“Sometimes, as I told Nick, grip it and rip it, let’s go,” Kelly said. “He’s thrown a lot of really good passes since I’ve been around him, and he’s been really good with the football.
“The big thing for him is let’s just get him back in the flow. Let’s get in a rhythm. That’s the biggest thing. Can you get in a rhythm, can you get your feet set, can you throw the ball?”
Answers to those questions came against the Raiders: yes, yes and yes.
After losses to the Cowboys and Giants and a grand total of three points by the offense, Kelly emphasized that there would be no grand scheme changes. The concepts would stay the same, but the execution had to get better.
And it did. To the tune of 49 points in three quarters. So what worked? And why was there such a difference from the previous two weeks? Here’s what we saw from the tape.
The two things that set Foles’ performance apart from past ones were his ability to buy time with his feet and his willingness to throw the ball downfield.
Perhaps his biggest throw of the game came on 3rd-and-13 during the Eagles’ opening drive. The Raiders were in Tampa-2, meaning two deep safeties to either side and a linebacker dropping to handle the middle of the field. Underneath, Oakland had four zone defenders.
The target on this play was Jeff Maehl, who ran a deep dig route from the left side of the formation.
Foles did a great job all game long of moving defenders with his eyes and with his pump fakes. Here, he faked to LeSean McCoy underneath. That caused the linebacker to take one step forward. With Charles Woodson playing deep, that’s all the room Foles needed
Foles had check-down options on this play. He could have easily taken a 7-yard completion, flipped field position and tried again later. But he didn’t. He faked, reset his feet and fired on-target.
There were three defenders nearby when Maehl went up for the ball. But because the throw was accurate, the result was a 19-yard completion that extended the Eagles’ drive.
“There were some plays where he did a good job of looking guys off or pump-faking,” said offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. That’s part of what we do. But the quarterbacks develop a strategy on each play and each situation to really use that to their advantage.”
The Eagles went with more ’12’ personnel (1-RB, 2-TE) than usual in this game. They also had success motioning McCoy out wide and going with an empty set. Still on that first drive, they faced a 3rd-and-3 in the red zone. Oakland was in man coverage, and the linebacker shifted to pick up McCoy.
In this first shot, the Eagles already have an advantage. The Raiders will be covering Brent Celek and McCoy with linebackers.
The Raiders had seven in coverage against five receivers. They had one free safety and another help defender. Foles first looked to McCoy in the flat. The help defender, a linebacker (yellow arrow below) was drawn to McCoy. That left the middle of the field wide open for Ertz as Brandian Ross tried to fight through traffic.
“It was man coverage and I ran a sit-over-the-ball,” Ertz said. “My guy got caught up in Brent’s route so I was wide open and I just tried to turn upfield right when I caught it.”
Kevin Burnett and Ross actually ran right into each other (apologies if you’re having traumatic flashbacks to the 2012 Eagles). That gave Foles a couple good options. He could have hit Celek on the corner route, although Woodson was back there to help, or he could have gone with the sure thing to Ertz.
He went with option No. 2. Ertz picked up a first down, and Celek got in the end zone on the very next play.
One play we saw in the preseason was the new-school triple option. Actually, it’s more like a quadruple option.
The play started here with double-stacks to both sides. But the Eagles were again in 12 personnel. They’ve got tight ends in front of receivers.
Foles had four options: throw the screen to Riley Cooper, throw the screen to DeSean Jackson, hand it off or keep it himself. He combined options one and four.
The defensive end crashed, so Foles kept the ball. That was his first read. But there was another one on this play. Foles kept an eye on the cornerback, Tracy Porter. If he committed to stopping the run, Foles had the option to swing a pass outside to Cooper. If Porter stayed home, Foles would continue running.
Porter inched up, and Foles slung it to Cooper, who picked up 18 yards.
I asked Ertz what it was like to block on this play. One second, you’re trying to keep the DB away from Foles in the middle of the field. The next second, you’re trying to block for Cooper, who is near the sideline.
“It was man coverage so initially I just ran him off,” Ertz said. “Then I knew there was two guys over there so he wasn’t really gonna throw it right away. And then I saw Nick kind of scrambling and then my guy kind of see the throw. He tried to exert himself. So I just pushed into him and try to finish the block.
“I just sensed the defender. It’s a tough block, but the coaches have done a great job explaining that to us, and I just executed it.”
The officials and announcers were confused on the play, wondering if Foles had crossed the line of scrimmage. But that’s irrelevant since it was a backwards pass.
Obviously, there’s a sense of risk here. An off-target throw backwards is a fumble. But Foles connected with Cooper for what shows up in the box score as an 18-yard run.
Let’s take a break from Foles to credit the guys up front. The offensive line played one of its best games of the season – specifically in pass protection. But there was one run play that probably made O-Line coach Jeff Stoutland salivate when he watched the film.
It’s a toss to Bryce Brown that picked up 8 yards, but there was a lot going on that made it stand out.
Here’s the look at the line of scrimmage. The Eagles leave the nose tackle unblocked. Todd Herremans and Jason Kelce are going to pull. Celek and Lane Johnson are going to block down.
But my favorite part of the play was Jason Peters’ blocking assignment. He’s in charge of the deep safety, Woodson, on the other side of the field.
I’ll let the pictures tell the story here.
Granted, Woodson is 37. But Peters is 328 pounds, coming off a pair of Achilles’ injuries. Pretty good movement here for the big fella.
“I got the safety,” Peters said. “It’s a toss play to the opposite side and I’m just trying to cut him off from making a play because if Shady [Brown] hit it up, he’ll be the only guy left. So I was just trying to get a block on him.”
Peters tossed Woodson to the ground by the head. Woodson wanted a flag. Peters gave him the death-stare.
There were other things going on here as well. Herremans crushed the defensive back, and Kelce manhandled Burnett, driving him downfield and completely out of the play.
Kelly’s offense sometimes gets labeled finesse, but when the linemen are at their best, it can be a physical brand of football.
And we’ll close with more on Foles. Protection is not always going to be perfect. On this second-half play, he bought time and did a great job keeping his eyes downfield.
Herremans got beat off the snap, but Foles climbed the pocket and got out of harm’s way.
He had a simple check-down available to Brown. But Foles continued to buy time, rolled to his right and saw Jackson wide open.
On the move, he delivered a strike while getting hit.
That’s a big-time throw. And the result was a 20-yard gain. The Eagles lead the NFL with 44 pass plays of 20+ yards on the season.
Overall, there were no grand scheme changes. The Eagles ran what they’ve been running, but had success this time around.
“We believe in our scheme,” Shurmur said. “And we did not execute our scheme well [in previous weeks]. And we as coaches didn’t give our players good enough stuff to work with, and we didn’t play well in those two games.
“This past week, we ran the same scheme, we executed better, and the results were much better.”