Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

23 Sep 2015

Film Room: Philadelphia's Struggles

by Cian Fahey

It never takes long for the panic to set in when it comes to the NFL.

Just 12 months ago, Aaron Rodgers was forced to emphasize five letters -- "R-E-L-A-X" -- when confronted with uncomfortable questions after a 1-2 start. Rodgers went on to win the MVP award, while the Packers finished one onside kick recovery away from a trip to the Super Bowl.

Around the same time that Rodgers had told Green Bay fans to chill, the Indianapolis Colts had begun their season with an 0-2 record. The Colts lost to a team that didn't make the playoffs at home, and the Denver Broncos on the road. They ultimately beat the Broncos in Denver to get to the AFC Championship Game, where they lost to the New England Patriots -- a Patriots team that had been widely written off after a Week 4 demolishing at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles find themselves in a similar situation this season. Kelly's team has begun the year with consecutive losses, in Atlanta against the Falcons and at home to the Dallas Cowboys. Having re-tooled his offense during the offseason, Kelly was always going to face more scrutiny if his team didn't win. His team isn't winning, but that's not the extent of the issues. That re-tooled offense has produced less than anyone expected. The Eagles rank 25th in yards and 28th in points scored through two weeks. Sam Bradford is second in the league with four interceptions, while DeMarco Murray has incredulously run for just 11 yards on 21 carries.

The only thing matching Kelly's embarrassment is the snark from those on the outside looking in.

Kelly doesn't believe that he needs to make radical changes. Speaking after the loss to the Cowboys, Kelly said "The personnel is good enough. The execution isn't. ... We're not putting together a plan that's good enough for us to execute offensively.” Saying that the personnel is good enough but the execution isn't, or hasn't been as it was meant in this context, is not a conflicting statement. The Eagles have players who have proven to be talented and effective in different sample sizes but simply haven't played to their established standards to this point in the season. This is most evident in the running game, where the blocking has been nothing short of catastrophic. Kelly went into great detail to explain why his offense is breaking down so badly:

I think people are defending us to not allow us to throw the ball over the top. It starts with the running game. You've got to establish the run so that they have to commit more people to the run. Right now, we haven't done anything in the running game. We're seeing single-high or two-high safeties, and those safeties are not involved in the running game at all because they don't have to be. It kind of goes hand in hand. When you start to run the football well, they need to now take people from deep and start to move them up closer to the line of scrimmage. Now you have the opportunity to throw the ball over the top.

For all the nuances of Kelly's offense, the underlying foundation has been exactly what he described in the above quote. The Eagles offense has actively and aggressively looked to establish the run before taking deep shots downfield or to specific intermediate routes that complement play action. In 2013, the Eagles ranked first in rushing DVOA by a huge margin. In 2014, they ranked 13th in rushing DVOA but still ran the ball 29.6 times per game. Kelly's release of Evan Mathis, trade of LeSean McCoy, and lack of interest in retaining Todd Herremans reflected his frustration with the inefficiency of his rushing attack. Investing so much money in Murray and Ryan Mathews reinforced that frustration.

Through two games this year, the Eagles running game has been awful because of their run blocking. It's hard to argue that they miss Mathis and Herremans on the offensive line, because both players are proving to be liabilities with their new teams in Denver and Indianapolis respectively, but the lack of continuity up front appears to be an issue. Kelly himself has admitted that the running backs aren't being given a chance because of the poor blocking, but it's statistically evident too. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Murray has been hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on 10 of his 21 carries.

Though it's not a good thing, the Eagles can take some solace in the fact that their blocking hasn't simply collapsed because their new guards aren't good enough to play at this level. Their blocking has been a problem because there have been blown assignments up front from those guards, but also because established players have been playing uncharacteristically poorly.

Cohesion is extremely important on the offensive line. It only takes one blocker to miss his assignment or not understand how his teammates are going to adjust on the fly to give a defender an unblocked route to the football. With two new starting guards, the Eagles were always likely to suffer early on in this sense. Kelly needs to take much of the blame for how he ran the ball against the Falcons in Week 1. He didn't take pressure off his new starting guards by repeatedly running behind the obvious matchup advantage the team had with Jason Peters going against rookie Vic Beasley.

Instead, Kelly called very few running plays, and when he did he worked away from Peters towards the other side of the field.

This is a common play for the Eagles' running game. Bradford is in the shotgun with Murray next to him. It's an inside zone run as Murray is initially directed towards the inside of his right tackle, who has pushed outside to engage the edge defender. While the tackle works to the outside, the tight end to his side of the field advances downfield. This part of the play is executed perfectly and would have created a huge running lane for Murray to run through. Murray never reaches that point in the play though, because his left guard blows an assignment on the backside of the play.

Allen Barbre is that left guard. He is responsible for the space in front of him, but there is initially nobody there before the ball is snapped. Linebacker Paul Worrilow advances towards the line of scrimmage just as the ball is snapped. Barbre watches Worrilow and initially looks set to engage him, but hesitates and turns to help left tackle Jason Peters in a double team instead. This gives Worrilow a clear lane to Murray as he receives the ball.

Murray breaks Worrilow's attempted tackle, but the time it takes him to get past the linebacker allows the defense to close the running lane that had previously been opened outside. Murray was met at the line of scrimmage and gained just 2 yards because of that.

Zone-blocking schemes require offensive linemen to be intelligent in how they read the actions of the defenders in front of them. For the blocking to work effectively, those blockers also have to be in tune with the blockers immediately to their left and their right. On this outside zone stretch to the left, the Eagles are running against a light box. There are three defenders on the front side of the play highlighted with red numbers and three to the backside highlighted with green numbers. The Eagles offensive line must essentially create a moving wall as they slide to the left. Their actions from that point will be determined by what they saw before the snap and how the play develops after the snap.

