Eagles scheming to win

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Zach Ertz catches pass at practice yesterday.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Zach Ertz catches pass at practice yesterday.
Posted: November 15, 2013

THE EAGLES' offense has experienced a bit of a metamorphosis in the last couple of weeks.

For much of the year, Chip Kelly has primarily used "11" personnel - formations featuring one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers. They haven't always lined up in the same place. But in the first eight games, 441 of their 542 offensive plays (81.4 percent) have featured "11" personnel.

The last 2 weeks, though, Kelly has used more "12" personnel - one back, two tight ends and two wideouts - than he has all season. Thirty of the Eagles' 57 plays in their 49-20 win over the Raiders 2 weeks ago featured two-tight end sets. In Sunday's 27-13 win over the Packers, 21 of 58 plays employed "12" personnel.

"There's advantages to both ['11' and '12' personnel]," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "Whether we're trying to create a mismatch and trying to get teams that play base personnel to put littler people out there so we can run the ball. Or if they use little people and we want to get them to use big people so we can throw it."

One of the reasons the Eagles have played so much "11" personnel this season is because it usually prompts the defense to switch from their base package to nickel (five defensive backs) so that they'll have a third corner on the field to deal with the Eagles' slot receiver, Jason Avant.

But because they've lifted either a linebacker or defensive lineman for a faster, but much lighter DB, they're more susceptible to the run. The Eagles have taken advantage of that.

Seven hundred twenty-one of LeSean McCoy's NFL-best 932 rushing yards have come with "11" personnel on the field. Most of those 721 yards were against nickel personnel.

McCoy is averaging 5.0 yards per carry in "11" personnel, 4.3 in "12" personnel.

"We've seen base at times [against '11' personnel)," center Jason Kelce said. "But teams have primarily played nickel against it. With the speed we have on the field, the way we spread the ball out, defenses want to have more speed on the field, even if it theoretically leaves them more susceptible to the run."

In the Eagles' first game against the Redskins in Week 1, they were in "11" personnel on 65 of 77 plays. The Redskins stayed in nickel most of the game. McCoy rushed for 184 yards on 31 carries.

"We played almost all nickel against them the last time," said Redskins linebacker London Fletcher. "We had trouble stopping McCoy in our nickel defense. He definitely was a difference-maker in that game."

Playing "12" personnel with versatile tight ends like the Eagles' has also posed matchup problems for defenses. If they stay in base, they are better equipped to defend the run, but then have to take their chances covering Zach Ertz or James Casey or Brent Celek with a slower linebacker or safety.

If they switch to nickel and bring in an additional corner, they've gained speed, but have lost size, both in defending the run and also covering a much bigger tight end.

"Against Oakland, we felt we had a scheme advantage [by playing more two-tight end sets]," Shurmur said. "They were going to play nickel to our '12.' We kind of took advantage of that with the idea of possibly creating run matchups.

"And also, we wanted to get Ertz on the field and use our personnel and spread it out and get guys on the field."

McCoy ended up running the ball just 12 times against the Raiders. But Nick Foles had the game of his life, completing 22 of 28 passes for 406 yards and seven touchdowns.

He was 11-for-16 for 96 yards and three touchdowns when the Eagles were in "12" personnel. Ertz was targeted six times and caught five passes for 42 yards and his first career touchdown. Last week against the Packers, two of Foles' three touchdown passes came with "12" personnel on the field.

The chess match continues Sunday in the Eagles' important rematch against the Redskins at the Linc. Will the Eagles play as much "11" personnel as they did in the first game and try to again run against the Redskins' nickel? Or will they continue the trend of the last 2 weeks and go to more two-tight end sets?

"It changes each week," Shurmur said. "How much we use one or the other a lot of times has to do with the matchup of the team we're playing and how they react to it.

"Let's say we have Ertz on the field and they play nickel. Well, there may be a size advantage to him on a corner. That kind of thing."

