Relentless again, the Eagles simply would not be denied by Atlanta. In a game that resembled the divisional playoff, exceptional redzone defense gave the offense just enough time to spring to life and snatch another victory from the Falcon’s talons. Despite lacking some key personnel on both sides of the ball, the coaching staff once again did an outstanding job mixing up their tendencies and springing new packages and novel looks. Doug Pederson couldn’t help himself, cracking out another target for his Super Bowl MVP signal-caller. Dan Quinn made a poor imitation of Pederson, looking entirely uncomfortable keeping his offense on the field for an early fourth-and-goal. And give Jim Schwartz credit too, his stop unit once again kept one of the league’s best offenses to only 12 points. Let’s dive into the details, starting with the offense.
Darren Sproles and Corey Clement got the early work in the backfield, which was a little surprising. The scoring unit struggled to get going on their first couple drives. Pederson tried to stretch Atlanta horizontally, mixing in short passes. Undermanned on the outside, the Eagles receivers simply couldn’t shake free from press coverage. It wasn’t until Ajayi came into the rotation and Pederson went to no-huddle combined with packaged plays that the offense started to move the ball. Three times Pederson ran the same formation, running the same backfield action, with three different plays off the same look. The Eagles ran outside zone with pin-pull, then their dagger concept mixed with an RPO, then a play-action naked boot. The last of the plays baited Falcons linebacker DeVondre Campbell so badly he almost made it to the opposite sideline before turning around to see Foles still holding the football. The series sparked the offense into their only points of the first half.
Exiting the tunnel, the coaching staff had the requisite adjustments in mind. The offense adjusted to more of a road-grading approach, putting an extra tightend on the field in 21 personnel. Instead of testing the perimeter of Atlanta’s speedy defense with outside zone, Pederson opted for a greater percentage of man-to-man blocking plays, examining the strength of the centre more thoroughly. They mixed in that physicality with misdirection, running same-side zone from shotgun and a pitch pin-pull to Nelson Agholor motioning into the backfield. Plus of course, there was the reverse throwback to Foles copied from the Patriots play to Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. The head coach explained in his press conference afterward how he used the “same personnel group [but] different formations” for the play. And Doug Pederson would copy the play of another opponent later in the game, calling a flip 90 to Darren Sproles (a run play that basically involves the entire offensive line blocking in the opposite direction to the run) which almost ended in a score.
Although there were some issues with time management and challenges, it is hard to argue Pederson had anything other than a fantastic night.
Despite Julio Jones picking up first downs on a regular basis, the defense did an outstanding job of limiting big plays. Schwartz used a heavy dose of cover three to limit big plays, with his single-high scheme obviously offering an extra body in the box against the Falcons’ 21 personnel (2 backs, one tightend). He didn’t blitz a ton, especially early, but called a great pressure to force a punt in the first half. Jordan Hicks shredded Devonta Freeman in pass protection and the Eagles had the ball back. Although he showed a handful of cover two shells, his coverages ultimately ended up single high almost exclusively, with many long yardage plays in particular disguised as a cover two shell. He used cover one robber out of a two-high look as an example, forcing a punt in the second half as Ryan was forced to throw low and away from Rodney McLeod closing in. Schwartz was at his best with the game on the line however, committing everything to defend the run on early downs against Atlanta’s jumbo package. With time ticking down, he switched to nickel, rushed four and bracketed Julio Jones. The Falcons didn’t have an redzone play to counter it, and the Eagles ground out another tightly fought victory.