The Transition from Michael Vick to Nick Foles
In 196 attempts Nick Foles has solidified himself as the Eagles starter, likely for the long term. His bulk numbers are at a level that no second year quarterback has done in 29 years. Beyond the 19 touchdowns to no interceptions what is more impressive about Foles season is forcing Chip Kelly’s hand with Vick. Vick was having a fairly good year throwing and added a very good dimension to the rush offense. What Foles has lacked in rushing he has made up for in passing.
Now I’ve heard about how Kelly has made some changes to his offense to help Foles out and that this is a system situation. So when I turned on the tape I was expecting to see some dramatic changes away from when Vick was in at QB. Maybe the inside option would be removed or limiting the levels of which Foles had to throw the ball. What I ended up seeing was an offense that was nearly identical to the one that Vick ran. So lets get into it.
Here on play one we see the Eagles on the road in New York. I’ll have Desean Jackson highlighted through these series of posts as he tends to be the primary receiver in these routes and want to have an eye where he is. The formation is(from the offenses perspective) strong left, queen back(meaning the running back is lined up away from the strength) trips left, wide right. What we see from the route tree is our wide guy at the bottom is running a comeback route while the two slot receivers are running In routes. The runningback will run a flare while Jackson will run the corner route.
Now I’m not too concerned with the execution as I am with the style of offense. What we see is a 2 level pass tree. All the non-primary receivers are at the same level, potentially to draw the LBs, and potentially the safety, into the underneath routes to leave a true one on one with Jackson and his cornerback. Unfortunately the safety did not bite. But it does tell me that Kelly maybe simplifying the route tree a little here giving exactly one true read and a bunch of dumpoff passes. It’s a very interesting way to attack that single high safety the Giants ran.
On play number two we see strong left(TE is on the offense’s left) king(running back is to the strength) wide left, twins right. Now from a route tree perspective our WR at the bottom of the screen is stutter stepping into and outside release, the tight end will be running a flat route under the linebackers, our slot receiver is running a short out route while Jackson will be running a deep in route.
Now notice the different levels in the route tree. But what is missing? There is a lot of field not being used. Now this is a tactic to keep a QB’s eyes to one side of the field and make reads a bit easier. Everything in Kelly’s offense is designed to help the QB, no doubt, but the throws still have to be made.
On play #3 we have a similar formation to play one. The strength is to the right with a wideout left and a queen back. Now this play does not have a “true primary” from the sense that I can’t distinguish one. Onto the route tree, the wideout will stutter for an inside release, runningback with the flare and now we have the pyramid. The point man(or 2 slot) will run the flat route while the 3 slot(man closest to the offensive tackle) is running a very flat out route. Desean Jackson will run the go route.
Now Vick’s pocket presence has not been a strong suit of his. Mobile QB’s always will have high sack percentages than pocket quarterbacks but Vick’s sack rate has always been high(Vick is at a career 8.7%. For comparison Cunningham was 10.1 and Steve Young 7.9). Being flushed out of the pocket meant that Vick did not get the benefit of the WR’s potentially beating coverage. Jackson is just starting his break and Cooper is up on the corner at the opposite 40 yard line. Now onto the tree itself. Again we see very clear levels. And this time the entire field is planning to be used with Jackson over the middle, Cooper to the deep half, two intermediate routes and McCoy on the flare. There are a lot of options and a lot of reads. This is a more traditional route tree with 5 receivers out on a play.
So we’ve seen Kelly use the 1 man deep route with numerous checkdowns, the read through the receivers by flooding a side of the field, and a traditional route tree. And all of these with Vick at quarterback. Now onto Foles pass plays.
Now we are seeing this formation for the first time. Strong right, Trips right, Wide left(Riley Cooper), Queen back. The difference is the Tight End is on the ball and there is no pyramid type formation. This ends up being the case because this is a 3 man route with the runningback and tight end both blocking on this play. The two wideouts at the bottom will be running stop routes. Cooper is running a stop route as well but his CB is playing off instead of press. Leaving this route completely open if the DB continues to be passive.
Foles wastes no time. He goes with the play fake to the runningback but very quickly pulls back and the ball is thrown. This was a great pre-snap read from Foles and as far as playcalls go, a perfect one. Now the play doesn’t really have time to develop but we can see again that there will be many WR’s on the same level though as none of them have much interest in pushing downfield. Kelly’s offense really shines at having very distinct levels.
