Foles, Eagles Add Back Shoulder Fade To Arsenal


During a team period earlier this week, Jeremy Maclin found himself lined up one-on-one against cornerback Bradley Fletcher.

Maclin got an outside release and headed straight up the sideline, but at about 15 yards downfield, he slammed on the brakes, turned around, flashed his hands late and caught a Nick Foles pass that was already there waiting for him.

It's the back shoulder fade - a weapon Foles, Chip Kelly and the Eagles are looking to add to their arsenal as they prepare for 2014.

"I think that's just something that's a great addition to the offense," Foles said. "We've always tried going over the top, [but] that's something that you see a lot of the guys like [Drew] Brees, [Aaron] Rodgers, [Peyton] Manning, [Tom] Brady, they do a really good job if a guy's overplaying their receiver, it's just one of those things you have to have a feel with it. You want to give your receiver an opportunity to catch the ball. So it's something that we're working on. You want to be able to connect in any way possible, so it's just a great throw on any level - high school, college or the NFL."

Beating man coverage has become an obsession for the Eagles' coaching staff this offseason. Last year, the most common tactic for slowing them down was to play man coverage with a single high safety. And Kelly is not expecting that to change in 2014.

The back shoulder fade is a pass that can be completed even when cornerbacks have very good coverage. Asked how to defend it, Nolan Carroll II started to shake his head.

"You can't, man," said the Eagles cornerback. "You get lucky with it. It's so hard because your back is turned and the receiver is looking at the ball, so he knows if it's gonna be a back shoulder or not. And normally around the league, it's 10 yards and they kind of turn their back. So for us, we're taught to stay on top, but at the same time, if you throw the back shoulder, we've kind of gotta stop the brakes and break up the pass. And it's so hard when you're going the other way, and the receiver's looking back and he knows what's happening. He can just turn his back and make an easy completion, 10 or 15 yards. So it's hard for us. It's a 50/50 ball, if you can get lucky."

Here's an example of Tony Romo and Terrance Williams completing a back-shoulder throw against Cary Williams and the Eagles last year.


It's 3rd-and-5, and Williams has man coverage on the outside.


He does a good job of sticking with the receiver, but in the above frame, Romo is already releasing the ball. You can see that Terrance Williams' head is turned back to the line of scrimmage.

"It's one of the hardest throws you can defend as a corner," Cary Williams said. "Those guys can see the ball the whole way through and they can make their adjustment when necessary. So you get a good quarterback to throw it at your back, some things you can't do anything about."

Added Malcolm Jenkins: "It's tough because it's the opposite of what you're taught. So if you're in good position as a DB, normally that means that the back shoulder's open. That means you're in face of the receiver and they throw it back and away from you, so it's a tough play."


Here, you can see Terrance Williams has his body turned and is ready for the ball. Cary Williams, meanwhile, has his back to the line of scrimmage.

On deep balls downfield, Eagles cornerbacks are taught to look at the eyes and the hands of the wide receiver when they're face-guarding. But on back-shoulder throws, the technique is different.

"It's really reading his hips, but it's so hard because you're reading him and then next thing you know, he just swipes you by and turns around and it's a completion," Carroll said. "So you've just gotta try to stay in his hip as much as possible and get a good feel for when the back shoulder's coming. And when you're in press, just go through your progressions as far as the 5, 10 yard area. When you feel it, that's when you can kind of break on it."

Others, like Nick Saban, teach to read the upfield shoulder.


"It's really all about the finish - being able to kind of get your hips around and disrupt the receiver so that he's not making an uncontested catch," Jenkins said. "Because it's hard for them too. They've gotta get their body around and still track the ball. But if the quarterback throws it right, it's hard to defend. And once you do start defending it, they'll throw it over the top. So it's one of those things you've got to continuously get reps at it, and if you know a team is doing it, then you play for it a little more."

Jenkins has plenty of experience from his playing days in New Orleans going up against one of the best back-shoulder throwers in the NFL, Drew Brees.

