
    Article: “Who Cares.”

  • theycallmerob

    Nighttime all-22?
    Sheil,”Hail to you and good thoughts. May Thórr receive you, may Óðinn own you”

  • RaiderDebo

    Hilarious! Vick is just sitting back and having a good laugh at the haters. Hater dorks are acting like the Eagles just won the SB because they beat a WINLESS team. The 1st step was to kick Foles’ ass in an open competition for the world to see. Next, watch him melt down against a divisional opponent at home. QB controversy squashed.

    • Vick Must Go

      Kicked his ass, huh? 15 pass attempts in the preseason… kicked his ass… How about we start comparing some stats from the regular season. Either 2012 or 2013. Your pick, grab some objective verifiable data and get back to me. The world will await your response.

    • HowboutdemIggles

      Vick has led 51 drives.
      39.2% ended in punts.
      25.5% ended in FGs.
      21.6% ended in TDs.
      11.8% ended in turnovers.
      2.0% ended on ‘turnover on downs’.

      Foles has led 20 drives.
      45.0% ended in punts.
      15.0% in FGs
      35% in TDs.
      5.0% in turnovers
      0% on turnovers on downs.

      Additionally, 4 of Foles’ 20 drives (20%) were 3 & outs.
      4 of Vick’s 51 (7.8%) were 3 & outs.

      Vick required an average of 74.6 yards at the start of his drives and gained an average of 37.2 yards (i.e. 49.9% of what was required for a TD).

      Foles required an average of 69.8 and achieved an average of 35.3 yards (50.6%).

      Disclaimer 1 – sample size is small, especially for Foles. Every one of his drives accounts for 5%, so use with caution.

      Disclaimer 2 – I didn’t include drives that simply led to the end of a half. In almost all cases these were just one play kneel downs, though there was a five play 27 yard drive at the end of the Giants game where Foles was QB.

      • http://abigbuttandasmile.com/ A Big Butt and a Smile

        Why do folk continue to include the garbage time drive vs. the Broncos against their second stingers in Foles total?

      • Basscase

        Why does this keep getting brought up? It’s like comparing the results of me eating 300 Oreos vs. my wife eating a single crouton.

        • http://abigbuttandasmile.com/ A Big Butt and a Smile

          That’s a VERY good analogy.

          It’s like folk don’t realize sample size matters.

          A lot.

          • Justin

            Then let’s get a bigger sample size from Foles.

    • Finlay Jones

      Step 1, win the job. Step 2, play well. Step 3, start to regress. Step 4, get hurt like everyone said you would. Step 5, backup outperforms you. Step 6, lose job.

      • RaiderDebo

        Wrong.

    • Justin

      I think you’re on the wrong blog, amigo. See, this is a blog for the Philadelphia Eagles. You come off as a guy who only cares about Vick.

    • NJDIII

      Idiot, that winless team has a defense that was better then every one Vick faced IMO(chiefs are on par but Vick was dreck against them ). Foles outperformed Tom Brady, Drew Breese, against that same defense and scored more against it then any other team. I hate comments with no proof. Go back to Dallas or Oakland and get fat with Jamarcus Russel. Vick is like a prize fighter at the end of his career. He looks great until he gets that first big hit and he is dazed and confused for 2 quarters after. I think he has taken one to many huge hits and can’t process information as fast, especially mid game while getting hit. Personally I’m tired of holding my breath every time he gets hit to see if he will get up. Foles takes those hits and keeps on trucking. I don’t know of he is answer long term but this season isn’t about anything but learning who can play next year, anything else is a bonus

      • RaiderDebo

        Of all the responses to my post, this is by far the dumbest. I’d have a lot more respect for you guys if you just came out and said “I hate Vick because he killed dogs and I want him out of town” instead of BS football takes. You’re really going to compare KC and Tampa? One team is UNDEFEATED and the other is WINLESS! Please explain to me why you think that is Einstein. SMH.

        • HowboutdemIggles

          Yeah because that’s totally what everyone thinks, I think your parents got screwed when they had you, abortion is legal you know?