The problem area for the Eagles on this play is on the left side, with Peters at left tackle and Barbre at left guard. At the snap, Jeremy Mincey, the defensive end to that side, aligns so wide that Barbre likely is expecting to advance onto the linebacker without even considering the defensive end. Understanding the low box count, Barbre must read the linebacker, who will either crash the line or stay deeper and look to move with the offensive line.

When the ball is snapped, Peters and Barbre appear to be have read the defense differently. As Barbre is immediately drawn to the linebacker who doesn't crash the line of scrimmage, Peters oversets to the outside as if he were expecting Barbre to follow him to create a combo block before one of them advanced onto the linebacker. Because Peters oversets against Mincey without the help inside to balance off the block, the defensive end is able to brush him aside and meet Murray in the backfield.

As Peters climbs downfield and picks up the linebacker, Barbre is left alone and Mincey takes Murray down for a loss. Had the left tackle-left guard combination executed their assignments cohesively, Murray would have had a chance at a huge gain, potentially a touchdown, because he had strong blocking wide receivers downfield with only a free safety unaccounted for to beat in space. Instead, he lost 5 yards on the play without ever having an opportunity to advance to the line of scrimmage.

"Correctable" is a term that is recklessly applied to too many situations in the NFL today. What is too often ignored is how rational it is to expect something to be corrected, because most issues a team has are correctable. For the Eagles, expecting the offensive line to develop greater cohesion as they play more games together isn't irrational. It's similarly rational to expect players who have previously played consistent, effective football to return to form over a larger sample size. If they don't, Kelly can still look to scheme around their deficiencies or turn to other personnel options. Two players who have disappointed so far are center Jason Kelce and tight end Brent Celek.

Kelce is more likely to return to form. He hasn't played as poorly as Celek, and the Eagles don't have a viable replacement for him. Therefore it's the tight end who falls into the spotlight.

Celek lines up as the tight end to the right on this play. He is carrying out a key role as the Eagles will look to pull two offensive linemen behind him and sweep to the outside. While his block is key, it's not an exceptionally difficult assignment. Celek is going against defensive end Demarcus Lawrence in space, but he doesn't need to take him on in a true one-on-one situation. He only needs to set to the outside and slow Lawrence down enough while using his momentum to push him infield and out of the play when Murray gets to the outside.

From the beginning of the play, it's clear that Celek is unsure of his assignment. His feet move more than they should and he advances into a position that gives Lawrence a leverage advantage over him. Instead of establishing a base and engaging the defensive end's outside shoulder, Celek indecisively moves towards him before turning to look downfield at another defender and eventually letting Lawrence go free. Once Lawrence has gone past him Celek realizes his mistake, but it's too late to prevent Murray from being taken down in the backfield again.

This play was a blown assignment by the tight end, but Celek has also impacted many plays negatively by losing physically against contact.

On this play, Celek is expected to carry out a similar block as the Eagles attempt to run the same play to the other side of the field. This time he is lined up in a more confined space and immediately engages the edge defender. He is easily pushed backwards into the backfield once the ball is snapped, though. Celek is knocked back so far that his penetration prevents Murray from getting to the outside and forces the running back to run horizontally towards the sideline before running out of bounds for a loss.

There are a number of ways in which the Eagles can help Celek or replace him. Zach Ertz hasn't necessarily outperformed him, but he is another option at tight end. Instead of replacing Celek with a tight end, they could look to use more six-man offensive lines by making a backup tackle or guard eligible. The most prudent fix would seemingly be to adjust the play-calling and look to spread the field by alignment instead of asking Celek to line up tight to the formation and account for defensive ends in any capacity. The Eagles offense has excelled at taking advantage of space in the past, using read-option plays and alignments to hold unblocked backside defenders while the offensive line gets to work with an extra blocker inside.

That strategy would require exposing Bradford to more hits. While you never want to let your quarterback get hit a lot, Bradford can't be treated like a china doll if he is going to get the most out of this offense. Using him on option plays intelligently can help your running game without overexposing him to free hits from the defense. Bradford would simply need to make quick decisions so he could protect himself before the defender has a chance to close and hit him. Using more of those plays will also help the passing game as Bradford will be able to throw quickly outside to screens or downfield routes that expose the defense's reaction to the running look.

It's way too early for the Eagles to panic. Their issues are mostly minor. It's not like Bradford has torn an ACL or played horrendous football. His statistical output has been muted by a significant number of drops from his receivers and the absence of his running game. It's been very similar to his time in St. Louis so far but with two clear differences. The Eagles have dramatically more talent than the Rams ever did on offense, and they also have a coaching staff that understands offense better than most across the whole league.

So while our default setting in today's world is to overreact to everything happening in front of us, we should remember Aaron Rodgers' words...or rather, his letters. R-E-L-A-X.

Posted by: Cian Fahey on 23 Sep 2015

54 comments, Last at 25 Sep 2015, 12:52pm by mjb

Comments

1
by chemical burn :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 2:31pm

On the first gif you use to highlight Kelce's struggles, he doesn't miss his block, #76 Allen Barbre the pulling guard does. You can see how this play is supposed to work by watching clips from the Atlanta game when they did manage to spring it to the outside a couple times. The problem with that play has literally nothing to do with Kelce - if he stops and blocks the player who got the tackle (who was not his assignment), his man coming off of the edge would has made it instead, so he follows his assignment. Suggesting that he failed because the play was designed for him to simultaneously block two defenders is ludicrous. He blocked his man (Sean Lee) out of the play, that's all he can do.

The ACTUAL problem is two-fold: Murray is too slow and lacks the agility to beat the free tackler to the edge. The play worked last week when they were just able to outrun the penetration to the sideline - and it only worked in the second half when the Atlanta defense was starting to get gassed and the horizontal motion was causing them issues. Barbre is so bad, slow and incompetent he doesn't even come with three yards of his assignment. Who the hell knows what Barbre is thinking there - he's either been told to take a chip before moving off to his man or he doesn't understand his role entirely or he's just a horrible, horrible useless journeyman but you can see him follow through with his assignment and continue pulling, blocking upfield at nothing. So, Kelce might be the problem elsewhere, but he isn't on that play.

