NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.
The main reason it's so tough to defend the Philadelphia Eagles is on most plays the quarterback has four or five options, and picks the best one depending on what the defense does after the snap.
Eagles quarterback Michael Vick could hand it off to the back or keep it on the read option. If the defense comes up, there might be a quick pop pass to the tight end available. If pressure comes from the edge or the defense pinches in, there's a bubble screen he can go to. If all else fails, there might be a slant route on the side opposite the bubble screen.
The Eagles don't call one play and run it. The quarterback checks how a defense is lining up before the snap, then runs a play with multiple options. Opponents can't defend four or five things at once. The defense's reaction tells the quarterback what to do. Theoretically, the defender will be wrong no matter what he decides.
Kelly's offense creates some unique conflicts that have not been widely seen in the NFL before. They were on full display as Philadelphia built a 33-7 lead at Washington on Monday night.
The Eagles' offense is built on many things – speed, tempo, misdirection, deception and spacing – but very basically, it is built on numbers and math. The Eagles will attack you where you're out-manned.
On the second play of the game, Vick hit tight end Brent Celek on a quick pass for a 28-yard gain. On the second play of Philadelphia's second series, Vick handed off to LeSean McCoy, who ran for 10 yards. It was the exact same play both times. The only difference was Vick's decision after the snap, which was predicated on the movement of Redskins' middle linebacker London Fletcher. When Fletcher moved one way, the Eagles went the other.
Again, theoretically, the defender will be wrong no matter what he decides.
The Eagles use deception and flow to create uncertainty and a numbers advantage. Fletcher, who is in his 16th NFL season, had no feel for what the Eagles were doing, He was guessing. It's tough when the Eagles spread the field like they do. In Philadelphia's first 55 plays, from the time the game started to McCoy's touchdown run that give the Eagles a 33-7 lead, the Eagles used two tight ends just twice.
Here's another example of the stress the Eagles put on a defense. On the third play of the game, Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson blitzed from the slot. So the Eagles ran a bubble screen to that side, to DeSean Jackson. Jackson picked up 16 yards. The bubble screen concept to the wide side of the field created all kinds of problems for the Redskins defense, and that's part of the reason the defense was reactive instead of proactive. Then when the Redskins overplayed the bubble screen, the Eagles beat them for an easy touchdown.
On that play from the 28-yard line, a play-action fake to the right displaced the two stacked inside linebackers, who stepped towards the fake. The Eagles showed a bubble screen to the left – the Redskins had been burned on that before and were going to try to stop it. That bubble screen action compromised their coverage when the defense shifted to defend that side. Riley Cooper ran a vertical route on the right sideline to occupy the safety on that side. So when Celek ran a seam route down the middle, the middle of the defense had cleared out, and Vick hit him for a touchdown.
That was very similar to a play the Broncos ran for their first touchdown last Thursday, when a bubble screen fake opened up the middle for tight end Julius Thomas. The difference is, the Broncos' play was called before the snap, and the Eagles' play was based on what the defense gave them after the snap. What the Eagles do is take the notion of the pre-snap audible, in which the quarterback can check out of a bad play based on what the defense is showing, and bring it to the next step of reacting to what the defense does after the snap.
Pace also helped. Through the first series of the game, which lasted 10 plays, the Redskins did not make one substitution against Philadelphia's uptempo attack. Then on the second series, the Redskins replaced both of their big defensive tackles. By running no-huddle, opponents don't have time to move around and disguise anything on defense. They have to worry about simply lining up before the snap comes. That makes these multiple reads for the quarterback easier to process.
It wasn't a perfect night for the Eagles. The offensive line had some protection issues, and rookie right tackle Lane Johnson in particular had some mental busts (although as a whole he did a good job in pass protection against Washington's Ryan Kerrigan). The Redskins increased their blitz frequency and press coverage as the game progressed and had some success, which is a reason the Eagles offense wasn't as effective in the second half.
Do I think defensive coaches will get a better handle of how to defend the Eagles as they see Philadelphia's offense more? Absolutely. That doesn't mean Kelly won’t have any answers to those adjustments.