Ok on play two we have strong right, trips right, slot left, queen. A formation we have seen. The Wideout to the bottom of the screen(Zach Ertz) is likely playing so close to the line due to the ball being on the left hash mark. He will be running a Corner-Post. The runningback is running a flare, the 3 slot an in route, the 2 slot a corner route and the wideout also an in route.
Notice Foles sitting comfortable in the pocket. This is a long developing play and he is going to trust his offensive line to get the job done. Again we will have 3 very distinct levels in the route tree. McCoy on the flair, our two in routes, and our two deep routes. Now what makes this play so successful is Foles reading of the safety(orange box). The Safety is attacking towards Ertz suspecting the stop route or the corner route that. Ertz ends up showing a corner route but after a few steps he breaks off into a post route and puts himself between the safety and the QB.
By putting on the double move he breaks in under the safety and ends up having a fairly easy touchdown grab. Also notice Cooper was beginning to break open into the endzone as well(the ball is out so the DBs are more out of position that they were).
Now there are obviously some differences than what we saw earlier. I’m only showing select plays but overall the Eagles did not try to flood too much as they tended to show with Vick. That would likely be the biggest difference. This is likely because Foles is a much more accurate QB than Vick and opens up a few more chances over the field. That is just my guess though, they could potentially show up later in the season, especially against teams that run predominately zone(*ah hem* Cowboys in week 17 for a playoff spot?*ah hem*).
Now Foles has definitely been the stronger QB this year when it came to passing the ball. But, Chip Kelly’s offense also has another side to it. The Read option and run game.
Let’s first talk about just how good Vick is at running the ball. Vick has a career 7.1 yard per carry. That is 2.1 yards more than Adrian Peterson. I know, the yardage comes differently and at a much lower usage(over 127 games Vick has carried the ball 825 times as Peterson in 101 games has 2015 carries). Also Vick’s runs aren’t all designed and can pick up large yardage against secondaries with their backs turned. But that doesn’t lessen his value when running nor his ability. And Chip Kelly wanted to take advantage of that.
The Vick run I’m looking at is an inside read option(not the zone read as the offensive line is not in a zone blocking scheme here). The runningback is looking to hit to the right side of the center while Vick will be reading the unblocked DT(highlighted in Orange). If the DT crashes Vick will take off and if the DT stays put the play will be a handoff.
The DL crashes on the runningback and Vick pulls the ball back. Notice how well everything is blocked by the OL. Each player is covered and with the DL keyed on the RB this play is designed perfectly to attack the 5 man front the Chiefs lined up with. We even have the left guard getting in position to cutoff that linebacker, a terrific job there.
Now this is where Vick thrives, improvising with his feet. The DL rallied and actually almost makes a play here for a loss. Too bad for him Vick is very slippery and ducks away. I also want to give credit to the OL again. This is just an incredible job by them.
Vick is onto the 2nd level now and the LG is STILL blocking that linebacker. That is so good. But the point is that Kelly wanted to punish the 5 man front with the inside zone and he is able to. This play ends up gaining 61 yards on just a very simple inside run. Now how was it so punishable? Well first of all the Eagles only had 5 linemen and 1 runningback. As Gruden loves to call it “10 personnel,” meaning 1 RB no TE’s. This put the Chiefs into a decision. They decided to go with a 6 man box and cover. Doing so led to the run being so incredibly effective by having so few guys to block inside.
Now let’s jump right into play 2
Our pre-snap look is the same as the last play. Chiefs still had 6 guys in the box but the difference now is that they cheated a DB off the edge. Vick ends up reading him and the OL blocking switched to take care of the down linemen. Instead of an inside option we now see the outside read option. With that DB squatting Vick will be forced to hand it off.
But what I want to look at is the impact of the QB runner. The LB I boxed is caught in between. Instead of attacking the gap he is sitting back to see how Vick decides to play. This does not work with NFL speed. by not scraping over the top he is allowing the OL to get into position to block him and he is taking himself out of the play. But with Kelly’s offense, the QB has to be respected, and that little bit of hesitation costs the LB.
