The New England Patriots like to talk about doing your job in all three phases, but multiple special teams breakdowns led to their loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. We made Chuck Zodda flip a coin, so here’s the breakdown on how the Eagles punt block exploited Patriots protection scheme.
With only seconds remaining in the first half, the New England punt unit was summoned to pin the Eagles deep in their territory and snuff out any chance of a Philadelphia score:
Punting from their own 38-yard line, the Patriots see the Eagles line up with eight men near the line of scrimmage, suggesting a block attempt. The end of a half is often a time when return units will focus on blocking a kick over setting up a return, largely because the reward for a strong return is not large enough with so little time left in the half for a meaningful drive.
The Eagles run a beautiful scheme off the snap, with four different twists occurring at once. The two outer twists (red and orange arrows) have the inner rusher fire first at the outside shoulder of the tackle, driving him wide and into the wing. The outermost rushers trail and attack the C gap, keeping the tackle from sliding back to the inside. On the two interior twists (green and yellow arrows), the innermost rushers fire first, targeting the inside shoulder of the guards to get them to narrow. The stacked rushers behind them will come through after, attacking hopefully-widened B gaps due to the combination of the interior and exterior twists:
There are no clear openings at this point, but a gaping hole soon appears in the New England line:
Nate Ebner (#43) slides over to fill the right B gap and pick up the open man coming off the twist. However, that leaves the left B gap open, which has also widened as the tackles on both sides have properly tracked the outside twists (red boxes). This allows a free rusher to come through. The reason for this is immediately visible – guard Geneo Grissom (#92) has double-teamed a man with long-snapper Joe Cardona (#49) – as the Eagles twist has worked to perfection.
Punt protection typically uses a zone scheme in order to avoid any potential crossing of blockers and tangled legs. Here, after counting the Eagles on each side of Cardona, Ebner appears to have called for Cardona to slide to his left to pick up the left A gap, meaning Grissom should be responsible for the B gap on that side. The two players outside Grissom both fill their responsibilities properly for this call, meaning one of two things: Grissom heard the wrong call and expected Ebner to fill the left B gap, or Grissom forgot what he was supposed to do upon seeing the twist and blocked the first person that came into his vision. This leaves Chris Maragos (#42, green arrow) with a clear route to punter Ryan Allen (#6).
Maragos sticks his foot in the ground and drives toward Allen:
Now clear of the line, he cuts in, taking the shortest route to the punter. Behind him, Grissom and Cardona are still engaged on the lone Philadelphia rusher, suggesting that at the very least, Grissom is making mistakes at full-speed, which is always preferable to doing nothing.
As Allen begins his drop, Maragos dives for the ball:
Maragos keeps his hands tight to avoid having the ball fly between them after all the effort to get 12 yards into the backfield, and nearly catches the ball off Allen’s foot. It bounces in front of Maragos as he scrambles to get up and collect his prize.
However, Maragos has to share the glory on this one, as linebacker Najee Goode (#53) scoops up the ball as Maragos gets to his feet:
Goode grabs the ball cleanly and takes it into the end zone uncontested, tying the game 14-14, and putting the stunned Patriots on the ropes heading into the half. The Eagles would eventually go on to win 35-28, largely on the back of this play, as well as a punt return touchdown from Darren Sproles. While the design here was elegant and effective, the critical error by Grissom led to the block, and will likely be an area of focus for the Patriots as they look to rebound against the Houston Texans this week.
Meanwhile, the Eagles got their season back on track, and back on top of the division race, thanks to twists and Maragos doing his job:
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Chuck Zodda knows the importance of staying in your lane, how to fake a punt return, the humanity of punters, proper placekicking technique and the Jets.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.