Zone Read: Eagles-Cardinals, the Day After

CAN SOMEONE PLEASE EXPLAIN…

1. What was up with the Brad Smith play in the red zone in the second quarter?

The Eagles drove to the Cardinals’ 6-yard-line when Kelly put Smith in at quarterback and split Foles out wide. Smith fumbled the snap, the offense lost 4 yards, and Alex Henery came on to kick a 32-yard field goal three plays later.

Granted, this is one of those plays where if it works, we’re all talking about what a great job Kelly did of using all his resources. And if it fails, we all second-guess.

But Foles was in a nice groove at the time. He had completed three of four passes for 63 yards on the drive. Smith just signed with the team a few weeks ago and had not had an offensive touch previously.

This probably falls in the “got too cute” category. But one thing’s for sure: Kelly is still seeking solutions for the team’s red-zone woes. For as good as the Eagles’ offense has been, they rank 29th in red-zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns just 46.15 percent of the time. The guess here is that Kelly focused on that during the bye, but he may want to throw the Smith play out the window going forward.

2. Why Kelly said the Smith play was not the wildcat?

OK, I’ll be the someone in this instance.

“It was not a wildcat play,” Kelly said. “It’s just Brad Smith plays quarterback. So let’s straighten that out right now. We don’t run the wildcat. It’s just a play. He played quarterback. Nick played receiver because Brad’s really good with the ball in his hands.”

Luckily, we have Chris Brown to explain these things to us. As Brown wrote back in 2009, wildcat plays require three things: a  mobile quarterback, the jet sweep/jet fake and an unbalanced line. The Smith play only fulfilled one of those requirements: the mobile quarterback.

The jet sweep/jet fake is when an offense motions a receiver running full speed in front of the quarterback as the ball is being snapped. The quarterback can hand the ball off to that player or fake it to him. That did not happen on the Smith play. Nobody was in motion.

And the line was not unbalanced either. The Eagles have gone with an unbalanced line on several occasions this year, but they didn’t do so on the Smith play. Therefore, Kelly wasn’t lying. This was not a wildcat play.

What was it then? It’s hard to tell for sure since Smith fumbled the snap, but it looked like just a plain old zone read. The wide receivers appeared to be blocking, so I don’t think there was a pass option. Smith was either going to hand the ball off to McCoy or keep it himself. In that respect, you can see what Kelly was going for. Why not use a more athletic option at QB if you’re going to run the zone read down there?

I still don’t agree with the call, but you can get a better idea of Kelly’s thought process.

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THE NO-22

Brandon Graham had a pair of sacks on Carson Palmer Sunday afternoon.

“He stands back there. He’s not a threat to run,” Graham said. “But we certainly made sure we collapsed the pocket. We wanted to disrupt him a little bit.”

Let’s look at Graham’s second sack. The Eagles blitzed Patrick Chung off the edge, but Graham initially gets double-teamed.

graham1a_no22

graham1b_no22

The Eagles ran a stunt, and the left tackle switched off of Graham to help on Fletcher Cox. With the running back accounting for Chung, that freed Graham up for a one-on-one matchup against the tight end.

graham1c_no22

Coverage was good, Palmer held the ball, and Graham finished.

graham1d_no22

“We called a stunt play,” Graham said. “Pretty much, they let me go free a couple times. I mean, both sacks. And it was the same call. I’m happy because the back end had to be doing their job, and my hat’s off to them because without them doing their job, I wouldn’t get the sack.”

Graham got credit for the sack. But without Chung blitzing, Cox occupying two defenders and the back end holding up in coverage, he wouldn’t have had a shot.

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THE NUMBER THAT MATTERS

7 – The number of sacks by Eagles outside linebackers in the past two games. Graham and Trent Cole had two apiece vs. Arizona. In the win over the Redskins, Cole and Connor Barwin combined for three.

Through the first 10 games, the three outside linebackers had combined for just five sacks total. Now that number is up to 12. Cole suddenly leads the team with five, Barwin has four and Graham has three.

The 3-4 requires its outside linebackers to be prolific pass-rushers. This is still an area that needs to be addressed in the offseason, but the pressure the Eagles put on Palmer was critical to the defense’s success. Maybe they have just taken advantage of a couple of favorable matchups, but it’ll be a huge boost for Billy Davis’ defense if the outside linebackers can continue to progress in terms of rushing the passer down the stretch.

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GAME BALL OFFENSE: ZACH ERTZ

The rookie had his best game of the season, finishing with five catches for 68 yards and two touchdowns on six targets.

“We saw a lot of man-to-man coverage from the safety,” Ertz said. “And we’ve been working hard all year to have our number called in a big game like this, and fortunately we made some plays.”

Ertz’s most impressive catch was a 22-yarder in the first quarter. Foles had to throw the ball high to keep it away from linebacker Daryl Washington, who cut in front of the tight end. Ertz showed good concentration and good hands to reach up and snatch the ball out of the air for a big gain.

He now has seven catches of 20+ yards on the season.

GAME BALL DEFENSE: TRENT COLE

The veteran failed to notch a single sack through the Eagles’ first eight games. He now has five in the last four, including a pair against the Cardinals.

Asked what the difference has been, Cole said: “Anybody should know, playing eight years as a D-End, in the ninth year you’re playing outside linebacker. That’s a big jump because now you’ve gotta be in coverage, you’ve gotta drop back. I feel like as a D-End, you’re born to run straight ahead.”

I asked Barwin if he ever sensed frustration from Cole earlier in the season.

“I’m sure he was when he went home or inside his own head,” Barwin said. “But one of the best parts about Trent is he never brought it into our meeting room. He never brought it in the locker room. He just kept his head down and kept going to work. And how he’s got five with a month left. And that’s good to see that happen – when a guy doesn’t go in the tank or start complaining about the system or start complaining about the calls. He just kept doing his job, and it’s paying off for him.”

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