The Case Of the Shrinking Leads

kelly_940_100713The Eagles offense has been shut out in the fourth quarter in each of  its last five games. Not since October 20, when Alex Henery kicked a 31-yard field goal three seconds into the period, has this unit generated points in the fourth.

The good news is that the Eagles are 4-1 over that five-game stretch. In back-to-back wins against Oakland and Green Bay, they were able to maintain a comfortable lead as they salted the game away. If you remember, they closed out the Packers with a 16-play drive that ate up 9:32 of game clock.

Things got a little too interesting late against Washington and Arizona over the last two weeks. The Eagles entered the fourth quarter up 24-0 on Washington and won 24-16. A 24-7 second-half lead against the Cards shrunk to 24-21.

There are worse problems than trying to figure out how to hold onto big leads — at least it means you’re getting big leads to begin with — but it is an area that needs to be cleaned up before it comes back to bite them. Read more »

Another Honor For Nick Foles

Nick FolesIt’s been a pretty good month for Nick Foles. 

It started with a seven-touchdown performance in Oakland, and finishes with him atop the depth chart as the Eagles prep for a final five-game push. A little icing on the cake came his way Wednesday when he was named NFC Offensive Player of the Month.

The second-year signal-caller was a perfect 3-0 in November with wins over the Raiders, Packers and Redskins. Foles completed 51 of his 72 passes in November (71 percent) with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. He is the fourth quarterback in franchise history to receive the honor, joining Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick. Read more »

Shurmur: ‘Not Saying There Is A Conspiracy’

 Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur takes question from mediaPat Shurmur fielded question after question about the Eagles’ replay process Tuesday, specifically as it applies to the missed challenge opportunity in Green Bay. Something just doesn’t add up.

Shurmur explained that there are quite a few coaches in the booth that have their eyes on the monitor. If there is a play that warrants a challenge, a coach will relay the info to Shurmur, who will pass it on to Chip Kelly. On the Jarrett Boykin catch, no one in the booth saw an angle that convinced them to speak up. Read more »

Digging Deeper Into the Replay Issue

Chip KellySafe to say,  Chip Kelly and his staff  have been a little shaky in the instant replay department so far this year. They are 1-for-4 on challenges. Sunday the issue was the decision not to challenge, particularly on one play — a 36-yard reception by the Packers’ Jarrett Boykin in the second quarter.

Television replays showed that the receiver’s hand was out of bounds before his second foot came down in the field of play. The call on the field would almost certainly have been overturned. Ultimately it didn’t cost the Eagles —  Brandon Boykin came up with an interception later in the drive–  but it could have. It’s an area of in-game management that needs to be cleaned up.

Kelly provided an interesting explanation when asked about the decision to not challenge in that spot. Read more »

All-22: How Foles And the Offense Rebounded

all22_400In the days leading up to Sunday’s game against the Raiders, Chip Kelly was asked what his message would be to Nick Foles to get him to rebound from the clunker against the Cowboys.

“Sometimes, as I told Nick, grip it and rip it, let’s go,” Kelly said. “He’s thrown a lot of really good passes since I’ve been around him, and he’s been really good with the football.

“The big thing for him is let’s just get him back in the flow. Let’s get in a rhythm. That’s the biggest thing. Can you get in a rhythm, can you get your feet set, can you throw the ball?”

Answers to those questions came against the Raiders: yes, yes and yes.

After losses to the Cowboys and Giants and a grand total of three points by the offense, Kelly emphasized that there would be no grand scheme changes. The concepts would stay the same, but the execution had to get better.

And it did. To the tune of 49 points in three quarters. So what worked? And why was there such a difference from the previous two weeks? Here’s what we saw from the tape. Read more »

All-22: How the Offense Operates With Foles

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All last week, Chip Kelly and his staff made one thing clear: The offense would not undergo a complete makeover with Nick Foles at quarterback instead of Michael Vick.

His argument didn’t seem all that convincing. After all, the two quarterbacks have different skill sets. Why not mold the offense to whichever guy was going to be on the field?

On Sunday, against the Bucs, we got a better idea of what Kelly meant. And for the most part, he was speaking the truth.

“We’d have played the game exactly the same way,” said offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. “We would have had all the same plays in the gameplan, and we would have called it exactly the same way with Mike.”

Several players backed up Shurmur’s words. The Eagles piled up 425 yards and scored 31 points in their victory over the Bucs. Foles completed 71 percent of his passes and averaged 9.5 yards per attempt, accounting for four touchdowns.

Without a quarterback who poses a true running threat and facing a defense that liked to employ a lot of zone, the Eagles still found ways to play option football and had success with packaged plays all day long at Raymond James Stadium. Read more »

Shurmur: Foles For Now, Future TBD

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Nick Foles is the man out front as preparation for Dallas begins.

Michael Vick was on the field at the start of practice Tuesday but is still nursing a hamstring injury. Pat Shurmur suggested that Foles will be taking the first-team reps to start the week. What he said next was interesting.

“I can probably answer some of the [questions] that are going to come along here. Coach Kelly will address those issues about who the quarterback is when both of them are healthy. At this point we’ll go with Nick, and when Mike’s healthy we’ll have that discussion.”

That is different then saying, “when Mike’s healthy he’s our guy.” There is a discussion to be had, apparently. Read more »

What Kelly Tells Vick Through the Headset

Chip KellyChip Kelly has 25 seconds to talk through the headset to Michael Vick in between snaps.

