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Eagle Eye: How The Eagles Won The Super Bowl
February 9, 2018 03:23 AM | Fran Duffy
There were so many positives to take away from watching the Eagles beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. This was the definition of a shootout, with both teams putting up a combined 1,151 yards. That was the most combined yards in any game in the history of the NFL (not just Super Bowl games, mind you, but EVER). Having gone back and watched the film, there were a handful of things that really stood out above all else.

Nick Foles was as good on film as he was live. The things that stood out most about Foles' performance were his ball placement as well as his poise and pocket movement. Those traits helped lead him to an MVP performance.

The game plan was outstanding. The Eagles were a step ahead of Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia at almost every turn. The lone turnover came on a fluky play downfield on a bobbled 50:50 ball, and the offense moved the chains nearly at will. Doug Pederson, Frank Reich, and the rest of the offensive coaching staff were really remarkable in this game with the level of preparation the players showed against New England's defense.

The offensive line deserves a ton of credit. The Patriots threw a lot at them with stunts, twists, and blitzes both inside and outside. The linemen were ready. The Eagles had struggled with stunts, in particular, during long stretches this year. On Sunday night, the protection was nearly impeccable for most of the game. It allowed Foles to operate at a seemingly "7-on-7" type level.

The multiplicity of the Eagles' offense showed up against the Patriots. Name a player who didn't have at least one crucial drive-saving play. You can't! Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz, Trey Burton, Brent Celek, Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, and Corey Clement all had critical roles as skill-position players in the win. No Eagles player accumulated more than 1,000 yards this year, making it the first team to win the Super Bowl with that stat since the New York Giants in 1990 (who also won the big game with a backup quarterback in Jeff Hostetler).

Let's take a look at this game on a drive-by-drive basis and see what exactly led to the team's first-ever Super Bowl victory. To me, some of the overriding themes from the entire game showed up on the opening series. The Eagles took the opening kickoff and drove the length of the field, knocking on the door inside the 5-yard line before a false start put them behind schedule and they had to settle for a field goal. Here were some of the key plays from that opening drive.

THE OPENING DRIVE

Note that there is audio commentary for each of the video clips.

Last week in my preview of the Patriots' defense, I talked about the propensity to send pressure from the secondary with slot defenders, cornerbacks, and safeties. That showed up on the very first play of the game. Watch Foles drop back here, perfectly in-rhythm, and hit Agholor for a completion to start the game off. The ball came out quickly, beating the blitz from New England, to the right target (who correctly sawed his route off to make himself available for the quarterback) on time. Even if the ball hadn't come out on time, Blount was in position to block the blitzing corner to help keep Foles clean. And look at that pocket! This was the type of room Foles was afforded all night long. It was a completely successful play to start the game off, and several factors led to that.

One astounding statistic from this game was the Eagles' success on third down. When Carson Wentz was lost for the year against the Los Angeles Rams, the Eagles were the best third-down offense in football, and Wentz's passing numbers were video game-like in those situations. When Foles stepped in, there were some games where he was good, and others where he wasn't, but in the NFC Championship against Minnesota, he was downright lethal. That success continued into Sunday's matchup, and it started on that opening drive.

Here are two big third-down completions that helped the Eagles march down the field. On the first play, I'm not sure whether that was how the route was designed for Jeffery or if the veteran receiver made an adjustment based on the coverage after Foles broke the pocket, but the two are on the same page and Foles steps away from pressure for a big-time conversion. Later in the drive, on third-and-11, Foles hits Smith on a deep dig route on a Dagger concept. The throw was not perfect, but Smith helps his quarterback out with a big-time throw. The other thing I love about both of these plays was the play of the offensive line. You see the big guys up front soundly pick up pressure in both examples, affording Foles the time to get the ball to his intended target.

A big theme coming into the week was the discussion of RPOs (Run Pass Options), and how the Eagles' offense thrives on those plays. The Patriots, meanwhile, had struggled a bit against them throughout the season. How would Belichick and the Patriots react to those plays in this game? We got a taste of it early on.

I'm not even 100 percent positive that the second play was even an RPO (parts of it seemed like it was, but I'm not certain). Either way, the look and feel of it were RPO-like, and the impact it had on the linebacker was certainly visible, as he was completely taken out of the play trying to drop back into coverage against in-breaking routes behind him in the secondary. That kept him from stepping up to try and defend Ajayi on that 6-yard run. That's the beauty of the RPO runs. Sometimes they're truly an option play, other times it's actually a designed run or a designed play-action pass. Regardless, because of how similar looking they are, the defense really struggles to figure out which is which, and it puts it in a very tough spot early in the down.