The second gif is of Celek reasonably failing to block a 3-4 DT. Again, it looks like he's supposed to have help, but the assignments are totally botched on the interior. I'm not sure how this problem is "correctable" because his back-up, Zach Ertz, is a notorious awful blocker. Again, I think this play worked for Kelly in the past even with mediocre execution because players like McCoy and Sproles have the speed, agility and acceleration to break it to the outside. Murray does not. Lane Johnson running along three yards behind #59 (who makes the tackle) certainly doesn't look like he did his job - the play is a mess in six different ways and it's tough to cite Celek as the source more than anyone else on the line. Nothing here demonstrates the slightest cause for hope.

(Also, how bad would Sam Bradford have to play to be considered awful? 4 interceptions, two of them just awful unacceptable throws and decisions and a couple fumbles which FO reasonably credits to Kelce. He has a deeply negative DVOA against two defenses that were pretty bad last year. The only measure by which has looked competent is in contrast to the historically pathetic running game.)

This seems like the kind of article FO should leave to Muth, I'd be curious to know what he thinks of the Eagles line...

2
by Cian Fahey :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 2:37pm

You appear to have confused Kelce the center with Celek the tight end. The first gif is about Celek.

The second gif has Celek blocking a 4-3 DE. I'm not sure what you're talking about.

4
by chemical burn :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 2:47pm

Eh, maybe you're right and that's just a horrible designed play and that you're right about Celek's role. I don't think so, but it's so bad that maybe you're right.

8
by Coaldale Joe :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 3:45pm

2 INTs should have been caught by the intended receiver, but were intercepted after they bounced off his hands. A 3rd was a case of the official screening a defender who emerged from the ref's shadow to pick off the ball. The 4th was the awful pick in the end zone in the Dallas game.

You also just conceded that the fumbles weren't Bradford's fault.

He looked sharp in the 2nd half against Atlanta and pretty bad otherwise, he's not placing the ball in good spots other than the 2nd half of the Atlanta game, but he's also been victimized by some pretty brutal drops.

10
by chemical burn :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 4:08pm

What would constitute awful? Rifling passes into the ground when he hears footsteps? Throwing bad, panicked interceptions at the goal-line and in the shadow of his own endzone? Responding the pressure poorly? Failing to hit any receivers who aren't wide open? Going through endless stretches of 3-and-outs? Missing wide open receivers? He's done it all.

If he hasn't been awful, he's right in the neighborhood and that seems like a pointless hair to split. Things he hasn't been: good, careful with the ball, capable of throwing downfield, showing more upside than he did in St. Louis (where he topped out at the 15th or so best QB in the league.)

12
by Coaldale Joe :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 4:11pm

Why do I even bother ? Bradford could drop back in the pocket, find a cure for cancer, and you would complain that he left millions of people starving in the world.

He has thrown 1 bad INT, that was in the 4th Quarter of a game that was an epic failure offensively so I am not surprised that he might have tried to force something in that situation. Doesn't make it right but he is human, it is understandable. The three and outs have largely been running game failures. When they abandoned the run in the 2nd half against Atlanta they actually moved the ball. Yes he missed some wide open receivers, so has every other QB. He also had a bunch of balls dropped, probably more than other WRs in the past 2 weeks(except maybe Cam Newton).

14
by chemical burn :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 4:20pm

Really? I would? What's the standard for good or bad? He's been bad by both objective and advanced stats. To the naked eye he's looked worse. Really, how with a straight face can you say he hasn't been awful? A simple "yeah, they've looked terrible, there's no denying that" is really what's called for here by you. I can't take you seriously if you insist there's some silver lining so far. There's no silver lining. Bradford and the offense have been awful.

I will concede he had dropped balls. Just as every QB deals with missing wide open guys, every QB has to deal with drops.

I will concede as well that maybe he's merely been bad as opposed to awful and shown no promise as opposed to shown a complete lack of ability.

50
by nlitwinetz :: Thu, 09/24/2015 - 2:28pm

You are a little harsh on Bradford. I went back and charted his game and he only had a couple bad throws. In his first 6 pass attempts there were 2 drops and one badly run route (Matthews didn't square off his out route)...and the game didn't get much better after that. The throw into the dirt that you have pointed out was really a last second adjustment when a pass rusher got his hands in the throwing lane...the ball most likely would have been tipped into the air if he didn't throw it in the dirt.
Watching the all-22 film there are a few things that are clear.
1. His receivers get no separation.
2. Bradford doesn't trust his receivers to win contested balls (for good reason) so he opts for dumps offs instead.

The most talented WR on the team is clearly Agholor. He runs much crisper routes than Matthews and can actually catch the ball. But Agholor seems to be having some trouble remember play calls as he often runs the wrong route (or reads the D incorrectly).

What I'd really like to see is Sproles running routes vs LBs or Safeties. He is probably their best option for getting separation.

51
by mehllageman56 :: Fri, 09/25/2015 - 1:31am

Sproles against the Jets linebackers is my worst nightmare for Sunday. In other news, the Eagles have never lost to the Jets. We'll see what happens.

18
by Dave Bernreuther :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 4:29pm

Without a pause button it's really hard to process this play (shockingly so, even seeing it a zillion times) but it seems to me that while Barbre is super slow and shuffle sideways rather than running, and thus gets caught up in the center's muck, Celek still takes the wrong first step and thus allows the DE to get into the backfield when even a terrible block but a proper first step would've given Murray the space to move there. The RG and RT both appear to get the right guys and while there wouldn't have been a gaping hole there, there'd at least have been positive yardage if Celek (several mistypes have now made me realize that Celek and Kelce have the same five letters) had simply moved left at the start of the play.

