02 Oct 2006
Here's a detailed breakdown of the 45-yard touchdown pass from Donovan McNabb to Greg Lewis that broke the game open for the Eagles against the Packers.
It's first-and-10 on the Packers' 45-yard line. The Eagles just completed a 12-yard screen pass to Corell Buckhalter. They line up without a huddle. Backs Correll Buckhalter and Thomas Tapeh are in an I-formation. There are three wide receivers on the field: Lewis split wide right, Hank Baskett in the slot right, and a third receiver, probably Donte Stallworth (edit: this receiver, who can barely be seen on the television replays, is probably Reggie Brown), wide left. This is the fastest personnel grouping the Eagles had available on Sunday night. Their goal on this play is to isolate a cornerback on a faster receiver.
The Packers counter with a nickel defense. On the defensive line, ends Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Aaron Kampman take a very wide alignment: both are playing an outside 7-technique, almost a yard outside the shoulders of tackles William Thomas and Jon Runyan. Ryan Pickett is in a 3-technique on the defensive left side. Chris Cole plays a 1-technique between right guard and center. This is a pass-rushing alignment, and Kampman and KGB will take an upfield rush at the snap. Linbebackers Nick Barnett and Ben Taylor line up about five yards deep and inside the defensive ends. Safety Marquand Manuel walks up to a spot just behind them before the snap. Nick Collins stays very deep. Cornerback Al Harris covers Stallworth, with Charles Woodson on Baskett and Ahmad Carrol on Lewis. Lewis is the Eagles' #4 receiver, so it makes sense that Carrol, who is having a bad night, is assigned to him. The pre-snap read suggests man coverage, with Collins as the deep safety.
Donovan McNabb takes the snap and drops to execute a play-action fake to Buckhalter. The Eagles ran the ball well on the last drive, so the fake makes sense, but it doesn't appear to draw the linebackers up or slow the pass rush. Kampman and KGB are easily checked by Thomas and Runyan. Center Jamaal Jackson and guard Todd Herremans double team Cole. Guard Shawn Andrews has what should be the toughest assignment, handling Pickett one-on-one. Andrews locks on, and defensive tackle doesn't move. McNabb completes a deep drop and has a clear pocket.
Tapeh completes his block fake and runs a sharp sideline route left, taking Taylor with him. Buckhalter slides into the gap between Andrews and Runyan and runs a short arrow route to the right sideline. Barnett harasses him and follows him. It's man coverage, with one safety deep and the other (Manuel) spying McNabb and taking away the middle of the field. Baskett runs a crossing route 15-yards deep. Brown and Lewis run fly patterns.
The route combination is simple. It's designed to spread the defense horizontally and vertically. If the Packers were in a Cover-2 defense, Collins and Manuel could provide help on the deep fly patterns. But Collins is all alone. McNabb freezes Collins by quickly progressing from Tapeh to Baskett to Lewis with his eyes. Collins must respect the deep cross and the possibility of a deep pass to Brown's side. McNabb turns and throws immediately. KGB executes a spin move just before McNabb releases, but he cannot escape from Thomas.
Lewis runs a straight fly pattern and simply runs by Carroll. Carroll has a rep as an aggressive defender, and Lewis can easily be disrupted at the line, but Lewis gets off the ball clean without getting jammed. McNabb's pass is perfect. Collins has no chance to provide support. Lewis catches the ball at the two-yard line and waltzes into the end zone.
Chalk the success of this play up, at least partially, to the no-huddle offense. The Packers DTs may have taken a play off after the Buckhalter screen. Carroll may not have thought through his assignment at the snap. And of course, the Packers might not have called their ideal defense for the situation. The Eagles have been using the no-huddle effectively all year. Opponents will have to be ready for it.
Just in case Sunday night did not make it clear, defense rules the NFL in 2016. The best teams in overall DVOA all combine top-five defenses with below-average offenses. The Eagles now lead the league in both defense and special teams and are back to No. 1 overall.