Jalen Hurts took a shotgun blast on a third-and-6 from the Saints’ 15-yard line. It was a critical loss for both teams in Week 11, with the Eagles struggling to go 2-5 in the playoffs image and the Saints trying to hold on to a spot as a 5-2 start had begun to slip away. The second-year quarterback was hoping to find one of his most reliable targets against one of football’s best third-down defenses.
New Orleans was rushing four defenders and had three more – linebacker Kwon Alexander, cornerback Paulson Adebo and safety Malcolm Jenkins – in the second level of its defense to handle receivers vying for the first-down score.
Hurts spotted running back Boston Scott far to his right, running a path into the end zone, which cleared a defender. Catcher Greg Ward Jr., in the same side slot, ran a quick incline before flattening his route and coming right in front of Adebo, forcing the cornerback to mark Ward as a post defender in a basketball game. On the other side of the lineup, slot catcher Quez Watkins ran a modified, rounded slice-like route that affected New Orleans in three very subtle and incredible ways:
• Forced cornerback PJ Williams to exclusively follow Watkins, putting 2021 first-round pick DeVonta Smith in single coverage all the way to the left.
• Forced Alexander to hesitate momentarily, deciding, just for a millisecond, whether he should have backed off to cling to Watkins or whether he needed to focus on Ward and whatever else was happening on the right (his left) side.
• Forced Jenkins to take a hard step in Alexander’s direction, which is all the Eagles needed to clear the right side of the field between the scrimmage line and the end zone from 15 yards away. This is where Hurts is most comfortable throwing the ball, according to Next Gen Stats, with a passer rating of 106.9 on intermediate shots to his right (18 points above league average) and 144.9 on shots from 10 to 20 yards. to your right (double the league average).
With chaos sown, Dallas Goedert, arguably Hurts’ favorite pass receiver, stuttered off the line, saw all three defenders in his immediate area get caught, and ran a dazzling route into seemingly limitless green space. He caught a first down and was within a fingernail of scoring a touchdown.
Welcome to one of the most efficient offenses in football, a reality we are waking up to this week as the Eagles, a team many of us take for dead, assuming they were looking ahead to 2022 and preparing to enjoy the loot. of three upcoming first-round draft picks, they secured a playoff spot Sunday with a victory over Washington. Philadelphia leads the league in rushing yards and touchdowns. The Eagles are second in rushing attempts and third in rushing yards per attempt. They are the tenth in percentage of units that end in a score.
This running game is a vehicle for a scheme designed by coach Nick Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, combining the more powerful aspects of Sirianni’s time on the Frank Reich tree along with Steichen’s high-percentage offense friendly to the quarterback who propelled Justin Herbert to a rookie of the year award. In Los Angeles, with both Philip Rivers and Justin Herbert, the Chargers were one of the best action and game teams in the NFL. The Eagles are steadfast in that tradition, but in a different way.
The Eagles won that game against the Saints 40-29. And the victory, coupled with the crucial impact on the conference record and a head-to-head tiebreaker over New Orleans, is one reason Philadelphia can now see the starters at rest in the final week of the season.
The aforementioned play was a microcosm of how, seemingly on every down, the defenses the Eagles face stretch and conflict. They are wary of carrying the box to stop the race but are hesitant to go to the light, given how prolific Philadelphia’s running game has been. When everything is tied to the action of running, even when the Hurts mobile is in the center, the chances of hitting some of its characteristic deep crossing routes are increased. They are one of the best explosive play offenses in the NFL right now.
The Eagles are difficult to defend because the core of their running game is so versatile. Hurts’ mobility appears to allow Sirianni and Steichen to borrow zone reading concepts from both the NFL and college. Philadelphia can be seen, for example, as the Ravens trailing center for a week. The next? The Eagles can sit at 13 people (one receiver, three tight ends), which they use more often than all other NFL teams except three (the Browns, Titans, and Falcons) and hit football like a traditional racing team. downhill.
It appears the Eagles’ two offensive minds were energized, not deterred, by the prospect of working with Hurts, which manifests itself in the variety of ways we see the quarterback deployed. In that Saints game, which was an instructive visualization, giving us a glimpse of the Eagles against one of the best defenders in football, we saw Hurts throwing the ball from an empty set, hitting some quick RPOs like Alabama and then executing a delayed handover. Reading zone, which looked like it had come straight out of the Wake Forest playbook when Hurts isolated Cam Jordan and held the ball until Jordan engaged the running back. It’s enough Lamar Jackson, enough Russell Wilson, and enough Josh Allen to make it all work. The genius of the playbook is that it doesn’t require Hurts to be one of those full-time quarterbacks.
As we’ve seen from the Patriots this year, Philadelphia is displaying a forward strategy that is completely unique to its quarterback and offensive line, not replicable, and therefore difficult to prepare for. The Eagles are bucking the trend of a quarterback with tools that dictates the offense, which is becoming more difficult to facilitate given the relative shortage of prototypical passers who control the game.
The result, for an opposing defense, is confusion, frustration, and a sinking feeling with every play that the person you’re scoring is probably just a ruse. Someone is open elsewhere, the quarterback is slipping out of pocket, or a running back is on the way to trick him.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.