While we're talking about the running backs and the passing game, let's quickly get into the impact of Corey Clement. The former undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin had a career game against the Patriots, and this catch on the opening drive was just the tip of the iceberg for the Glassboro, New Jersey native.

This screen play (a perfect call in that situation) got the Eagles down inside the 5-yard line on a possession that should have ended with a touchdown, but the team settled for a field goal to take an early 3-0 lead.

SECOND DRIVE (Tie Game, 3-3)

The Patriots would match with their own field goal to start the game, but the Eagles quickly responded with this three-play drive that got them into the end zone for the first touchdown of the game, and it started with a passing play that would rear its head time and time and time again in critical situations for Pederson's offense on this night - the Mesh concept.

On first down, the Eagles run their first Mesh play, which calls for three crossing routes over the ball in the short area of the field. The quarterback has a wheel route coming from the backfield as well, and that's an "alert" throw that he can choose to take if the matchup is right. After he checks the wheel, he works to the crossing routes, where typically the progression works from the underneath crosser (in this case, Agholor), to the second crosser, to the sit route over the ball. There are times where the last two options are flipped. Get used to this play, we're going to see it a bunch.

On this play, the Eagles know they have zone coverage thanks to the pre-snap motion (no one runs with Ertz across the formation). When linebacker James Harrison expands out to the sideline over Clement, the wheel route is no longer an option, so his next progression is the underneath crosser to Agholor.

A lot has been made about Agholor and Jeffery slapping hands on their way to their landmarks. This is actually coached, and it serves as a way to make sure those two receivers run right next to each other to serve as a bit of a "rub" for the defenders in man coverage. This will come into play later in the game. Foles hits Agholor, who works his way to a 7-yard gain.

On second-and-3, Blount gets his first big carry of the night, and he takes it for 36 yards against his former team. This is a basic zone run play, but what stood out to me most was the job the offensive line did of adjusting on the fly. The Patriots are executing a run blitz here, with two defensive linemen slanting inside and a linebacker scraping into the playside B gap outside of the guard. Now, zone blocking is designed to handle this kind of movement after the snap, but it still doesn't make it easy to execute! Stefen Wisniewski, Jason Kelce, and Brandon Brooks all do an outstanding job here of picking up their blocks on the run, and Blount reads the defense perfectly, jump-cutting into the backside A gap and running through an arm tackle on his way to a huge play and a first down.

The Blount run would set up the first touchdown of the game to Alshon Jeffery. The play came off play-action, and Alshon runs right by former Eagle Eric Rowe. With routes running right at the safety in the middle of the field, Foles just has to beat Rowe over the top to give Jeffery a chance, and he lays it up for his 6'2 receiver to up and get it, and that's exactly what Alshon does. Jeffery does an excellent job of adjusting his body to the throw, climbing the ladder and maximizing his catch radius, attacking the ball at its highest point and pulling it out of the air with strong hands for the touchdown. This was a great throw with an even better catch (and don't forget the blocking in the trenches as well) to put the Eagles ahead early on.

Foles attacked down the field numerous times in this game, another theme that carried over from the victory against Minnesota. The former third-round pick averaged 8.7 yards per attempt in the Super Bowl. For some context, Drew Brees had the best number in the league over the course of this regular season, averaging 8.1 yards per attempt on the year. The 538 total yards put up by the Eagles was actually the most by the team since Foles' legendary seven-touchdown performance in Oakland back in 2013 (552).

THE START OF THE SECOND QUARTER (Eagles Lead 9-3)

The Patriots would miss a field goal then turn the ball over on downs after an Eagles punt, giving Foles the football at the 35-yard line. Two runs netted three yards, and the Eagles faced third-and-long, setting up one of two throws that really stood out to me on this drive.

The Patriots are known as a team that runs a lot of 'Cover 2 Man' on third down (probably my favorite coverage in football), where two safeties patrol the deep part of the field and five defenders play in tight, trail coverage underneath. The man coverage players play with a 'trail' technique, meaning that they will play underneath of the receivers since they have safety help over the top. There are a number of ways to beat '2 man,' and the Eagles found ways to do it all night long. Here, Ertz faces safety Jordan Richards one-on-one in the slot with a physical route to uncover for a first down.

Two plays later, Foles hit Jeffery down the field on a 'slot fade' route, a common concept in the Eagles' offense. With Jeffery running this route from the slot, there is plenty of room outside for Foles to lay this ball up to let his receiver run under it. All the Eagles have to do is hold that outside corner, Stephon Gilmore. Torrey Smith gets an outside release and stays short, holding Gilmore underneath long enough to prevent him from making a play on this ball. A well-designed play gets the team another first down.

