Roster Analysis: Evaluating the Eagles’ Offense

The Eagles trimmed their roster down to 53 today. Here’s a position-by-position look at where things stand after having heard from GM Howie Roseman.

Quarterbacks (3): Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Matt Barkley.

Nothing to see here. Dennis Dixon and GJ Kinne were cut. Dixon has a chance of landing on the practice squad.

Vick will start, Foles will back him up, and Barkley will look to learn the offense as a rookie.

Running backs (3): LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, Chris Polk.

In the end, Chip Kelly decided he only needed three running backs on the 53-man roster. Undrafted free agent Matthew Tucker was let go. He could land a spot on the practice squad. There’s also a chance that the Eagles find a running back they like from another team and add him in the next few days.

McCoy will get the bulk of the carries, Brown should see plenty of action too, and Polk will likely be heard from at some point as well.

Wide receivers (5): DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper, Jason Avant, Damaris Johnson, Jeff Maehl.

This position was a bit of a surprise. The Eagles got rid of rookie free agent Russell Shepard and Greg Salas. Throughout camp, the thought here was that at least one of the two would make it, but they both ended up getting released in favor of Maehl.

However, Roseman made it sound like wide receiver is a fluid position for the Eagles. It would not be surprising if they added someone in the coming days and let Maehl go. Maehl was originally acquired from the Texans earlier this month and played for Kelly at Oregon. He had eight catches in the preseason finale against the Jets and drew praise from Kelly for his special-teams ability.

Jackson and Cooper will start on the outside. Avant will play the slot. And Johnson will mix in. Johnson also figures to be the lead return man, although Kelly said recently that using Jackson back there is still an option.

Tight ends (4): Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, James Casey, Emil Igwenagu.

Another surprise here was Igwenagu. He made the team as the fourth tight end over Clay Harbor. Roseman said the Eagles were looking for someone who didn’t duplicate the skill set of other guys on the roster. Igwenagu is more in the fullback/tight end role of Casey. Harbor is more in the tight end/receiver mode of Celek and Ertz. According to the GM, that was part of the reason for the decision.

Casey suffered a hamstring injury vs. the Jets, but Roseman said he should be ready for Week 1 and confirmed that had nothing to do with the decision to keep Igwenagu.

Hate to sound like a broken record, but this is another area where the Eagles could potentially replace Igwenagu with a player from another roster.

Offensive line (9): Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, Lane Johnson, Allen Barbre, Dennis Kelly, Julian Vandervelde, Matt Tobin.

The starters are in place. From left to right, it’s Peters, Mathis, Kelce, Herremans, and Johnson.

Barbre is the first backup guard and also the first backup tackle until Kelly is healthy. Vandervelde is the backup center.

Roseman acknowledged that Michael Bamiro is probably a bit of a project and was put in a tough spot, having missed all of the spring. We wrote about Danny Watkins at length in an earlier post. And Tobin got the nod because of his positional versatility. Roseman said he was confident that Tobin could fill in at four of the five spots on the offensive line.

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Ten Eagles On the Roster Bubble

Danny WatkinsBy 6 p.m. Saturday, the Eagles have to cut 22 players and get their roster down to 53. Many of the bubble guys will get a chance to make one final impression Thursday night, as Chip Kelly acknowledged there’s still “a lot up in the air.”

New offensive scheme, new defensive scheme, new coaching staff and new personnel. Kelly’s moves this weekend will tell us a lot about his roster-building philosophy. Keeping that in mind, here are 10 players whose future with the franchise hangs in the balance as we approach cut-down day.

1. Danny Watkins, OG – The 2011 first-round pick got a fresh start with new offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, but it doesn’t seem like he’s made a strong impression. Watkins is currently a backup guard and has been passed on the depth chart by veteran Allen Barbre. Kelly wants versatility in his backups, but so far, Watkins has only played guard. As T-Mac reported yesterday, Watkins is due $1.1M in guaranteed money. But with Barbre looking like a keeper and the team needing a backup center, Watkins, who turns 29 in November, could still be out of a spot.

2. Michael Bamiro, OT – The Eagles had to compete with other teams to sign Bamiro earlier this summer. Some reports suggested he would have been a mid-round pick had he entered the draft. The question the Birds have to weigh is whether or not they’d be safe stashing Bamiro on the practice squad. The Eagles have some tackle depth. Barbre can play out there, and Todd Herremans could slide over in a pinch. The team also expects Dennis Kelly to return from back surgery at some point. Bamiro might be a nice option for the bottom of the roster. He would likely be a weekly inactive, but has plenty of upside for down the road.

3. Julian Vandervelde, G/C – It’s been a bumpy journey for the 2011 fifth-round pick. He spent his rookie season on the active roster, was cut last summer, spent a couple days with the Tampa Bay Bucs and then returned to the Eagles. He entered the league as a guard, but has been learning the center position the past two years. If the preseason is any indication, he has a good shot of sticking around as Jason Kelce’s backup. The Eagles’ other options for that spot are Dallas Reynolds and Matt Tennant.

4. Greg Salas, WR - The Eagles didn’t make any moves to add receivers after Jeremy Maclin and Arrelious Benn went down with season-ending ACL injuries. Salas had an excellent camp and flashed during the first two preseason games. He could be competing with Russell Shepard for the fifth receiver spot. Or the Eagles could decide to keep them both.

5. Russell Shepard, WR – He showed some good YAC ability during last week’s game, catching two balls for 38 yards. With Shepard, there is once again the practice squad question. There’s no doubt that the Eagles like his talent, but he went undrafted and could probably use some seasoning before he’s ready to contribute. Special teams is a factor here too. Shepard looks like a willing contributor and made a nice tackle in coverage against Carolina.

