Scheme Session: the big-play Eagles

In today’s edition of “Scheme Session” here at the NFP, we are going to take a look back at the Giants-Eagles matchup from Sunday, where Donovan McNabb once again hooked up for a big play down the field that produced points. This time—a 54-yard TD pass that gave the Eagles a 23-7 lead and put the Giants away for good.

The idea behind this play off of Andy Reid’s call sheet was simple, because the Eagles are in the area of the field (between the 40’s) where offenses are known to take shots down the field—especially in 1st down situations.

Let’s take a look below at the chalkboard first, break down the play, and then watch the replay on the video.

Reid and the Eagles send in a personnel grouping that I learned as “Posse”, which consists of 3WRs, 1TE, and 1 RB. As we talked about above, they are on the minus-46 yard line, a perfect spot on the field to challenge the Giants secondary down the field. And, that is exactly what the Eagles do, using a max-protection scheme (keeping in 8 player to block) and running what is virtually a 2-man route—designed for McNabb to read high to low, with the emphasis on hitting Jackson for the big play.

As we can see, the Eagles run a what looks like a version of Hi-Lo Crossers that we talked about last week in my “Scheme Session” breakdown of a big play from the first Packer-Vikings meeting of the season, only that Jackson, with an inside vertical release, breaks his route back to the 7 route (flag route). The idea behind this route is to simulate a high-low route, with a pre-snap look that gives the defense a false read.

Looking back at the diagram, DeSean Jackson, No.10, takes a split inside the numbers, while Jeremy Maclin, No.18, aligns on the top of the numbers at the bottom of the field. With the ball on the near hash, Maclin’s split equals an alignment that is considered inside the numbers to opposing defenses.

Any defensive player at this level will tell you that seeing two wide receivers aligned inside the numbers in their pre-snap read equals one of two things: an inside breaking route, or the basic 10-12 yard out route. But, when both Jackson and Maclin come off the line of scrimmage with an inside release, the out route doesn’t exist anymore—as you can’t release inside a defender and then go through him to get back to the position to run the out route.

However, it can still be stopped, just like any offensive play drawn up on the chalkboard. But, why wasn’t it?

In the diagram, the Giants are actually blitzing in this play, using a form of a “Double A” gap zone blitz with the Mike (or Middle) Linebacker and the Sam (or Strong Side) Linebacker—and dropping seven into coverage. Both DEs are dropping to the strong and weak side hook, while the non-blitzing backer, the Will (or Weak Side) Linebacker is dropping to the middle hook. Both corners are playing zone-man coverage, knowing that they have two deep safeties over the top.

On paper, the Eagles should be able to handle the two blitzing linebackers, the Nose on the long scoop, and the DT running through the “B” Gap to the strong side, which they do. But, the Giants should be able to force McNabb to check down to either the TE, or to Shady McCoy, No.29, once they check release out of the backfield.

But, we already know the result. Let’s take a look below at the video replay to see how Corey Webster, No.23, and the SS, No.41 CC Brown, are beat down the field by Jackson.

The fault here is that Webster drops Jackson to the safety who is playing from inside out on Jackson—and once Jackson stems to the corner, there is no underneath help, and no possible way for Brown to make a play on the football. Now, the route beats the coverage because the Giants are out of position. The dotted lines in the diagram show where Webster could have dropped—underneath Jackson—to give some help to the safety.

Is it a busted coverage? Yes, but it is also an example of how fragile schemes are at this level. A great call by Philly given their position on the field, and a big mistake by the Giants. You bust a coverage in this league, and the result is six points.

Or as an old coach of mine used to say, “time to strike up the band.”

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