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Thursday, 27 September 2012

Five Plays that Paid Off - Week 3: Cash & Kerry

When the Eagles were dominated by the Cardinals last Sunday, perhaps no play summed up Philadelphia's night as well as James Sanders' fumble return for a 93-yard touchdown. Now, the return itself is incredibly straight forward, and doesn't really need analysing - he simply picked up the ball, with all other 21 players on the field behind him, and outpaced them for a touchdown thanks to some blocks thrown by team mates. More interesting to us is the actual fumble, caused by Kerry Rhodes on a blitz. So, in a break from our regular Plays that Paid Off, we delve a little bit into speculation and look at who we believe was responsible for Rhodes coming unblocked on the blitz, what could have been done to block Rhodes, and what options were open to Vick that would have prevented the fumble. Enjoy!

This play was nominated in our Facebook group by Nick Wadlow, though I missed his nomination until after this piece was written - an example of great minds thinking alike! So, a retroactive shoutout to Nick for nominating this play to be broken down - nice one Nick!

Philadelphia Eagles @ Arizona Cardinals, 2nd quarter, :06 left on the clock, 3rd & Goal from the Arizona 1 yard line.

Watch the play here

Eagles: 3-wide singleback
Personnel: #77 Demetress Bell (LT), #69 Evan Mathis (LG), #66 Dallas Reynolds (C), #63 Danny Watkins (RG), #79 Todd Herremans, #7 Michael Vick (QB), #25 LeSean McCoy (RB), #87 Brent Celek (TE, right), #13 Damaris Johnson ('X' receiver), #81 Jason Avant (slot receiver, left), #10 DeSean Jackson ('Z'/flanker receiver)

Cardinals: 2-4-5 nickel
Personnel: #93 Calais Campbell (DT 2i-tech), #90 Darnell Dockett (DT 3-tech), #94 Sam Acho (WLB), #51 Paris Lenon (RILB), #58 Daryl Washington (LILB), #54 Quentin Groves (SLB), #23 Jamell Fleming (RCB), #22 William Gay (nickel DB), #21 Patrick Peterson (LCB), #25 Kerry Rhodes (FS), #39 James Sanders (SS)
Fig 1

After the huddle/pre-snap: The Eagles line up in 3-wide set with the TE on the right, the third receiver in the left slot, and Vick under center; Reynolds appears to identify Daryl Washington as the 'mike' for the purposes of the protection scheme.. The Cardinals line up in a nickel package, substituting the third defensive lineman for an extra corner; Arizona have the two outside corners on the LOS, the slot corner slightly off, the two inside linebackers plus the free safety about two yards behind the LOS, and the 2 DL, 2 OLB and strong safety all on the line of scrimmage. There are no pre-snap motions from the offense, and the only movement on the defensive side of the ball is free safety Kerry Rhodes coming down to the LOS. Crucially, Vick either appears not to notice, or else chooses not to make any adjustments in protection for this; for the purposes of this breakdown, we shall assume he did not see this. The field now looks like Fig 1.

The play: The play is designed for Vick to get off a quick throw which will either net the Eagles a touchdown or fall incomplete with enough time left on the clock for a field goal. The play sees slot receiver Avant and TE Celek running out routes, and both outside receivers running slants, while LeSean McCoy appears to be running to the outside to check for a blitz from Washington (whom Reynolds appeared to identify as the 'mike'), then, seeing Washington doesn't come, turns back infield as a check-down option for Vick.

In Fig 2, letters 'A' and 'B' point out two of the three options that Vick could have taken with Rhodes coming unblocked. At A, Jason Avant is running an out route. Unlike Sanders on Celek on the other side of the play (which you can clearly see from Vick's helmet is the QB's primary read), Avant's defender actually lines up a few yards off of him. If Vick had seen Rhodes showing blitz, he ought to have then looked to his left. Celek would have made sense as a primary read if Sanders as blitzed rather than covered the TE, and you could speculate that Vick was expecting (or perhaps hoping) Sanders would come for him, leaving Celek open for the touchdown grab. Instead, it is the other safety on the other side of the play who blitzes, leaving two defenders on two receivers, one of whom is playing with a cushion of two or so yards. Vick being a left-handed QB, he could have pretty easily thrown the ball to Avant's left before the DB would have been in position to make a play on the ball - if you watch Avant on the play, you can see the DB does not get in position to defend such a pass until after Vick is sacked.

