When Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker met with reporters Monday, he noted that the Eagles basically used the same five run plays out of different formations Sunday night to pile up 289 yards on the ground.
If Chip Kelly heard that assessment, it would probably put a big smile on his face – because it’s true.
By now, we’ve seen Kelly’s Eagles team take the field 15 times, and we have a pretty good idea of what he head coach values offensively. He wants his offense to play fast – which means simplifying things and going back to the same concepts until the defense proves it can stop them.
He wants to run first and take shots downfield. He uses packaged plays to put defenders in situations of conflict. And he wants to spread the field both horizontally and vertically.
Sunday’s 54-11 victory against Chicago was a pretty good example of all those things at work.
Early on, Kelly focused on stretching the Bears horizontally. The Eagles’ head coach will randomly mention from time to time that the football field is 53 1/3 yards wide, hinting that he intends to use all that space.
Against the Bears, the Eagles used the same packaged play four times on their first three drives. The basic premise is one we’ve seen all season: an outside run to one side and a bubble screen to the other. But this week, the Eagles added a wrinkle. Instead of going trips to one side with the bubble, they used motion.
Here’s the pre-snap look. DeSean Jackson is alone to the right side of the formation, but the Eagles are going to use “orbit motion” meaning he’ll loop back behind Nick Foles.
The Eagles have two tight ends to the left as blockers, should Foles throw the screen to Jackson. Foles has multiple options on the play. He can either hand it off to McCoy on the sweep to the right or throw it to Jackson. Foles can even keep the football and run it himself if there’s an opening.
The Bears’ cornerback follows Jackson when he motions, and Foles decides to hand it off. Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans do a great job pulling and taking out a linebacker and defensive back, respectively. And Brent Celek shows why he’s one of Kelly’s favorites, executing a perfect down-block on the defensive end.
Jason Peters, meanwhile, uses his athleticism to go across the formation. He’ll end up blocking right defensive end Julius Peppers, who is chasing down the play from the back side.
The result is a 19-yard McCoy run.
The Eagles ran the play four more times in the first half. Overall, they gained 27 yards on five tries. Not a huge number, but the goal of stretching the defense horizontally early on was effective.
The Eagles lead the league with 75 pass plays of 20+ yards. They’ve done a good job of maximizing opportunities downfield all season long.
In the third quarter, the Eagles sent four receivers on vertical routes. The Bears were in a three-deep zone, meaning the deep-middle defender was in conflict.
Jackson draws the attention of the deep middle safety, which leaves Riley Cooper wide open.
You can see he has his hand up calling for the ball, and Foles finds him for a 32-yard gain. This might have had a chance to score if the ball was a little more out in front, but it was a big gain nonetheless. Foles was accurate as ever vs. Chicago, completing 21 of 25 passes. Three of the misses were throw-aways, and one was a drop.
Later in the game, Foles found Celek for 24 yards on the same concept. The second-year signal-caller leads the NFL, averaging 9.03 YPA.
Just as the Eagles stretched the field horizontally early on, they had success stretching it vertically in the second half.
And finally, there’s the run game. Earlier in the season, defenses started to crash their unblocked defenders in on McCoy on most zone-read plays. They were willing to take their chances with Foles keeping the ball and running it.
So during the bye, Kelly and his coaches decided to regain control and keep the ball in the hands of the league’s leading rusher. They started having their tight ends go across the formation and sift block the edge defenders on split-zone runs.
“When you pare down your gameplan, what you want to get accomplished, how does it match up with the depth and type of handoff you want to use?” Kelly said. “How does it match up with the defense that you’re [facing], how quickly do you want the back to hit the hole, do you want to read people, do you want to block people? A lot of different combinations in terms of how we’re going to do that. But the fact that we have guys that are versatile I think has kind of been a bonus for us.”
Quietly, free-agent signee James Casey is getting on the field more. He averaged 5.2 snaps per game through the first 11 games. In the last four games, that number is 17.3. Against Chicago, Casey played a season-high 30 snaps.
He came to Philadelphia with hopes of getting the ball in his hands more, but that hasn’t been the case. The Eagles are finding value in using Casey as a run-blocker. According to Pro Football Focus, in the last four games, he’s been used as a run blocker on 75.4 percent of the snaps he’s played.
On one fourth-quarter drive against Chicago, the Eagles ran the ball six straight times, going 70 yards for a touchdown. Five of those six were split-zone runs.
Here’s one with Bryce Brown as the ball-carrier. Casey comes across the formation and seals the edge defender.
Peters manhandles defensive end David Bass, while Casey takes on linebacker James Anderson. Any time the Eagles can get their running backs one-on-one against defenders in space, they like their chances.
A huge hole emerges, Brown breaks the tackle of Jonathan Bostic, and he’s off for 18 yards.
The split zone puts the edge defender in conflict. Later on the same drive, Bass is playing Foles for the keeper on the zone read. Casey doesn’t even have to block him.
McCoy cuts it back, and Casey does a good job of hustling and getting to Bostic at the second level. The result this time is a 15-yard gain.
“I think James really – one of his strengths, I think he really understands blocking schemes and mechanics,” Kelly said. “Because when he was in Houston he was a fullback, H‑back type guy, and that’s kind of how we’re using him here.”
Overall, the Eagles ran the split-zone 11 times for 99 yards and two touchdowns.
“They knew what was coming,” Peters said. “They just couldn’t stop it.”
In other words, exactly how Tucker explained it the following day.