6. Clay Harbor, TE/WR - Kelly has been trying to find a spot for the fourth-year tight end. He’s been getting reps at wide receiver and has played there each of the last two preseason games. The truth is, when then Eagles spread it out in Kelly’s offense, there’s often not much of a difference between a wide receiver and a tight end. Kelly prides himself on being prepared for every situation. Harbor’s versatility could be enough to make him stick.

7. Chris McCoy, OLB – The CFL product started off the preseason well, but was not good last week against the Jaguars. The Eagles are somewhat thin at the position. Kelly said ideally, the team would keep four outside linebackers. They’ve got Connor Barwin, Trent Cole and Brandon Graham as virtual locks. This one will likely come down to who else is available. McCoy could be an initial keeper, but if the Eagles see an outside linebacker they like cut from another team, he could be released.

8. Casey Matthews, ILB – Kelly said he’d like to keep four inside linebackers also. The starters are in place with DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks. Matthews, Jake Knott and Emmanuel Acho are competing for spots. Knott is probably the favorite among that group. What we wrote about McCoy could apply here too. The Eagles could add an inside linebacker from another team’s cut list. But Matthews’ special-teams production (14 tackles last year) could help him earn a spot.

9. Clifton Geathers/Damion Square, DL – I cheated a bit here and included these two together. And really, they could both end up making it. The plan for the Eagles on gamedays seems to be to rotate six players on the defensive line. Right now, the five most likely are: Fletcher Cox, Isaac Sopoaga, Cedric Thornton, Bennie Logan and Vinny Curry. The sixth could be either Geathers or Square, with the other as a potential inactive. Square drew praise early in the preseason, but did not play well last week. Geathers had his best performance against Jacksonville. Both have played nose tackle, along with defensive end.

10. Kurt Coleman, S – The fourth-year player’s chances of making the roster increased when the Eagles released Kenny Phillips. But he’s still no lock to make it. Coleman hasn’t rotated in with the starters much, and the decision on whether to keep him or not will likely depend on if Kelly is comfortable keeping five safeties. Patrick Chung, Nate Allen and rookie Earl Wolff seem like locks. Colt Anderson has an excellent shot of sticking because of his special-teams ability. That means Coleman could be the odd man out.

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Eagles Wake-Up Call: Clay Harbor And Life On the Bubble

Philadelphia Eagles TE Clay Harbor.It is number-crunching season in the NFL. Teams are in the process of whittling their rosters from 90 all the way down to 53. By the time the August 31 deadline hits, nearly 1,200 players across the league will have lost their jobs. A reminder that this is a harsh business.

“I think Billy Davis made the point.  Billy got cut in his one tryout with the Dolphins,” said Chip Kelly, who didn’t have to deal with anything quite like this in college.  “That is the only time you get cut, and you remember that for the rest of your life.  We have to do it, that’s part of our job, but I think we were conscious of that.  We sat down with everybody [during the first round of cuts].  Our coordinators all sat down with everybody.  Our position coach sat down with them. It’s a difficult time.”

The Eagles have their 53-man pretty well figured out by this point, but Thursday’s preseason finale against the Jets allows players on the bubble one last chance to make their pitch to management. Clay Harbor gets to make that pitch from two different positions. He will play the first half at wide receiver, and the second half as tight end.

“I’m hoping that’s what gives me a shot to make the roster here. I feel like I can do a lot of different things. I can play wide receiver, I can play tight end or the H-back role and play special teams,” he said. “I think that’s my shot right there. If I’m going to make it, I’m going to be doing a lot of different things.”

Harbor made the transition from receiver to tight end in college and was good enough to be drafted in the fourth round by the Eagles in 2010. He played end for the Eagles from 2010-12, collecting 46 receptions for 421 yards and four touchdowns over that time.

The tight end spot is jammed with three quality players in Brent Celek, James Casey and Zach Ertz. Harbor has been trying his luck elsewhere. He moved over to linebacker during practice briefly, and most recently has been seeing snaps at receiver.

“I think it’s a positive that teams can see that I can line up out wide and get open against cornerbacks. I think when you can do that as a tight end it really shows teams that you’re an athletic player, you can stretch a defense and you can do things that s ome tight ends can’t,” said Harbor. “I think I’m playing the best football I’ve ever played, I’m the most confident I’ve ever been. Physically I’m the best player I’ve ever been. That being said, I think this is the first time that I think there is a really good chance that I’m not going to make this team. All I can do now is go out Thursday, play to the best of my ability and let the cards fall where they may.”

As for his chances of making the team?

“If they decide to keep four [tight ends] I’ll be here, if they decide to keep three I think I’ll get released,” said Harbor. “For me it’s 50-50 right now. That’s the way I see it.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

Bryce Brown dodges a major injury, talks ball security.

Sheil breaks down the offensive and defensive performance from Saturday’s game.

The battle between Nate Allen and Earl Wolff for the final starting safety spot could come down to the wire. 

Kapadia takes a closer look at that safety situation.

A few leftovers from Saturday’s locker room session in Jacksonville.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Peter King says the Eagles could run 1,200 offensive plays this season, more than the 2012 Patriots.

Of the 45 snaps Michael Vick orchestrated, only one came with the play clock inside five seconds. Mostly, Vick snapped with between about 21 and 15 seconds left on the 40-second clock. There was an 11-play no-huddle sequence late in the first-quarter on a Philly field goal drive; Vick ran twice on it, and jogged back to the line each time, getting the play call in the helmet and snapping the next play each time with the play clock in the teens. The guy’s got to be in fabulous shape. Now, Vick threw two brainlock passes during the game—one an interception, one while he was going down for a sack that was the classic careless Vick we’ve seen at times in his star-crossed career. And this was probably his worst offensive performance of the three preseason games, though his numbers were good.

