Redskins Recon: A Look at the Philadelphia Eagles Offense

During this off season I would like to look at the Redskins 2014 opponents and provide some insight into some key areas, whether they be strengths or weaknesses that they will present to us this upcoming season.

The first team that I would like to talk about is our divisional rivals the Philadelphia Eagles. When these two match up for the first time in 2014 it is going to be big news, due mainly to the offseason exploits of Chip Kelly and DeSean Jackson. However what I am most looking forward to is how the Redskins and other teams are going to tackle the potent Eagles offense this year, having a whole offseason to look at it in more detail and figure out ways of stopping it. This offense is a major reason why the Eagles ran away with the NFC East title last year and made the playoffs in Chip Kelly's first year as head coach.

Unfortunately that won't be an easy task for any defensive coordinator as the Eagles offense is designed to put the power in the hands of the QB - Nick Foles, and stress the defense in terms of stamina, organisation, depth and adaptability.

So let's take a look at the core concepts behind their offense, and see what makes it tick. But before that - a question for you. What would you define as the core principles of the Chip Kelly offense?

I am sure many of you said things like the following:

  • Spread offense to spread out the defensive formation and create room for playmakers
  • No huddle, fast paced offense and quick snaps between plays
  • Screens and short passes
  • Trick plays and unusual formations

All of which would be right, however not many people realise that the main objective Chip Kelly has is a burning desire to run the ball and run it well. Many of the concepts mentioned above are simply methods he uses to create that running space. One thing that must have helped persuade Kelly that the Eagles were his team in 2013 was the presence of an elusive running back we all know and hate; LeSean McCoy. It is no coincidence that in 2013 McCoy had a great year, leading the league in yards (1,607), and the Eagles as a team were the number one rushing team as a whole.

The Eagles achieve this by using Kelly's staple running game which consists of inside and outside zone, mixed in with a few other power schemes of course. Furthermore many of these running plays are zone read plays, using the read option to create confusion in the defense and creating a numbers advantage for the running back.

The other aspect of Kelly's offense that is often misunderstood is the use of package plays. This is a part of the NFL offensive playbook that has become more commonplace recently with the growing influence of college football, but unless you know what you are looking for the average football fan watching a game would never even realise they are being used. Sometimes the defense would not even realise that the three plays they have just played against came from the same package play, which is the ultimate goal of this kind of scheme.

A package play is a way of giving the QB the power to make decisions pre and post snap about how the play will pan out by reading the defense. They aren't audibles. There are package plays that combine 2 different plays, and package plays that combine 6 different plays. Many of the players will not know the intention of the QB in this scenario until he snaps the ball. Many plays of this kind will key in on the formation of the defense and the reactions post snap of a few key defenders. Set your mind back to the Redskins opener in 2013 vs the Eagles and recall how Fletcher, one of our most experienced defenders, was being made to look like a rookie by Foles and his Tight End. How is this possible!? This was because he was the key read in a package play that ensured whatever Fletcher chose to do he would lose. The read option is a package play as it provides the QB with two plays based on the reaction of one defensive player.

So let's take a look at how this works looking through the eyes of Nick Foles. I have suggested a play call below, not suggesting that this is something the Eagles use, but in theory it could easily be part of the Kelly offense, either as a whole or in smaller pieces. I have then provided a decision tree that shows how the play will pan out if everything goes to plan of course.

As you can see, this one play has a potential 5 outcomes based on how the defense reacts and lines up. As you can imagine, this is so difficult to defend against, especially when you combine the up tempo elements as well.

Once the play is over the Eagles will rush up to the new line of scrimmage and snap the ball again within a few seconds. The reasons for their up tempo offense are numerous, but to cover a few:

  • To tire out the defense. A tired defensive line will not be able to get as much pressure on the offense, and will begin to make mistakes
  • To give the offense little time to make adjustments. If the offensive coordinator has just seconds to react to a play then he will struggle to make the adjustments needed to stop it happening again. He becomes more reliant on his veteran defenders to figure it out themselves and as discussed earlier they will not always understand how to diagnose the offensive play they are being subjected to, especially when they are trying to recover from fatigue.
  • To give the offense no time to make substitutions and fix any mismatches created by the Eagles flexible offense.

