The continued development of Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz and the acquisition of running back Darren Sproles will have a significant impact on the structure of the Eagles offense in 2014.
Just about this time last year Philadelphia Eagles Coach Chip Kelly stated repeatedly that the Eagles offense would be shaped to the personnel he had at his disposal, and not the other way around. Most of the media and the fan base did not believe him. But the facts, they are stubborn things. Quarterback Nick Foles developed into a Pro Bowl quarterback during 2013, despite the fact no one believed the Chip Kelly offense could be run effectively with a slow footed quarterback at the helm. Kelly assessed the talents of his personnel and formulated an offense that took advantage of those skills.
With significant changes in the Eagles offensive skill position personnel during the offseason, what can we expect from the Birds offense in 2014?
Three Superb Tight Ends
The Eagles are one of the few teams in the NFL that can feature three talented tight ends. With Brent Celek, Zach Ertz and James Casey, the Eagles have three versatile, multi-talented athletes at the tight end position. I expect Coach Kelly to fully leverage this advantage as a centerpiece for the Eagles in their 2014 offense.
Personnel Grouping 11 vs. 12
In order to demonstrate how the 2014 Eagles will present a match up problem for opposing defensive coordinators, we need to discuss offensive personnel groupings and the strategies associated with them. Personnel Grouping 11 is the most common offensive personnel grouping for a vast majority of NFL teams. The eleven grouping features 1 running back, 1 tight end and 3 wide receivers. With the three wide receivers, this is considered a passing formation, and many defenses employ the nickel, or an additional defensive back, to counter the additional wide receiver in the formation.
The 12 Personnel Grouping features 1 running back, 2 tight ends and 2 wide receivers. Because of the two tight ends, this is generally considered a running formation, and defenses are typically staffed heavy, to counter the additional tight end blocker. However, with an offensive innovator like Chip Kelly, the 12 Personnel Grouping presents quite a daunting challenge for opposing defenses, particularly in light of the Eagles tight end talent and the fast pace of the Eagles offense.
Pick Your Poison
Here is the conundrum for opposing defensive coordinators when facing the Eagles offense using a 12 Personnel Grouping. If the opposing defense decides to use their base package (or heavy package) to offset the two tight ends, the Eagles can simply run a pass play in which the Eagles personnel will have a decided coverage advantage vs. the defense. If the defense decides to move into a nickel package to offset the Eagles excellent pass catchers, the Eagles will just hammer away with their inside zone read running plays and simply power over the opposing defenses with their lighter, nickel personnel. Pick your poison. This is why the Eagles are going to be a match up nightmare for NFL defensive coordinators this year. And just imagine further when the Eagles put out Darren Sproles in motion or in the slot in a 12 Personnel Grouping. Again, a run heavy look for the defense with the two tight ends on the field. But LeSean McCoy (the halfback) and Darren Sproles (the receiver) are now in the game at the same time. And instead of a run, a pass play is called. What could the defense do with Sproles running one way and McCoy running the other? And with two talented pass catching tight ends in the middle against linebackers? The answer is simple. There really is no good solution.
So expect the Eagles to exploit the opportunities presented by their excellent tight ends in 2014. Yes DeSean Jackson has moved on to Washington, and the Eagles offense will be different this year than last. But it will be no less effective. Twelve will be a very important number in Philadelphia this year.