After the completion to Jeffery on the slot fade, Blount makes his former teammates pay with this touchdown run. The Eagles came out in a 'heavy' 12 personnel package. The number 12 stands for '1' running back and '2' tight ends, with the two tight ends being Celek and sixth offensive lineman Isaac Seumalo. To me, it's Seumalo who makes this play go the distance. Watch the seal he gets on Harrison on the edge, working with Celek at the point of attack before the tight end works up to Patrick Chung. Blount reads this play perfectly once he gets the edge, playing off of Kelce's block at the second level and storming his way into the end zone for a touchdown. Blount was a big part of the Eagles' 126 rushing yards, the most yards ever allowed by a Belichick-led Patriots team in the Super Bowl on the ground.

THE LONE TURNOVER (Eagles Lead 15-6)

The only turnover of the night for the Eagles happened later in this drive, but there were two plays that I thought were really cool to break down from this sequence.

Again on this play you can see Foles completely comfortable and in-sync with his receivers here, as he drops back and gets this ball out immediately to Torrey Smith. Why did the ball come out so quickly? Watch what happens pre-snap. By moving Agholor into motion, the Eagles see the Patriots are in man coverage (because a defender runs with him). With Ertz and Smith to the outside, Foles sees that he has a safety pressed up on his tight end at the line of scrimmage while a corner is playing in off-man coverage against Smith, the receiver. The play call is a simple concept I know as 'Snag', where Ertz runs a corner route, and Smith runs a 'Spot' route, basically a quick run upfield before turning back to face the quarterback. With Ertz and Smith so tightly aligned, and with the cornerback playing so far away, Foles knows that this will be an easy throw and catch. There's no way that the corner, Gilmore, can work through Ertz, as well the safety over him, and get to this catch point. The ball is out so quick that

Smith is able to turn upfield for some yards after the catch. Again, this speaks to both the design by the coaching staff as well as the execution on the field.

On the very next play, with the Eagles facing third-and-four, Ajayi would run for his longest gain of the day, a 26-yard scamper. What I thought was so cool about this was that it came on a run concept we hadn't seen from the Eagles all year, to my recollection, the 'Shovel Pass', an Andy Reid staple. Watch this from the end zone angle above and you'll see what I mean. Wisniewski pulls from the backside as a lead blocker for Trey Burton, who is prepared to take this shovel pass if Foles decides to give him the football. It's an option play, and Foles decides instead to hand it off to Ajayi.

What I loved about this run by Ajayi is that he's meant to carry this all the way outside, but when that lane is clogged up almost immediately, he cuts this upfield and runs into the lane designed for Burton, so it essentially turns into a 'Power' run play for the veteran back. Ajayi hits the hole hard, runs behind Wisniewski and Brooks (who smacks a safety at the point of attack), and gets the Eagles another 'X play' on the ground.

Unfortunately, on the very next play Foles would throw a deep ball to Jeffery, and the pass bounced off of his receivers hands (on what would've been an amazing catch) and into the waiting arms of the safety down in the end zone. It was the lone turnover of the day for the Eagles.

"PHILLY SPECIAL" (EAGLES LEAD 15-12)

The Patriots had just scored a touchdown to make it a one-score game, and with the clock winding down in the first half, the Eagles tried to get more points on the board since New England would get the ball to start the next half. Of course, as you know by now, this drive would culminate with the now legendary 'Philly Special' touchdown pass. Let's see what led to that moment.

A pass to Ertz for seven yards and an incompletion on second down would bring up third-and-three. What do the Eagles do? They call their 'Mesh' play. The last time they ran this, New England was in zone coverage, but here, the Eagles know that they're facing man to man defense. Mesh KILLS man to man defense (when it's run correctly).

Clement is matched up with the safety, Richards, and that should be a favorable matchup for New England. Richards, however, takes a terrible angle on this play, attacking downhill instead of staying on top of the wheel route out of the backfield. Foles sees the angle immediately, and he unleashes a perfect touch pass down the right sideline for the rookie back. Clement reels in the pass, runs out of the tackle from Richards, stiff arms a safety down the field for good measure, and ends up with a 55-yard catch-and-run to set up a first-and-goal, the longest reception by a running back in Super Bowl history.

On the very next play, which you can also watch above, Clement peels off an impressive six-yard run that really was only blocked up for about one yard. The rookie runs through that first contact, keeps churning his feet, and is able to barrel his way inside the three-yard line. I love the way Clement played on Sunday night.

