Hang around Chip Kelly enough, and you’ll get used to hearing the number 53 1/3.
That’s the width (in yards) of the football field. Kelly’s offensive philosophy is predicated on making defenses account for every inch of that width, along with the vertical space between the line of scrimmage and the end zone.
Perhaps no play serves as a better example of that philosophy than Y-Cross, a staple of the Air Raid offense, and now a go-to play in the Eagles' offense.
To break down the concept, we called on our old friend Coach Flinn. Flinn has helped us with the mesh concept, double posts in the red zone and snag. But I've never heard him more excited than when discussing Y-Cross. The guy flat-out loves this play.
The Eagles use the preseason to work on their core plays. Last week against the Bears, they ran Y-Cross over and over again. But the two examples we'll take a look at today go back to last year, starting with one of Nick Foles' seven touchdowns against the Raiders.
Many have written about the Eagles' packaged plays - the most popular being a zone read run combined with a bubble screen. Defenses see that all game long from the Eagles on a weekly basis. This play builds off that with a play-fake to LeSean McCoy and Jason Avant showing bubble to the bottom of the screen.
Meanwhile, Damaris Johnson runs a go-route, and Riley Cooper runs a deep post (although this can sometimes turn into a curl). Brent Celek, the Y tight end, runs a deep crossing route.
Here, you can see the play develop.
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The Raiders are in Cover 3, with the deep defenders splitting the field into three zones.
Per Flinn, the tight end is taught to run the crossing route under the SAM LB (No. 94) and over the MIKE LB. But because the SAM LB here bit on the play-fake, Celek is able to get over both linebackers relatively easily.
"What this play does is it puts the inside linebackers in conflict," Flinn explained. "They have LeSean McCoy running to the left. Then all of a sudden you have the tight end running over your head. Celek has gotta get over that MIKE linebacker. And once he does, there’s a window right there by the hash, which you’ve seen Foles throw to many times. Or there could be a window outside of 53 [the MIKE LB]."
Foles' read starts with the vertical at the bottom of the screen, then to Celek on the crosser and then to the top of the screen on the deep post.
"First read is the vertical," said Flinn. "What that does is it slowly starts that free safety working over to that vertical side. He’s not open, so Foles can move inside to the second read, which is the tight end, who’s caught a million passes on this. So now you’ve got a free safety in Cover 3 dropping down, getting out of his middle third to play that crosser because he’s seen Foles shoot that thing in there a million times."
Here you can see the free safety cheat up on Celek. That leaves the middle of the field open and Cooper in a one-on-one situation.
Had the safety not cheated up, though, the crosser to Celek would have likely been open.
Foles' pass traveled about 51 yards in the air and landed in Cooper's hands for a 63-yard touchdown.
The end zone view shows how he went through his reads. First to the right:
Then to the crosser:
Then to the post:
As Flinn has explained before, this process moves deep defenders. Often analysts will call it eye manipulation, but by going through his reads (and because he has time in the pocket), Foles is able to move the safety and create a one-on-one situation with Cooper.
We of course can't go through this post without showing how the play works against man coverage. For that, we turn to an example in the wild-card playoff game against the Saints.
Again, the key to the play is the zone/bubble action at the start. It's man coverage, but the Saints have a high hole help defender and a low hole help defender.
"The two linebackers inside are 'banjoing' LeSean McCoy, meaning if McCoy goes one way, one linebacker’s gonna cover him, and the other guy’s a free player," said Flinn. "So what happens is the play fake, the guy that’s supposed to have McCoy gets frozen and the guy that’s supposed to have Celek gets frozen. That lets Celek get over top of those linebackers, and the hole player is frozen too. They’re all at about 4 yards there… so nobody’s got the tight end. He just shoots it right over the top."
I asked Flinn whether Foles' reads change against man coverage. Looking at the film, it didn't seem like he checked the outside vertical first.
"The read is still the same," he said. "You’re still gonna look vertical one, crosser two and then backside three. But you also know as the quarterback, there’s certain routes built into the pattern that are man-separating routes just by their nature. Celek’s running a crossing route. Riley Cooper’s vertical, he doesn’t do a good job of winning there... but really you can take a shot on that route because that’s just like a four vertical play against Cover 1. So that’s as good as anything against that defense.
"The read is the same, but it can accelerate because you get to your man guys maybe a little bit quicker. But you still want to go through your progression because what that does is that moves defenders."
Flinn also explained that Celek's route can change slightly depending on the coverage.
"What we tell ‘em is under the first, over the second," he said. "So under that SAM linebacker, over the MIKE. Some people say you’re aiming 15 yards across the sideline. Some people will bump it up 20. Against man coverage, you might straighten up your stem a little bit at the top because you want to make that man defender think that you’re going somewhere else. But it’s usually 18 to 20 yards on the sideline is the aiming point."
There are plenty of moving parts, but as you can see in the photos, Y-Cross effectively stretches the field both horizontally and vertically. If the QB has time, he has defined reads against both zone and man coverages.
Because this is a play the Eagles run with high frequency, expect to see them call it over and over again during the rest of the preseason.