When the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the red hot Atlanta Falcons in Week 10, many of the storylines focused on the job Philadelphia’s defense did in shutting down the highest scoring offense in the league. Limiting the top offense to just over 300 total yards and 15 points is no small feat, but just as much credit needs to be given to the Philadelphia offense and play calling.
The Eagles, while still struggling in the red zone and failing to put the Falcons away on several occasions, managed to put together several long drives at key moments. In total, the Eagles held the ball for over 38 minutes while limiting Atlanta’s offense to 12 drives and a time of possession under 22 minutes. The Falcon’s offense just could not find a way to get into rhythm with opportunities so few and far between. Without the long, time-consuming drives that the Eagles offense was able to put together, that might not have been the case.
Even though rookie quarterback Carson Wentz was efficient and effective in some key moments throughout the contest, it was the running game that won the day for Philadelphia. To say the Eagles mixed it up on the ground would be an understatement. Head coach Doug Pederson dialed up seven different types of runs and ran the majority of them from different formations and motions. Philadelphia mixed in some outside zone, split zone, powers, traps, and draws – but it was the inside zone and the pin / pull sweep that was its bread and butter. Pederson mentioned in his postgame press conference that he thought the Eagles could take advantage of some of the fast, young linebackers starting on the Atlanta defense. That is exactly what these plays did. Both plays, which we will dissect below, require intense gap discipline across the defensive front. One moment of hesitation or over aggressiveness from the young defense could spring a big play.
Throwing different plays, formations, and motions at a defense, however, can only get a team so far. To win in running game in the NFL, the players need to execute, and that is exactly what the Eagles did.
The Jumbo Package
It became evident very early in the season that one of the staples of Doug Pederson’s rushing attack would be the jumbo personnel package, where an extra offensive lineman is in the game lined up as a tight end. Pederson used the package more than usual in this game, however, sending the personnel grouping onto the field 11 times. Similar to the run game as a whole, Pederson also featured both the inside zone and the pin / pull sweep out of the jumbo package.
Pin / Pull Sweep
The pin / pull sweep is a variation of the outside zone play where two, typically uncovered, offensive linemen will pull out and around the front side of the play to create a path for the running back while two other linemen fold down inside to pin the two frontside defenders inside. There are multiple reasons why any specific team may use the play, but generally speaking, it is a way to seal playside defenders inside easily without asking the offensive line to execute difficult reach blocks which the first play below will help illustrate.
Philadelphia is facing a 2nd and 5 late in the first quarter with the ball on the Atlanta 18-yard line. The Eagles have their 12 personnel jumbo package on the field, aligned in a two tight singleback formation with rookie guard Isaac Seumalo (#73) lined up next to left tackle Jason Peters (#71). The Falcons line up in their base 4-3 under front with rookie strong safety Keanu Neal (#22) down in the box and one safety deep.
When the ball is snapped, rather than attempting to seal or ride the SAM linebacker outside to the sideline as he would in a standard outside zone play, Seumalo blocks down on the play side defensive end while Peters peels out to kick out the SAM linebacker. While the result may ultimately be the same, this saves Peters the trouble of trying to get outside and get a reach block on the 5 technique defensive end who will most likely be slanting outside with him. Seumalo already has outside leverage and does a good job using it to seal the 5 technique inside. To Peters’ right, guard Stefan Wisniewski (#61) and center Jason Kelce (#62) are faced with the same issue. Rather than asking Kelce to execute a difficult reach block on the 1 technique, Wisniewski is able to get just enough of him to take him out of the play while Kelce is able to use his athleticism and get out to make a block in space.
Meanwhile, Wentz (#11) takes the snap, turns to his left and puts the ball in the belly of running back Ryan Mathews (#24) who follows Kelce into the hole.
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Kelce is able to make an excellent block in space on rookie linebacker Deion Jones (#45), driving him 10 yards out of the play while Mathews runs forward for a gain of eight yards and a first down.
On the next play, Philadelphia has a 1st and 10 from their own 48-yard line late in the 3rd quarter. They line up again in their two tight singleback formation with Seumalo to the left of Peters. The Falcons are again in their base 4-3 under front with the strength of their front to the right of the Eagles formation and Neal down in the box again, this time to the left of the formation.
