With a little more than 3 minutes left to go in the game and a 3 point deficit, the Cardinals faced a 4th and 2 from their own 32 yard line. It was time to break out that one play in the playbook they felt most confident would work.
I’d have to imagine Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt drew inspiration from a play that has burned the Eagles badly each of the last two seasons. Back in Week 3 this season, the Giants beat the Eagles with a clever little play action fake to Brandon Jacobs into a wheel route down the sidelines. The Giants lined up twins left, and both receivers dragged across the middle, bringing their man coverage across the field with them. They then sneaked the running back down the sidelines one-on-one against a linebacker. Here’s that play:
It was a play the Giants ran last year as well in which they got the same exact reaction from the LB in coverage.
Yesterday, Whisenhunt ran a similar look on their crucial 4th and 2. Unlike the Giants, they went with trips right, hoping that the Eagles would be in man coverage. They were. Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel, and Joselio Hanson are all lined up against the three receivers up top, effectively taking all three corners out of the play. Safety Jaiquawn Jarrett was playing center field, and although you can’t see him from FOX’s coverage, it’s very likely he shaded to the side of the field with three receivers. Tight end Jim Dray (81) was lined up left side tight to the formation, with RB LaRod Stephens-Howling in the backfield next to QB John Skelton.
At the snap, like the Giants did, Dray ran a drag route and cleared safety Kurt Coleman out of the play, while also making it difficult for LB Jamar Chaney to get around Dray. This left the entire left side of the field wide open for Stephens-Howling to work one-on-one against Chaney, who was already going to be late getting into position to make a play… a clear win for the offense. Unlike the Giants, the Cards didn’t bother with any play action or deception. They simply let the speedy Stephens-Howling run a wheel route and beat Chaney easily down the sidelines for a 30 yard gain and a 1st down at the Eagles 38. Too easy. Let’s watch them dance:
A lot of people gave credit to Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell last season for “figuring out Michael Vick” in the first 3 quarters of the Miracle at the Meadowlands game. I agree to some extent. I think a number of teams had a hand in that. The Bears, for example, also gave some looks last season that other defenses have since copied successfully. Obviously, opposing offenses have had their way with the Eagles defense all season long in the 4th quarter. The Eagles, meanwhile, at least from the eye test, have not done a good job adjusting to what teams are trying to do to them, and it’s evident on both sides of the ball.
After the game Eagles CB Joselio Hanson talked about the 4th and 2 play:
If you only have 2 yards to go, pretty much every team knows that the defense is going to be in man-to-man.
I think that’s the problem.