A breakdown of the personnel groupings the Eagles have used in their first 10 games:

Opponent"11" "12" "13"

Redskins. . . 65 12 0

Chargers. . . 49 8 2

Chiefs. . . 54 8 0

Broncos. . . 53 16 0

Giants. . . 62 15 0

Buccaneers. . . 45 20 0

Cowboys. . . 67 2 0

Giants. . . 46 12 0

Raiders. . . 27 30 0

Packers. . . 35 21 1

Note: The Eagles have run seven more plays with other personnel groupings, including five plays with no tight end.

Going sledding

Chip Kelly's practices aren't like most NFL practices. From the ear-splitting music to the keep-it-moving tempo to heart monitors to the smoothies to the Tuesday in-season workouts, Kelly and his staff do a lot of things that you won't see at the league's 31 other outposts.

One of those things is the daily sled work by the defensive linemen.

Most teams seldom use the sleds during the season. But like I said, the Eagles aren't most teams, and Kelly isn't most coaches. During every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday practice, defensive-line coach Jerry Azzinaro has his unit and the team's outside linebackers hitting the sleds.

It's no picnic 10 games into a brutal, 16-game NFL season. But the Eagles' defensive linemen think it's a big reason they're playing so well right now.

"It's a big part of what we've been doing up front," defensive end Fletcher Cox said of the sled work. "It shows on tape. We're being physical not just on Sunday, but also with the sled. I mean, the sled don't move. But it's part of [perfecting our] technique."

It's not unusual for college teams to regularly do sled work during the season, but it is for an NFL team. At least as much as the Eagles are doing it.

"Guys are used to hitting the sled in college," defensive end Cedric Thornton said. "But we didn't hit it that much when coach Wash [Jim Washburn] was here and the previous coach was here. But it's definitely paying off.

"It's perfecting our craft [for] Sundays. You can definitely see it. Everything's becoming a habit. The arm-overs. The strikes. And then going to the second target. It's helped me a lot."

Azzinaro has his linemen work the sleds early in practice, usually after stretching or position drills, then again later during breaks.

"Every time we get a break we're on the sled," defensive lineman Clifton Geathers said. "It's sled, sled, sled. Coach Az is all about technique and effort. That his main thing."

Azzinaro tells his players to envision the sled as an actual living, breathing, snarling offensive lineman, not just a piece of equipment.

"He has us look at it like it's an offensive lineman instead of a sled," Thornton said. "So we're picturing ourselves on Sunday, attacking our target. He teaches us the technique part of it."

Azzinaro's unit has developed into one of the defense's greatest strengths. They were instrumental last week in helping neutralize Packers running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks.

"Doing the sled every day has definitely helped us," rookie nose tackle Bennie Logan said. "It helps us to continue working our techniques. It makes us put our hands on our opponent and just control them. Every day we hit the sled is another opportunity to polish our technique so we won't lose it during the season."

Figuring the Eagles

* Fifteen of the Eagles' 28 touchdown drives have been four plays or less, including six that were two plays or less. They've had just three touchdown drives longer than eight plays.

* The Eagles' longest touchdown drive this season in terms of time consumption was a 10-play, 84-yard drive against the Raiders that ate up all of 3 minutes, 58 seconds. Seventeen of their 28 TD drives have lasted less than 2 minutes, including nine that have lasted less 1 minute.

* The Eagles are first in the league in rushing, averaging 153.5 yards per game. But they're only 17th in rushing touchdowns, averaging 0.7 per game (seven in 10 games). In the last two seasons, the Eagles have a total of 17 rushing touchdowns. That's as many as LeSean McCoy had by himself in 2011.

* The Eagles, who had a league-high 22 lost fumbles last season, have just eight this year, including three in the last seven games. They've lost just two fumbles in their last 208 rushing attempts, only one of them by a running back (LeSean McCoy vs. Tampa Bay). McCoy has one fumble in 193 rushing attempts and 223 touches this season. Last season Eagles running backs lost seven fumbles. So far this year, they have just the one.

* After giving up first-possession points in three of the first five games, the Eagles haven't allowed a first-possession score in the last five games.