22
by chemical burn :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 4:47pm

I THINK you're right that Gardener (RG) and Johnson (RT) get their correct blocks. I think they both do fine. But Lane Johnson diving in to pick up the DT that Barbre also engages is really what convinces me that Barbre is supposed to be sweeping - his motion is supposed to free up Barbre. You can see it a little more clearly in the second gif, where everyone gets their assignments more clearly - Barbre and Johnson definitely aren't supposed to get locked up in a double-team on the first play. On the other hand, it's not clear who is supposed to be stopping the LB from crashing the play in that second gif - Johnson runs after the dude but it too far away for that to realistically be the plan. It's juts not clear in either play how the interior was supposed to work - the only real concept I can see is using speed (specifically of Kelce and the RB) to beat everyone to the edge and not have the TE have to make a real block.

I also think that if Celek gets knocked back even slightly, he gets in Kelce's way (who barely clears the penetrating DE as it is.) If the DE instead of penetrating choses to engage Celek and extend the play to the sideline, then that causes problems for Kelce's block, instead of the junk being in the middle of the field, it moves there. Celek seems to be expecting that to happen and sets his feet for that kind of block. When that doesn't go down, he jumps to the second level and kind of spins around because he can see it all got botched. Celek and Johnson's movements make me think they're expecting something different to happen - maybe its Barbre coming through, maybe Johnson crashes inward too hard (in the second gif, Peters (Johnson's mirror on the play) stays closer to the edge.) Whatever it is, it's a mess. If Celek IS primarily to blame, then it's a dubious play design.

24
by Dave Bernreuther :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 4:57pm

See my 2nd comment below that I typed while you typed this.

This is why I think OL play is both fascinating and also so easily ignored/misunderstood.

It seems to me that they are encouraging the end to move inside. Everyone to the outside is accounted for. RT buries his guy and C gets there even if he doesn't pummel his LB. Meanwhile, their movement plus RG's means they clearly left one gap open, and that leaves either Celek or Barbre to fill it. Again, I'm not an expert on technique but a) pulling three guys seems odd b) any time I see a lineman shuffle first and spread his arms like that, he's doing it because he's meant to be reading/reacting... as opposed to proactively pulling, which you can see from his two teammates clearly involves a much different stride and sense of urgency.

Not to mention that pulling three guys creates all kinds of opportunity to run into each other, much as you suggest with Celek and Kelce. That would be an even worse play design, I'd think, due to the widened path of the third guy - ))) ...

Seems to me that all Celek needs to do there is bump the end enough that his stride is interrupted, and he could accomplish that simply by going sideways to his left, and that would give Murray room to the outside between Celek and the tackle. And if he got blown straight back by a bull rush... well, sometimes plays are foiled by just being beaten, not by missed assignments.

27
by chemical burn :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 5:09pm

Yeah - watching it a whole bunch now, it's funny because the home run is right there for them: Gardener crushes the OLB like he's supposed, only Kelce and Celek switch their assignment: Kelce takes the DE (who he basically has to dive out of the way of anyway) and Celek does the more traditional assignment for a TE and takes on the LB. I know the entire idea is to get that Kelce on LB mis-match, but man does something more traditional look like it wouldn't worked like gangbusters.

3
by chemical burn :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 2:40pm

Looking at it further, you can see the problem pretty clearly - Barbre thinks the LB coming across the face of the play is his man and Celek thinks that guy is his assignment. Considering I've seen Celek be an excellent blocker for a decade and Barbre is terrible, I'm inclined to think Celek is in the right here, that's he's supposed to be blocking the stray LB and the pulling G is supposed to be taking on the down lineman.

I seemed like a play called specifically to hide the weakness of the interior, get your best open-field blocker out into space (Kelce), give your other crummy guard a block on an LB, set the egde and have your RB run at full speed away from the crappy interior blocking. I think it's not a coincidence that this is the only running play that has worked for them all season.

Who knows though - maybe you're right and Celek is supposed to be blocking d-linemen on his lonesome and can't handle it. That is an idiotic scheme, if that's the case, and will have even less success when they face some good d-lines.

5
by nlitwinetz :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 3:23pm

Which play are you talking about?
In the 1st GIF, Barbe (#76) isn't involved in the play. The three blockers are Celek (#87), Kelce (#62) and Gardner (#66). Both Kelce and Gardner execute good blocks against the two LBs to open the edge. However, Celek completely whiffs on his block (he seems to know his assignment as he doesn't try blocking anyone else) which causes the play to get blown up. The scheme isn't really idiotic, if Celek even got his hands on the DE then the play was an easy 8+ yard gain.

16
by chemical burn :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 4:23pm

In the first gif, that's my entire point, Barbre is SUPPOSED to be involved in the play - he's either supposed to be having the DE passed off to him from Celek (there's no way Celek is supposed to be blocking a DE one-on-one on a sweep - the result of that idea is ALWAYS going to be what you see in gif #2.) Also, Celek steps forward to block at the second level - the LB and turns around because he knows the DE is coming unblocked. If you and Cian are correct and he's supposed to be blocking a DE one-on-one a sweep that stretches to the sideline, it's terrible play design that will always fail. I'm willing to concede you guys are right, but the idea that Celek will consistently win those match-ups is ludicrous.

Think of it this way, if the DE engages Celek and pushes him to the outside, it just gets forced back into the clogged interior - what you're suggesting relies on Celek being able to consistently win that match-up OR Murray being fast enough to always beat interior penetration. Again, we can see what Celek trying to beat a DE one-on-one on the same kind of play looks like because that's what the second gif is. That second gif is what's being suggested is the CORRECT outcome of the first gif. Both are bad news and it's not clear why either of those plays should cause anyone to relax.