Note that this is different to the up-tempo offense that we have traditionally seen from veteran QB's like Manning and Brady, who will line up quickly but take their time to snap the ball, making audible and changing formations. This offense looks to snap the ball as quickly as possible. Therefore providing the QB with options within a single formation or set of formations makes it simpler to have a varied offense without the need to huddle.

And again, just to reiterate, all along the goal is to create a favourable situation in which Foles can hand the ball off to McCoy for an easy first down or more. Only in this system, if the defense wants to take that away, the QB has numerous other options to play with. In many cases, it is a 'choose your poison' scenario for the defense, who simply can't win.

Now it is easy to see how adding some of these kind of plays and up temp offense can make you a very potent attacking force. Mixing in some wrinkles that get the defense thinking you are in a package play when really you are running completely new play must be exciting for Kelly and his staff to brainstorm, however the Chip Kelly offense, and the Philidelphia Eagles have some issues this season that will determine their continued success in 2014 and onwards.

1) They lost their most potent wide receiver to the (mighty) Washington Redskins. Despite the claims that no player is bigger than the scheme (made by Kelly earlier in the offseason), the Eagles will struggle to find a player of DeSean Jackson's skill set who is consistent and performs at a high level. Just ask the Redskins and you will understand why they were so quick to snap him up.

2) The offseason break provides the NFL defensive coordinators with a whole 8 months to look at this in much more detail. Last year teams had no idea what to expect, especially at the start of the year (my excuse for the Redskins). If you see what happened to the Read Option this year, and before that the Wildcat offenses, which looked to be unstoppable when first introduced to the NFL you will see how even the most potent new NFL offense will targeted by the league's coaches. As soon as you rely on something too much it becomes too easy for others to take it away, and you can bet your life that the other 31 teams in the NFL are thinking about ways of doing that right now (especially in the NFC East). On the other side of this, Kelly would be stupid to think that what worked last year will work in 2014. I have no doubt that he is adding wrinkles to his playbook this offseason and will be a couple of steps ahead of some.

3) The impact this no huddle has on your own defense is not always a positive one. Yes it is great when your offense is scoring and scoring quickly, it puts pressure on the opposition offense to come out and try to keep up with the scoreboard, which means that the Eagles can take more risks and get a bit more creative with their defensive schemes. Last year the Eagles defense improved dramatically from mid-season onwards as the offense started to take hold of games and get into their swing. If in 2014 the Eagles offense is not as potent, and teams start getting them off the field within a couple of series' then the Eagles defense will be on the field a lot, and therefore not getting adequate time to recuperate between phases. The Eagles defense is not the most talented bunch. They are missing pass rushers and their safeties are not much better than the Redskins, so as soon as they get exposed then they may need to rethink the up tempo part of the offense and focus on keeping the ball.

4) I personally believe that the QB situation will be something that the Eagles will constantly look at until they find a player that provides a genuine double threat - someone like RGIII, Cam Newton or Kaepernick. It is not unfair to suggest that any QB could be placed into this scheme and be taught the basic pre and post snap reads, and this is why Foles had such a good year in 2013. The offense is a simple one to run and be successful with. This also explains why the Eagles picked up Sanchez in this offseason as he has a good pedigree at college of reading defences and making quick throws. However should a QB become available in the draft or FA who can do these things and run effectively I think the Eagles would be interested, and Foles' role as the starter would be challenged. The only reasons Vick did not work out with the Eagles in 2013 were due to durability and a poor capacity to release the ball quickly and accurately.

So there you have it, a run down of the Eagles/Chip Kelly offense for you to think about. Again this is not all encompassing, they certainly have a lot more to offer, but this shows how they combine some of their core concepts into package plays that test a defense and push them out of their comfort zone.

One thing I would like to know more about is the Eagles use of signs and symbols from the touchline between snaps. Obviously they are some sort of code to the offense about play calls, and many of them are fake or dummy signs used to confuse the defense even further, but if anyone has any idea about how these cards are used I would love to hear it!

Next post will come soon and I am considering looking at the Dallas Cowboys. They are going to be fun to watch this year as they are paper thin on defense due to their cap issues. They have had to release numerous veterans (not least Hatcher to the Redskins). However one area they have successfully upgraded the last couple of years is the offensive line, which was one of the best lines in all of football last year.

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