From the time the play clock starts until there are 15 seconds remaining, the one-way line of communication is open. So the question posed to Kelly today was: What do you say to Vick other than the play-call?

“In the headset, it’s really just calling the play,” Kelly said. “The defense isn’t set up yet so I’m not gonna predict what I think they’re gonna have. I’m calling the play and we’re getting lined up so it’s not, ‘Hey Mike… watch out for Cover-1, Cover-2, Cover-man, they may blitz, they may not.’ I can’t warn him about everything. I think if you get into that, they’re not deployed, they haven’t lined up yet. And we’re trying to get our play in and let Mike get set. He has a pre-snap routine that him and Coach [Billy] Lazor work on all the time that Mike goes through, locating the safeties and where we’re going with it. There’s not a whole heck of a lot of communication except for what the play is.”

Many of the Eagles’ plays have options built in. They don’t want to be at a numbers disadvantage running into certain looks. They want to exploit mismatches on the perimeter. And they want to play fast.

So Kelly makes the call, Vick looks at the defense, the ball is snapped, and the QB has to make a decision. There’s really not time for anything else, Kelly said.

“I think Mike’s done a really nice job,” he added, when specifically asked about decision-making. “He’s protected the football for us, gotten the ball out on time. We’ve had the ability I think because we can protect to take some more shots down the field. And he’s done a really good job of distributing the ball. We’re at a pretty high completion percentage right now. I’m sure he’d want a couple throws back. There’s a few times when we could have been a little bit more accurate, but I think overall in two games, I’m happy where Mike is.”

Vick has gone 61 attempts without an interception. He’s fumbled twice, one on the backwards pass to LeSean McCoy against Washington and another where the ball came out of his hands as he tried to tuck it against the Chargers.

Vick leads the league with 13 pass plays of 20+ yards and is third in passer rating (119.0) behind Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers.

SHURMUR MAKES THE CALL

Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is Kelly’s replay guy in the booth, the head coach said today.

In case you’re wondering about Shurmur’s track record there, he was 5-for-11 on challenges in two seasons as head coach of the Browns. Extremely small sample sizes, but Shurmur was 2-for-6 (33 percent) last year, 28th in the league. In 2011, he was 3-for-5 (60 percent), 12th-best.

So far through two weeks, Kelly is the only coach in the league who is 0-for-2 on challenges.

PLANNING FOR THE CHIEFS

The Eagles are starting their season with three games in 11 days. Kelly explained how they’re preparing.

“Everything was broken down and we immediately after the Chargers game, we came back to work that night,” Kelly said. “Our entire staff here was pretty late on Sunday night getting the game-plan together.”

Kelly added that they didn’t want to do too much on the game-plan prior to Sunday night because he felt it might lead to some confusion for the Chargers games.

INJURIES

Brandon Hughes (hamstring) will not practice today.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Vick On Hits: ‘I Think I Can Make It Through’

0V3J8536The Redskins were credited with seven quarterback hits on Michael Vick Monday night, but that doesn’t begin to tell the story.

Through his film study, Ron Jaworski tracks the amount of hits the quarterback takes in a given game. According to Jaws’ count, Vick was knocked to the ground 15 times in the opener and was involved in some sort of contact play an additional eight times. That’s 23 of 77 snaps (30 percent)  where the 33-year-old was mixing it up.

“No one can sustain those kind of hits at the quarterback position and stay healthy,” said Jaworski. “It’s too many.”

Chip Kelly, like the coach before him, has stressed that Vick avoid unnecessary punishment. Kelly said that they are happy with how the veteran is handling that in some respects, while other areas need some work. One thing the staff could definitely do without is seeing Vick assume the role of lead blocker on some of the running plays, as he did Monday night.

“I talked to him during the game, after the game, on Tuesday,” said offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. “The one thing I admire about Mike — something we’ve all seen — he’s extremely tough, he’s very competitive and when the game is going on, he reacts to things like you want a football player to react.”

A football player, yes. But a quarterback?

“Now, we don’t want him lead blocking on sweeps. And so we told him, ‘Don’t do that,’ so we assume he won’t.”

Jason Peters was jokingly asked how Vick graded out as a blocker. He laughed and gave him a zero.

“I told Mike, ‘Don’t do that again. Let me do it,’” said Peters. “We don’t need him out there blocking. If it’s a key block and it triggers a touchdown, hooray, but we don’t need him out there blocking. We need him out there for all 16 games.”

Vick wasn’t ready to quit the blocking game completely when he addressed reporters on Wednesday, however.

“I try not to do it but just the way we run the read option sometimes the ball gets cut back and I’m standing there, and I’m not going to let my teammate get hit by a guy,” said Vick. “Maybe I’ll just get in the way next time and just try to wall him off.

“I’m a football player at the end of the day. I’m not just a quarterback, I’m a football player and I do whatever it takes to win.”

The problem there, though, is that you need your quarterback in the lineup consistently to have a chance of winning anything significant. As Jaws points out, other positional players can hurt their hand or injure their shoulder and still might be able to go out and perform their job at a high level. Not as easy for a quarterback given the job description.

Vick recognizes the importance of being there for this team for the long haul, even if his actions don’t always reflect it.

“I understand that if I put my body in jeopardy, at risk, then I’m putting this football team at risk and I feel like I’m being selfish to my teammates,” said Vick. “It’s just something that  I have to gauge and we’re not going to try and change it at this point. I think I can make it through.”

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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.

avant1b

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.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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