The Eagles did the unthinkable and borderline impossible. They won three playoff games as the underdog with a backup quarterback, and took down the Patriots’ fear based football machine. Just about every team folds when they get to their backup quarterback. The lesser talented player can’t run the same offense. They can’t make the throws needed. The coach fails to adapt. The Eagles took this situation, turned it into a Superbowl title, and morphed Nick Foles into a first round pick trade situation.
It took a couple of things for this to happen. One of which was time. Foles was getting accustomed to frigid water, slowly seeping, in the last three games of the regular season. He couldn’t dive straight in. Slowly he submerged into the offense. First his feet, then shins, and thighs in the regular season, then he wallowed far enough to swallow the belly against Atlanta, and finally plunged his head under in the NFC title game.
The first four weeks of the regular season aren’t even football. It takes repetition and collision over weeks of time for a team to gel. The players don’t practice as much as they used to. Add shoddy coaching to this and you get a weird warming up period to start the year.
Things are the same with a backup quarterback. No matter how many practice scraps and video sessions a player gets, there is nothing like the jungle rumblings of a live game. It takes time for the coaches to figure out, if they ever do, what the second quarterback can do and build around it. Understanding between the receivers and quarterback isn’t a lock of eyes in a punk rock super market, routes have to be run over and over, and then over again. Two weeks isn’t long enough.
The Eagles’ offense took off after this four week warming up period. Doug Pederson figured out how to scheme for Foles, and the rest of the offense learned how to play with him. Pederson set up easy throws that created one open receiver, ran plays with a variety of options, and unleashed deep passes that awoken a long forgotten slumber that hasn’t been seen since 2013.
Additionally, and just as importantly, Foles was surrounded by a spectacular amount of talent. Alshon Jeffery is a go up and get it monstar. Jay Ajayi can break tackles like Kyrie Irving busts ankles. LeGarrete Blount is a touchdown converting dump truck. Nelson Agholor is a tackle breaking horizontal route running extraordinaire. Zach Ertz was the most productive receiving tight end in football. And the spine holding these pages in place was one of the best offensive lines in football.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai took over for All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters, and went from being one of the worst tackles in football to a competent starter that can get in front of just about any speed rush, and is great at getting to the second level. Stefen Wisniewski is often overlooked and is one of the better guards in the league. Jason Kelce was the best center in football this year. Brandon Brooks is a Werebear run game mauler. Lane Johnson is a freak who hopped off the back of the Varsity Blues pickup truck.
Together these five dominated the line of scrimmage in every game this postseason. They made blocks to create a churning run game, and gave Foles the time he needed to do everything the coaching staff set up for him to do. The default difficulty setting was set to easy for the ball controlling glory boys.
The Patriots’ front seven was demolished by this pentagon. This wasn’t surprising. New England’s front seven was one of the shoddiest. They had a pressure rate of 28.1% (27th) and were 30th in run defense DVOA. They fought from disastrous to incompetent. Some real noble stuff. But they were in no match for the Eagles’ offense.
Last Sunday the Eagles had 538 total yards. 164 rushing on 27 carries for 6.07 yards an attempt. 374 passing on 44 attempts for 8.5 yards an attempt. Yards are for simpletons. They had an offensive DVOA of 23%.
The reigning story of this game is going to be Foles and the perfect touch passes he made, just as they should be. This is the primary focus of the game in general, and the primary reason why the Eagles won. But surrounding this improbable performance, were these five men smashing the line of scrimmage, to place Foles in an environment where he could do incredible things like this:
Instead of praise those already praised, and dig deeper into a subterranean mine, let’s get out the duct tap, peel those eyelids back, and open up on the bullying the Eagles’ offensive line did to the Patriots.
The play the Eagles used most frequently, and with the most success, was the outside zone. The bronzer on the Patriots’ front seven throughout this game was stunts. They tried to loop and crash to help their defenders overcome their lack of talent. Against individual blocks used in inside zone plays, and plays utilizing pulls, this works well, but against a disciplined offensive line that plays great together, these rapid movements are passed over to the correct blocker and taken advantage of.
In the first quarter, the Eagles scored their first touchdown by picking up 70 yards on two plays. The first was a 36 yard LeGarrette Blount run. Philly is running the outside zone to the right. The Patriots’ front is countering by having their weakside defensive end and tackle slant inside, and linebacker Kyle Van Noy (#53) loop around to the ‘B’ gap.
The nose tackle, Lawrence Guy (#93), swims over Kelce once the ball is snapped. Kelce doesn't react. He takes his zone step and looks to the inside gap. Behind him is Wisniewski taking a really deep first step to create the angle needed to get to Guy’s outside shoulder.
Kelce has his eyes on Van Noy. That’s the man in his gap. He offers an inside hand to help while stomping to him.
Instead, Van Noy loops around. He doesn’t sit in the gap. There’s no chasing by Kelce. He simply redirects flat and takes on defensive end Elandon Roberts (#55). Now they have a double team. Brooks can take on half of Roberts until Van Noy makes his way to his gap.