"Brees was good enough where he changed it up a lot," Jenkins explained. "He really reads your position, so if you're on top, he's throwing back shoulder. If you're low, he's gonna throw over top. And that puts you in a position where you can't defend it."


"That's what they're coached to do - throw it at the back of our head..." Cary Williams said. "We don't know where they're going. They know where they're going so they can see the ball, so it's tough."

Added Kelly: "Coverage is tight and you have to beat the guy over the top and maybe the way to beat the guy is to throw it behind him."

From an offensive perspective, the keys are timing and chemistry. The quarterback and the receiver have to be on the same page, or these throws will be ugly. The receiver has to turn around and flash his hands as late as possible to limit the time the corner has to catch up.

"It's just another weapon to have," said Maclin. "I think it's something that we'll have. It's not necessarily what we're looking for. It's just something that we'll have in our bag of tricks that we can pull out. It's probably the single hardest throw to defend in football, so it'll be good to practice that so we have it down."

The key for the receiver?

"Running the fade, running the go-route first," Maclin said. "Then adjusting to the ball. When you start looking for the back shoulder, that's when it can go sour."

Bigger receivers obviously have an advantage because if the ball is thrown high and to the outside, they can go up and get it. But Cary Williams said that factor can be overrated.

"I think the best two guys throwing it are Peyton Manning and Tom Brady throwing those things," he said. "Those guys do a lot of work. They do it in the game. Regardless of what size the receivers may be, they always seem to fit it in there at the right time, the right place. I don't know if it's a trend. But I know those guys, in order to be great, you've gotta be able to throw the back-shoulder fade."

As Foles looks to take the next step in his development, he clearly agrees with Williams' assessment.

"I definitely always want to improve my game, so what's the best way to improve your game?" he said. "Watching the ones who were before me that were the great ones and learning why they were so great at what they do. And watching the film, all the great ones were able to throw back shoulders. I think the big thing is throw the ball where only their receiver had an opportunity to catch it and the DB can't make a play."

Added Pat Shurmur: "I think they can be very effective if they're thrown with the right timing and at the right spot. So it's just one of the things guys work on. We try to take advantage of every opportunity to get the ball down the field, and that is just another way to do it."

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  • zbone95

    Here is a Sports Science video of Jordy Nelson perfecting the back shoulder. It’s virtually undefendable if done right the DB had no chance.

    • Brian

      That play fits perfectly with Cooper’s abilities.

      • Clamdigger

        Seriously. He caught passes from Tim Tebow. He can catch anything.

        • Jay Kalinowski

          Tebow was actually pretty accurate at UF, but they played to his strengths. Short crosses, screens, and the fly/go/fade routes. Tebow was money throwing the deep ball. In fact, Cooper dropped more deep passes from Tebow than there were bad passes..That is one thing that befuddles a lot of us that watch the Gators, is how bad he looked in NFL as compared to college. I know the medium to deep crosses he had no timing for because of his “wind up”, but still….defenses are just that much better in NFL to take away strengths…

    • Yes_General

      Back shoulder fade? Finally!! Thank you Chip Kelly!!

      • RichC, brings duck to cockfigh

        Remember that offseason we talked ourselves into thinking they’d feature the endzone fade with Hank Baskett?

        • reb

          Wow. Hank Baskett. There’s a name from the past.

          • macadood

            A tisket a tasket we all love Hank Baskett!

        • NickS FFLC/GM/DPP/Scout/HC/OC

          Tranny-hooker bangin’ Hank Basket? Same guy?

  • anon

    Nice article buddy, more like these would be great. #weekend work

  • Brian

    It’s also beneficial to our DBs who are learning more about defending the play. Is there a place to find DB stats versus this type of play? I’d imagine that DBs who practice against Brady, Manning, Brees, etc., would be better at defending against the back shoulder throw.

  • cliff h-MOAR white goons

    Sheil, great article, but please use illustrations from any other game. wow, those pictures bring back some bad memories. was spiraling out some serious negative juju that next week. be funny to read archives of PM 24/7, pretty sure I had FOles stuffed in burlap bag with ankle weights being shoved off the Delaware Bridge. Nicky Dynamite, if you are out there reading, sorry!

