One of the fundamental principles of Chip Kelly’s scheme is to set the offense up to take advantage of one-on-one matchups.
There’s plenty of blame to spread around when it comes to reasons why the Eagles have managed just one field goal offensively in their last eight quarters. But one is the failure to capitalize and win those matchups.
For example, in the first quarter of last week’s game against the Giants, the Eagles run their most popular packaged play: a zone-read look with an option to throw the screen to the perimeter. Only this time, there’s a bit of a wrinkle: Lane Johnson is split out wide to the left with James Casey and Jeff Maehl.
Before the snap, you can see all sorts of confusion on the Giants’ defense. Like the unbalanced line, this is another way to mess with opponents. You push tempo, and all of a sudden, the defense looks up and the right tackle isn’t where he usually is.
As you can see, the Eagles have numbers: 3-on-2. Michael Vick makes the right decision and throws the screen to Casey.
When Chip Kelly rested his head on his pillow for a good six hours of sleep Saturday night, he probably dreamth of looks like this. He’s got his athletic, powerful right tackle on a safety and one of his (usually) better blocking receivers on a cornerback.
Take a look from the other angle. There’s no other Giants defender between the hash marks to the sideline. They’re all thinking run first. The linebacker and safety will give chase, but this sets up as a big play.
The problem? Prince Amukamara tosses Maehl aside, and while Johnson should have either have driven Antrel Rolle 20 yards downfield or planted him into the ground, he does neither. The two blockers who are supposed to win their matchups against the defenders don’t do their jobs.
To be fair, this play still picked up 11 yards. That’s usually a win for the offense. But you get the point. The Eagles left yards on the field and had a chance for a big play.
Let’s go back to another screen. The Eagles didn’t run many true zone-reads last week. They were working with a hobbled Vick and the last man standing in Matt Barkley. On most plays, the QB was not given the option to run the ball.
Kelly’s answer to not having a QB who is a running threat is to throw screens to the perimeter. We saw it with Nick Foles in the Tampa game, and we saw it last week against the Giants. The QB is still still playing option football. The options are just different.
This play took place in the second quarter. The Eagles have DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant and Maehl set up to the left this time.
At first glance, it looks like the Giants are better-equipped with three defensive backs over three wide receivers. But the safety is going to retreat once the ball is snapped.
This one didn’t have the same numbers advantage as the first play shown, but if the Eagles get a hat on a hat, and Jackson executes, it should at least be a first down before the safety gets back into the picture.
But again, a couple problems in execution. You can see Avant (yellow box near the line of scrimmage) has the defensive back pinned to the inside. That means Jackson should take off towards the sideline. But instead, he takes a couple steps inside first.
The issue is compounded by the fact that Maehl blows his block. By the time Jackson gets going, the Giants have multiple defenders ready to bring him down.
The result? A 3-yard gain.
Any time the offense scores three points in two weeks, and you have an offensive coach running the show, he deserves criticism. But in many cases, the criticism should be for Kelly not getting his players to execute, rather than the concepts themselves.
The other issue is the run game, which has struggled the last four weeks. There seems to be a little bit of everything: LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown missing opportunities, offensive linemen getting beat and the scheme/performance of opposing defenses (good breakdown here by The Chip Wagon).
But the question of how opponents defend the Eagles when they’re not afraid of the QB running is one worth exploring. With Barkley in the game, the Eagles showed plenty of zone-read looks, but Kelly explained that the QB only had the option to run on one of them.
Here, you’ll see the Eagles leave Jason Pierre-Paul unblocked.
The option for Barkley is not: hand it off or keep it. Instead, it’s: hand it off or throw the screen.
But does it look like Pierre-Paul is worried about anything other than McCoy?
The unblocked defender can crash every time when the QB doesn’t pose a threat. Even if Barkley (or Foles) takes off and picks up 4 or 5, that’s a win for the defense. You keep the ball out of McCoy’s hands and you might get a hit on the quarterback.
The Eagles can come back and throw the screen over and over, but there is a defined way for defenses to take McCoy away with minimal risk against the zone read when they run it with Foles or Barkley.
Overall, Barkley played just about how I’d expect: OK. He made some nice anticipation throws, but failed to pull the trigger on attempts downfield.
Derek Sarley did a good job of showing some of those misses, but here’s one more that caught my eye.
This was a critical 3rd-and-4 early in the third quarter with the game still within reach. The Eagles had the ball at the Giants’ 26. Before the snap, Barkley puts Jackson in motion. The cornerback follows, indicating man coverage across the board.
Zach Ertz and Riley Cooper run crossing patterns. It’s a pick play designed to create space against man coverage.
Meanwhile, Bryce Brown is going to run a wheel route against the linebacker. We’ve seen the Eagles try this on multiple occasions the last two weeks, often missing open opportunities.
Barkley has a clean pocket, and the pick works. Cooper is open for what looks to be a first down.
Meanwhile, Brown runs by the linebacker.
If Brown had been mic’d up, we likely would have heard: “Yo, Matty! Over here! I got this! C’mon! I’ll never bounce a run outside again! I promise!”
But instead, Barkley holds the ball and takes a sack. Johnson gets blamed for a breakdown in protection, but really it’s on the quarterback. The Eagles lose 5 yards, Kelly opts to not go for the 48-yard FG, and they turn it over on downs.
Just another example of failed execution in what has turned out to be a disastrous two-game stretch.