        • NJDIII

          Ass hat, I did not compare the teams as a whole just the defenses. And your moronic if you can’t look up the stats and the schedule Tampa has played NO, New England, the chiefs have gone 4-0 vs a suspect NFC east (Vick sucked in that game) and beat the raiders. The DEFENSE of the bucs had not let up more then 20 all year until Foles torched em.
          Chiefs are a better team no shit but you can’t call the bucs weak on defense in fact they have 5 pro bowl locks on d revis, ghoulson, Barron, david and McCoy. The chiefs were terrible last year but still managed 5 pro bowlers on d. The bucks problem is from coach, next year they will b this years chiefs. Also bucks lost 3 of 5 games by 3 points or less. I don’t hate Vick in fact he is my play station screen name, he has rebuilt himself into an awesome human being. But he is not the Answer at QB Einstein!!!! Bring me facts not insults ass hat

          • RaiderDebo

            Any more questions?? Lol!

    • Mike Calabrese

      Your user name kills all credibility on knowledge of football. Then you post and continue to hurt your cause. LOL

      • RaiderDebo

        Is that right? Still question my knowledge and credibility? Happened just like I said it would. Mike Vick owns the hater clowns. SHM.

  • Mr. Magee

    Great analysis and presentation from Sheil… Always learn something from these all-22s.

    Until now I could never understand how it made sense to not trade one of the QBs in the preseason. Fascinating how Vick and Foles – coming from opposite ends of the skills spectrum – can both be successful in the same offense. I guess there really is some method to the madness when it comes to Kelly’s decision making..

    • Loke1988

      Aside from the one ha made to go with Vick in the first place I agree with you.

  • Kevin

    This Offense must be heaven for a Offensive Player. You are always an option and you always have to keep your head in the game and be ready. And they way the yards are piling up, it looks like everyone gets their opportunities.

    • mtn_green

      Agreed the players are so competitive that I bet they are not thrilled when playcall leaves them out of play. In Kelly’s offense you are either blocking or an option for ball.

    • Johnny_P

      Excellent point. You always hear about WR’s taking plays off or going through the motions, but in this offense you can ill afford to do that.

  • Addicted2Mula

    The key thing to me is the defence is playin zone against Foles and Foles is doing playing good. Jus like Vicc did against Washington. After that game defence played man against Vicc. So i would like to see what Foled can do against man defence

    • pjcostello

      For a half, you did — in the Giants’ game.

      • aub32

        Yes but the Giants secondary is awful, and whether it matters to you or not the fact remains that Foles did not have any TD drives when he started outside of the opponents 40. When he had to drive the ball in the 3rd he couldn’t and at one point lost the lead. Now some of that may have been Foles needing to warm up. So I am not saying he can’t move the ball consistently against man coverage. The sample that we saw is just not realistic.

        • Mike Calabrese

          Don’t forget Foles first drive when he came in against the Giants. He started inside own 20. It’s not that couldn’t drive down field bc they moved it easily into field goal range. Clock was the reason we were forced to kick a field goal and not finish off drive.

          • Basscase

            Someone mentioned to me that during the Giants radio broadcast, Carl Banks was railing on the coaches for not changing their defensive plans once Foles came into the game, allowing for a single spy to be placed on him.

            Not saying Foles wouldn’t have beaten them at some point, but it’s that kind of coaching that makes you wonder.

          • aub32

            I did not forget that. He also got another FG to take the lead before Eli threw his 3 INTS, but then getting into FG range has never been a problem for this team.

    • Dan

      How did the Giants play Foles in the 2nd half?

      • Addicted2Mula

        The Giants secondary were talking about.

      • http://abigbuttandasmile.com/ A Big Butt and a Smile

        Did you notice the stalled out third quarter?

    • http://abigbuttandasmile.com/ A Big Butt and a Smile

      Is not a Foles issue. It’s a receivers issue. We lack a real #2. And man exploits that. They did a good job with man on the redskins. I’d be super surprised if they didn’t do the same against us.

  • Broadcasting Wisdom

    Enough with the man v. zone analysis as is Foles is going to be confounded by man. Man is so much easier to beat for a tall, accurate, quick thinker like Foles, which is why so few defenses play man with a single high safety against the elite QBs. I don’t have all-22, but my recollection of Cooper’s TD is one of the few times they manned up against Cooper and Jackson with just a single high safety. Cooper and Jackson both running go routes on opposite sides of the field with Foles throwing it – I will take that every time!

    • aub32

      The man v. zone issue isn’t about Foles. It’s about our offensive weapons. The Chiefs manned us up all game. That wasn’t confusing. Cooper just couldn’t get open. Flowers was doing a pretty decent job on Jackson. Everything isn’t about Foles. You are seeing things in a vaccuum. Cooper got matched up against a rookie battling an infection. He took advantage of that matchup and Foles was able to find him for a good game. Do you honestly think that Cooper is about to turn into a stud receiver. This isn’t the case of Foles “throwing a guy open”, which he can do. Cooper isn’t going to be able to beat Claiborne so easily. Carr was able to lock down Garcon, who isn’t DJax, but he’s still pretty good.

