The Philadelphia Eagles’ red zone offense has been on a tear for the entire 2017 campaign. Entering Week 16 of the 2017 NFL season, they rank 1st in the league in converting visits to the red area into touchdowns (67.31%) which has lead to them scoring a robust 31.3 points per game. Even with franchise QB Carson Wentz out for the season, the Nick Foles-led Eagles put up 34 points on the New York Giants and converted 4 of 6 red zone trips.
Their continued success can be attributed to steadfast execution and excellent play design. Paired with Head Coach Doug Pederson’s use of alignment and personnel to dictate match-ups, the Eagles have put defenses in a blender by mixing traditional looks and concepts with new wrinkles. One play against the Chicago Bears in Week 12 deserves to be highlighted.
In a scoreless game and 6:09 remaining in the first quarter, the Eagles drove to the Bears 17 yard-line. What happens on the ensuing play, which results in a touchdown, will be the focal point of this article. Essentially, the Eagles put a new wrinkle on a football staple, the “Spot” concept, which is used as early as high school and gets heavy use in the NFL.
The Spot Concept
To explain the basics of the “Spot” concept (also called “Spacing”), here’s an excerpt from the Inside the Pylon Glossary:
“The spot concept is a common pass game scheme run from the high school level up to the NFL. It is known for its simplicity and ability to create both a horizontal and vertical stretch. Spot is a half field “triangle” read, and features a flat route as a horizontal stretch, a deep corner as a vertical stretch, and the quick hitch route coming underneath at about 5 yards and settling in an open zone coverage.”
Here, (#6) QB Cody Kessler recognizes man coverage, which (#85) TE David Njoku is able to separate from for a relatively easy 27-yard reception. This helps show why this concept is so effective, as it stretches a defense horizontally, vertically and incorporates zone and man coverage beaters.
The “Bang 8”
The Eagles ran a variation of the “Spot” concept against the Bears with excellent results. Everything about the play is the same, except Ertz runs what’s called a “Bang 8”, which is basically a skinny post. This route is typically accredited to former Chargers Head Coach Don Coryell in his revolutionary “Air Coryell” offense.
“Bang” refers to the timing of the throw attached to the route. Instead of being a deep throw, it’s a rhythm throw that is meant to be thrown as the Quarterback hits his fifth step in his drop from under center and his third step from shotgun.
“8” refers to the numbering of the route in the Coryell Route Tree (pictured above). Without confirmation from the Eagles coaches, I’m hesitant to say that Ertz has an option to break into a dig or curl based on the coverage, but based on the leverage of the safety, he would’ve been right to proceed to the skinny post if any options were available. Also, Head Coach Doug Pederson called this route “Copper”, an amalgamation of “Corner” and “Post”.
As you see from the video, all of the concepts from “Spot” or “Spacing” are present. There’s a spot route from WR Torrey Smith (#82), a flat route from RB Corey Clement (#30), and TE Zach Ertz (#86) begins his release with a vertical stem. Bears SAF Adrian Amos (#38) has likely seen this combination several times throughout his career and by reading his keys, decides to get in position for the corner route.
Additional space in the middle of the field is created by what QB Carson Wentz (#11) does with his eyes. Normally on a Spot concept a QB would read the flats to his right, then the spot route before moving to the corner route. On 1stt and 10, Wentz gets aggressive. Recognizing that the middle of the field is open due to the two high split safeties, he first looks to his left to hold the field side safety, who keeps Wentz from throwing his way by sticking tight to the hash. The read on the bottom is a simple go/flat route concept.
The beauty (and simplicity) of this design is in the read it creates for the quarterback. It’s a hi-lo read… and the go / flat concept is an ideal zone coverage beater for an offense. The quarterback simply needs to watch how the cornerback reacts to the route combo coming their way to decide which route to target (much like a smash concept)…
If the playside corner is playing an underneath zone in a Cover 2 or trap-type defensive system then they’ll likely squat on the flat route. Then, there should be a hole for the vertical route over the top before the safety can get over to cover.
With the Bears running a zone defense, the go route from WR Alshon Jeffery (#17) opens up early as both of the outside cornerbacks initially jump to the flat route being run by WR Nelson Agholor (#13). There’s space here for Wentz to fit one into Jeffery, but based on the coverage he’s seeing, he knows that the surefire throw is to Ertz.
Ertz takes Amos, who is playing with outside leverage, where he wants to go by giving him an outside nod at the top of his route, followed by taking the route back inside for the skinny post, leaving Amos in the blender. The objective of his route is getting positioned between the defender and the quarterback, shielding him from the ball. Ertz does this comfortably, providing ample separation for an easy throw and catch.
This traditional look with a creative wrinkle thrown in is just one example of how the Eagles have thrived in the red zone. Moving forward, you can expect the Eagles to continue to run this route concept both in the traditional manner and with some additional variety to put stress upon defensive backfields.