Jimmy Kempski writes that Vick was holding onto the ball even longer than usual against the Jags.

Last Saturday in Jacksonville, Michael Vick held onto the ball an average of 3.66 seconds per dropback. Kelly was asked about Vick holding onto the ball before practice this morning.

“There was just a couple, but I thought there was great coverage,” said Kelly. “A couple of those were seven-man protections, so we didn’t have everybody out there. There were 3-man routes and Jacksonville wasn’t blitzing, but those guys were in great coverage. Part of being a great QB is making great decisions, so if people are covered I’d rather our quarterback hold onto the ball than release the ball.”

19 of Vick’s 30 dropbacks took at least 3 seconds before he either got the ball out, got sacked, or got to the line of scrimmage on a scramble. I highly doubt the Jaguars’ coverage was that good.

COMING UP

Chip Kelly speaks at 9:30. Practice to follow. We’ll bring you the latest.

What They’re Saying About the Eagles

Here is some pre-game reading before the Eagles take on the Jaguars tonight at 7:30.

We’ll have a live chat with updates and observations during the action, so be sure to stop back.

Until then…

Andy Benoit of TheMMQB.com previews the Eagles. He’s not impressed with the team’s safety situation:

The situation at safety is just as bad. Hard-hitting Patrick Chung has never been a mentally sharp pass defender. His running mate, Kenny Phillips, has scintillating talent but chronic knee problems. If one of these downhill thumpers are unavailable, the Eagles will have to call on either former second-round stiff Nate Allen, the perpetually out of control Kurt Coleman or the athletically limited (but at least more reliable) Colt Anderson. In fact, taking the whole group into consideration, Philadelphia may wind up seriously considering fifth-round rookie Earl Wolff in a starting spot.

According to NFL.com, it looks like Nnamdi Asomugha is going to make the 49ers’ roster:

According to Rapoport, 49ers coaches realize Asomugha no longer is the player he was at age 25. They love the “chip on his shoulder” as he’s out to restore his reputation after two miserable seasons in Philadelphia, but they also plan to limit Asomugha’s snaps and spell him from time to time.

Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times indicates that the Raiders could still have interest in Matt Barkley down the road:

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com offers a thought on tonight’s game:

Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew revealed this week that coach Gus Bradley wants to run roughly 85 plays per game. That would put them among the league leaders. They face a Chip Kelly-led Philadelphia Eagles squad that should play even faster. Every Eagles game, even in the preseason, is becoming a must-watch affair. Also keep an eye on how Jones-Drew looks in his most extensive action since foot surgery.

Jason Babin chimes in on facing his former teammates, via TheMMQB.com:

I think playing the Eagles, my former team, next week in the preseason, will be more like playing Chip Kelly than playing the Eagles. It’s not the guys that I left. I do have a few players, a few buddies who are still on the team that I talk with. They’re coming to our place, so we’ve got to represent.

Les Bowen of the Daily News identifies 10 Eagles on the roster bubble, including defensive tackle Antonio Dixon:

Everybody pulls for Dixon, in his second tour with the Eagles, who grew up homeless and has made a career for himself, taming a severe stutter in the process. When the Eagles went to a 3-4, he seemed a good fit at nose tackle. But a hamstring problem kept Dixon from making an impact, while rookies such as Bennie Logan and Damion Square forged ahead. Plus, coordinator Bill Davis stresses versatility on his defensive line, and Dixon is strictly a tackle. He needs a big night, and maybe for someone else to get hurt.

Paul Domowitch of the Daily News projects the 53-man roster. He’s got Clay Harbor making it:

Harbor is going to be a TE/WR swingman, which saves Chip Kelly a roster spot to use elsewhere. I think he’ll keep five wideouts in addition to Harbor, but I wouldn’t be totally shocked if he only kept four. If Shepard doesn’t make it and no one else claims him, he’ll likely be on the practice squad.

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How the Eagles Package the Zone Read And Bubble Screen

Back in early June, Chip Kelly sat at the head of a conference table in the NovaCare Complex and spent a full hour answering reporters’ questions about his program, his offensive scheme and his philosophies.

Not surprisingly, the topic of tempo was brought up. And the first-year Eagles’ head coach tried to explain that he didn’t always want to go at a super-fast speed.

“If they didn’t line up right and they have nine guys standing over there and you have a play called that’s going to run into those nine guys, then maybe playing fast wasn’t the smartest thing to do,” Kelly said. “Sometimes you need to let things get settled down and get an opportunity to make sure that you’ve got the right look.

“A lot of things we’re doing, we’re trying to throw it versus the best-located safety. Well, we better make sure we locate the safeties before we snap the football. Do we want to run it at one guy or run away from another guy? You’ve got to make sure some of those things you can see before you start it. It’s just not all driven on let’s see how many plays we can get run.”

While the truth is the Eagles are going to move quickly, Kelly’s response serves as the foundation for much of what he wants to do offensively: spread the field out, look for a numbers advantage and count on the quarterback to make the right decisions.

After the first preseason game, we showed how the Eagles scored two touchdowns on what was essentially the same play, a run-pass option out of a double-stack formation.

Against Carolina, we saw a similar idea executed over and over and over again. It combined the zone read with a bubble screen out of a 3×1 formation (three receivers to one side, one to the other).