However, I disagree with even what you guys think is supposed to be happening when the DE shoots the gap in the first gif - it's hard to believe that two linemen (Barbre and Johnson) are supposed to double-team a single DT while a single TE (Celek) single-handedly blocks a DE. I think Barbe is supposed to be heading directly into the hole where he eventually ends up. Watch him for the whole gif. He eventually trots over to exactly where the DE penetrated (he appears to think the LB is his assignment there.)

I mean, think about what you're saying: the Eagles will be fine if Celek can single-handedly control Greg Hardy, Wilkerson, Michael Bennett, etc.

Also, let me point out in the second gif, the guy who beats Celek doesn't even make the tackle. A second player comes in 100% free and knocks him back into the man Celek has failed to block. Even if Celek does a PHENOMENAL job on that play, it's still a 2 yard loss. There's like three different ways both of these plays fail and Celek is at best a fraction of the issue.

You guys are suggesting the second gif is what the first one looks like when the assignment are executed correctly - it's obviously the same play run one direction then another. And a player comes free, untouched to make the tackle several yards behind the line - that's the right play? Even if Celek shuts his guy down, it's a terrible play.

23
by Dave Bernreuther :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 4:49pm

I found a way to slow the GIF down and get a closer look...

It seems reasonable to me to suggest that Celek was simply meant to achieve a small amount of interference on the DE by directing him into the center of the field, and that by jabbing to the outside first (in case of a wide rush) he just got a bit unlucky that the DE went horizontal towards the inside of the line first, and thus whiffed. Just a small amount of resistance on the outside shoulder would've kept him out of the backfield, and Kelce and the RG both did fine jobs on their blocks while moving to the right, which would've worked well regardless of what Barbre was doing.

Not sure I buy that they expected Barbre to get all the way over there to the DE that quickly, though. Even if he hadn't been sloth-slow on that that may have been a tall order...and the fact that he was shuffle stepping while the other two linemen both sprinted right makes me think maybe he was responsible for preventing the WILL from shooting that A gap first, then helping out with the nose second.

I'm no line coach (and I agree that I'd love to see Muth lend some real expertise here) but it seems to me that Celek's first step was wrong and should've been left or at least forward, which would've at least let him offer some form of resistance to the DE. And the more I stare at the still photo, the more obvious it becomes that the SAM is responsible for the outside edge (force), which puts the DE in the C (MIKE in B, and inwards) and thus makes his inside move unsurprising based on the LB's positioning. Put another way, from the offense's perspective, the Tackle pulls and gets the force, and the center seems to pretty obviously be crossing over/past the TE to meet the MIKE in his gap.... which leaves the TE to get the one to his left since it's clear that the guard isn't also going in that direction.

25
by chemical burn :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 5:03pm

I think you're right that Celek is expecting to be engaged more directly and takes a false step. But I also think that this play run more "correctly" in the second gif shows why expecting Celek to tangle up a DE is such a bad idea. Kelce just barely clears the penetration as it is - if the DE blows Celek back even one foot, Kelce is going to get hung up, the play is going to get forced back into the interior and there are two free defenders (the man Kelce should've engaged and the free LB) to clean it up. Again, if the idea is Celek just needs to block DE's one-on-one and they'll be fine, I'm not sure they'll be fine. There very, very few TE's in the league who can handle those kind of assignment and represent a passing threat that the defense needs to respect.

I don't know, it's a weird play - Celek doesn't come close to selling out to stop the DE. If that's his only role, he's very casual about it. He might just be used to Sproles and McCoy burning rubber to the edge (so it isn't a major concern) and that kind of penetration being the kind of over-pursuit that McCoy would murder defenses over. I don't know, he looks away from the DE so quick, it's hard to believe that's his main assignment.

But yeah, I'd really like to hear Muth weigh in. The year he was supposed to write about the Kelly Eagles, he didn't write about them once, saying it wasn't interesting what they were running or something like that.

28
by Dave Bernreuther :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 5:13pm

I agree that having a TE alone to handle a DE straight up face to face without help seems like a recipe for disaster when there are pulling linemen involved. Moving side to side, all it takes is a weak shove to re-direct someone long enough for a pro athlete to pass, but I get what you mean about being pushed back into becoming an obstacle (which I assume is a principle of two-gapping for DTs)....

But I assume there are things that are taught and expected in those cases, seeing as how so many basic run plays for all teams involve a TE and pulling guards. It could be that Celek was meant only to shove the end inside before climbing out and meeting that unblocked LB; I don't know.

29
by Dave Bernreuther :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 5:14pm

Actually the LT indicates that there's no way he was meant to pass the end off inside. But to my eyes he still hesitates (ha, and this is slow motion) rather than just powering forward and into the guy lined up directly over him. I'm guessing this was the mistake. And the reason he got plowed over.

32
by chemical burn :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 5:18pm

Yes, that makes sense.

But this whole discussion makes me feel like the premise of this article is so bizarre - these plays are so botched, it's not even clear what was supposed to go right.

36
by Dave Bernreuther :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 5:29pm

On the first one it seems obvious. But yeah, on the second, I have no idea. They have 6 on 6 and completely ignore the weak side end... and still leave a guy unblocked.

37
by chemical burn :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 5:35pm

That the second gif is a mirror of the first gif (same basic play, opposite side) is what caused my initial confusion at the first gif - they're the same play and the assignments on the second one make no sense. Shouldn't Celek be taking the LB there and someone else be taking the DE? Shouldn't it be a pass-off? The numbers are too in their favor for both of them to be such a mess - and you watch it and the defense doesn't make some great play, they just run up and tackle the ball-carrier untouched.

39
by Dave Bernreuther :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 5:41pm

But they aren't mirror images. There's an extra defender in the first one.

