All-22: Dissecting the Offensive Issues


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Following the Eagles’ 24-20 loss to the Cardinals in Week 8, a reporter pointed out to center David Molk that despite Nick Foles dropping back 63 times, the offensive line did not allow a sack.

Todd Herremans had just returned from the showers at the next locker over, heard the question and decided to chime in.

“There was definitely pressure on him,” Herremans said.

Pressure is the key term when examining the issues with the Eagles’ offense right now. How Chip Kelly is choosing to attack it, how the offensive line is blocking it and the most popular topic among the fan base this week: how Foles is reacting to it.

Against Arizona, the Eagles totaled 521 yards. Only 12 times this season have offenses piled up 500+ yards. No other squad managed to score fewer than 27 points in those games. The Eagles were the exception. On three separate occasions, they got to the Cardinals’ 25 yard line or closer and failed to come up with points.

To figure out why the Eagles returned home this week with a 5-2 record instead of a 6-1 mark, we begin where it ended.

THE FINAL PLAY

The paid attendance at University Of Phoenix Stadium was 61,789. And with the clock showing zeroes, all eyes turned to the back corner of the end zone where Jordan Matthews waited for the football to travel down back to earth. But perhaps more interesting was what was happening at the line of scrimmage.

Herremans had left the game with a reported biceps injury on the final drive. He missed three snaps, was replaced by Andrew Gardner, but ended up returning.

Todd Bowles brought a seven-man pressure on the final play, and the Eagles had six in to protect. Take a look at how Herremans blocks compared to the rest of the offensive linemen.

With only one usable arm, Herremans tries simply to cut down defensive lineman Tommy Kelly.

Matt Tobin does a poor job in pass protection, and because Foles likely a.) knew he was playing with a one-armed right guard and b.) knew the Cardinals were rushing seven vs. six, he backpedaled a good 11 yards, increasing the degree of difficulty on the throw.

In the end zone, the play couldn’t have worked any better. Jordan Matthews ran a corner route, while Riley Cooper ran a post. The routes intersected, and Cooper took out the defender responsible for Matthews.

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In the next shot, you can see Cooper and the defender who was on Matthews are actually on the ground, while Matthews is open.

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But Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson does a fantastic job of coming off of Zach Ertz and shoving Matthews while he is in the air. The throw from Foles is off the mark because of what was happening up front, and Matthews was unable to keep his feet in bounds.

A MISSED OPPORTUNITY

Chris Polk thought he had it.

On the Eagles’ previous drive, they drove 78 yards on 13 plays and took 7:05 off the clock. But the offense came up short on third-and-inches, and Kelly was forced to settle for a field goal.

The most talked-about play on that drive this week has been Polk’s second-down run and Kelly’s decision not to challenge the spot. On TV, based on where the sticks were on the sideline, it looked like a clear first down.

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Based on the above angle, Polk clearly had the first down. You can see the marker is stationed pretty much right at the 1-yard-line.

However, there was a problem. Kelly confirmed that the sticks on his side of the field were not official. And the guys holding the marker were way off. Look at where the actual first down ended up being.

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It’s not at the 1. It’s about an inch or two away from the goal line.

“We saw what everybody else saw,” said Pat Shurmur. “We knew there was an opportunity to have a first down or not and that’s why they measured it. But what we saw, we saw the elbow down. And our experience with those [situations regarding] the line to gain is if it’s not obvious, they don’t get overturned. And since they spotted it, they measured it, and the ball was extremely close, you’re only talking about a matter of inches. And it wasn’t like the ball got placed down. There was an elbow down and the ball swinging. Typically in those situations, if they’d given us the first and the Cardinals challenged, it would have been hard to go backward. Same thing can be said about us.”

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In the above frame, you can see Polk’s elbow is down, and the ball is not across the goal line. There’s no way this would have been ruled a touchdown.

Watching live, I thought the Eagles definitely should have challenged. Three days later, I can see where the coaches were coming from. They thought they had a third-and-inches and were in a close game where the timeout could have ended up being useful. You can certainly argue that reward would have outweighed risk in that situation, but this was far from a no-brainer. There was no guarantee that the play would have been overturned.

“In hindsight there is [a case to be made for challenging it], but there’s also a case of, ‘Do you need your timeouts?’ We wouldn’t have been in that situation at the end,” said Kelly. “I think it’s got to be conclusive, and I think that’s the biggest situation that we’re looking for in terms of [whether] you are going to use your timeout in that situation or use your challenge in that situation. It’s very difficult.”

Meanwhile, on third-and-inches, the Eagles went to a split zone run out of shotgun. James Casey came across the formation and absolutely leveled Sam Acho. No. 26 was responsible for Foles on a potential keeper. And Tobin did an excellent job on Calais Campbell.

The problem? Peters couldn’t get to linebacker Larry Foote.

“Their linebacker penetrated on the backside, and we were a little late getting off the ball on the left side, but we got a little bit of penetration there,” said Kelly. “I thought James Casey had a hell of a block coming back to seal the backside, and we did not stop the penetration up front.”

The coaches made the point that they would have run the same play under center, and it would have produced the same result. That very well may have been the case, but it’s worth noting what LeSean McCoy said last week about running under center.

“I think being under center, I’m about 7.5 yards deep,” he said. “So I can see everything happening. And I’m the farthest guy from the game. I’m all the way in the back. So if a guy maybe has leverage on a block or a guy’s getting beat, I can see it. I can adjust to it. What makes me good, I can jump in and out of holes. So that’s why I like it better.”