The first time we saw this play was on 2nd-and-14 during the Eagles’ first offensive possession. Let’s start with the look:

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The Eagles have Chris Polk in the backfield. Jason Avant, Brent Celek and DeSean Jackson are set up to the right. Riley Cooper is the lone receiver to the left.

Pre-snap, you can see the Eagles have a numbers advantage: three receivers against two defensive backs. The safety to that side of the field is deep, 15 yards off the line of scrimmage.

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You can see the Eagles have the zone read option. If this were a straight running play, Nick Foles would read the unblocked defensive end and either hand the ball off to Polk or keep it himself.

But it’s not a straight running play. It’s a run/pass option. And because he noticed the numbers advantage to the perimeter, he pulls the ball and targets Avant, who has a couple blockers set up in front of him.

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“You’re looking for numbers,” Foles explained. “Anybody can look and say, ‘OK, you’ve got five guys blocking, there’s five guys in the box. It’s a good box.’ If they try and bring something, you’ve gotta do something else because we can’t block everyone, so it just gives you other options away from running the ball right into the extra defenders.”

On the perimeter, it’s essentially three receivers against two defenders. The only unblocked player to that side of the field is the deep safety, and he’s coming from a depth of 16 yards off the line of scrimmage. The truth is Avant is probably the Eagles’ slowest wide receiver. And Jackson gave good effort here, but he is not a great blocker. Still, the play picked up 10 yards, and the offense went from 2nd-and-14 to a manageable 3rd-and-4.

One reason the Eagles are able to play fast and carry out their fakes so well is because the decision is solely in the hands of the quarterback. Polk, who was in the backfield on the above play, didn’t know he wasn’t getting the ball until the last second when Foles pulled it.

“We never know,” Polk said. “There’s just some times where they pull it, we’re still running through the hole because we’re expecting to get it, but you never really know when he’s gonna pull it. You’ve just gotta react and carry out the fake.”

The Eagles ran the same play with Matt Barkley in the third quarter. Here’s the pre-snap look. The key is the Panthers sneak a seventh defender, a defensive back, into the box. The TV camera had a great up-close shot of Barkley looking at the DB right before the ball was snapped.

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That gives the Eagles a 3-on-2 advantage with the bubble screen.

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And this time, they have Damaris Johnson running behind blocks from Clay Harbor and Zach Ertz, essentially two tight ends (even though Harbor is technically practicing at receiver).

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Panthers linebacker A.J. Klein actually makes a nice play here, eventually chasing Johnson down, but not until he’s already picked up 15 yards.

“It’s just an extension of the run game to where we’re getting 10 yards, 15 yards on those bubbles and the defense can’t cover both,” Barkley said. “So it puts them in a bind.”

Again, Johnson just does what he’s supposed to, regardless of Barkley’s decision. Sometimes the quarterback is going to throw it his way. Other times, it’s going to be a run. The offensive line simply blocks for the run. Because it’s going to be a quick throw, failing to hold their blocks and giving up a sack is a non-issue.

“Whatever the quarterback thinks,” Johnson said. “I’m just going out and running the routes. I’m not reading the defense. I’m just trying to be out there. If he throws me the ball, I have to catch it and make a big play.”

Wide receiver Jeff Maehl, whom the Eagles acquired from the Texans last week, ran variations of this play hundreds of times while he was playing for Kelly at Oregon.

“If we’ve got more numbers than them, that’s a no-brainer,” Maehl said. “It’s based on what Coach Kelly wants to do and based on what the quarterback’s seeing.

“We try and put the defense in a situation where they really can’t win. That’s kind of what this offense is all about, just giving us the advantage wherever it may be and taking what the defense gives us.”

The non-screen option is to run the zone-read. In these instances, the quarterback is making two decisions. First, he’s deciding whether to throw the screen. If he’s not going that route, he’s deciding whether to hand the ball off or keep it himself, depending on how the unblocked defender reacts.

Here’s what we saw from Barkley later in the third quarter.

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You can see the Panthers have three defensive backs on the Eagles’ three receivers, so there’s no numbers advantage with the bubble screen.

The Eagles have five offensive linemen against six defenders in the box. But since this is a zone read, they leave the right defensive end unblocked. The threat of Barkley running is meant to occupy or “block” him.

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The play only picked up 3 yards because the linebacker got past right guard Matt Tennant, but you can see how the design works.

“It’s all based upon how the defensive player that we’re reading is playing,” said Jason Kelce. “If the defensive player that we’re reading stays inside the box or goes with the run play, now we’re gonna be minus hats on the run. He’s gonna do something on the perimeter or something else at a different spot. If we have numbers on the run play, we’re gonna take advantage of that.”

Todd Herremans made an interesting comment when asked about what’s impressed him about Kelly so far.

“I think the flow and the way that he calls the game is really good,” Herremans said. “It seems like you’re always setting up the next play, which I think is smart.”

That brings us to one final variation, which we saw in the fourth quarter of last week’s game. Here, the Eagles again have trips to the right side.

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At first glance, it seems like they’re running the same play.

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But there are differences. This is a straight pass play off a fake handoff, not an option play. The offensive linemen are pass-blocking, and there is no unblocked defender for the zone read. However, it still appears to be a bubble screen, something the Panthers’ defense had been seeing all night.

While Harbor and Greg Salas initially set up for the blocks, and Barkley looks at Johnson, this is just a fake. Harbor and Salas sidestep the defenders and take off on vertical routes.

Wish we had the All-22 here, but as you can see, suddenly the Panthers only have one safety against two Eagles receivers going deep.

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Barkley’s pass goes right through Harbor’s hands. Otherwise it’s a big play.

Even though it’s an incompletion, it’s a play on film that other teams will see, making defensive backs think twice before charging the line of scrimmage and attacking the bubble screen.