    • Max Lightfoot

      We all had our doubts – who knew Foles would emerge as he did? While he may not currently have the laser throwing speed of Brady, Brees or Peyton, he is working on that. And our Nickfolian D is accurate, accurate, accurate! He can only get better. Go Eags!

      • Dominik

        I wouldn’t say that Brees or Peyton have lasers. Brady imho yes, altough there are folks (who know more than I do) who doubt it.

        Brees is extremely accurate and has maybe the best play-caller in the NFL on his side. He’s still very good, but not elite without Payton.
        And btw., yes, I think CK can be on Paytons level, but I’d like to see one more year before I go THAT high.

        Manning, well, I’d say about 70 percent of his skills are between his ears. I’m far from an football historian, but I don’t know if there ever was a QB who could read Defenses like he can. The arm is fine, of course, but not Stafford or Rodgers like.

        • NickS FFLC/GM/DPP/Scout/HC/OC

          Only part I disagree with is Brees. He’s elite. Period.

        • Max Lightfoot

          True, Peyton and Brees may not have lasers, but they throw considerably faster than Foles. Not saying that Foles can get there, but he will improve. And I agree, we are at least another draft away from getting to the Super Bowl.

          • Sum

            Foles has a better arm than post surgery Peyton.

            Just FYI. Peyton may have the worst arm in the NFL

  • RichC, brings duck to cockfigh

    We’ve got a smart QB with quick eyes who makes good reads, and smart WRs who run tight routes – this should absolutely be a major part of the offense!

  • Sum

    This is the concept that had me geeked about the Matthews pick. Foles is working hard on developing the cerebral part of his game, and giving him a WR who is obsessive about details and also reading and understanding coverages gives this offense massive potential on chemistry plays like the back shoulder pass as well as option routes.

    Matthews could be our version of Wes Welker who is always exactly where his QB wants him to be… Only he’s 6’3″.

  • JosephR2225

    I hate to be “that guy”, but with the respect Desean got in man coverage by CBs not wanting to get beat deep, seems like he would have been a heck of a weapon on back shoulder throws. Oh well. Spilled milk.

    • Eagles4Life

      That’s exactly what I was just thinking. People overplay him so much just to stay on top of him with his speed, back shoulder throws would have been a problem for defenses. And they could be a problem for us when we see Washington this season.

      • piatz1019

        RG3 is way to inconsistent to throw that pass. Not that he’s inaccurate, but he’s definitely not elite in accuracy and that route requires a great ball to be useful. Djax is dangerous on comebacks yes, but the ball still needs to get there.

    • Jason

      You’ve got to have someone that wants to compete for the ball. For all the strengths DeSean had, not sure that was one of them. Even his tipped TD last year was two defenders fighting for the ball and him the recipient

    • johnr

      I actually thought Jackson’s absence is why we will see more back shoulder fades this year. you want a tall long guy for the fade. Sure Desean speed might give him a cushion on a cb, but the fade is more of a pattern that you are using your body to shield the defender from the ball.

  • Lake

    I think that Eli had this ability until he ran into O-line problems. Victor Cruz has unreal moves, but was neutralized by Eli’s inability to get him the ball.

  • Will

    Sweet…FOLES goes another season with 2 INT’s…the back shoulder fade should help in the cause…Sweet Foles wants to be one of the Best…

  • THT fucken boul

    eagles just might b the team who can line up with sanfran and Seattle d cause if these wrs can beat man it could b a long season for defensive coordinators who can u stop the eagles offences reminds me of the spurs in football cause any player can beat u and I he talent is very deep

    • hokieduck


  • E.A.G.L.E.S

    The league so full of it they give Rodgers, Brady, Brees pass inference calls on the passes hopefully Foles puts enough on those balls bcus accuracy I’m not worry!

  • Fly High

    If you didn’t read the link to Nick Saban’s teach to read the upfield shoulder, do so. I thought it was one of the more brilliant descriptions, I’ve heard.

  • TheBirds25

    Aaron Rodgers throws the best back shoulder passes