By now, you all have seen the game. Some of you have seen it twice. The Philadelphia Eagles struggled to beat the Indianapolis Colts and as much as Coach Nick Sirianni loved it, the performance, especially on offense, raised more questions than answers. One of the most important being how this team expects to maintain offensive consistency without Dallas Goedert.
While no one is shouting for the firing of Shane Steichen, Eagles fans should take a look at the film and the data to better understand how he can better use his personnel and alignment to activate this offense over the next few weeks before Philly takes on the Dallas Cowboys again.
Success in football is all about numbers, angles, space, and leverage. Coach Steichen can use these principles to help the Eagles succeed in winning football games.
The Philadelphia Eagles personnel and alignment without Goedert
On offense, players are part of personnel packages and are aligned on the field in certain formations.
The most common personnel packages in the modern NFL are 00, 10, 11, 12, and 13 personnel. In each package, the first number signifies the number of running backs in the formation. The second number signifies the number of tight ends in the formation. Therefore, 11 personnel means that there is one running back, one tight end, and three receivers in the formation. Similarly, 12 personnel means that there is one running back, two tight ends, and two receivers in the formation.
The modern NFL has embraced 11 personnel as the new base package upon which playbooks are based and defenses have been catching up to that trend. Scoring is down in games and hasn’t been this low (21.0 points per game) since 2010.
Just as there is no perfect defense, there is also no perfect offense. Every punch has a counter punch and every action has an equal and opposite reaction. In a league with smaller linebackers and more split safeties – designed to help the pass defense – some teams are developing their strategy around alternate means, especially in an age of positionless football.
As nickel, big nickel, and giant dime are becoming the new base defense – with defensive backs in place of linebackers – the most successful teams in the league are leaning away from 11 personnel (a balanced personnel group) toward a more physical lineup (two and three tight ends) or a faster lineup (four and five wide receivers).
The absence of Dallas Goedert for the next few weeks gives the Philadelphia Eagles the opportunity to test both theories.
In terms of the Philadelphia Eagles’ tight end room, Jack Stoll, Grant Calcaterra, and Tyree Jackson provide depth for the injured Goedert.
Stoll is highly trusted by Jalen Hurts, which led to 55 snaps on offense last week in Indianapolis. He is mostly a run blocker, and a good one, but he is limited in his straight-line speed and explosiveness as a receiver.
Calcaterra has performed well in limited action and can impress as both a run blocker and a receiver. Jackson is a size mismatch in the red zone and as a former quarterback, the coaching staff is hoping for a rapid and healthy transition to the tight end position.
In terms of alignment, tight ends are often spread across the formation to hide the strength of the offense, or they are stacked to a particular side of the formation to assist in both the running game and the pass protection. Tight ends are also often aligned in the backfield as an extra blocker for the running game.
A balanced alignment is traditional and old school and in the modern NFL it isn’t fooling anyone. The concept was created by Joe Gibbs in the 1980s as a way to help defend against Lawrence Taylor by widening his angle of attack and giving his quarterbacks another half-second to throw the ball.
While the balanced alignment is a bit trite, teams are using stack formations. often called YY alignment, where tight ends are lined up next to each other on one side of the formation.
This alignment both provides for better angles when run blocking on gap runs, which Miles Sanders needs more snaps in and widens the end man on the line of scrimmage to help with pass protection.
In terms of the run game, the main gap runs in the Eagles’ playbook are likely Trap, Power, and Counter. While the zone running game is about numbers and creating double teams at the point of attack, gap runs are about getting angles and leverage on defenders.
In Power, the tight ends, play side tackle, play side guard, and center block down on the linemen inside of them and the backside guard – say Isaac Seumalo – pulls behind the center and seals the middle linebacker out of the alley (between the hash and the numbers) and the fullback or h-back kicks out the end man on the line of scrimmage (EMLOS) to provide a running lane for the back.
While the Philadelphia Eagles are mostly a zone run team, it is their versatility and ability to run gap and pin and pull runs that makes the Eagles’ offensive line and running game dangerous.
Gap runs are great for the Eagles both because teams have designed their defenses to stop the inside zone running game and because Miles Sanders lacks the field vision to excel in the zone running game.
In these gap runs, one or two tight ends can down block the down lineman and a second or third tight end can align as a fullback and kick out the EMLOS.
Stoll, Calcaterra, or Jackson should be able to excel in any of these roles. As receiving threats, the issue becomes more complicated.
While Calcaterra has nice deep speed and should be used on shot plays in cases of sudden change – right after a turnover for example – Stoll and Jackson are better fitted for the quick passing game and screen game that are a huge part of Jalen Hurts‘ RPO offense.
The RPO offense is based on three reads: the unblocked EMLOS to key on the inside run; the inside linebacker looking to scrape and take the quarterback; and the corner or safety covering the backside receiver or tight end.
It is likely that more teams will use press-man coverage against the Philadelphia Eagles for the rest of this season as the Eagles have had issues against that coverage in the past. A great way to beat that is with rubs at the line of scrimmage.
In this concept an inside receiver – say DeVonta Smith – runs a wheel route and the tight end (aligned as a #1 receiver) blocks down to allow Smith to get a free release streaking down the sideline. Similarly, the roles can be reversed and Stoll or Jackson can get free for a quick slant route.
In terms of arrow routes or sift routes – great routes for them and for receiver Zach Pascal – Stoll or Jackson can be aligned inline (next to the offensive tackle) or in the backfield.
From these alignments, both can block as part of the pass protection and/or escape on shallow out-breaking routes – especially if a dangerous receiver like A.J. Brown has an in-breaking route, e.g., a glance route, on that side of the field.