***

Pat Shurmur has coached in the NFL for 14 years. But the Eagles’ offensive coordinator is now getting an up-close view of how offenses are changing, and he appreciates what the Eagles are trying to accomplish.

“You know, in the old days, the audible systems used to be to get you out of a bad play, not necessarily get you into the best play,” Shurmur explained. “And then there are offenses where you’ve got run/pass options.  You’re just trying to do what’s best. I think all offenses have certain percentage where you want it, or if it presents itself, you throw it. We just package it up a little different, that’s all.”

As we noted last week, there’s a growing buzz among Eagles’ offensive players, who seem to be buying into Kelly’s methods, specifically the run/pass option plays and the tempo.

“It’s a lot of pressure [on a defense] because we feel like no matter what you guys do, we’re gonna make you wrong,” Polk said. “You put too many in the box, we’re gonna throw it out. You stack the outside, the box is always gonna work. So it’s gonna be real interesting to see how people play us, but as of right now, we’ve just gotta make them wrong no matter what they do.”

Added Harbor: “It puts a ton of pressure on them. It really comes down to numbers. If they have too many guys inside, we’re gonna throw it. If they have too many guys outside, we’re gonna run it. Whatever they do, we win.”

***

For more on the “packaged play” concept, be sure to check out Chris Brown’s terrific piece on Grantland.

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No-22: Eagles Introduce 4-TE Package

After the Eagles drafted Zach Ertz with their second-round pick back in April, Chip Kelly was asked if he could play three tight ends on the field at once.

“Yeah. You go like that,” he said, holding three fingers in the air. “And three tight ends go in the game. We are going to go three tight ends in a game. Now, if they go three linebackers, we spread them out and if they go DBs, we smash you. So, pick your poison.”

The joke at the time was on the reporters. No one thought to ask Kelly if he had planned to go with four tight end looks.

But that’s what we saw in Thursday night’s preseason game against the Panthers.

Technically, Clay Harbor is now practicing with the wide receivers, but at 6-3, 255, he has the body type of a tight end.

The Eagles first showed the 4-TE package on their second drive of the first quarter. The look is one you should probably get used to. We saw it several times last week vs. New England, and the Eagles scored a pair of touchdowns off of it (full breakdown here).

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You can see it’s a double-stack look. Ertz and James Casey to the top of the screen; Harbor and Brent Celek at the bottom.

The decision-making process for the quarterback here is simple. He has the option to hand the ball off or throw a screen to either side, depending on the numbers. In the box, Nick Foles is looking for a 5-on-5 matchup to run the ball. And that’s exactly what he gets.

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On the perimeter, you can see the tight ends set up for the screen. But with two safeties deep, the Eagles were facing 3-on-2 matchups out there. So Foles made the right call handing it off, and LeSean McCoy picked up the first down.

Even though the ball didn’t go to the perimeter, you can see the Eagles could potentially get a nice mismatch with a tight end blocking a cornerback.

“This offense, it’s new to us, but it’s tough to stop,” Harbor said in the locker room afterwards. “And we’ve all really, really just bought in and know that on any given play, there’s gonna be a mismatch somewhere. We’re gonna out-number the defense somewhere. So any given play, we twist it and make it our own. If they leave two defenders on the two receivers on some play, we’re gonna throw the ball out there. …If they put three defenders on two, then we’re gonna run the ball.”

On the very next play, the Eagles kept the same personnel on the field and pushed tempo. About 25 seconds elapsed from the time McCoy went down to the time they snapped the ball on the next play. The Panthers were unable to change personnel, meaning they were still in nickel (five defensive backs).

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The Eagles had Ertz and Harbor split out to the right, while Celek and Casey set up next to left tackle Allen Barbre.

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With the read-option, they leave the left defensive end unblocked. And the red box shows a 4-on-4 matchup. In reality, this is 5-on-4 in the Eagles’ favor because Todd Herremans is pulling to that side.

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You can see that even with Foles in the game, the left defensive end stays at home in case he keeps the ball and runs.

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Again, here you see the middle linebacker and the left defensive end (yellow arrows) guarding against the possibility of a Foles run. The Eagles do a great job on the left side of the line, and Jason Kelce seals his man off, creating a nice running lane up the middle.

But Eagles offensive linemen will tell you they’re never sure where McCoy’s going to take the football, and they don’t particularly care since he’s so talented. Here, he bounces it outside, gets a nice block from Herremans and then just lets his natural ability take over for a 21-yard gain.

“If they want to put some extra linebackers on the field, then we can spread ‘em out and pass,” Ertz said. “If they want to go nickel or dime, whatever personnel they want to be, if they put more corners on the field, then we’ll have that ability to run the ball. So at the end of the day, I think it’s just kind of like a chess match.”

The Eagles showed the 4-TE look with Mike Vick in the game also. Here, you see Emil Igwenagu joining Harbor, Casey and Ertz.

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Again, we see that Vick has multiple options. He can hand the ball off to Polk, but instead he pulls it and drops back. Vick then does a great job of manipulating middle linebacker Luke Kuechly by looking at Casey. Kuechly comes up, creating space for Igwenagu behind him.

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Vick delivered a laser, and Igwenagu made a nice catch for a 15-yard gain.

***

Kelly has made it clear from the get-go that he loves tight ends. His first offensive free-agent acquisition was Casey, and then there was the Ertz pick. Their versatility and the tempo allow the Eagles to create mismatches without subbing.

