All-22: Why the Eagles Failed In the Red Zone

Here’s the All-22 review of the Eagles’ offense, with a focus on why the team failed to score a touchdown on five trips inside the red zone against the Saints.

Play 1: On the first play of the game, Michael Vick might have been better off using DeSean Jackson as a decoy and going to Jeremy Maclin.

Maclin’s got all kinds of space in the middle of the field. This would have been an easy 15-yard gain to start the drive off. Instead, Vick takes a shot with Jackson. And to be fair, the decision is defensible. Jackson’s running away from the safety. If he can create some separation, the Eagles have a chance at a big play. But cornerback Patrick Robinson did a good job in coverage.

Play 2: Later on the first drive, the Eagles had a stretch of three straight sacks. The second one, by Brodrick Bunkley, was a direct result of defensive end Will Smith beating King Dunlap. Had the left tackle done a better job, the Eagles would have had a shot at a huge gain.

After the play-fake, Bryce Brown went out into his route, and there were zero Saints defenders nearby. If Vick’s able to get him the ball, it’s a big play. Maybe even a touchdown if Brown makes a man miss. But instead, Vick had pressure in his face, tried to scramble and took the sack.

Play 3: The first red-zone trip resulted in a pick-six. And while there are certainly things to criticize Vick about in this game (see below), I don’t know that this play is really one of them. He knew the blitz was coming and got rid of the ball quickly. Here’s a look.

I actually buy the explanation from Vick and Andy Reid that they thought Brent Celek was held. You’re not going to get every call, but this play draws a flag more often than not. With Celek blanketed, Vick’s throw had to be to the outside. And if the tight end doesn’t get held, we might be talking about what a good job Vick did of fitting it into a tight window.

You can see his other options on the play. It looked like he wanted to go to Clay Harbor (blue arrow) with his first read. Harbor’s open in front of the defender, but the safety blitzing from that side likely got in Vick’s way, and he couldn’t attempt the throw. In the middle of the field, Jackson is covered. On the right, Maclin has some room, but I’m not sure Vick could have turned around and gotten him the ball without first getting crushed.

Play 4: On red-zone trip number two, the Eagles went to the old reliable shovel pass. Perhaps you recall them using this once or twice over the years? The play here requires two things to take place to be successful. One is that the linebacker goes with Stanley Havili into the flat. The other is that right guard Dennis Kelly executes his block.

If one of the two things happens, maybe McCoy can make something out of nothing, which he is asked to do all the time anyway. But instead, neither of the two happen.

McCoy gets crushed for no gain. I’ve heard some argue that this play was too predictable, and I think that’s fair. The linebacker kept his eyes on McCoy the whole time and was able to make a play. The Eagles certainly did not catch the Saints off-guard.

Play 5: I will fully admit that I know far less about scheme than NFL coaches. But I can’t figure out how this 3rd-and-11 setup from the second quarter makes any sense. The Eagles go with an empty backfield and five receivers.

The offense had trouble protecting Vick all game long (all season long?) up to this point. The Saints were showing blitz, meaning he’d likely have to get rid of the ball quickly. But the Eagles needed 11 yards for a first down, so right away, that doesn’t seem like a recipe for success. And it wasn’t.

Three of the receivers (red boxes) are running vertical routes and are nowhere close to being open by the time Vick has to get rid of the ball. Maclin (yellow circle) isn’t open either, and even if he was, he’s not in a position to pick up a first down. So Vick fires it to Jason Avant for what would have been about a 2-yard gain had it been completed.

Nothing about this play made sense to me. If someone can help me out, chime in.

Play 6: After the special-teams takeaway, the Eagles had a chance to make it a 21-17 game. On first down, they got what they wanted too. Here, you’ll see Maclin wide open on the post.

The cornerback is trailing him, and the safety is occupied by Jackson. This should be a touchdown, but Vick tucks the ball and takes off for 14 yards. The Saints blitzed, and Vick did not have a clean pocket. But if he had kept his eyes downfield when he started to scramble, he would have seen Maclin.

On one hand, Vick left a touchdown on the field. On the other hand, is it really reasonable to expect him to be patient here, given the beating he’d taken all game long? This play’s a pretty good example of why the offense is such a mess right now.

Play 7: Since going with the empty backfield made so much sense earlier, the Eagles try it again. The Saints show six at the line of scrimmage, but the key is they only rush five. One linebacker drops back into coverage.

Of course, the Eagles do not know the linebacker is going to drop back when the ball is snapped, so they slide protection to the right and let the defensive end come unblocked. Vick’s hoping to go to Celek, but because the linebacker dropped back, a throw to the tight end would likely result in a turnover. In a way, Vick shows progress here for not forcing it.

As you can see, nowhere to go with the football. The sack occurs (unofficially) 1.9 seconds after the ball is snapped. No chance.

Play 8: On the very next play, Vick has Maclin on the post in the end zone again. He’s got the cornerback trailing.

Watching live, I thought this was just a throw that Vick sailed. But the safety dropping adds to the degree of difficulty. And the result is an incompletion. It also doesn’t help that Dallas Reynolds gets beat and Vick gets hit (again) as he got rid of the ball.

Play 9: There’s at least one sack (actually two) we can say definitively was on Vick. Here, he’s got Harbor running across the middle of the field, but doesn’t pull the trigger.

He had about 3.6 seconds before he was sacked. The Saints only rushed four. This is a play Vick’s got to make.

Play 10: On the fourth red-zone trip, Vick missed a potential touchdown on what would have been an easy throw.

McCoy (red circle) is all by himself in the flat. There are no defenders to that side of the field. At the very least, he gets inside the 10. There’s a good chance he scores. But Vick launches one out of the back of the end zone for Jackson instead. This one’s on the quarterback. It was a four-man rush without pressure.

After this play, the Eagles just imploded. Demetress Bell had two penalties and allowed a sack. McCoy had a drop. And Celek fumbled.

On the fifth red-zone trip, which took place when the game was essentially over, Harbor and Avant had drops.

Two more quick things: One, if you’re wondering why I didn’t show more of the protection breakdowns, those were covered in an earlier post. And if you’re going to comment that they should have used McCoy more in the red zone, you may have a point, but it’s not quite that simple. I’ll cover why in a future post.

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