Now, if we identify that safety (wherever he's lined up) as the force, then that makes it all seem to make sense... except the alignment of the linebackers is much different. In fact they don't mirror, they stay the same, and that's where the problem is, since nobody is there to block 58 and the LT is left doing nothing. And this, I imagine, is why it's important for QBs to do that "54's the mike!" yelling we hear so often and that previously made me wonder "why bother, no shit the MLB is the mike"... So if they change that call from 58 to 50 as the focal point, every lineman shifts over a gap and the blocking scheme changes. (I think? I'm just guessing now.)

So in that case, the assignments are right in the first but not the second, Barbre isn't super good at his job in either, and Celek is super bad at his job in both.

41
by chemical burn :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 6:10pm

I see what you're saying - and it makes more sense, Celek is supposed to take the inside LB who comes free, Peters the DE who blew up Celek and Johnson get the backside DT.

I think that the match-ups are terrible in gif #1, but if the assignments were taken on correctly in #2, it would have made sense... it still wouldn't have worked in gif #2 because Barber got beaten so badly, but it would have at least been plausible. I still think gif #1 is always going to be a failure... because look at Celek taking on a DE in gif #2. It doesn't work. (And I understand your point about the misdirection of an off-balance pursuer.)

I watched it again, satisfied with your explanation... but I think Celek is not the problem in gif #1. The one thing he can't let the DE do is crash to the outside and force the play back up the gut. He's gotta protect agains the DE beating the play to the outside edge. That's why that play is destined to fail - Celek's first notion has to be to keep the DE, if the DE gets around him, it's going to blow the play up... which means the play is always going to be vulnerable to a defender shooting the gap. You just can't expect a TE to take on a DE one-on-one in space like that. It'll never work - I just cannot believe Barbre (or Johnson) isn't supposed to be closer to Celek to help clean up.

9 times out of 10, the defense is going to win this exact match-up. Just imagine if they brought a safety into the box or decided to stay on a base defense on third down.

31
by Dave Bernreuther :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 5:18pm

Loving this discussion and how it forces repeated viewing, btw.

I'd really be interested in knowing who is supposed to get 58 in the 2nd GIF, even in the event that Celek wins his block. I can't even hazard a guess as to that one.

33
by chemical burn :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 5:20pm

Yeah, that unblocked LB is nuts - and now that I'm convinced there in the nickel there, even more baffling.

(I am loving this discussion as well - you've convinced me I was wrong about a few things and I appreciate it!)

38
by Dave Bernreuther :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 5:36pm

Definitely nickel, though if it was zoomed out a bit more I think we'd see that the safety (42) was at least reasonably close to the box.

Staring at the formation all I can think of is that if Celek hadn't been blown up and had both pulling lineman taken the two linebackers, Murray could've at least been one on one with the safety at around the LOS. For all we know that safety should've been hit by a receiver and wasn't.

In that case, it seems like a systemic failure, as in Celek and (invisible WR) were both beaten, and the protection was set wrong for both pulling linemen as well.

40
by chemical burn :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 5:47pm

I guess I'm struggling with this because so much of the failure relies on Celek (who has always been a great blocker) messing up across the board. It's just tough to believe he would suddenly forget how to play football and not know what he was doing out there.

Part of the weirdness is that they're running a modified Lombardi sweep with the center pulling instead of the right guard. In a Lombardi sweep, the WR and FB have really important roles in setting the edge and I'm just not sure who is supposed to be taking up the FB's role here, for one.

More importantly, on a Lombardi sweeping to the right, the center takes a few steps to the right with the flow before cutting back against the grain to seal the edge. I just don't know what the hell the backside guard is doing in the instance where the center is the one pulling instead. I SUSPECT this change in the diagram (intended to give the speedy, talented Kelce the responsibilities that the plodding, untalented G's can't handle) is what's causing these super-wide gaps for the defenders to shoot and also the unclear assignments. I mean, Barbre and Johnson have got to block somebody on either play, there's got to be an idea about what they should be doing and neither lay a hand on anybody (in the respective gifs.) That's undercutting the numbers in their favor.

The plan just can't be for Johnson to run around behind the play. It can't.

54
by mjb :: Fri, 09/25/2015 - 12:52pm

Or in the case of the second gif, the initial penetration by the guy Celek was supposed to block caused Murray to cut further to the outside, which in turn lead to the linebackers to change their pursuit angles further to the sideline. So the linebacker (#59) that should be there for Lane Johnson to block is not where he should be in order to be blocked by the angle that Johnson took to get to that spot.

Sorry, but looks pretty straight forward to me. IF Celek makes his block, Murray doesn't have to break to the sideline and is able to cut up field. This would have changed the angles that linebackers would have to take toward the ball and would have lead to them being in the area of the pulling Lane Johnson. And Barbre made a good enough block on the play side corner that IF Murray was able to cut up field (like the play was designed to) that he would have gotten a pretty decent gain the play.

All Celek needs to do is work on getting better leverage on the second gif and he would have been able to hold up long enough to spring Murray for a big gain there.

In the first gif, all Celek had to do was literally shove the outside shoulder of the Linebacker, or SOMETHING to break his downfield momentum.

6
by Coaldale Joe :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 3:37pm

Wait, I thought the sky was falling ! Haven't you read the comments ? Everyone knows Kelly is an ignorant buffoon out of his league as a GM and Philly would be better off if they just had kept all the guys he cut. I'm disappointed that FO has stooped to doing actual analysis.

19
by chemical burn :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 4:32pm

This analysis is weak and offers no reason to think the complaints about the line are unfounded. "If Celek can consistently block DE's one-on-one, MAN, the Eagles will be in great shape! Also, Sam Bradford: not awful." I also love how one of the suggestions for improvement is to allow the injury prone Qb to get hit more. Great idea!

42
by Arson55 :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 7:04pm

Well, I think he's right in that exposing the QB is part of what the scheme does. Kinda dumb for Kelly to target an injury prone QB with that in mind though. I will never understand that trade.

