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Breaking Down the Eagles Offense

Posted Sep 28, 2013

QB Michael Vick, RB LeSean McCoy and WR DeSean Jackson give the Eagles one of the most dangerous offenses in the league.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The last time Michael Vick visited Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the stadium was known by another name, Vick wore another team's uniform and he was known only for being, at that moment, the best dual-threat quarterback in the sport.
 
Three years removed from being the No. 1 overall pick, no NFL quarterback could match his blend of raw arm strength and open-field acceleration. Accuracy was a concern, but his gifts in other areas made up for that. The young Vick had already won a playoff game and would win another two and a half months later, but Oct. 31, 2004 against the Broncos was his apex.
 
Until Peyton Manning's seven-touchdown performance this month, you could make a legitimate argument that Vick's Halloween masterpiece nine years ago represented the best single-game performance for a quarterback at the Broncos' 12-year-old stadium. At the time, he became the first player in league history to pass for more than 250 yards and run for more than 100 in the same game; since then, he's been joined by Carolina's Cam Newton.
 
As long as he didn't hand off the ball to someone else, the Falcons' offense was a potent threat, averaging 9.78 yards per play whenever he kept the ball for a carry or a throw. (It was 4.2 yards when the Falcons did otherwise.)
 
"He was just on point that day," said cornerback Champ Bailey, the only Bronco remaining on the roster from that 41-28 loss. "He didn't show all that on tape in previous games. That was one of his best games of his career."
 
And it was one that he didn't finally match until 2010, his first full season as a starter after a two-year absence.
 
"He was a bigger threat running the ball back then, I believe," said Bailey. "But he's still a threat. A great threat running the ball."
 
He was a more frequent threat in those days, to be certain. During the 2004 season, he ran on 24.6 percent of his total plays (runs and pass plays, including sacks), the second-highest rate of his career for any of the seasons in which he was a starter. Since 2011, he's run on 14.4 percent of his plays, including 15 percent to date this season.
 
Because Vick passes more often these days, his average per play is higher; it was 5.81 yards during his six years with the Falcons, and is 6.71 during five seasons with the Eagles. If he can maintain his current 2013 average of 7.88 yards per play, that would shatter his previous career high of 7.21, set in 2011.
 
That impressive per-play average is not only due to the increased pass emphasis, but the abilities he still possesses when he keeps the ball; he's averaged 10.4 yards on his 18 carries so far this season. It's unlikely he can sustain that; if he did, that would put him on pace for 997 yards on just 96  carries. No one has ever had 1,000 rushing yards with fewer than 119 carries; since 1940, only Vick has hit 1,000 yards with less than 173 carries.
 
All this is why Vick still has value. Every hit he takes will make the Eagles and their fans understandably nervous, but age and time have not yet neutralized him, even as quarterbacks with similar skill sets become more prevalent throughout the league. Vick was ahead of his time nine years ago; he's managed to endure long enough to see the game catch up to his strengths.
 
WHEN THEY RUN
 
The Eagles have a near-perfect run-pass balance on first and second downs, so you cannot get caught
 
Philadelphia loves to run out of a formation that's not a pure shotgun, but not a pure pistol, either, with either Brown or McCoy offset to Vick's left or right. The Eagles often like to use this formation to set up a handoff that sees the runner cross in front of a zone-reading Vick before moving upfield; this has been particuarly effective and has created space that frequently allows McCoy to hit the second level before contact.
 
And after McCoy is hit, he keeps churning; according to ProFootballFocus.com, McCoy ranks eighth in the league in yadage after contact (2.32 yards per carry).
 
"If you look at film, it takes a team to tackle these guys," said cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. "They always tend to make the first guy miss, so just leveraging and tackling is going to be really important.”
 
WHEN THEY THROW
 
The Eagles' receivers, as a group, are more efficent than most. Their three drops, according to STATS, Inc., are the second-fewest in the league. When viewed relative to overall catchable passes, the Eagles' ratio is one drop every 18.0, which is tied for 11th in the league and ahead of the league average of one every 13.9 passes. (Denver's ratio of one drop per 9.9 catchable passes ranks 26th.)
 
Philadelphia has flourished in getting yardage after the catch, which is in part due to the downfield explosion of DeSean Jackson, who ranks third among NFL wide receivers in yardage after the catch per reception, adding an average of 8.47 yards after every pass he grabs. (Demaryius Thomas is No. 2, averaging 8.9 YAC.)
 
"He's going a certain speed burst by itself," said Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who lined up against Jackson daily in practice in 2011 and 2012.
 
"When that ball is in the air, he hits a whole other gear. It's hard as a corner to try to stay with him, stay with him, and then he just takes off. Most people don't have that extra gear that he has. So that makes it very tough."
 
The key to neutralizing Jackson is simple: proper tackling.
 
“As soon as (Jackson) touches it, you've got to make sure you're right there to tackle him down," Rodgers-Cromartie said.
 
Among players regardless of position, McCoy is second in the league with an average of 20.7 yards after his six receptions.
 
OTHER NOTES:
 
-- Don't expect much more than "11 personnel" -- one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers -- from the Eagles. They've run 165 snaps from that grouping, representing 83.3 percent of their plays through three weeks.
 
-- Beyond "11," the Eagles' most frequently-used package is a two-tight end, two-receiver formation. They've run on 62.5 percent of their 24 plays in this package, compared to 46.0 percent in all others.