Film study: Eagles overwhelmed 'Skins' nickel D

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Film study: Eagles overwhelmed 'Skins' nickel D

September 12, 2013, 7:00 pm
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The Eagles averaged 5.4 yards on 49 carries against the Redskins. (USA Today Images)

One of Chip Kelly’s favorite football slogans is “bigger people beat up little people.” It’s simple physics, really, and his offensive game plan against the Redskins illustrated the point.

Often, the infamous “big people” Chip-ism refers to his affinity for the “12 personnel,” a formation with two tight ends and two receivers instead of the more conventional three-wide, one-tight end set. Tight ends, by and large, are bigger than wideouts.

But against the Redskins, Kelly’s attack consisted predominantly of “11 personnel,” a formation with three wideouts, one tight end and one running back. But the spread formations prompted Washington to counter with nickel defense, which replaces a linebacker with an extra defensive back.

Defensive backs, by and large, are smaller than linebackers, so the Redskins chose speed over size by loading up in the secondary and asking the front six to get the job done against the run. The Redskins played nickel from the opening drive until early in the fourth.

Just a few snaps into the game, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett replaced box safety Reed Doughty, a backup forced to start over Brandon Meriweather, with fourth corner E.J. Bigger to sacrifice more size with speed. Ultimately, the move would backfire when the outmatched Bigger missed several 1-on-1 tackles against LeSean McCoy in the open field, including on McCoy’s 34-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

This really isn’t a pioneering strategy. Andy Reid called runs from three-wide formations all the time, but Kelly’s no-huddle offense prevented the Redskins from subbing fresh personnel into the game.

The bigger issue is that Washington’s defensive line lacked gap discipline against the Eagles’ read-option schemes. The Redskins, who usually play three down linemen in their 3-4 scheme, played two and brought outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan up on on the line to form a four-man wall, with coverage linebackers London Fletcher and Perry Riley Jr. close behind.

Too often in the first half, the linemen lost gap control and let McCoy get into the second level, where it’s almost impossible for him to get single-tackled. McCoy rushed for 115 yards in the first half, prompting the 'Skins to make several adjustments after the break.

On their first defensive series of the third quarter, the 'Skins brought Riley up on the line of scrimmage to supply more pressure on the Eagles' offensive line. The playcall was a pass and Washington’s pressure drove Vick out of the pocket to his left. Inexplicably, Vick ran out of bounds four yards behind the line instead of chucking the ball to anyone standing on the sideline.

One play later, McCoy took a handoff, followed a punishing lead block from Evan Mathis on Fletcher and then juked Biggers out of his jock at the Washington 26-yard line en route to his 34-yard touchdown run for the 33-7 lead.

From that point on, the Redskins did a better job keeping McCoy in check. They started slanting to get their linemen moving in unison toward McCoy. Knowing the Eagles were trying to run out the clock, Washington also expanded the box, bringing safety Baccari Rambo or Biggers closer to scrimmage to get an extra body or two in run defense.

What does this mean for Sunday’s home opener? It depends on San Diego’s confidence in its defensive personnel.

If the Chargers think they can fill gaps better than Washington did, they might also employ their nickel and dare the Eagles to run against their front six. If the Chargers think the Eagles are vulnerable in the passing game, they can load the box with seven or eight men and dare the Eagles to beat them through the air.

Or maybe the Eagles come out with a completely different offensive scheme that the Chargers hadn’t studied.

With Kelly, you never know.

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