* LeSean McCoy has 13 100-yard rushing performances since the start of the 2011 season. That's the fourth most in the league, behind only Marshawn Lynch (19), Arian Foster (16) and Adrian Peterson (16).

* The Panthers' offense is the antithesis of the Eagles. The Panthers are first in the league in time of possession (33:48) and second in drives of five-plus minutes (17). The Eagles are last in time of possession (25:10) and have had just four drives of 5-plus minutes.

Around the league

* All of you Joe Banner haters out there will enjoy this story. Offensive lineman John Moffitt said the Browns, where Banner is the CEO, intentionally failed him on his physical last month when he wouldn't agree to a pay cut after being traded by Seattle to the Browns. "I haven't said this publicly - they suck; Cleveland sucks," Moffitt said this week in an interview with 710 ESPN Seattle. "They are so terrible and the way that they did me in that front office is so dirty. They failed me on a physical." Because he failed the Browns' physical, the trade was voided. Shortly after that, the Seahawks dealt him to Denver where - surprise, surprise - he passed his physical with flying colors. The Browns have denied Moffitt's claims. Last week, Moffitt abruptly retired, saying he didn't enjoy playing football anymore.

* Juan Castillo is under fire again. The Eagles' former longtime offensive-line coach and short-time defensive coordinator is John Harbaugh's run-game coordinator in Baltimore. Problem is the Ravens haven't been able to run a lick this season. They're 30th in the league in rushing yards per game (73.1) and dead last in yards per carry (2.8). Ray Rice, a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the last four seasons and a guy with a 4.5 yard-per-carry career average entering this season, has just 289 yards and is averaging 2.5 yards per carry. Well, at least he got a Super Bowl ring.

* ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper still has South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney at the top of his 2014 draft board despite the fact that Clowney has just two sacks this season. "He's still right there," Kiper said. Clowney has been constantly double- and triple-teamed all season. "It's hard to go through a brick wall," Kiper said. "He's still No. 1. You've got him and [UCLA linebacker] Anthony Barr and [Texas A&M offensive tackle] Jake Matthews. Those are your top three right now. They're all pretty interchangeable."

* Kiper thinks as many as seven offensive tackles could go in the first round, and possibly as many as six quarterbacks. Though he'd like to see two of those projected first-round quarterbacks - Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley - stay in school one more year. "I think a third year of playing for these third-year sophomore quarterbacks would be extremely beneficial," he said. That said, Kiper expects Mariota to be a top-five pick if he comes out. He has Hundley rated as a mid- to late-first-rounder. "If Hundley would go back to UCLA and play another year with Jim Mora, he could get his grade up into the top five or top 10 next year," he said.

2-minute drill


* “He’s not in the building with us so what he’s saying really doesn’t affect me at all. I’m worried about what this team thinks and what I’m doing in here with my teammates.” — 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, on comments by former NFL QB and current ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, who said Kaepernick doesn’t go through his progressions very well

* “I hate it when people say you’re rebuilding because to me that’s a slap in the face to the people that are out there playing. You sit there and say, ‘They’re young, they’re rebuilding.’ But what about the guys that are out there playing? You think they’re sitting there telling themselves, ‘Oh, it’s OK, it’s a rebuilding year? ‘ ” — Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger

* “I think it’s great that they’re still talking about me after my career’s over. [Calvin Johnson] still has a ways to go. We’re just going to let this guy continue to develop, and if he should break the majority of my records or break all of my records, I’ll be the first one to congratulate him. But I know the sacrifice you have to put into it. It takes a lot of dedication, a lot of hard work.” — Hall of Fame WR Jerry Rice, on Calvin Johnson possibly breaking his receiving records


* The Cardinals have trailed at the half in four of their five wins. They have outscored their opponents in the second half of those five wins, 66-21.

* Seahawks QB Russell Wilson has 14 passer ratings of 100-plus in 26 starts.

* The Panthers haven’t allowed a first-quarter TD in 13 consecutive games. That’s the longest streak in the NFL.

* Cam Newton has completed a league-best 71.9 percent of his third-down pass attempts. That’s almost six points better than the runner-up, Drew Brees (66.3).

