All-22: Sanchez’s Movement In the Pocket
Like most NFL coaches, Chip Kelly is obsessed with preparation.
The Eagles go into games expecting certain things. But Kelly believes there should never be true surprises. His players should be equipped to handle whatever’s being thrown their way. When the coaches got their game plan together for the team’s matchup with the Panthers, they saw that Carolina liked to play a lot of zone with two deep safeties.
Given that the Panthers were allowing a league-worst 4.8 YPC, the Eagles were prepared to gash them with LeSean McCoy and the ground game.
But when the offense took the field for the first time, it was clear defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was opting for a different approach.
“You kind of saw it early,” Kelly said. “We didn’t change anything, we just have a plan. It’s not like we changed and said, ‘Oh my God, let’s do this.’ We have plans going in depending on how people are going to play us. Are they going to play us in two-high? Are they going to play us in one-high? Are they going to play us in man? Are they going to play us in zone? It’s all things we practice. With everything we did, it wasn’t like we were adding any new plays to our game plan. It was all things we practiced in terms of going into the game.”
The Panthers went with man coverage and a single high safety across the board. That allowed them to bring the second safety in the box and help with the run game.
It’s a look the Eagles have seen plenty in the last two years, and it’s one that will continue to surface going forward. Against defenses that are good at playing man coverage, the Birds’ offense has sometimes struggled. But this was a different story. The Panthers went away from what they normally do. They didn’t have the pieces in the back end to play man coverage, and Carolina yielded 332 yards through the air to Mark Sanchez.
“They’re the type of team that doesn’t play a lot of man coverage – for a fairly good reason,” said guard Evan Mathis. “You can stack the box like that all you want, and you leave open the back end like that. So if they don’t want to have the balance, we’re not gonna try to have the balance. We take a lot of pride in trying to run the ball, but we’re not gonna sit here and get frustrated and panic because we didn’t have a lot of success in this one game running the ball.”
Added Jason Peters: “They were taking away the run and playing man, so we were running man-beater routes. We started getting the pass going, and they couldn’t stop it. We went from there.”
It was far from a perfect performance. The Eagles averaged 1.6 YPC on the ground (will tackle that in the next All-22 piece), and seven of their 13 offensive drives failed to gain 10 yards or more. Kelly made it clear afterwards that he wasn’t happy with the offensive output.
But Sanchez was able to hit on some big plays downfield, and we caught a glimpse of what he looks like in a new offense.
The biggest positive that came out of Sanchez’s first start in nearly two years was his ability to navigate the pocket.
On this play, he keeps his feet moving, allows Mathis to lead his guy upfield and finds Brent Celek.
Similar play here, except the pressure is from the other side against Lane Johnson.
“One of the most important things when you’re in the pocket is being able to feel the rush,” Sanchez said. “And I think our offensive linemen do an outstanding job of pushing guys one way and keeping ‘em going that direction and trying to eliminate the double moves and the spin moves and all that kind of stuff to keep the trash out of your face, so to speak.”
Mathis offered the lineman’s perspective.
“You’re not gonna win every single battle,” he said. “But if you’re fighting, you’re gonna have a chance. Say you have four offensive linemen who stone their guy, and then one guy is getting beat on the edge, but if you just work to finish it, then you give the quarterback room to step to the left or right, step up and make a play.
“If I’m staying on a certain side of him, Mark’s gonna be able to see that. If I’m on the left side of the guy, Mark’s not gonna step to the right. He’s gonna step to where I am between him and the defender.”
There were other examples too. Here, Matt Tobin gets beaten, but Sanchez steps up in the pocket, shakes off a potential sack and finds Celek.
And here, Luke Kuechly is unblocked up the middle, but Sanchez escapes again and connects with Celek.
“When you feel that kind of pressure, you just try to move up and keep your eyes downfield,” Sanchez said. “If it’s something where you have to keep your eyes off the receivers and find somebody that’s coming at a beeline at you like [Luke] Kuechly was a couple times, that’s when you’ve gotta make a play. Get two hands on the ball, make a play, try not to get your shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage, try and stay in a passing mode, and expect those guys to see it downfield, react to it and then get friendly for the quarterback. And guys did that.”
There will be a game in the coming weeks where Sanchez takes some hits early. It will be interesting to see how he performs in that environment.
But on Monday night against the Panthers, Sanchez’s ability to navigate the pocket was an encouraging sign for this passing game and this offense going forward.