NFL Scheme Review: Eagles Minor Tweaks In The Running Game

The Philadelphia Eagles escaped an 0-3 start with a win over the New York Jets. Mark Schofield says the difference was the Eagles minor tweaks in the running scheme.

The Eagles dropped their first two games of the 2015 season, and their anemic running game played a role in both losses. In the season-opening loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia managed only 63 yards on the ground. In their Week 2 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, things got worse, gaining just 7 yards on 17 carries. But they got the running game back on track in Week 3, gaining 123 yards over 39 carries, with one touchdown. The Eagles minor tweaks in the running scheme paid dividends on the field.

Fixing the Angles Inside

We look first at the inside zone running play, using this play from Week 1. The Eagles come out with 11 offensive personnel on the field, with tight end Zach Ertz (#86) in a wing on the right side of the line, and slot formation to the left. Atlanta has their 4-2-5 nickel defense in the game, with the secondary showing Cover 1:NFLReview3EaglesPlay1Still1The Falcons use an under front on this play, with outside linebacker O’Brien Schofield (#50) lined up as a defensive end, to the inside of Ertz. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (#97) lines up in 2i technique on the inside shoulder of right guard Andrew Gardner (#66). On the other side of the formation, DE Adrian Clayborn (#99) lines up in 4i technique, to the inside shoulder of left tackle Jason Peters (#71), while rookie defensive end Vic Beasley (#44) lines up in a wide 9 alignment:NFLReview3EaglesPlay1Still2

Philadelphia runs inside zone on this play, with the offensive line moving in unison to the left off the snap. Because both Gardner and center Jason Kelce (#62) are uncovered, they move to the second level, looking to block the linebackers. The rest of the unit is supposed to block left, with Ertz handling Schofield, and Gardner tasked with blocking Jarrett.

It does not go well:

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Schofield gets inside of Ertz and blows this play up. At the point of attack Jarrett also does a solid job of standing up the RG on the inside, which forces running back Darren Sproles (#43) to cut back to the right ‒ right into the arms of Schofield.

Here is an example from Week 3 against the Jets:NFLReview3EaglesPlay2Still1

Facing 1st and 10 the Eagles deploy their 11 package again, putting the three wide receivers in trips to the left and using tight end Brent Celek (#87) as a the sole wide receiver to the right:NFLReview3EaglesPlay2Still2

The Jets have their 4-2-5 nickel personnel in the game, and because of the trips formation to the left, outside linebacker David Harris (#52) slides outside of defensive end, leaving just one linebacker inside the box.  

The Eagles again run inside zone to the left side of their formation. The key block, as with the last play, is the TE on the back-side defensive end:NFLReview3EaglesPlay2Still3

But the Eagles have a bit more success on this play:

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The difference? The alignment of the tight end on the back side. Instead of being in a wing position, Celek is positioned on the line of scrimmage, giving him a better angle at the DE. At the snap the tight end angles inside to cut off Muhammad Wilkerson (#96), and gets his body between the defender and the ball carrier. Even though Wilkerson knocks Celek aside, the TE still has position. Celek is able to wheel back towards the DE, seal him off, and give Sproles enough of a lane on the run.

Helping On The Outside

Another rushing attempt you may have seen from Philadelphia’s loss to Dallas is this play:

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Breaking this down a bit, the Eagles have quarterback Sam Bradford under center, with an 11 group on the field, and Celek in a wing alignment on the right:NFLReview3EaglesPlay3Still1

The Cowboys have their 4-2-5 defense in the game, and show an under front:NFLReview3EaglesPlay3Still2Dallas DE Jeremy Mincey (#92) stops this play in the backfield with an incredible individual effort. At the snap Peters angles to the outside to meet Mincey, but the DE beats the LT to the inside using a flawless swim move. He drags DeMarco Murray (#29) to the turf in the backfield, stopping this play before it starts.

Now, the outside zone against the Jets. Again the Eagles have and 11 package on the field, with Bradford under center and Ryan Matthews (#24) in the backfield. But their formation is a bit…different:NFLReview3EaglesPlay4Still1

Peters lines up on the right side of the formation, giving the Eagles a heavy, unbalanced line to the right. Celek lines up on the left side of the field in the traditional spot for a left tackle:NFLReview3EaglesPlay4Still3

Prior to the snap, the offense motions receiver Riley Cooper (#14) in towards the formation:NFLReview3EaglesPlay4Still2

Now when the Eagles run outside, they have enough blockers to handle the defense. The Jets bring safety Calvin Pryor (#25) into the box, but Cooper is positioned to block the DB and seal him off from the play. Kelce executes a perfect reach block on the nose tackle, executing a wide reach step at the snap, and getting Leonard Williams (#92) turned away from the play. This allows both Celek and LG Allen Barbre (#76) to double-team the defensive end:

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From there, Matthews hits the hole, puts a move on the linebacker scraping to the spot, and races into the secondary with a big gain.

The tweaks were minor, but they paid off for the Eagles, and it looks like things could even get better. A final point on the Matthews run. The inside linebacker is left unblocked here, as Barbre doubles the DE and Gardner misses on blocking him. If Gardner finishes his second level block, the Eagles might have an even bigger run on their hands.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.

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