43
by chemical burn :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 7:10pm

Oh totally - although Kelly claims they almost never run the read-option. What makes the statement ridiculous is it's being said in the context of "R-E-L-A-X: the Eagles will be fine with some tinkering..." That Bradford is a significant injury risk (and Bradford himself seems downright paranoid in the pocket) is part of the reason no one can relax! It's not like he's making the statement about Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson or anyone who has demonstrated durability and the ability to avoid even while under duress. He's making it about Sam Bradford.

45
by Arson55 :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 7:15pm

Yeah, I won't argue that.

I'm not willing to dismiss the Eagles completely right now. Of course, that's largely because I'm looking at Weeden or Cassel being my team's QB for the bulk of the season and I feel like I can count on the Redskins to fail their way out of it, and the Giants have no clue what the hell they're doing right now. Someone is going to have to win the division.

Man, the NFC East is going to be so bad this year.

46
by chemical burn :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 7:29pm

I'm not counting them out in terms of winning the division - their schedule is insanely easy for one. Before they play the Pats in December, they don't face single indisputably good team. Seriously: one of the Jets, Miami or Carolina is the toughest out on their slate. They'll play the Cowboys again before Romo or Dez are back. There's so many teams on their schedule that even a bad team could be expected to compete with: the Bucs, Detroit, the Saints, Giants, etc.

I think they could easily stumble their way to 7-4 then go on a three game losing-streak when they hit December (Pats, Bills, Cardinals) and finish the season at 9-7. There's a reasonable chance that record could hand them the division. I mean that assumes a sweep of their remaining divisional games against the Redskins, Cowboys and Giants, which is tough to imagine, but seeing how they hold up against a good defense like the Jets this weekend is going to tell us a lot about how deep the problems are.

I have a strange feeling this is going to be one of those down years where the Redskins win the division (2005, 2012) and everyone thinks they've finally turned the corner. We'll see - if the cowboys can tread water to 5-5, I think they should be able to win it...

52
by mehllageman56 :: Fri, 09/25/2015 - 1:36am

Given the talent on the Jets, Dolphins and Panther's defensive lines, those are not good games to have when dealing with offensive line problems. Perhaps they win a couple of those, and perhaps the Eagles lose Bradford and Murray for the season...

7
by commissionerleaf :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 3:40pm

I agree the biggest problem is Celek, who just looks like a middling college player out there who is simply outclassed. The first .gif actually isn't as bad as the second. In the first he just gets off balance for some reason and misses his guy; looks like he hesitates, and that's a Week 1-Week 2 thing, maybe.

The second .gif just shows him getting shoved aside like a guy standing in a buffet line when the Cowboys D line enters the Kountry Kitchen. If he's really that weak and lacking in technique (pad level = eye level?) he needs to be off the field.

This is odd, because I don't recall him being pushed around like that in prior years.

9
by Coaldale Joe :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 3:47pm

Right. The supposed reason Ertz didn't play more last year was because of Celek's blocking.

11
by chemical burn :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 4:08pm

There are several (continuing) reasons Ertz sees the bench consistently: first, his blocking is worse than Celek's. Celek might indeed be a terrible blocker (this will be the first time anyone has ever said that) but Ertz is by every account far worse. Second, Ertz sees the bench because he runs routes badly. Watch the missed play early in the Atlanta game where he cuts outside when Bradford is going inside. This is a common occurrence with Ertz: he's rarely where the QB thinks he will be. Third, he misses assignments: even if he weren't a bad blocker, he's famous for going after the wrong defender while blocking. There's no way to run Kelly's offense if a player misses his assignments.

20
by Southern Philly :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 4:35pm

Celek definitely looks bad this year. Last year he looked slow, but not debilitatingly so, but he was still a very good blocker. But this kind of drop-off in blocking is mystifying. So far he looks like he's done. His playing time is down significantly so far (basically he's swap snap counts with Ertz).

21
by chemical burn :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 4:45pm

So once again the lack of depth on the roster and Kelly's inability to develop young talent to replacing aging veterans comes back to bite them. The end has been near for Celek for years and Ertz is clearly only a role player - none of this is surprising new info.

13
by ClavisRa :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 4:13pm

With the limited snaps in pads in the pre-season, and the complex coordinated of choreography of offensive line play, I don't think you really know what any team's o-line will be until week five. The best teams will find ways to minimize the breakdowns as the o-lines develop; the trouble for Kelly is his foundational scheme doesn't really have that flexibility, so they'll simply have to struggle until everyone is on the same page.

15
by chemical burn :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 4:21pm

Are people not getting that this running game (especially if you take out Foles) is historically awful? That the amount of "super stuffs" as FO has dubbed them are jaw-dropping? This isn't a case of some dudes needing time to gel, this is a case of massive failure. Maybe the failure can be corrected - this article doesn't make a coherent case that it can be.

48
by Independent George :: Thu, 09/24/2015 - 9:50am

To be fair, "historically awful" tends to flip back to "ordinarily awful" after a while, if for no other reason than the coaching staff changing their approach to something more suitable. Remember the infamous Winston Justice Incident? They still had problems afterwards, but it was no longer historically awful like it was in that game.

49
by chemical burn :: Thu, 09/24/2015 - 11:35am

Yeah, but look at the "super stuffs" info in Quick Reads - they've already almost his the qualified for "notably awful numbers... for an entire season" - there's virtually no room for them to regress back away from their historical badness. Two games in and they've almost reached the summit of failure - that's crazy. Murray has 4 "super stuffs" in 2 games (the league leaders for a single season seem to have around 6 or so a year) coming on a fairly limited number of carries where the defense isn't trying to stop the run (e.g. they Eagles haven't been running him into the line to milk a lead.) 4 "super stuffs" in an entire season is a lot. Let's say he is only "super stuffed" once every other game for the rest of the season (i.e. the line play regresses sharply towards the mean) - 11 "super stuffs" would far and away be the single-season record for an individual player (as near as I can tell - most of the numbers I can find, players aren't even coming close to that number.) That number would be so ghastly, it would be a "1976 Bucs" kind of outlier in terms of failure.

