Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Eagles and the outside zone


Today I want to look at a run play that the Eagles used time and again against the Cowboys to pick up big yards. There are several reasons why this play interests me;

- We're always told that you can't run the same play twice in the NFL, because if you do, the defense will figure it out and be ready next time. Plainly that's not the case (and to be honest, never really has been),
- It follows on well from the posts I did about zone running, specifically the article that covered the play-pass off of the outside zone run,
- The tactical battle between the defense and the offense,

The last point is one that I really want to focus in on. Now without having sat in the meeting rooms during the week I can't say the following for certain - but it struck me that the Cowboys had set out their defense to take away the inside trap running that the Eagles are fond of. With the added threat of Mike Vick breaking out of the pocket and running up the middle, it made some sense for the Cowboys to protect the middle of their defense.

But there's protecting the middle and then there's loading so many guys up the middle that you leave the edge of your defensive front vulnerable. Lets take a look at the layout ahead of a 21-yard run by LeSean McCoy;

As you can see, the Cowboys have set their defense strongly to the right, with plenty of coverage against the run up the middle as well. The Eagles have brought a second tight end into the game, who is aligned just behind the starting tight end, and they're going to use that player to expose the weakness of the Cowboys defense to the left.

What they're going to do is run an outside zone to the right, caving down on a defense that has already been bunched up somewhat in the middle. The Will linebacker "W" (DeMarcus Ware) is going to be left unblocked by the offensive line, instead leaving the second tight end to come across the back of the play and make the block.

Now when Ware sees the left tackle blocking down and away from him, his job is to slant hard inside and fill the vacant hole on the backside of the play, to stuff any chance of a cut back run. He needs to keep his head up and his eyes open for that second tight end coming hard down the line to block him, and he really needs to defeat that block.

He doesn't.

DeMarcus Ware being DeMarcus Ware, he's looking for the potential sack on a pass play (he had four in the game), so he charges hard down field. The second tight end comes across and cuts at his feet, doing just enough to keep Ware out of the play and opening a huge hole to the backside. McCoy starts his run to the right, but seeing the penetration of the defensive tackles up the middle, cuts it back left and finds a hole so big you could drive an SUV through it;

Of note is the weak safety, who actually comes flying down hill, possibly worried about that second tight end leaking out of the backside of the play and into the flat, as described in my article of the play-pass off the outside zone. McCoy is able to cut inside of him and rumble for the 21 yard gain.

Right about now the cat is out of the bag. The Eagles now know that when they run the outside zone away from Ware, that Ware will come too far down hill because of his pass rush instincts. The next time the Eagles ran this play, Ware had a safety blitzing outside of him, but still didn't react quick enough to the left tackle blocking down. When he finally did turn inside to take on that tight end coming across the formation, he got his head stuck on the wrong side of the man and was blocked out of the play.

To be fair to Ware, his nearest defensive end didn't do him any favours on the second play, slanting so hard inwards as a reaction to the run action right that he ended up leaving a massive hole between him and Ware. One of the great advantages that the Packers, Ravens and Steelers have had against the run in recent years has been the discipline and stoutness of their defensive linemen against the run, occupying blockers and playing two gaps in order to free up their linebackers to make more of the plays.

I just thought I'd bring this play up because it rounds off the series of articles on zone plays nicely, showing the use of the second tight end to block the backside instead of a fullback. I also like the fact that once the Eagles had spotted a weakness that they went back to the play again and again, knowing that McCoy could make the read and cut back through that big gap. Often it's the ability or failure to spot these little things and make adjustments during the game (without the benefit of replays like me ;) ) that often separate some of the more successful coaches from their peers.

That's all for today. Tomorrow I'm planning to put down my crazy idea for an NFL alternative, in honor of the UFL potentially playing its last season. Till then, enjoy your day.

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