“The defense doesn’t know what to do,” Harbor explained. “If they’re gonna put all linebackers out there, they don’t know if we’re gonna go in tight and pound the ball or if we’re gonna spread out wide and throw the ball. If they bring in linebackers to guard us, we can all run like receivers. If they bring in defensive backs, we’re gonna get in tight, or we can still stay out wide and pound the ball. It’s really a chess match between the coaches there. And anything they do, we win.”

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Instant Observations: Eagles Vs. Panthers

Here’s what we saw during the first half of tonight’s Eagles-Panthers game.

OFFENSE

* Michael Vick was outstanding, going 9-for-10 for 105 yards. His only incompletion was a jump-ball attempt on the final play of the first half that was picked off. Through two games (five possessions), Vick is 13-for-15 for 199 yards. He has two runs for 20 yards and has been sacked once. Tough to believe Chip Kelly, fans or anyone else could have expected him to play better in the first two games.

* Nick Foles looked good too for the most part, completing 6 of 8 passes for 53 yards. But he threw an ill-advised pass into the back of the end zone on a red-zone possession in the first quarter that was intercepted. Foles also had some trouble hanging on to the football, twice fumbling the snap.

* The Eagles went no-huddle for the entire first half.

* The offensive line held up well early, but it looked like Lane Johnson had some issues in pass protection. Will have to re-watch to be sure. Todd Herremans was called for a holding penalty that negated a big Chris Polk run. It looked like a questionable flag on the replay.

* LeSean McCoy played the entire first half and looked great, carrying eight times for 47 yards and a score. He also caught three balls for 16 yards.

* The Eagles essentially showed 4-TE sets on multiple occasions. Clay Harbor is officially a wide receiver. But he was on the field with Brent Celek, Zach Ertz and James Casey in the first half. Later, it was the same look, except Emil Igwenagu in for Celek.

* Polk had four carries for 23 yards in the first half, but he lost a fumble. Bryce Brown (quad) did not play.

* Early on, it looked like Foles made the wrong decision on a read-option play. The DE crashed, but he gave the ball to McCoy anyway. McCoy made the defender miss and picked up 8 yards.

* Nice catch by Ertz on 3rd-and-3 from Foles for 15 yards. Avant flashed great hands on an 11-yard grab from Foles in the red zone.

* Damaris Johnson had an excellent 18-yard punt return where he made two Panthers players look silly with his first cut. He gave the Eagles’ offense field position at the Carolina 39.

* The Eagles showed a wrinkle early on, running the read option. But when Foles took off to the left, he swung a pass out to Jason Avant for 6 yards. As Chris Brown of Grantland Tweeted, it was essentially a triple option.

* Riley Cooper with a nice block on Foles’ touchdown run. Cooper also did a nice job of coming back for the football on a 22-yard catch in the second. Vick did an excellent job of buying time on the play.

* Nice job by Russell Shepard on kickoff coverage, tackling the Panthers’ returner at the 11.

DEFENSE

* The only change to the starting lineup was Cary Williams getting the start at cornerback opposite Bradley Fletcher. Patrick Chung and Nate Allen were the starting safeties. The Eagles held the Panthers to a pair of field goals in the first half and looked much better than last week.

* On the defensive line, Cedric Thornton played well, pressuring Newton on the first drive. He later was unblocked and dropped DeAngelo Williams for a 5-yard loss. Bennie Logan also looked good when he came in, playing the run well and batting a ball at the line of scrimmage.

* Trent Cole also seemed to play much better than last week. He and Chung made a nice play against the run on the first series. Steve Smith tossed Williams to the ground on the play, and the two mixed it up after the whistle. Chung later made a nice tackle on a 1-yard run in the first. He’s looked like a sure tackler through the first two preseason games.

* The Panthers tried to block Cole one on one with a tight end in the second, and he forced Newton to scramble. Mychal Kendricks then made a nice open field tackle.

* Kendricks was outstanding in the first half. On a third down on the first possession, the Eagles sent a six-man blitz with both Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans. Kendricks got through, and Fletcher Cox also got good pressure, forcing an incompletion. Kendricks later shot into the backfield and made a play behind the line of scrimmage. He hit Newton on a blitz as well.

* On 3rd-and-20 in the second, the Eagles only rushed three, dropping eight into coverage. Brandon Boykin had a great shot at an interception, but couldn’t hang on.

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Practice Notes/Observations: Harbor Makes Move To WR

0V3J9146During the spring, tight end Clay Harbor spent some practice time at outside linebacker.

Today, he was at a different position: wide receiver.

“We know we’ve got seven tight ends, and he already knows how to play inside because all of our tight ends know how to play the slot,” Chip Kelly said.

“He’s probably the fastest of the tight ends. Until really there’s some cut-downs and there’s some guys available, we think that the best route for us is the guys we have. So if we can cross-train Clay a little bit and get him to play outside receiver… it’s just a matter of the more versatile you can be, the better impact you can make. He’s a big body, he’s physical, not worried about him blocking corners. And he’s the one tight end we have that’s got really, really good speed, so it’ll be interesting. We’ll try to get him some reps this week so he can feel comfortable and hopefully we can get him in the game on Thursday.”

Harbor is obviously trying to make the team any way he can. At tight end, he’s got Brent Celek, Zach Ertz and James Casey ahead of him. At wide receiver, the Eagles lost Jeremy Maclin for the year, and Damaris Johnson missed practice today with a hamstring injury.

Harbor had three catches for 47 yards against New England. He had a couple bad drops today at his new position.

INJURIES

The following players did not practice today: Jon Dorenbos (concussion), Bryce Brown (quad), Phillip Hunt (knee), Damaris Johnson (hamstring), Casey Matthews (knee) and Jason Peters (hamstring).

Kenny Phillips left practice with a quad strain.