When the ball is snapped, Wentz turns to his right and hands the ball to Mathews as the entire offensive line fires out in unison to its right trying to reach their men. The entire Atlanta defensive line, including linebacker Brooks Reed (#50), slants hard in the direction of the play. On the left side, Seumalo feels Reed’s momentum and does a great job taking him where he wants to go, shoving him down inside, sealing the edge.
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The play was designed to go to the right but Mathews does an excellent job reading Atlanta’s slant and Seumalo’s block and immediately bends the run back to the left. With only one man to beat, Mathews is able get outside of a flat-footed Neal and picks up a huge 21-yard gain.
The Eagles also found success in the run game throughout the afternoon without using their jumbo personnel package. The next play is a split zone run, a variation of the inside zone where an offensive player, usually a tight end, comes across the formation to cut off the backside pursuit on the play.
It is 1st and 10 late in the first half for Philadelphia with the ball on their own 17-yard line. Wentz goes under center with 11 personnel on the field in a singleback wing formation with two bunched receivers tight to the left of the formation in a 2X1 alignment. The Falcons have their 4-2-5 nickel personnel on the field with Neal again lining up down in the box.
As Wentz takes the snap, Ertz runs across the formation to attempt a cut block on the backside defender. Ertz misses his block but is able to delay the backside defender just enough to keep him from making a play. The offensive line fires out to its right to block for an inside zone play as Wentz opens to his right and hands the ball to Mathews, who explodes through the hole for a 23-yard gain.
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There is nothing overly interesting about this play but is a great example of good execution by both Mathews and the offensive line. Kelce and right guard Brandon Brooks (#79) get a great double-team block on Falcon’s DE Tyson Jackson (#94), washing out the middle of the defense. However, it is Mathews’ ability to manipulate Neal that transforms it from a good run to an explosive play.
In the still below you can see how Mathews presses the B gap and gets Neal to come down to meet him in the hole before cutting back into the A gap behind his blockers. When Neal tries to turn and get to the A gap, Kelce is there to slow down his pursuit.
Pin / Pull Sweep Redux
The final play is another pin / pull sweep, but unaccompanied by the jumbo package. Time is winding down in the 4th quarter and Philadelphia has a 1st and goal from the 5-yard line, trying to get in the endzone to retake the lead. Wentz is in the shotgun with Mathews to his left in an 11 personnel slot left, pro right formation. Atlanta is in nickel personnel with Neal in the box creating a 7-man front.
When the ball is snapped, Wentz turns and hands the ball to Mathews who follows his blockers for an easy touchdown run. The execution by the offensive line on this play was excellent. Rookie right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai (#72) blocks down on Jackson, sealing him inside while Kelce and Brooks pull around the edge to clear the path for Mathews.
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Aside from the down block and pull blocks that make up the pin / pull sweep, the rest of the linemen also executed their assignments flawlessly. Tight end Brent Celek (#87) does an excellent job staying patient and moving with Reed on the edge of the defense. Reed fights to get outside to set the edge and turn the play back inside and if Celek tried to get too aggressive, he would have whiffed completely, leaving Reed to blow up the play in the backfield. Instead, he stays patient and under control, mirroring him and staying between Reed and the ball.
One other extremely important aspect of the pin / pull sweep is the ability for the guard and tackle on the backside of the play to reach their man on the line of scrimmage or get up to the second level and cut off the backside linebackers an extremely difficult block for an offensive lineman to make. On this play, as shown in the still above, Wisniewski is able to get a good reach block on the defender aligned to his inside and Peters does an excellent job getting upfield and cutting off the pursuit of the backside linebacker. The result is the touchdown that would put Philadelphia ahead for good.
As most Eagles fans know first hand, with no variation, a running game can become very predictable. A predictable offense gives an advantage to the defend. It allows defenders to be more aggressive and attack downhill. Mixing in a variety of looks as Pederson did versus the Falcons though, leaves a defense off balance shifting the advantage to the offense. Despite Pederson keeping the Atlanta defense in check for most of the day with his play calling, victory would not have been possible had it not been for the level of execution the offense displayed. As Eagles fans found out in Week 10, when the level of play calling meets the same level of execution, football can really be a beautiful game.
Follow Sean on Twitter @PhllyDraft. Check out more of Sean’s work here, such as what Dorial Green-Beckham can do for the Philadelphia Eagles, how coach Bronco Mendenhall gets to the quarterback, how North Carolina State uses motion on offense, what Justin Fuente brings to the Virginia Tech Hokies offense, and on Mark Richt and the triangle offense in Miami.
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All film courtesy of ESPN.