Hip to hip. One team, one dream, one soul, one goal. Brooks and Kelce combine into Brookce and devour Roberts. Wisniewski is unable to get to the outside half of Guy. But because Guy fights wide to not get reached, Wisniewski can wash him outside by attacking his inside half.
Wisniewski drives Guy out of the hole. Van Noy loops inside and Brooks peels off at the perfect time. Now Blount is scouring for his place in the world. There are two potential safety hazards. Malcom Brown in the ‘A’ gap with inside leverage against Vaitai, and safety Devin McCourty (#32) coming into the ‘B’ gap.
Blount’s most imminent hazard looks like an upcoming incident. Brown is crashing inside to close the gap. There isn’t much here.
BUT, Wisniewski, Kelce, and Brooks all drive their blocks out wide to open space. Additionally, Vaitai is able to gain power in his block once Brown gets light on his feet to pursue the ball carrier. Now, Blount has a hole.
Vaitai keeps his hands inside and drives Brown. All he’s able to do is get an arm tackle and feel the brush of Blount’s 250 pound body power past him.
From there he crashes past two defensive backs who over pursue him:
and leaves everyone screaming for him to toss a stiff arm, only to run out of gas and meekly turn the tackler’s head around, instead of knocking it off its stilts.
These same principles locked down the Patriots’ pass rush too. They kept control of their gap and ignored the exodus of bodies.
Aside from Trey Flowers, New England didn’t have a decent pass rusher on their roster. They relied on stunts and blitzes throughout the season to get even the 6’ deep community swimming pool amount of pressure they got. They don’t have the horses to chew up even terrible offensive lines in one v. one situations. So camaflouge and well executed stunts became the focal point of their attempted disruption.
In this game they didn’t want to heavy blitz Philly. They were afraid of the quick horizontal passes, and the screens the Eagles run. Instead they attempted to get after Foles by contorting five rushers into different spots on the line of scrimmage from where they lined up.
Like this play, the Eagles picked it up. The Patriots are bringing five on 2nd and 10. The Eagles don’t have a back in to block. They got what they got and that’s all they got. Philly is shifting one gap over on the right side and blocking man to man on the opposite while New England is using an E-T stunt on one end. The end crashes inside, the tackle loops around. On the other, the defensive linemen barrage into the outside gap while the wide ‘9’ defensive end loops into the ‘A’ gap.
At the snap there are two different pass sets going on. The left side is traditionally kick sliding while the right side steps to the right in unison. It’s spooky how in sync they are.
Kelce doesn’t react until the nose tackle makes a move. Once he dips his shoulder and rips, he takes a deep step to the right to get in front of him and covers his gap. Right tackle Lane Johnson plants on his right foot and looks inside once the defensive end leaves.
Brooks is a great teammate. He helps Kelce with his body while keeping his eyes to his right to protect his gap.
Once Brooks sees the defensive end pass across him, and the stand up linebacker blitz wide, he gives up on his gap. Zero improvisation and sticking in his gap would lead to a free rush for the nose tackle. He leaves his ‘B’ gap with his body and moves inside to help Kelce. This body movement signals to Kelce there’s a wolf at his door.
Kelce takes on the nose tackle’s outside half and pushes him to Brooks. He then steps backwards with his right foot to prepare himself for the rush.
The defensive end is in the ‘A’ gap. Kelce is off the block with the bed made and is awaiting his arrival. Brooks takes control once Kelce leaves. Johnson doesn’t have trouble. Things are locked shut.
With a perfect pocket Foles leads Jeffery away from two defenders, and over the head of another, to make a spectacular throw to convert this 2nd and 10.
You can’t be perfect all the time. Sometimes ya gonna make mistakes. It’s impossible not to. When these rare situations occurred Philly was able to recover thanks to some sublime individual efforts to keep the sacked total at zero throughout the entire game.
This is another 2nd and 10 pass attempt. The Patriots are in a 3-4 look with their second inside linebacker out wide in coverage. They have six in the box. The defensive tackle and inside linebacker are running a twist together this time. The tackle loops to the opposite ‘A’ gap and the linebacker comes across to the other one. Since Philly has a running back in they are having him block James Harrison (#92) on the edge, and shifting one gap over to the right.
Everyone shifts one gap inside. Kyle Van Noy steps like he’s blitzing before popping back in coverage.
Harrison doesn’t rush with everyone shifting one gap over. He sits on the edge in preparation for a backside zone run option that never materializes. He just stays there. Kelce comes into the ‘A’ gap and follows the tackle. New left guard Chance Warmack steps into his ‘A’ gap with no one to block. He spreads wide to look for traffic.
The tackle stops, slaps away Kelce’s hands, and comes into the inside gap. Kelce helps with his arm, and maintains his corner.
Warmack is there when the tackle comes inside. Kelce’s duty leaves him to help Brooks.
