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01 Feb 2018

Word of Muth: Getting the Job Done

by Ben Muth

The Philadelphia Eagles drubbed the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game to move onto a Super Bowl XXXIX rematch against the Patriots. The Eagles controlled the entire game to the point it was never really in doubt in the second half. It was a one-sided affair.

To me, the difference in the game for the Eagles offense was the three big passes Philadelphia hit in the first three quarters. Each time, the Eagles offensive line had to hold up just long enough for the receivers to get open deep down the field. It wasn't always perfect, but they did enough.

Take this play, for example. Nick Foles definitely feels some pressure around him here, but he never feels like he has to abandon the pocket. The right side of the Eagles' line does a nice job of handling the twist, and they make sure Foles is really only dealing with one true threat.

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At left tackle, Halapoulivaati Vaitai (72) isn't great, but he never gives in and strains at the top of the block just enough to stay between his man and the quarterback. Foles is 6-foot-6 and weighs more than 240 pounds -- he should be hard to bring down, and if you can just stay engaged with a rusher, you give your quarterback a shot. Foles does a nice job of resetting after moving to put some mustard on the ball down the field.

     

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When you run a flea flicker, you are going to have to block for a while. Again, Vaitai is the one who forces Foles to move here, but he has by far the hardest job on this play. He's the only guy up front who doesn't have a double-team. He does a good enough job running the defensive end (Everson Griffen, 97) behind Foles that the quarterback is never in any danger of actually getting hit.

And that's the key with these big max protect shot plays -- you're going to have one guy on an island, and you just need him to be OK. What you really need is for all your double-teams to be very stout so your quarterback can slide around and make the one guy with a hard job right no matter where he blocks his guy. Here, the defensive end wanted to get up the field, so you just block him upfield and past the quarterback.

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Great pass protection doesn't have to mean that you're stonewalling their four down guys and allowing the quarterback to just sit back in the pocket for seven seconds at a time. It can also mean taking advantage of a defense's undisciplined rush lanes. Here, the defensive end on the left side (Danielle Hunter, 99) rushes way upfield, while the defensive tackle (Brian Robison, 96) spins inside. The Eagles do a nice job of handling these guys getting creative with their rush lanes, and Foles sees the huge space that got vacated and runs to it before finding a receiver deep down the field.

     

Philadelphia didn't have a perfect pocket on any of the three plays above, but they had space that the quarterback could settle into every time. Once Foles moved into the space provided, he was able to deliver the ball deep down the field for huge chunks of yards. These big explosion plays were what drove the Eagles' scoring.

One other thing I want to point out is that Vaitai is one-on-one with Griffen on each of those three plays. Vaitai started the season as Jason Peters' backup, and in the NFC Championship Game he was left on an island with the Vikings' best pass rusher on the three biggest plays of the day. Foles has been a great story obviously, but the way Vaitai has stepped in shouldn't be overlooked.

The Eagles ground game wasn't great in the NFC title game, but they had their moments. One moment in particular was their first touchdown of the game on a well-designed run play.

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This is a wham play, and Philly blocks it up pretty well. A wham play is essentially a trap play, but instead of using a guard to deliver the trap block to a down lineman, it uses a tight end or fullback. Trey Burton (88) delivers the wham block on the nose tackle (Tom Johnson, 92). It's a quick-hitting play so you don't need the tight end to kill the defensive tackle, just give him a pop and get in his way.

The nice thing about the wham play is it lets you get offensive linemen onto the defense's linebackers very quickly, because you are telling them to ignore a down lineman whose job it is to eat up blockers. Both right guard Brandon Brooks (79) and center Jason Kelce (62) both do a nice job on the linebackers on this play.

Finally, I want to point out Mack Hollins' block. The wide receiver (10) does a nice job of getting his hands on a defensive back (Terence Newman, 23) who is playing the run very aggressively and driving him past the hole. It isn't a dominating block, but it's hard for defensive backs to make tackles on NFL running backs while they are getting blocked (maybe in the back) by a wide receiver. Good effort from the rookie to spring the touchdown.

While the running game wasn't great for Philadelphia, there was one thing they did really well all day that I wanted to point out, and that was their backside combinations on inside zone.

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These are two different plays, obviously, but both times the backside of Philly's offensive line just absolutely collapses the Vikings defensive tackle into the linebacker. Those defensive tackles look like they're on roller skates. That's big-time movement, the type of movement that typically leads to big chunks of yards in the running game. It didn't against the Vikings, but could against New England. And yes, I know the first play is technically a pass, but it's really an RPO. The Eagles offensive line doesn't know that Foles is throwing the ball, and neither does the defensive tackle, so the movement the Eagles were generating was still legit.

Posted by: Ben Muth on 01 Feb 2018

2 comments, Last at 02 Feb 2018, 5:43pm by Sifter

Comments

1
by jtr :: Thu, 02/01/2018 - 12:05pm

What do you think about Lane Johnson? He was nearly unanimous (40 out of 50 votes) as the All Pro right tackle this year. It looks to me like there are only two tough blocks he has in this article: the third one, where he does a good job pushing the end past the QB, and the last one, where he whiffs badly on the frontside end on a zone run. On the stunt in the first play, he had a running back chip coming so he was able take a conservative set, which put him in perfect position to work with the guard to handle the slanting DT.

2
by Sifter :: Fri, 02/02/2018 - 5:43pm

Thanks Ben, I always learn something new reading your articles. As an Eagles fan, I'm really proud of Vaitai. What huge shoes he has had to fill this year! Sometimes they have been too much to fill...but he did a great job last week. It must be a great confidence booster when a coach schemes to leave you one-on-one with the other teams best pass rusher. Scary, but a good scary?