With Dorenbos sidelined, the team also signed long-snapper James Winchester.

OBSERVATIONS

* The first-team offensive line today (left to right) was: Allen Barbre, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Danny Watkins, Todd Herremans.

Lane Johnson missed practice to be with his new baby boy, who was just born. Herremans slid from right guard to right tackle, and Watkins filled in at RG. Barbre continues to fill in for Peters at LT.

* Kelly was very complimentary of undrafted free agent Damion Square and third-round pick Bennie Logan. He said those two, along with Johnson, were the young guys who stood out on tape. Logan rotated in at left defensive end with the first team in place of Cedric Thornton.

* With Hunt out, Chris McCoy lined up at ROLB with the second team. McCoy played well on Friday.

* Celek had another drop today, this one on a throw from Nick Foles. Celek got open in a zone between defenders, but couldn’t hang on. Chris Polk had a drop in the end zone from Foles.

* DeSean Jackson continues to look great. He made an excellent adjustment, twisting his body back around to make a downfield grab from Foles.

* Kurt Coleman hit Casey after a completion even though he wasn’t supposed to. The team wasn’t in pads. Coleman helped the new tight end up after the play.

* Jason Avant laid out for a great catch in the back of the end zone from Michael Vick during an 11-on-11 period.

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Eagles-Patriots Game Review: The Offense

Lane JohnsonWe went over a couple specific offensive concepts on Saturday, and you can click here for a breakdown of the defense.

But below is a position-by-position look at how the offense performed, after having reviewed the game.

QUARTERBACKS

* Michael Vick was sharp on the Eagles’ first two possessions, completing four of five passes for 94 yards and a touchdown. He showed great patience in the pocket, finding Jason Avant for 22 yards over the middle on the first possession, a big-time throw with three defenders closing in. And his 47-yard bomb to DeSean Jackson was a beauty. It’s worth noting that pass came against a blitz from New England. The ball traveled 48 yards in the air and landed right in Jackson’s hands. Later, Vick delivered a strike to Riley Cooper on a rollout to his right. The Eagles slowed things down to start the game, and I don’t recall seeing Vick run a true zone read. But don’t be surprised if we see him go no-huddle next week vs. Carolina.

Nick Foles played well also, although the style of play was different when he was in the game. The Eagles pushed tempo and went with a more controlled attack. While Vick chucked it down the field, none of Foles’ six attempts traveled more than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. He showed good command in the no-huddle though and completed five of six passes for 43 yards. The Patriots brought a five-man blitz on third down in the second, and Foles got rid of the ball quickly, finding Bryce Brown for 8 yards and a first down. He also did a great job with the play-fake before rolling to his left and finding Avant for a gain of 12. Foles will get the start Thursday vs. Carolina.

* Up-and down performance for Matt Barkley. He underthrew Russell Shepard deep on his first pass attempt and made too many throws that left receivers vulnerable to big hits. There were at least two throws that could have been picked off. Barkley made the right decision on a zone read. The DE crashed inside, and he took off for 8 yards. He seemed to settle down later in the game, finding Clay Harbor for a couple of big gains and leading the Eagles on a touchdown drive.

RUNNING BACKS

* The coaches decided to start Chris Polk since he played well in camp. He carried four times for 7 yards, and none of his attempts picked up more than 4 yards. Polk is the Eagles’ best blocking back, and that showed on the 47-yard touchdown to Jackson. He did an excellent job picking up blitzing linebacker Jerod Mayo.

Chris Polk

polk2

You can see Vick has a clean pocket to deliver.

* I thought Bryce Brown really played well. Five carries for 22 yards and two catches for 19 yards. Brown hasn’t flashed good hands at practice, but he got matched up against a linebacker and had a nice 8-yard catch and run on 3rd-and-5. He picked up 11 on another reception. There were a couple occasions where it looked like he might have missed his blocking assignments. One was when Foles faced an unblocked defender and scrambled for 11 yards. Brown also had the 8-yard touchdown run.

* Felix Jones did not look good. Eight carries for 31 yards. He also had a drop, and it looked like he missed a blitz pickup assignment.

* Matthew Tucker only had 33 yards on 10 carries, but he caught the 2-point conversion. Has a chance to stick if Jones doesn’t improve.

WIDE RECEIVERS

* Not much to add that hasn’t already been mentioned on DeSean Jackson. Vick said he went deep because the Patriots had a single high safety. I’m curious about what his route would have been had the coverage been different.

* Great job by Jason Avant not only going up for the 22-yard catch in between three defenders, but also getting down quickly and avoiding a big hit.

* Riley Cooper got the start opposite Jackson and came down with a 19-yard grab in the second.

* Russell Shepard led the team with six targets, but didn’t get much of a chance to make plays. He had just one grab for 4 yards. Nice effort on the deep ball from Barkley that was underthrown.

* Ifeanyi Momah simply does not look like he’s ready. Poor job as a blocker when Barkley took off on the zone read in the second. Momah then had a false start on the very next play. He got laid out down the right sideline in the third. And Momah was shoved out of bounds by the defender on the next play. Practice squad seems likely for 2013.

* Very nice 62-yard punt return by Damaris Johnson.

* I probably haven’t shown Greg Salas enough love up to this point. I thought Kelly said it best after the game: Salas just keeps showing up. Great individual effort on the touchdown in the fourth. Salas got no blocking on the quick screen, but avoided three defenders and scampered into the end zone. He also made a sensational 35-yard grab on the final drive. He’s got a chance to stick.