At this moment Kelce dives into his interior life. He realizes how wide he is. How far away he is from his original spot. He knows Brooks has this block under control, and worries about what may be going on behind him.
He spins his head around and sees Warmack on the defensive tackle, and the blitzing linebacker Elandon Roberts (#52) free to pulverize Foles. From a technical offensive line perspective this is called piggy backing. It’s when an offensive linemen acts as a running back and comes across to the other side of the formation to help in pass protection. Rarely is this used as part of the pre-snap protection. It’s easy for defenses to manipulate it with delayed blitzes. This time it’s used as it should be, as desperate improvisation.
He slips out of this traffic like a Planet Earth II iguana out of a strangling contraption. Mangled, he’s forced to recover and make up an enormous spat of ground.
Luckily, Roberts takes a poor angle and doesn’t squeeze hard enough. Kelce is able to keep his feet and get deep.
Kelce comes across and plops his head on Roberts’s inside shoulder.
And he knocks him off his path and out of the way.
Foles can’t find anyone open. He’s forced to chunk it out of the right side of the endzone.
The Patriots had only one real source of pass rush. But it was mostly a pseudoscience like phrenology. It was empty rushes from James Harrison. He was matched up against Vaitai one v. one for most of the game. He got close enough to smell the quarterback, but not close enough to do any real damage.
Throughout the season Vaitai has played admirably, and now looks to be an actual starting left tackle. His biggest struggle has been dealing with power and bull rushes. Yet, for the majority of their matchup, Harrison tried to bend the edge and run around Vaitai.
Consistently Vaitai was able to spurn Harrison. He pushed him deeper and around the pocket. Harrison was never able to rip and eject off the block with Foles in his path. Vaitai beat Harrison to point of attack and then held on from there.
Throughout the entire game the Eagles’ offensive linemen made spectacular individual blocks to spring Jay Ajayi and Blount. This time it’s Wisniewski pulling with patience to lead Ajayi on a 3rd and 4 conversion.
The Patriots are playing the Jaguars all over again. They have eight men in the box to stop the run. The Eagles are running counter to the right, Wisniewski (#61) and QB3 Trey Burton (#88) are pulling. The playside ‘Ace’ between Brooks and Kelce needs to get to the backside linebacker, Vaitai has to cover up the defensive end to allow Wisniewski to pull, and Johnson is blocking down on the defensive end.
My favorite part of this play isn’t even the pull. It’s the first two steps the offensive line takes. Wisniewski takes a parallel step that gains depth and ground. Vaitai and Johnson both first take a 45 degree step to cut off the defender and come at them head on. Brooks takes a less aggressive first step. It’s shorter. The key for him is nose tackle outside placement.
Aside from Wisniewski, all four get vertical to create a path for both pullers. Disruption is unacceptable. It kills plays with pulls every time.
When Wisniewski comes around the corner his path is narrow. He can’t squeeze through. It’s also 3rd and 4. He doesn’t want this run to bounce wide where Agholor is blocking an outside linebacker. The play needs to stay inside the tackles.
So instead of lead things outside he helps Johnson out. He drives this block to create space for his pull.
When this opening is created Brooks is getting to the backside backer. This time it’s a safety. He has him swallowed up. Additionally, Kelce is able to turn the defensive tackle inside. There’s no chance for him to come from the backside to make a life saving tackle.
On the way up Wisniewski helps Johnson again. Ajayi plants and looks to get vertical.
The best part of Wisniewski’s pull is the patience. Most offensive linemen will get scared and hurry when the defender isn’t there right away. They’ll either turn back around and get in the way, or run up field blocking no one. Wisniewski knows where his block is supposed to be. He trusts himself. He comes parallel to the line of scrimmage to find his block.
A pod for Ajayi to travel through is created. From there be breaks through a diving defensive back, cuts around the free safety, and falls forward once he’s tackled from behind.
My favorite block of this game came from Kelce however. He was their best player in this game. That vulgar and hoarse genie is my president.
On this block he takes the Patriots’ best defensive lineman, Brown, all the way to the playside ‘B’ gap once Brown slants that way. From there Brown sits, and comes back across to follow the back. With his hands inside, and his feet moving, Kelce is able to hold on and ride this bull for eight seconds.
And earlier in the game Brooks and him put together a perfect ‘Ace’ block on an outside zone left play. Kelce delayed his second level block, and turned back to help Brooks. He got just in the way enough at the second level to propel Blount for their second touchdown. Beautiful.
There’s so many things to learn from the Eagles’ Superbowl run. The need to be aggressive, going for it on fourth down is really good and more teams should do it, how to win with a backup quarterback, how to create open throws, but my favorite of which, is the impact a great offensive line has on a team. They were the foundation of this offense. These five allowed Pederson to build up from there to get Foles rocking. Without their defense destruction, Foles would have had to do more, and play outside the womb Pederson incubated. And now because of them, and their dominant postseason performance, the Eagles are finally Superbowl champions.