Fig 2
The next option available to Vick was to run the ball. Now, with six seconds left to the half and 0 timeouts, this was by far the riskier option, but you have to bear in mind how close the Eagles are to the goal line, represented by the green dashed line marked by the Roman numeral I (that's right, we're throwing Roman numerals in there as well as letters now). Again, this postulates what Vick might have done had he recognised Rhodes showing blitz. Knowing he had pressure coming from the left, a QB as famously fast on his feet as Vick might well have looked to scramble to the right. Had he been looking to do so, he may have noticed that, as you can see in point B, RT Herremans had sealed Quentin Groves far inside, actually leaving a huge, huge hole for Vick. The only question is what Paris Lennon (#51) would have done. He comes down into the hole apparently to cover McCoy, who has turned towards Vick as a check-down option. As we're into speculation territory here, we can suggest that if Reynolds had identified Lennon, not Washington, as the 'Mike', McCoy would be looking to block him - leaving a wide-open massive hole for Vick to easily run through and get the touchdown. In fact, as McCoy is such a good running back, I would speculate that if he had seen Vick tuck in the ball and take off, he would have quickly reacted by looking for someone to block, which most likely would have been Lennon - and if not, Vick has enough moves to just evade Lennon en route to the end zone. Obviously this is all hypothetical, but I do believe there is a strong case to be made that Vick could have pretty easily run in a touchdown.

There was, of course a third option - Vick seems to pretty intently lock in on Celek, and while it appears as if he might have tilted his helmet, looking to Jackson, it's hard to say so with any real conviction. It does look as if the play was designed as a quick three step drop to Celek, and if it wasn't there, throw the ball away and keep enough time on the clock for a field goal. In retrospect, this was by far the safest move, and had Vick seen Rhodes creeping up to the LOS prior the snap, then when the first read wasn't there he should, and hopefully would, have just thrown the ball away.

So, these are the three options that we can speculate were open to Vick, and ones that he perhaps might have taken if he was aware that Rhodes was lining up to blitz; but we're not done with speculating just yet. Instead, let us look at who might have been responsible for picking up Rhodes' blitz. Typically, running backs are often used to pick up blitzes, especially when coming from the outside - though McCoy was on the wrong side of Vick to pick Rhodes up, likely as a result of Reynolds' identification of Washington as the 'mike', which would naturally send McCoy to that side of Vick. However, there is also the element of simple maths: Arizona sent five defenders after the passer. If we consider McCoy to no longer be a blocker after turning to Vick as a checkdown option once it was clear Washington wasn't coming on a blitz, that still leaves five blockers, one for each defender rushing Vick. As you can see in Fig 2, there is a doubleteam by Evan Mathis and Reynolds on Calais Campbell. Interestingly enough, if you watch Mathis during the play, you can clearly see at one point his helmet turns and is clearly looking into the second level, marked on Fig 2 by the green dotted line marked II. If you flip back to the beginning of the play, the direction he is looking is the spot where Kerry Rhodes was standing when the O line set (i.e. got into their three-point stances). This suggests that Mathis was expecting Rhodes to come on a delayed blitz up B-gap; instead, seeing that there is no-one coming from that direction, looks back to the defensive end he is doubleteaming. Now, it is unfair to suggest that Mathis is to blame here, but I merely point out that, if there were to be a blocker free to blcok Rhodes, it would have been Mathis. To drop back that quickly and successfully make the block was unrealistic - he would have had to have done so from the moment of the snap, not establish the doubleteam first; I merely point it out for the sake of completeness that Mathis is clearly checking for an inside blitz, so there was an awareness that the blitz would be coming - and the onus did fall on Vick to be aware that Rhodes had crept up to the line, meaning that the blitz they were expecting was likely to be an outside blitz, and make adjustments accordingly.

Unfortunately, Vick did not appear aware that Rhodes would be coming from the outside; he made no adjustments, and took none of the three realistic options that he should have known would be open to him had he recognised where the blitz would be coming from. Instead, he was hit, fumbling the ball which, as you can see by the green dotted line marked III, happen to bounce right in front of Sanders, who leaves Celek behind, scoops up the ball and runs down the sideline, not stopping until he's put six points on the board.

- Gur "Fred" Samuel (@FredTheGur)
- The Pulling Linemen

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