The Eagles tried to get Clement a touchdown with a 'Belly' run on second down, then Foles threw an incompletion on third-and-goal. This brought up fourth-and-one.

It would be the first time in Super Bowl history that a player would both throw a touchdown and catch a touchdown in the same game. You've seen the call, and you've seen the play. Now let's watch it from the eye in the sky!

This play is brilliant because of its 'rope a dope' nature. The defense thinks Foles is calling an audible at the line of scrimmage, resetting the protection or changing the play. Foles steps up right under Lane Johnson, the ball is snapped, and Clement runs to his left. Foles leaks out untouched because the defense is now focused on the ball. Clement pitches the ball to Burton, who puts a beautiful touch pass on the hands of Foles for a huge touchdown in one of the most legendary sports moments in Philadelphia history.

Pederson and Foles spoke afterward about where they had seen the play and when it was installed. It had been on the table for the offense for a few weeks after Offensive Quality Control Coach Press Taylor saw it back in 2016 with the Chicago Bears. The Bears presumably stole it from Deshaun Watson and the Clemson Tigers the year before in 2015. Heck, Foles' high school put out video of them running it back in his early years as a quarterback! What I thought was interesting, however, was Malcolm Jenkins' recollection of the play, because he had seen it before against a familiar opponent.

The Eagles played the Patriots in Foxboro in 2015, and Brady caught a 36-yard pass on the same exact concept! The Eagles were under different management in those days, so the team didn't steal this from New England, but I thought it was interesting to see how the two teams had put the play into use the last time they took the field together two seasons prior.

OPENING DRIVE OF THE SECOND HALF (Eagles Lead 22-19)

The halftime score was 22-12, and the Patriots opened the half with a touchdown drive of their own, making it a three-point game. The Eagles needed a response, and they got one on this drive.

On the first third-down conversion of the half, Foles hits Agholor on another 'Mesh' concept for a first down. The offensive line does a great job up front, and Foles hits Agholor in-stride to allow his receiver to make a great play after the catch. But you know what really helps spring this? Watch Zach Ertz on his route. He does a great job of helping to pick off the defender chasing Agholor WITHOUT initiating contact. This subtle move by Ertz throws the defender off by a split second, helping to free Agholor to catch this pass and run upfield to move the chains.

On the two plays after that third-down conversion, Blount reeled off 15 yards on the ground. On the first play, Seumalo help spring the veteran back, running his feet through contact and driving the edge defender off the ball at the point of attack. On the next play, Brooks and Lane Johnson both help create space on the backside to help Blount pick up a first down.

After the two runs by Blount, Foles threw an incomplete pass and Ajayi ran for nine yards on second down to bring up third-and-one from the New England 40-yard line. Now, Pederson had another trick up his sleeve.

Seumalo had been on the field now for a handful of plays, each of them runs to start the game. Watching the game live, I had a feeling it was only a matter of time before we saw a play-action pass off of this look. On this critical third-and-one play, that's exactly what we got. Foles faked the handoff to Blount and found Ertz down the field 14 yards and another conversion.

A few plays later, and facing ANOTHER third down, Pederson called one of my favorite plays in this game, and it attacked something the Patriots did very well on the back end in the secondary.

Belichick loves to try and take away an opponent's top receiving threats on critical downs, meaning on third down and in the red zone. Throughout this game, early on, Ertz was the coach's target. Every time the Eagles faced third down in the red zone, Ertz had two pairs of eyes on him at all times, typically with a slot defender and a safety. The Eagles expected tactics like this and had a plan ready to strike if faced with it.

Watch this red zone throw, where Ertz is double teamed at the snap of the ball. Clement releases down the seam, and he beats the linebacker accounting for him in man coverage. With the safety helping to cover Ertz, there is no one over the top down the hashes to help with Clement's vertical route! Foles drops back, and from a clean pocket, he delivers a dime of a throw right into Clement's breadbasket for a touchdown.

Pederson and his staff knew that the Patriots would try to double Ertz, and they had a perfect play drawn up to orchestrate a favorable matchup around that double team to get the Eagles into the end zone.

THE GAME-WINNING DRIVE (Patriots Lead, 33-32)

The Patriots would score touchdowns on their next two possessions, with the Eagles netting just one field goal in the meantime. This gave New England their first lead of the game. The Eagles got the ball back with over nine minutes left in the game, and they would proceed to bleed the clock down nearly seven minutes with a lengthy drive that got them into the end zone one last time. Let's look at how it played out on film.