They'd have to improve significantly for Murray to end up with ONLY that many - and keep in mind: they haven't yet played a defense we KNOW to be very good.

(Also, don't get me started on the Winston Justice incident - for starters, he wasn't the one who gave up every single one of the sacks to Osi. Secondly, the biggest problem that day wasn't Justice (a back-up thrown onto the field against a notoriously complex blitzing defense), but Reno Mahe (who was a third string special teamer pressed into playtime because of injury) being totally a disaster on blitz pick-up. It was a perfect storm of problems - there was plenty of reason to believe that day wouldn't be repeated. Here, not so much. Or rather, if the Eagles were starting second-stringers and young developing players, I would be far more patient about the whole scenario - early last season, they fielded 9 different linemen. The problems they had running the ball against Washington and SF were understandable.)

17
by chemical burn :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 4:29pm

I'd like to point out that the biggest blocking failure in any of this crap is that in the second gif #76 Allen Barbre gets beat off the block by a CB one-on-one. He gets the guy engaged and loses him - if you're starting G can't handle a CB on his lonesome, especially after he engages him, your blocking has problems.

The CB literally throws Barbre aside.

So, even if Celek beats a DE one-on-one and somebody (who knows?) accounts for the LB who comes free and makes the tackle, then your starting guard still can't be counted on to beat a CB one-on-one. Murray actually still has the mildest of chances to make a play before that CB cleans it up. R-E-L-A-X.

26
by Dave Bernreuther :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 5:08pm

Nah, when a guard is that far out in space, someone quicker can get by him pretty easily. If the rest of the play had been blocked properly, Murray would've been inside that and gone before that happened.

Celek gets completely dominated by the end in that play.

That said, the linebacker manages to slide over and come in pretty freely as well, and it's him that actually ends up causing the loss as Murray goes sideways to avoid the end. Not sure who was supposed to pick him up, actually... RT is out there chasing him, but if the play is sliding that way I can't see how he could possibly be expected to seal him off from the opposite shoulder.

One thing I've noticed in both of these gifs is that the handoffs seem very slow. In the first, Murray has to move in before heading out. In the second, he's still not moving with any speed whatsoever at the time he receives the ball. I've only just started noticing details like that, like in week one when AP seemed hesitant when starting from the shotgun handoff instead of the I, but boy does that make a huge difference in the RB's technique and momentum.

30
by chemical burn :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 5:16pm

Yeah, but he doesn't get by him - Barbre gets his hands on him and gets flipped to the ground. This isn't a wily player using quickness, he gets knocked off balance and thrown to the ground. If the CB slips around him, fine. But he gets the guy engaged and gets tossed aside. He's obviously off-balance just trying to snag him, but still - if that's Peters or Kelce out there, no way the CB gets by - that also might not be a CB, but the an OLB. If an LB can do that to you, that's even more worrisome on some level.

(Pointed out the same thing above about the free LB and the lack of a clear concept for what was supposed to happen to him.)

Slow hand-offs are consistent problem with Kelly. It was McCoy's main complaint about getting the ball out of the shotgun - the play was developing too slow.

One more thing that's troubling for the Eagles: a safety isn't involved in either of them. There isn't even one on the screen. It looks like they're in the nickel package on the second gif (again, not clear if it's an LB or CB out there), so there's only 6 men in the box.

34
by Dave Bernreuther :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 5:21pm

Yeah, I agree, but it's hard to assign blame for the loss to Barbre when he was several yards out ahead of the play.

One more thing that's troubling for the Eagles: a safety isn't involved in either of them. There isn't even one on the screen. It looks like they're in the nickel package on the second gif (again, not clear if it's an LB or CB out there), so there's only 6 men in the box.

This is true for sure. 6 on 6, they've got to be able to open up space. Kelly is right, even if it's slightly bus-throwing-ish, to point out that the run game requires at least some respect in order to help the pass game.

35
by chemical burn :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 5:26pm

You know what I'd really like to see? The gifs from the three or four times they ran this play against Atlanta and they worked. Those handful of plays have been the Eagles only successful running plays of the year. I'd like to see more clearly what this looks like when it goes right!

I also totally 100% agree that the players have to win their individual match-ups - that's why having McCoy, Mathis and Herremans on your roster matters. You can't just replace those guys with whoever and expect the machine to run as well. I think Murray's lack of acceleration and elusiveness is going to be a major problem. (Incidentally, it's also why Sproles is currently their most effective back.)

44
by Arson55 :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 7:10pm

Honestly, maybe the Eagles should consider running from plays under center, give Murray some forward momentum when the play starts. Seriously, Murray is just not this bad a back, he has a solid blend of speed and power, but he's just getting hit before he even gets going right now.

Then again, the way the blocking is holding up right now, maybe that just means the defenders get to the QB before he even hands off the ball.

47
by chemical burn :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 7:45pm

Maybe, but last season when they had back-to back-games early in the year where McCoy averaged under 2ypc he didn't make any changes despite McCoy calling him out in the media and all but demanding to run less out of the shotgun...

53
by mjb :: Fri, 09/25/2015 - 12:39pm

Hey Cian, thanks for the great article. While it always looked like the problems with the Eagles line were correctable to me, it is nice to know I was not the only one thinking that.

My thoughts are how likely are we to see the Eagles line up on unbalanced fronts to try to hide Celek's sudden blocking deficiency? This is something that the Eagles have done in the past - moving Peters to the right end, or Lane Johnson to Left Tackle and push Peters to left end - with some success. I think that this would be more likely to happen then Chip Kelly putting Matt Toben on the field as an extra Tight End.