After exploding out of the blocks in the opener against Atlanta, the Eagles were brought crashing down to earth with defeat to the Bucs. After a coaching masterclass against the Falcons, the play-callers really struggled in-game against another NFC South opponent. The contrasting performances of the quarterbacks was obviously a major factor, but Doug Pederson did Foles no favours early in the contest. Penalties were another huge issue, but the Eagles were unfortunate in some instances to be flagged. Not for the first time the birds looked rusty coming off an extended break, an issue that needs to be addressed if they’re to compete for another Super Bowl.
Generally, I don’t feel Pederson helped Foles much early in the game. His signal-caller clearly wasn’t seeing the field well, but the offensive coaching staff failed to engineer good looks or route combinations for the Super Bowl MVP. Early in the game, he tried to setup the Bucs for a stop-and-go. Coming out in 12 personnel with his receivers aligned tight to the formation, Pederson had Agholor run a deep comeback. The issue was the play was called on 2nd and 30, with the corner aligned on the left side entirely unconcerned with defending underneath. What does the corner care if he gives up ten yards on 2-and-30? It fails to encourage the corner to be more aggressive, a pre-requisite for the stop-and-go to work. When the offense came back with the same personnel and formation on the final play of the first quarter, the left sided corner had an entirely different mindset facing 1st-and-10 after Fitzpatrick had just been picked off. The game situation was appropriate for the call, but the context of the setup play undermined the plan from the beginning.
The Eagles did enjoy some success with their variety of screens, but the regularity with which they were called felt like overkill. Tampa have a pair of quick linebackers, and the ballcarriers were corralled pretty effectively. The bubble screens were particularly ineffective. It makes sense to call more screens with Foles struggling to deliver the ball on time, but the lack of variety ultimately hurt the offense.
Doug Pederson was particularly committed to a route combination out of trey formation (three receivers aligned to the strong side). He schemed a bubble route from the widest receiver, a seam route from the slot, and then an out-breaking whip route from the tight receiver (slant then out). The plan was to expose Tampa’s zone coverage where it is vulnerable, down the seam, but Foles held onto the ball too long and the Bucs had no reason to respect the bubble. I counted at least four occasions where the Eagles ran the play, they completed just one of the attempts.
I thought Schwartz was absolutely on fire Week 1, but his performance Week 2 was underwhelming to say the least. To be fair, bad results are not always indicative of bad decisions. The max protection call against Schwartz’s corner blitz to open the game was symptomatic of the superiority Tampa’s coaching staff enjoyed throughout the contest. Dirk Koetter seemed to have his number consistently, and Fitzpatrick capitalised. I did feel that was a little strange for the opening call of the game, but I have much more sympathy with the Eagles’ defensive coordinator for Tampa’s second long touchdown. Schwartz’s base cover-3 wasn’t working, so he pulled a trick with inverted cover-2, dropping Ronald Darby into the deep half. Cover-2 is the perfect antidote to OJ Howard’s crossing route, but Nigel Bradham was ill-disciplined and Hicks just missed a deflection, leaving Darby in a difficult open-field position. That’s not on the coach. The images below should hopefully illustrate the disguise of inverted cover-2.
Pre-snap, the play looks idential to base cover-3:
Instead of Mills dropping deep, McLeod rotates over, and Hicks takes the deep middle:
And here’s the coverage in action:
Schwartz wasn’t as unorthodox in the remainder of the game, trying a heavy dose of man coverage. The defense enjoyed a little more success in cover-1, but still allowed Tampa to move the ball effectively between the numbers. The cover-3 sprinkled in continued to fail. As the fourth quarter dawned, Schwartz went to his last resort, the blitz. It didn’t stop the Bucs from continuing to pick apart the secondary, as they converted another deep pass on second-down. Dirk Koetter again dialled up max protect in the perfect moment, leaving DeSean Jackson one-on-one with Jalen Mills.
Schwartz did enjoy some limited success with the blitz early in the game. The defense appeared to audible to a rush package against empty sets, hurrying Fitzpatrick for once. Perhaps Schwartz could have called zone blitzes more frequently. It was the only time the Eagles had anyone underneath a curl-route the entire game, and they had the added benefit of a free rusher in Fitzpatrick’s face.