Chip Kelly doesn’t understand the typically accepted definition of the red zone.
“It’s always kind of been humorous to me where the line, the 20, became the official red zone,” he said during a PhiladelphiaEagles.com video last year. “It starts at the 20. And if you’re at the 21, it’s not a red zone.
“The red zone for us is the scoring zone. So what’s the yard to gain for us? And if we don’t score, can we put our field goal team out on the field and kick a field goal? Usually if it’s a good day, no weather involved, it’s somewhere between the 33- and 35-yard line. And that’s where the red zone starts for us offensively. For our defense, it’s the same thing.”
Regardless, one concept Kelly went to when the Eagles reached that scoring zone was double posts – a common red-zone call around the NFL.
To walk us through the intricacies of double posts, we called on our old friend Brian Flinn, the wide receivers coach at Villanova and all-around football junkie.
We start with a play from Week 2 against the Chargers. Michael Vick was the quarterback (yes, a lot can change in 10 months), and the Eagles are in a 3×1 set with three receivers – Jason Avant, Zach Ertz and Riley Cooper – bunched to the bottom of the screen.
“This call out of a bunch set is a little atypical,” Flinn explained. “Usually when you’ve got a tight three-man bunch, it’s one guy going in for about 10 yards, one guy going out to the flat, one guy going into the hook. It’s usually one in, one out, one up. …What’s neat is now you’re in a bunch set which people think is gonna be this intermediate throw, and now you’re taking a shot down the field. Guys are gonna be flat-footed waiting on one guy to come in, one guy to go out, one guy to come up, and you’re gonna get guys to go by ‘em.”
The Chargers are in Cover-1 Robber. That’s man coverage with a single high safety and a low-hole help defender.
Avant’s job is to force the safety to make a decision. If the safety helps on him, that will put Cooper in a one-on-one situation against the cornerback. If the safety doesn’t go with Avant, then he’s got the one-on-one matchup.
“Avant does a good job,” Flinn said. “He takes his guy into the middle of the field, he moves the free safety over. So that creates a throwing window where the ball ends up. Now the quarterback will read it… he hits his fifth step, he’s gonna read inside post, outside post, then to that flat route. If it’s zone coverage, the flat route is almost always open.”
In this example, the safety helps on Avant. That means it’s a simple read for Vick: Go to Cooper on the outside post.
You’ll notice in the first image that Cooper doesn’t run straight upfield before turning in for the post. He first angles outside to create some space.
“From the bunch set, what’s different about the double post is the No. 1 receiver has to stem hard out to get himself that room back inside,” Flinn said. “By stemming out, what Riley Cooper does here is first of all, he gave himself some space to go back in, but he widens that corner. That corner starts to play outside leverage, now he hops back inside of him. It’s a good way of setting them up with formation and the stem of his route to get that corner that top outside leverage. And now because Avant clears that safety out, that outside post is inside and ends up creating space for a touchdown.”
Sidenote: The wide receiver closest to the sideline on either side of the field is the No. 1 receiver. The middle man is No. 2. And the receiver lined up closest to the formation is No. 3.
The other interesting thing the Eagles do is they have the No. 2 receiver (Ertz here) take a few steps back before leaking out into the flat. As Flinn explained, teams will often have the No. 1 and No. 2 receivers run double posts, with the No. 3 guy running into the flat. In this example, the No. 1 and No. 3 receivers run the posts, while the No. 2 guy takes the flat.
“By delaying here, it’ll still space out and time out the way it does,” Flinn said. “And that helps. Ertz can tell, the quarterback can probably tell it’s man coverage based on [the defender’s] reaction. It’s a little bit of an atypical release. You don’t very often see a guy step backwards or pause. Down in the red zone, if you freeze anybody for a count doing something as small as that, it could be the difference between a touchdown and a PBU. But I think the primary reason they’re doing it is just to create the same spacing the play usually has.”
Double posts is usually a good red-zone call against split safeties (Cover 2 or Cover 4). But here it works against man coverage because Cooper makes a nice play on the ball, and Vick puts it in a good spot.
“In the NFL, you’re gonna be covered,” Kelly said last year. “And now the receivers, one-on-one, it doesn’t mean you’re covered. It means you’ve gotta go make a play, and we’re gonna throw it up.”
Of course, every “go-to play” needs a variation. The second example is from Week 9 against the Packers.
By this point in the season, the Eagles had run double posts in the (non-traditional) red zone on multiple occasions. Jeff Maehl, the No. 1 receiver here, runs the post. But Cooper runs a post-corner route and finds himself wide open for a 32-yard touchdown.
“That safety, he sees the splits. He sees two vertical stems,” said Flinn. “What Cooper does a nice job of there, there’s really gotta be two top ends to the route. You’ve gotta really stick that post. You’ve gotta take three steps into the post and get that safety’s hips locked and get him turned there. And then you work back out to the corner.”
The Packers are in quarter-quarter-half coverage. To the bottom of the screen, they are in quarters with two defenders splitting that half of the field. The top half of the field is manned solely by a third deep defender.
Even though this is a zone coverage, defenders are taught to abandon their areas and plaster to receivers once they get downfield – especially in the red zone.
“What happens with the depth of that route by Riley Cooper is once he gets 8, 10 yards, in Cover 4, the safety’s essentially locked on him man to man,” Flinn said. “Once he gets released over that outside linebacker… that safety, he’s accountable for him whatever he runs.”
As you can see, the safety is playing the post all the way and is nowhere near Cooper as Nick Foles tosses one of his easiest touchdowns of the season.
Kelly’s overall offensive philosophy is to run a lot of the similar plays and concepts but dress them up differently. The first example against the Chargers featured a 3×1 bunch set with the QB out of shotgun. This version had the QB under center. The Eagles used play-action to allow time for the double move.
Same concept, different look and a couple variations. But both plays resulted in touchdowns.