TIGHT ENDS

* Per Pro Football Focus, 14 of Zach Ertz’s 22 snaps were pass plays. And Ertz went out into his route on 13 of those 14. He was in the slot on the first two plays from scrimmage. Two catches for 10 yards on three targets. Did not look good as a blocker. Ertz was slow to get to Brandon Spikes on an early Polk run.

Did you see Brent Celek in the backfield on the Eagles’ first play? He fumbled after making a grab in the second. At this point, looks like a much better blocker than Ertz.

* Still not sure if there’s a spot here for Clay Harbor, but he made a couple nice grabs – a 22-yarder and a 20-yarder from Barkley in the second half.

OFFENSIVE LINE

* Really liked what I saw from Lane Johnson as a run-blocker. This was the second play of the game. Johnson is matched up with outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich.

johnson1

johnson2

Couldn’t get a good shot of Johnson taking Ninkovich to the ground, but that’s exactly what he did. And afterwards, Johnson used Ninkovich to prop himself up.

johnson3

Later, he showed off his great athleticism, starting off on a double-team with Celek, before peeling off and looking for a defensive back to hit downfield. Johnson had some issues in pass protection, but an encouraging start for the rookie.

* Given his resume, there’s probably no need to panic, but Todd Herremans did not play well. He whiffed on his block, pulling to the left side on a Polk run that picked up just 1 yard. And Herremans got beaten badly by Tommy Kelly on the Foles sack/fumble. The bright spot for Herremans was his block on Brown’s TD run.

* As for the rest of the starters, Jason Kelce looked good, especially on Brown’s TD run. Evan Mathis was solid as usual. And Allen Barbre was up and down. No one’s going to confuse him for Jason Peters, and he had some issues in pass protection, but was OK overall.

* In terms of the backups, Danny Watkins had a few good moments. He did a nice job on Barkley’s deep attempt to Sheppard. And later, he switched off his man against a stunt on a Barkley incompletion. Watkins was called for holding in the third. Matt Kopa had issues. And Julian Vandervelde played center with the second team. He got overpowered at times and was called for holding, but otherwise was OK. Looked better than he did last preseason.

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Eagles Depth Chart Outlook: Tight End

This is the eighth in a series. Click here for the earlier depth chart posts.

No position better demonstrates Chip Kelly’s desire for versatility than tight end.

“I’ve always been a heavy tight end guy,” Kelly said, after the Eagles used a second-round pick on Stanford’s Zach Ertz. “We don’t play with a fullback. We really use that second tight end, and now, a third tight end. So, he’ll [Ertz] go in with Brent Celek and James Casey and add to the mix of what we can do and present a lot of problems for people.”

Casey was one of the Eagles’ first free-agent signings. And Ertz was the second tight end off the board (35th overall).

Celek enters his seventh NFL season, and Clay Harbor has been with the team since 2010. Emil Igwenagu spent 14 weeks on the practice squad before being promoted to the active roster.

Derek Carrier spent all of 2012 on the practice squad, and the Eagles also signed Will Shaw out of Youngstown State.

Here’s a look at the tight ends on the roster:

 
Height
Weight
Age
Years/Starts
Derek Carrier6-4241220/0
James Casey6-3245284/20
Brent Celek6-4255286/71
Zach Ertz6-5250220/0
Clay Harbor6-3255253/18
Emil Igwenagu6-2245241/1
Will Shaw6-3245220/0

Pencil ‘em in: Celek, Ertz, Casey.

Tim wrote an excellent piece on the tight ends over the weekend, which prompted some discussion about Celek in the comments section.

There’s a lot to like about Celek. He plays hard, he’s tough, and he has the ability to break tackles and pick up yards after the catch. According to Pro Football Focus, Celek averaged 5.9 yards after the catch in 2012, second only to Cincinnati’s Jermaine Gresham among tight ends who had at least 25 receptions.

Celek also had 10 catches of 20+ yards, showing he can be a downfield threat. His hands, however, were inconsistent. Celek dropped eight passes, although only two of those came in the second half of the season.

Tight ends coach Ted Williams said Celek’s strength is as a blocker. But he’s probably being a little generous. At times, Celek has shown he’s an effective blocker, but that part of his game lacks consistency. Celek played 80.8 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps last year. My guess is that number will dip in 2013, now that the Eagles have options behind him.

When the Eagles signed Casey, we posted an All-22 breakdown, looking at his skill set. Casey has more experience lining up in the backfield as a fullback than the others in this group. He can block on WR screens, block in the run game and catch the ball in traffic.

Ertz could end up being the biggest threat as a pass-catcher. We did a post on his college tape after the draft. Ertz can go up and get the ball against smaller defenders, has good hands and can make catches in traffic.

How Kelly will utilize all three tight ends remains to be seen. We can expect a lot of two tight end sets, and you might even see all three on the field together in certain packages.

If you’re wondering about snap counts, I’d guess Celek sees the most, then Ertz, then Casey. But again, they will all have roles in this offense, and those could change on a weekly basis depending on the game plan and opponent.

Fighting for a spot: Harbor, Carrier, Igwenagu, Shaw.

There’s a chance that no one from this group ends up making the team, if the Eagles settle on keeping three tight ends.

If they keep four, these players will be fighting for one spot.

Harbor has not shown much in his first three seasons. He has an impressive build, but doesn’t break many tackles and rarely picks up yards after the catch. The team has been giving him a look at outside linebacker, and his chances of making the team appear to be slim, unless one of the top three guys suffers an injury.

Igwenagu fits more of the Casey mold. He has played some fullback and actually had a couple nice moments there towards the end of last season. He’s a longshot, but there’s at least a chance Igwenagu beats out Harbor if the Eagles keep four.

Carrier and Shaw are unknowns and unlikely to stick.

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