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Division Links: BGN talks quarterback and BtB talks linebackers while summer school is in session at BBV

Bleeding Green Nation

Jalen Hurts will need to be 2000 Donovan McNabb for the Eagles to win the NFC East

Hopes that the Philadelphia Eagles will be postseason contenders in 2021 are not high.

That’s what happens when you jettison your Super Bowl-winning head coach, trade your franchise QB, and enter a season on the heels of a 4-11-1 campaign that was among the more dreadful we’ve seen over the last quarter-century of Birds football.

New head coach Nick Sirianni is full of excitement, and new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon is well regarded and seemingly one of the better defensive football minds out there, but the franchise has clearly fallen on hard times.

[I]f the Eagles are going to win the NFC East, one thing almost certainly must happen.

Jalen Hurts is going to have to ball out.

Hurts is going to have to not only be a pretty good QB, he’s going to have to be an awesome one.

The defense is not going to carry the 2021 Eagles. Nor will the running game, nor the receiving corps. If the Eagles are going to challenge for the division title, Jalen Hurts is going to have to become something close to what McNabb was in his first full season as the team’s starter. He’s going to have to become a force in the NFL, someone who beats teams with his legs and his arms and makes his teammates better.

Blogging the Boys

Playing time for the Cowboys linebackers is one of the mysteries for the Dallas defense

Training camp and preseason should be very interesting for the Cowboys linebackers.

No longer do we just pencil in the names of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. Instead, we have to look at a few new factors that have muddied the waters at the position.

One is the influx of new players at linebacker. The Cowboys went out and drafted Micah Parsons with their top pick in the first round, then decided to double down by taking Jabril Cox in the fourth round. That was after they had already added Keanu Neal in free agency and declared him a linebacker. There is certainly a case to be made for playing time for each of the top five linebackers.

And that leads us to the second factor. Just how will new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn utilize them? There is always the run vs. pass linebacker. Smith and Vander Esch may seem like more of the former while Neal and Cox may fit more into the latter category. But there is also the flexibility factor. Will Micah Parsons be used in the designated pass rusher role to any significant degree? Will Quinn use defensive ends like Randy Gregory, Tarell Basham or others in a stand-up linebacker role on occasion, squeezing out some of the snaps for the regular guys?

Here’s one guess ranking the playing time of these five linebackers in 2021.

  1. Micah Parsons - He’s going to be used in a lot of ways and the Cowboys want to get their top pick on the field and settled in for the next five years.
  2. Keanu Neal - He obviously has Dan Quinn’s trust from their Atlanta days and he should be a top coverage linebacker option, which should be the majority of defensive snaps.
  3. Jaylon Smith - He has some versatility to his game in terms of rushing the passer and holds the big contract.
  4. Leighton Vander Esch - Injury could rob him of some time, and he seems less versatile, but should play almost as much as Smith.
  5. Jabril Cox - This will be his learning year as the Cowboys get him ready for a bigger future.

Big Blue View

Summer School 2021: Exploring the 11 personnel package
Taking a look at the most common personnel grouping in the NFL

Personnel groupings are one of the fundamental aspects of football, and the choices offensive coordinators make in particular, have a massive impact on the design of the play and how the defense will react to it. Whenever we watch film, one of the first steps is to identify the offensive personnel group and alignment. That simple step of identifying the grouping and alignment of the offensive skill position players can give us a great deal of insight into what both the offense and defense are looking to accomplish on a given play.

We’re going to get started by taking a closer look at the most popular and widely used personnel grouping in the NFL, the 11 Personnel package.

As there are always five offensive linemen and the quarterback on the field, that leaves the wide receivers to fill out the 11 positions. So, “12 personnel” is actually a grouping of one (1) running back, two (2) tight ends, and two (2) receivers, filling out the five skill position players (besides the quarterback) eligible to receive and advance the ball.

Therefore, when we say “11 Personnel” we are talking about a three-receiver set which uses just one running back and one tight end.

11 Personnel packages have absolutely exploded in popularity over the last few years, dominating offensive play-calling and becoming the de facto base package for almost every team in the NFL. To put the package’s rise in usage in context, roughly 34 percent of offensive plays were called out of 11 personnel back in 2008 (per Pro Football Focus). In 2020 the league average was 60 percent, with an average of 61.6 percent of plays being called out of 11 personnel per SharpFootballStats.

Almost every 11-personnel formation sees the offense line up in either a 3x1 or 2x2 set.

The 3x1 set consists of three eligible receivers on one side of the formation (either three receivers or two receivers and a tight end) and a single receiver or tight end on the other side. The 2x2 set has two eligible receivers line up on both sides of the offensive formation.

On the field, one the main driving forces behind the rise of 11-personnel in the NFL is the sheer versatility of the personnel grouping. Using the three receiver set, the offense can choose to call a balanced or unbalanced formation, change the spacing between players to create conflicts in coverage, call enhanced protections, as well as provide solid blocking for running plays.

As we might expect from a formation with three receivers on the field, the 11-personnel grouping (generally speaking) makes for a relatively efficient passing formation. Wide receivers typically run routes a bit further downfield than tight ends or running backs, getting into the 10-15 yard range where value is maximized compared to the risk of turnover. Historically, 11-personnel packages have also attacked the weaknesses of “base” defensive personnel packages. A three-receiver set either forces the defense to match the third receiver with a linebacker or safety, which is almost always a win for the offense, or substitute in a fifth defensive back. Teams might not have a third cornerback who is as good a player or athlete as the third receiver.