On first down, the Eagles play to their exotic run game with another different concept, a 'Pin-Pull' play with two key blocks, the 'Pin' block by Celek and the 'Pull' block by Lane Johnson. Celek perfectly seals a defender inside, Lane pancakes his defender outside, and Ajayi stumbles for a four-yard gain that should have been more. Still, it kept the offense on schedule and moving on the very first play.

Two plays later, the Eagles face third-and-six, and they rely on a pass concept that has worked for them throughout the year, though typically down in the red zone. A motion before the snap signifies man coverage (watch the defender run with Clement), and with the Eagles in a tight bunch formation to Foles' left, the Eagles know they have the ability to attack the Patriots man coverage scheme, and they do it with leverage.

Typically when a team plays man coverage to a bunch formation, you'll see one defender man up directly on the 'point man' of the bunch, meaning the receiver lined up closest to the line of scrimmage at the top of the bunch. That is Trey Burton, and he is just going to release vertically up the field. That removes one defender.

Now you have two against two in the slot. With these two defenders, against a bunch look, a defense will 'in and out' this, with one defender taking the receiver who is the biggest threat on the inside and another taking whoever is the biggest threat on the outside. That's exactly how the Patriots play this. Jeffery is going to run from the outside on a shallow crossing route into the middle of the field. That removes the inside defender.

Now you have Ertz one-on-one with a corner, Gilmore. The Patriots should feel good about this matchup, right? From this alignment, however, Gilmore is in a bad spot. Why? Because Ertz releases outside initially, making it seem like Gilmore is going to just pick him up (he's responsible for the outside threat), but when Ertz sticks his foot in the ground and breaks back towards the middle and has the leverage on Gilmore. He's unable to get in front of this pass from Foles because he was playing the outside shoulder. With the other two defenders over the bunch removed from the formation, Foles hits Ertz for a seven-yard gain and a key first down to keep the drive alive. What a concept to attack New England's man coverage!!

Four plays later, and the Eagles face fourth-and-one. This play is crucial. A miss here would give the Patriots the ball back with a one-point lead and just over five minutes left. So the Eagles step up with their 'Mesh' concept, a play that has worked for them all night long. This time, they run it from 13 personnel (one back and three tight ends), a new look for this game, and the intended target is Ertz on the underneath crosser. It's man coverage, and the wheel route is taken away early, so Foles hits Ertz just past the sticks for a first down. Ertz did a great job of making sure he was definitely past the marker, as forward progress granted him the first down.

After the fourth down conversion to Ertz, Blount would run for one yard to bring up second-and-nine. This would begin a three-play sequence that put Nelson Agholor at front-and-center for the offense. Three straight completions to the third-year receiver put the Eagles in easy scoring range. The first catch was the most impressive, as Agholor had to work through traffic multiple times then sustain a catch through contact for a first down. Next, Foles threaded the needle on a 'second-window throw' against zone coverage where Agholor was ready for a pass in-stride in traffic. On the next play, an RPO, Agholor makes a play in space where he should have stayed in-bounds to prevent the clock from stopping, but he moved the chains none the less and helped get the Eagles in position for the final score.

After the trifecta for Agholor, Ajayi ran for a short gain and Foles threw an incompletion to Jeffery in the end zone. This brought up third-and-seven in the red zone. What had the Patriots done all game in these situations? They doubled Zach Ertz. The last time, Doug made them pay with Corey Clement out of the backfield for a touchdown catch. How would he attack the defense on this play?

The Eagles come out in a 3x1 set with Ertz set as the X-iso receiver on the boundary side to the left. The Patriots aim to double team Ertz on this play with two safeties. Clement, however, is put into fast motion from left to right in the backfield, forcing New England to abandon the double team on Ertz, pulling the safety to the four-receiver side on the right. Now, Ertz has yards and yards of green grass, and he does what he's done at a high level all season long. The former second-round pick attacks vertically, steps on the defender's toes, and wins at the top of his stem on an in-breaking route towards the middle of the field. Foles hits him and Ertz dives into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. The Eagles scored two touchdowns against New England's double coverage tactics, with Pederson and the coaching staff devising ways to beat Belichick with motions before the snap to further put his players in the best place to succeed.

This was an overall surgical performance by Pederson, Foles, and everyone involved with the entire Eagles offense. They only punted one time in the game, and only finished two drives without points on the board. The Eagles were 10-of-16 on third down (63 percent), and 2-for-2 on fourth down. They dominated time of possession (34 minutes to the Patriots 25).

Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.

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