The Eagles were down a touchdown with 2:00 left to play at the Packers 42-yardline facing 4th and 1. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said the Eagles expected a zero blitz from the Packers on the play, and called an appropriate play for the situation. “That’s what that [offensive] play is designed for,” Mornhinweg said.
Philadelphia came out in a shotgun with three wide receivers – DeSean Jackson to the left and Jason Avant and Jeremy Maclin to the right. LeSean McCoy was to the left of Michael Vick in the gun, and Brent Celek was a tight end to the left.
Green Bay used only two down lineman on the play, B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett. The Packers four linebackers were up near the line of scrimmage: Clay Matthews, Brandon Chillar, Nick Barnett and Brad Jones.
The Packers used five defensive backs, perhaps fearing motion out of the backfield from LeSean McCoy. Sam Shields covered DeSean Jackson, while Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams had Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant.
Free Safety Nate Collins played up near the line of scrimmage, crashing around the left edge of the Eagles offensive line. Strong safety Morgan Burnett was playing deep.
The Packers did go with a zero blitz, and Eagles guard Todd Herremans said they were prepared. “I mean, we kind of figured we were going to see that look,” said Herremans.
Raji and Pickett were lined up over the two A gaps (to either side of the center), so off the snap Todd Herremans crashed down on Raji and McGlynn pushed Pickett backwards, which started to open a big hole on the left side of the line. It left tackle Jason Peters one-on-one with linebacker Brandon Chillar, and Peters pushed him backwards.
Meanwhile, Brent Celek was left one-on-one against Clay Matthews, a highly favorable matchup for the Packers. While they are similar in size, Celek is more of a pass-catcher than a blocker as a tight end, and Matthews is extremely good at getting off of blocks. Matthews quickly shed Celek, which changed the assignment of LeSean McCoy.
Had Celek hit his block, McCoy would have burst through the hole and picked up the first unblocked Packer – in this case it would have been Nick Barnett coming across the play. Shady had to get Matthews instead, but the play still would have had a reasonable chance of working if he made the block.
Vick likely would have hit the first down line right as he met Barnett, giving him a chance. Instead, McCoy couldn’t hold off Matthews either, allowing the second-year linebacker to stop Vick at the line-of-scrimmage while Barnett came in to help finish him off.
Another key part of the play was the positioning of free safety Nick Collins coming off the edge. There was nobody assigned to block him, which would have been fine, if the Eagles had hit their blocks to open the hole outside the left guard. However, when that didn’t happen, Vick had no chance to bounce to the outside because of Collins.
Herremans said later that the Eagles just couldn’t open a hole against the blitz, “They brought the house and we couldn’t open it up.”
The blame can really be shared by four people on this play. Brent Celek and LeSean McCoy certainly could have hit their blocks, executing the play as designed and allowing Vick to pick up a yard. But, Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg called a play that relied on two offensive weapons who are not particularly adept blockers to finish off a pair of Green Bay’s highly touted linebackers one-on-one.
The play call was also rather transparent, as you pretty much knew Vick would be running on the play. Once they lined up with a tight end to the left side of the line, which is also the better side of the Eagles’ line, you had a good inkling they weren’t going to send Vick to the weak side of the formation, which also happened to be the weaker side of the line talent wise.
That said, the play still would have worked had the Eagles executed. “Man on a man,” Mornhinweg said after the game.
Todd Herremans agreed. “I mean, if we all block our guys, we should have had a first down.”
Instead, the Eagles came up one yard short in their season opener and with lingering questions about the play-call and execution on the most important play of the game. Then again, that’s the nature of football.
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