      • Broadcasting Wisdom

        Cooper and Jackson were both “NFL open.” Cooper will beat Claiborne if Claiborne does not have safety help over the top. Same goes for Carr. Did you see the coverage on Cooper when Nick threw his touchdown pass? Step for step, but once thrown Cooper kicked it up a gear and kept his body between the DB and the ball. If Claiborne bails to protect against the deep ball, we know Cooper can take a 5 yard hitch and turn it into a first down (obviously won’t get 40 yards every time like he did in second half, but his first reception of the game was a 5 yard pass that he turned into a 13-yarder by bulling over a DB – he will be able to bull Claiborne when he catches the underneath stuff and consistently gain 7-12 yards)

  • cliff henny

    Kelce said. “But I think that there’s different things… maybe a couple of those since Mike likes to run the ball, he runs it. Or Nick likes to throw it, so he gets it outside. It’s all about taking advantage of numbers, and I think it’s still pretty much the same play-calls.
    .
    like this quote. how many times have we all wished foles and vick could be ‘frankensteined’ into 1 qb. with vick, kelly got to see these package plays qb’d by all-world athlete who pressure defense with running and huge arm. with Foles, same plays by more accurate qb who’ll get ball out quicker. neither qb’s perfect for system, both make offense work. soak up the knowledge kelly, hopefully Marioti or Hundley can combine those 2 strength and 30pnts 450 yds will be a down game.

    • theycallmerob

      Really goes to show how much responsibility is placed on the QB and why Kelly values their brain more than any other tool. Decision-making is more critical than any other variant. Helps explain the Barkley pick a bit- both Kelly and Roseman said he had the mind to run this offense.

  • Brent E. Sulecki

    QB needs to be smart and know his personnel and read the defense well. that being said I think Nick played one hell of a game and ran the offense the way its intended to utilize the weapons on offense. I think too many times Vick improvises and by that time the play is broken down. Foles stays within the rhythm of the offense. and all options seem to be alive on a play with the QB making the read and delivering where the defense allows each time.

  • Andy

    Excellent analysis as usual. What more can I say: I look forward to your All-22s even in the weeks when the Eagles lose.

  • mtn_green

    Wow! Great article!

    Curious? If Monte Kiffin (boys d coordinator) is Tampa 2 (zone 2 deep safeties) creator and probably trusts his team and trained his team in that defense, would he switch to man defense for eagles? Or stay in zone to stop run?

    • BlindChow

      They’ve been running a lot of man coverage in Dallas, even under Kiffin.

      • Basscase

        Yeah, watching the Redskins game, they’ve been playing a lot more man lately, going more with blitzes. Tampa 2 usually doesn’t involve a lot of extra guys going after the QB, but it’s been needed since their pass-rushers have been bad/hurt.

        • Always Hopeful

          I hope we can make them pay!

  • JBrooks

    Great article as usual!!
    Not sure why everyone is so negative to either QB. At the end of the day they are both still EAGLES and right now Foles is helping our team succeed. I think both QBs have proved they can have success in Chips offense (which he has said all along.) Vick is and has been the most athletic QB to play and his ability to run opens up McCoy’s game, but his lack of decision making can result in bad plays sometimes. Foles’ quick decision making opens up the passing game which still allowed McCoy to rip off 116 yards. You guys just need to relax, we have won 2 games in a row, got a big game in Dallas and I want nothing more than for Foles (or Vick if he surprises us and plays) to SMASH the COWGIRLS! #BleedGreen

  • JPT

    Excellent work as always Sheil. I agree with other commenters that prefering Foles over Vick or Vick over Foles doesn’t require you to despise the other and dismiss him as irrelevant or undeserving. Similarly, reasonable people can disagree and both have sound logic for taking their respective positions (disagreement is not equal to a personal attack). Please don’t let this site devlove into personal attacks and hyperbole the way many others have (i.e., philly.com).

  • BleedGreenJames

    Ronnie Brown sure would have a ball with all these run-pass options.

  • NickyP79

    Excellent analysis as always. This is my one stop shop for everything Eagles. Since I started reading this blog in training camp and during the season, it has really given me such insight into the offense and defensive schemes. Brilliant breakdowns, and you make it so easy to understand. Keep up the excellent work.