* NFL teams have scored a combined 6,836 points this season. That’s the most points through 10 weeks in NFL history. Previous high: 6,714 last year.

* Drew Brees and Peyton Manning both had four-touchdown, zero-interception games last week. It was the 15th time Brees has thrown four or more TDs and no interceptions, tying him with Tom Brady for most in league history. Manning has done it 13 times.

* Sunday night, the 9-0 Chiefs and 8-1 Broncos meet. Their .944 combined winning percentage is the highest for a game this late in the season since Dec. 7, 1969, when the 10-1

Vikings defeated the 11-0 Rams

This and that

* Linebacker DeMeco Ryans has been quick to give a lot of the credit for his excellent play this season to his defensive linemen. “It all starts with the guys in front of me,” he said. He’s right. In the two-gap 3-4 the Eagles play much of the time, one of the main jobs of the down linemen is to keep blockers off of the two inside linebackers so that they can make plays. That’s much different than the 3-4 the Houston Texans played in 2011, Ryans’ last year there. “We were coming off of the lockout when Wade [Phillips] took over the defense, so the defense we played that year was very simple,” he said. “It was more of an ‘under’ defense. It wasn’t really a 3-4 two-gap scheme. It was more a 4-3 ‘under’ type of defense. More one-gap defense for the inside linebackers.” Less protection for them, too.

* While Chip Kelly’s press conferences have been more interesting than Andy Reid’s were, they’re not more informative, at least as far as injuries are concerned. While we all used to poke fun at Reid for starting every news conference with an injury update, at least he gave one. Chip espouses the for-me-to-know-and-you-to-find-out philosophy of his pal, Bill Belichick, when it comes to talking about injuries. Makes it sound like he’d have trouble picking team trainer Chris Peduzzi out of a lineup. “Do I have any update?” he said yesterday, repeating a question about his injured players, including starters Jason Peters, Earl Wolff and Mychal Kendricks. “They didn’t participate yesterday. They did a couple of things on the side with the trainer and we’ll see how it goes today.”

* LeSean McCoy insists he doesn’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about winning the NFL rushing title. “The linemen really keep track of those things,” said McCoy, who leads the NFL in rushing by 61 yards over the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch. “From time to time, I’ll take a look at it. But it’s about winning games. Any back will tell you it’s cool to get the rushing title, but if you’re doing it losingwise, it’s not the same. When you’re winning and you have a big game yardagewise, that’s a way bigger deal than if you have 180 yards and lose.” That said, if Shady wins the rushing title, I’m putting the over/under on how long it will take his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, to call Eagles GM Howie Roseman and inform him that McCoy has outperformed the 5-year, $45 million contract he signed 18 months ago at 5 minutes.

Domo's rankings (through Monday night)

1 Chiefs 9-0 (1)

2 Broncos 8-1 (2)

3 Seahawks 9-1 (4)

4 Patriots 7-2 (6)

5 Saints 7-2 (7)

6 49ers 6-3 (3)

7 Lions 6-3 (10)

8 Colts 6-3 (5)

9 Panthers 6-3 (11)

10 Bears 5-4 (8)

11 Packers 5-4 (9)

12 Jets 5-4 (14)

13 Cardinals 5-4 (17)

14 Ravens 4-5 (19)

15 Bengals 6-4 (12)

16 Eagles 5-5 (20)

17 Chargers 4-5 (16)

18 Cowboys 5-5 (13)

19 Titans 4-5 (15)

20 Giants 2-6 (21)

21 Rams 4-5 (24)

22 Steelers 3-6 (29)

23 Dolphins 4-5 (18)

24 Browns 4-5 (22)

25 Raiders 3-6 (23)

26 Bills 3-7 (25)

27 Vikings 2-8 (30)

28 Redskins 3-6 (26)

29 Texans 2-7 (28)

30 Falcons 2-7 (27)

31 Bucs 1-8 (31)

32 Jaguars 1-8 (32)

Email: pdomo@aol.com

On Twitter: @Pdomo

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian.com

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