In the first 3 weeks of the 2011 season, the Eagles ran the same play in each game. I wrote a post about the play after all three weeks. Since it has been about 9 months since we talked about it, and since my audience is a little bigger nowadays, I’d figured we would re-visit it.
In Week 1 last season, there was one play that really stood out to me in the Eagles-Rams game, where Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and head coach Andy Reid creatively exposed a flaw in Steve Spagnuolo’s defensive scheme. It came on a 26 yard cross from Michael Vick to DeSean Jackson that couldn’t have possibly looked any easier.
For years, the late Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson adhered to the philosophy that one corner played LCB, while the other corner played RCB. They covered whatever receiver came to their side. Johnson never had his “best corner” always follow the opposition’s “#1 receiver,” a la Darrelle Revis. If your best corner follows the best receiver around, it becomes much more difficult for the defense to disguise man or zone coverage. Spagnuolo, a Jim Johnson disciple, employed Johnson’s approach on Sunday, and it played right into the Eagles’ hands.
Here’s a formation with a bit of an exotic look:
- Brent Celek is lined up wide by himself to the near side of the screen. Covering Celek was the Rams’ best corner, Ron Bartell. The Eagles, knowing Spagnuolo’s scheme, effectively wasted the Rams’ best corner on their TE. Big win for the Eagles there.
- Lined up in a bunch formation to the top of the screen is DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Steve Smith.
- Standing next to Vick in the backfield is not one of the running backs. It’s Jason Avant. Avant will go in motion past the 3 WRs in the bunch formation to the top of the screen, where he’ll be picked up by the Rams’ other starting corner, Bradley Fletcher. The Eagles have now wasted the Rams best two cover players on Brent Celek and Jason Avant. Win.
At the snap, Celek and Avant will run go routes, clearing Bartell and Fletcher out of the play. With the Rams’ two best corners out of the play, they’re now left with SS Quintin Mikell, nickle back Justin King, and a third Rams DB I can’t identify covering Jackson, Maclin, and Smith. Good luck with that.
Confused by the bunch formation, Mikell and King both cover Smith (with Smith drawing an illegal contact call on Mikell), leaving Jackson completely uncovered and wide open for the easy catch and run for 26 yards. Let’s watch them dance:
The play worked so well that Marty Mornhinweg called it again the following week against Atlanta, this time with different personnel, but with a similar result: a receiver running wide open. Here’s that play:
Obviously, the result wasn’t good as Brent Celek had a bad drop, but the play worked, and should have been a TD. This is a particular route combination that puts two receivers in the same line of sight for the QB to choose from. This time, the Falcons showed a zone look, and Vick threw to Celek down the seam. Last time, it was man, and Vick hit the underneath cross. That’s now twice this play appeared in the film room for opposing teams to study up for the Eagles. But when something works, you keep going to it until it stops working.
And go back to it they did, in Week 3 against the Giants.
However, this time, Giants safety Antrel Rolle recognized the play, and was able to completely mess it up. Not only does he get a good jam on Jeremy Maclin, but he also successfully jams Jason Avant, and gets in the way of DeSean Jackson’s delayed cross to the point where Jackson decides to just cut off his route. Clearly he did his homework in the film room:
It was still a positive result for the Eagles, as Michael Vick simply took off for a gain of 10. Most QBs would have simply thrown the ball away, but that’s not the point here. Great recognition by Rolle, as well as the Giants’ defensive staff in the film room.
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