Time to Remove this One From the Eagles' Playbook?
Sunday, on the Eagles’ second drive, Doug Pederson called the same play three times in two minutes for a net gain of two yards.
It was an under-center stretch/outside zone that went for a four-yard gain, a one-yard gain, and a three-yard loss. The third iteration of that play call brought scrutiny for fill-in left tackle Halipoulivaati Vaitai, but the blocking on every attempt was underwhelming.
The first call was okay, with LeGarrette Blount getting through the line for for a decent gain here:
The Eagles have Isaac Seumalo and Brent Celek lined up to the left of Vaitai, so he’s actually able to double-team #92, Leger Douzable, while Stefen Wisniewski gets enough of DeForest Buckner to allow Blount to snag a few yards.
So the Eagles went right back to the stretch on the very next play, this time running to the right side of the field:
It’s a similar design there, with Seumalo brought in as an extra blocker. This time, however, they don’t put the tight end over there, instead pulling Brandon Brooks through the hole created by Seumalo and Lane Johnson.
It looks like there’s something here:
Blount can squeeze through that, yea?
Not really. He gets tripped up moving through the hole and goes down for a one-yard gain. We’ve written a lot about him not being that good in these east/west situations, even when he takes the hand off from under center.
It doesn’t seem to be exclusive to Blount, though. The Birds tried it again, two plays later, this time giving Corey Clement a shot on the left side:
The design is more like the second play with different personnel. This time Wisniewski is pulling between Vaitai and Celek. Seumalo isn’t out there.
Vaitai gets blown up by Tony Daniel but Celek is also knocked back by Solomon Thomas. The play goes for -3 yards.
That brings me to this point: are the linemen even supposed to get a “push” here? Not really.
Earlier today, a reader named “Schwartz’ GA” wrote something relevant to this topic in the comments section of my ten takeaways story, so I’ll let him explain it:
“Kevin, I think the issue with the stretch/outside zone play is slightly more nuanced. From a technique standpoint, the OL is not attempting to push the DL backwards in this type of play. Rather, they are looking to move laterally to create a lane somewhere for the RB to find and exploit. Therefore, at the snap, every OL is taught to step flat and continue on that path. Conversely, the DL is trying to (explode) off the ball to penetrate into the Eagles’ backfield. This is why our OL/TEs are often in the backfield in this type of play; it is natural and expected if a coach is being realistic. It is up to the RB to make a cut into a lane that presents the most daylight. The RB is supposed to press the outside to make the LBs flow over the top. Then, he is to cut on his 3rd step depending on flow.”
All of that is true, and it makes you wonder why Blount takes the majority of these snaps when Wendell Smallwood or Kenjon Barner are more suited. A healthy Darren Sproles would hit these holes and cut upfield. You can’t really roll that Blount on this design.
The guards do a decent job of pulling on these plays, but the tackles can’t seem to hold their ground while moving sideways and the tight ends especially have difficulty when they’re trying to lock up with defensive ends. Jason Peters didn’t fare much better in weeks one through seven.
Pederson tried the stretch again in the third quarter, and Zach Ertz found himself upside down while Blount was scrambling to evade four tacklers:
They lost four yards on the play.
It’s hard to tell, but there might have been an illegal hand to the face there from #57, Eli Harold. Ertz was a little slow to get up and looked like he was pretty violently jerked to the ground by a shoulder pad or facemask:
Either way, those four stretch plays netted the Eagles -2 yards.
For what it’s worth, Smallwood, who I mentioned earlier, didn’t run any of them. His only carry went up the gut for five yards from the shotgun. Barner didn’t get a carry and Clement did most of his running in garbage time.
If Pederson decides to keep going to the stretch, it just doesn’t make any sense to keep giving it to Blount, because the line isn’t going to open up lanes that are wide enough for him to burst through for meaningful gains. There might be a seam there for a smaller guy to squeeze through.