As for Kelly’s decision to kick the field goal rather than go for it, that was the right call. You have a chance to take the lead in a tie game with 1:56 left, you do it. The guys over at Advanced Football Analytics show that the numbers suggest Kelly made the right call too:

4th-and-Goal from the 1-yard line converts roughly 52% of the time when going for it. With a touchdown, the Eagles would increase their win probability to 92.19%. A successful field goal means an 80.25% to win the game – and field goal conversion is essentially 100%. An unsuccessful fourth down attempt would result in a 44.36% win probability for the Eagles, as the Cardinals would have the ball in a tie game, but backed up against their own goal line.

Kelly would have needed to believe there was at least a 75% chance of converting to go for it in that situation. He made the correct call, despite the Eagles ultimately losing. [Hat tip to Brian Solomon]

THE GOOD AND BAD OF FOLES

Asked about Foles earlier this week, Shurmur offered up a pretty good summation of what’s happening with the Eagles’ starting quarterback right now.

“What I’m finding with Nick is when he sets his feet and steps into the throws, he’s awesome,” Shurmur said. “What we’re also finding is there are times when he gets flushed or he flushes himself and he doesn’t have his feet underneath him and he’s not as good as he could be if they were, and I think that can be said for all quarterbacks.”

There are two issues right now with Foles: his movement in the pocket and his turnovers. Going into Week 9, Foles has given the ball away 12 times, tied for second-most among quarterbacks. He threw two more interceptions vs. the Cardinals and has nine on the season. Foles’ 3.0 interception rate is seventh-worst among qualified QBs.

The pick that targeted Riley Cooper was just a bad throw. The earlier interception intended for Josh Huff in the end zone was a little bit more.

“We had a four-vertical concept and Huff was running up the seam,” said Shurmur. “The corner, the outside player, overlapped inside and we had [Brent] Celek running on the outside. [Foles] slid to his left a little bit. He felt a little pressure to his right and he slid to his left. You typically don’t make that throw late down the seam and he’ll learn from it.”

You can see from this frame that they left a touchdown on the field. Huff was open, and the concept did exactly what it’s designed to do: make one deep defender account for two receivers.

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But Foles hesitated, threw late and got nothing on his pass. That allowed Antonio Cromartie to leave Celek and jump in front of Huff.

Meanwhile, back at the line of scrimmage, you can see Foles unnecessarily shifted away from pressure and was late. If this pass is going to be attempted, it has to be a bullet. Foles’ pass was not.

“Even though I do move in the pocket, I just need to make sure I hit that back foot and I get my weight going forward,” Foles said. “Sometimes I am going sideways and throwing balls where my feet are going towards it, but I’ve made a lot of throws where my feet haven’t been going that direction too. So I can’t just forget about that altogether and become a robot. I still have to be who I am, and I can’t forget about that.

“But there’s times where if my timing’s a little bit off, maybe I missed it by a split second, I just need to not throw it and just check it down and move on. One of the ones in the game [the INT above], I was a split second late, and it cost us.”

In fairness to Foles, the no-sack stat is misleading. According to Pro Football Focus, nine of his 62 attempts (14.5 percent) were throw-aways. Foles was under pressure quite a bit and took a lot of hits. There were plenty of examples just like this one:

On plays where he didn’t throw the ball away, Foles was 36-for-53 (67.9 percent) and averaged 7.8 YPA.

The problem right now is that even when Foles isn’t under pressure, he’s jittery and unsure of himself in the pocket.

“I think what happens sometimes is quarterbacks try to find a throwing lane,” said Shurmur. “And so that’s some of what we do. But we just ‑‑ when we do flush, we’ve got to remain a passer. There are times when you don’t have to. Certainly, there are times that you do and those are the things that we work on.”

As for the backpedaling specifically, Kelly added: “It’s a combination, and at times he probably shouldn’t have gone as far. I think sometimes you feel something coming, you think it’s there, and you’ve got to set your feet and take that hit. And there were times he did set his feet and take the hit and deliver the ball on time. Again, it’s not just one thing.”

Foles dropped back on 63 of the Eagles’ 88 plays, or 71.6 percent of the time. The Eagles certainly moved the ball through the air, but it’s clear that Kelly didn’t have much confidence in the run game.

Looking back, that might have been a mistake. McCoy ran 21 times for 83 yards (4.0 YPC). Polk had three for 13.

“We felt like we could throw it,” Kelly said. “And especially when their No. 1 corner Patrick Peterson goes down, so now you’ve got a couple new guys in the secondary there, and I thought obviously from a production standpoint, we threw the ball pretty well against them.”

The problem is that with the trouble Foles has had with turnovers, asking him to drop back 63 times does him no favors and is almost asking for a mistake to happen. Kelly has oftentimes stuck with the run even when it hasn’t worked, but on Sunday when it looked effective, he got away from it.

Of course, the Eagles also ran a lot of packaged plays where Foles had run/pass options and decided to pull the ball. But still, it’s fair to question whether a heavier does of McCoy and Polk could have taken some pressure off the quarterback at times.

The state of the offensive line is still a question mark. Jason Kelce could return against the Texans. Evan Mathis is expected to be in the lineup the following week vs. the Panthers. But Herremans’ status appears to be up in the air.

The Eagles currently have the 23rd-ranked offense, according to Football Outsiders. Their ability to improve on that mark in the final nine games will determine where the team’s sitting at by the end of December.