The roster still has issues and not every opponent will be the Detroit Lions, but for one snowy Sunday in South Philadelphia, Eagles head coach Chip Kelly was simply toying with the opposition.
Before we begin, a programming note. Because the NFL coaches film has no on-screen graphics, a quick shot of the scoreboard is spliced in between each play to provide the down and distance. Here's what those scoreboard shots looked like early in Sunday's game:
The Eagles didn't let a little snow stop them on Sunday, though, so we're not going to either. Even if it takes some photo manipulation to do it.
As most fans know, the Eagles are running a new defensive scheme this year. Gone is the attacking "wide nine" 4-3 alignment with every player responsible for a single gap, replaced by a stouter 3-4 in which the linemen work to control blockers and patrol multiple gaps while the linebackers flow behind them to make plays.
This first set of pictures illustrates this change in philosophy:
In a one-gap scheme, Mychal Kendricks (blue dot), DeMeco Ryans (green dot) and the walked-up safety (no dot) would each be responsible for the gap in front of him, as represented by the yellow lines (the defensive tackles would probably slant to their left in this set-up).
In the Eagles' new defense, that's not how it works. On this play, Kendricks attacks the line of scrimmage at the snap and Ryans, sensing where the weak spot is, flows to his right behind the nose tackle (red dot) and plugs the hole for a minimal gain.
You know who still runs the wide nine 4-3? That's right, the Detroit Lions:
In a one-gap scheme, when the linebackers read "run," they can start moving immediately into their assigned gaps. So as this play develops with the initial action to the right, a giant cutback lane opens on the backside for McCoy, which the safety has to fill – and is late doing so. (You can see why the Eagles safeties didn't like last year's defense.)
Notice that the initial action from right to left means that neither linebacker is even blocked. They take themselves out of the play, while the Eagles get to instead put double teams on the two very big and very quick Detroit defensive tackles.
Next play, the Eagles run the exact same thing, just to the other side:
Again, the initial direction wrong-foots the linebackers and then it's just LeSean McCoy on a safety, which the Eagles will take every time.
All day, the Eagles played games with the Lions front:
The linebacker on the left is watching center Jason Kelce on this play. As Kelce pulls, the linebacker goes outside with him, because he thinks this is going to be an outside zone. But all Kelce does is run out and double team the end. With the linebacker out of the gap, LeSean McCoy hits it up inside for a big gain.
I'm almost positive this was on purpose. But just in case, they also ran this play the "right" way later:
On this one, Kelce will again pull, but this time he actually does head for the linebacker. However, go back to the beginning of the play. This will be a run to the left, but quarterback Nick Foles will come out from under center by first turning to his right. This one subtle move is enough to get the middle linebacker to lean the wrong way, which helps give McCoy enough space to explode through the hole for another big gain.
Once Kelly was in their heads, things really opened up. Here, linebacker Stephen Tulloch (#55) is going to step out of his gap pre-snap, probably because he's worried about another cutback to his safety side:
That gave Lane Johnson a much easier blocking angle, as LeSean scampered right through the hole Tulloch had vacated.
Early in this game, both teams struggled with the conditions. As shown above, one response by the Eagles was to run more plays from under center rather than out of the shotgun. After the game, Kelly made it a point to say the Eagles can run their entire offense from under center.
What's interesting is how the under-center offense looks. Look at the running back on this play:
He started in a single-back set about seven yards behind Foles. By this point in the play, see the way he's standing on both feet and not moving forward? That's how the Eagles run a lot of these under center plays – by having the back quickly take a couple steps forward and then stopping so that he's in the same position he would have been if they'd started the play under the shotgun:
You can see the same thing from McCoy if you go back to the two pulling Kelce plays above. In fact, when the backs don't set up this way, it's almost a tell that it's going to be play action:
The Kelly offense is full of these sorts of variations on a theme. We've now seen most of the base plays dozens of times, but there are change-ups:
This is the same play action we've seen since game one, with the quarterback faking a handoff to the outside left, while the tight end comes across the formation to seal the backside end on his right, so he has time to chuck it downfield. Only this time the tight end (Brent Celek) started the play lined up all the way to the outside before motioning in just before the ball was snapped.
As the play continues, you can see why the passing game was having trouble early. Foles is looking for DeSean Jackson coming across the field toward us, but with the deep snow on the ground, the timing was a mess and everyone in the middle basically ran into each other.
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We praised the special teams coverage units last week, so it's only right that we ding them after a tough game in the snow.
The kickoff return for a touchdown looked like just one of those things that happens when field conditions are bad. But the punt return touchdown had a couple of issues that seemed like obvious mistakes:
For starters, look how far inside Colt Anderson is. Rather than taking a path directly toward the returner, he's running down the hashes, presumably because he felt like he could be faster that way and then make up the difference. Didn't work.
That's Chris Polk (#32) making the cardinal football error of not forcing the runner back inside where all his help is. A couple really nice blocks by the Detroit return team and that's a touchdown.
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On defense, the Eagles struggled early because they chose to try to take away the passing game in a blizzard:
That's the famous "missing OLB" defense Davis sometimes likes to run, because he wants to keep two safeties back against three receivers:
It's not a strong defense against the run, so after the Lions had early success moving the ball on the ground and the conditions made it pretty obvious the passing game was going to be an afterthought, Davis dropped a safety down and the Eagles stiffened up against the run:
Finally, it wouldn't be one of these video rewinds if we didn't have the Blown Red Zone Coverage of the Week (sponsored by?):
There's some progress here at the start. The three outside defenders are clearly communicating pre-snap about their responsibilities if the receivers cross. The problem is that they don't consider the running back as a possible receiver – leaving him isolated against a linebacker – and for all their communication, they still end up with three guys covering one receiver while the other is left alone as he tries to set a pick.
This should all be worked out by next October.