Again the offensive line blocks this play to perfection. I circled that DB who was on Vick just to show how committed he was to the QB not pulling off until the very last second. There in lies the danger of this system is that if the QB reads that play wrong there is a potential for a gigantic hit on the most important position in sports. Also, if you notice the LB I boxed on the last play, Not only has he given up ground backwards he has made little progress in his scrape to the short side of the field, leaving McCoy with a hole that runningbacks dream of. And also his indecisiveness allowed that offensive linemen to get up onto him and put away any chance of a tackle for just a medium gain.
Now onto the option game with Foles.
Ok, so we are jumping right into this. Again we see 5 offensive linemen and 1 back for the Eagles. Cardinals also loaded up the box a little bit more. But pressed the line of scrimmage in hopes to leave no gaps for the run game to open up. Foles is reading that unblocked defensive player on the left side of the screen cap. It’s already clear that the defensive player is crashing down hard with no concern of Foles. This play is the outside read option play that we just showed on the McCoy run. The blocking is much more of a zone look though than the previous 2.
Foles reads the play perfectly and is left untouched with the ball. The defensive player is just realizing now that McCoy does not have the ball and he is letting the guy with it run behind him. Foles though, does not have the running ability of Vick. This play yields 9 yards. Which is terrific, but a far cry from the 61 that Vick pulled off. With that said, Foles is completely capable of running the same exact plays that were in when Vick was there.
What about the inside zone run that we showed on the long Vick run? Cards have switched up their defense a little bit. They still have 6 guys in the box but with two LBs to scrape and a safety that is teetering on the edge of the box. The safety is likely there due to the Tight End, for the first time in our screen caps, showing up in a down position tight to the line.
This will be my last off topic tangent but I do want to note the splits. Along the offensive linemen everything is NFL standard, 1-1.5 feet from center to guard and 2-2.5 feet from guard to center. The TE’s in the NFL typically will have 3.5-4 foot splits while here the Eagles tighten up their TE a bit. And despite so many college football teams that run spread going to 3+ foot splits between all of their linemen, Kelly has always had a tighter formation(his interior players may even be tighter than most teams). So just a little nuance that stayed the same from his transition to the NFL.
Ok, back to the play. Interestingly enough with how the defense was lined up, the Eagles read option play again was not a zone. They pulled the center and frontside guard around and are optioning off of the linebacker. If the linebacker had scraped over immediately to follow the pulling players Foles would have had a huge hole to run up. But the LB makes a great read and squats, the ball has to be handed off. Unfortunately for the Eagles, no other Cards player is biting on the potential Foles run and is playing their responsibilities perfect.
With so many players not keyed on McCoy and the outside defender doing a great job of keeping contain, there is just nowhere for McCoy to run. He makes a great play just to gain a couple of yards but this is not the effectiveness that Kelly wants out of his run game to move linebackers into the box and help the passing game. If a team can stop the run with their 6 men in the box and a safety on the edge, this is where problems can rise up for the Eagles. And no other defender biting on the Foles fake did not help either, whereas had Vick been the one running the play, maybe the backside LB cheats back(much like we saw on the McCoy run with Vick in the backfield).
So despite all that has been said about Kelly shifting around the offense and potentially changing the playbook to help Foles out, it seems that overall the playbook is very similar. The difference may be in the route tree that is being used but that is very difficult for me to break down as I’m not sitting in the coaches meetings on how they want to attack certain defenses. But with all that said, Foles seems to be a terrific fit for the offense. He poses some, even if it is limited, threat as a runner. Enough for teams to squat and leave a defender keyed in on him. Also moving up from a 54.6% completion QB to a 63.3% completion QB helps open up a lot of shorter pass routes in the tree. And potentially sneak those deep passes over the second level after picking apart the zones.
Watching Kelly’s offense evolve from here is going to be very interesting. Running plays at speed is great but I think the genius of the system is the ability to continuously attack teams with formations that you can pass and run from with no way of keying on what the Eagles could be doing. This is what makes Defensive Coordinators lose sleep at night. The Eagles next 4 opponents are: vs Lions, @ Vikings, vs Bears, @ Cowboys. Outside of the Lions rush defense I do not see much in the ways of resistance for this offense in these coming weeks. This matchup against the Lions in particular should give us a good idea about how this offensive line can work against a good defensive line and if the Eagles can get positive yards on the ground.