The popular assumption after the Eagles’ rushing attack produced lopsided results Sunday was that Mike Vick’s absence from a hamstring pull enabled the Giants to scheme harder on stopping LeSean McCoy.
The Eagles gained 81 yards on 20 carries before Vick left (not counting Vick scrambles), then picked up just 14 yards on 13 attempts the rest of the way.
Clearly, the Giants weren’t afraid of Nick Foles’ threat to run and focused their attention on stopping McCoy, right?
“For the most part, the biggest flaw in the second half was myself and the nose guard,” center Jason Kelce said.
And then Kelce explained.
The NFL is a game of adjustments. What teams do well, other teams try to stop. For the Eagles, the bread and butter of their ground game is the inside zone read, a staple of Chip Kelly’s playbook at Oregon that he brought to the Eagles’ offense.
Kelce said the Eagles were averaging more than six yards per play on inside zone runs. Naturally, the Giants spent the whole week scheming ways to stop it.
To understand how the Giants countered the inside zone, let’s first look at what happens when the Eagles execute it correctly. Here’s the pre-snap alignment on a first-quarter inside run by McCoy and each lineman’s blocking responsibility.
After the snap, the offensive line moves the Giants’ defense laterally to the left, with Vick reading defensive end Justin Tuck.
You’ll notice the gigantic hole at the “A” gap between Kelce (62) and right tackle Lane Johnson (65). Right guard Todd Herremans (79) helped Johnson, then released to block the linebacker. Holes like those are why McCoy entered the game averaging close to six yards per carry.
McCoy picked up only two yards on that run because Kelce struggled to keep Cullen Jenkins moving laterally. Jenkins fought off the block to make the tackle.
This would be more problematic as the game progressed, with the Giants scheming to take away those lanes.
“When there’s a one-technique [defensive tackle] to the side of the play, that singles up me a little bit as a center,” Kelce said. “So what they were doing is either they were jetting upfield, which in turn made me commit more front side because I didn’t want to allow penetration, and then what they were doing once they started doing that is slanting the nose behind me, where I don’t have any help on the play.”
They’re called “nut stunts,” Kelce added.
That’s exactly what happens on a third-quarter McCoy run that loses three yards. Before the snap, tackle Shaun Rogers (95) lines up in the “A” gap between Kelce and left guard Evan Mathis as the one technique (yellow square).
The line is supposed to block in unison to the left. After the snap, Kelce tries to move Rogers laterally, but Rogers shoots the gap and jets upfield, catching Kelce off guard. Linebacker Spencer Paysinger (52) heads toward the “A” gap to make sure the Giants are still gap sound in case Rogers doesn’t get to McCoy.
“Generally speaking, what my goal is on that play is to get my head front side so that they have to have that gap integrity,” Kelce said. “They have to stay in that 'A' gap or else they get yelled at by their coaches. So what they were doing is they were either jetting upfield hard and trying to get penetration or slanting behind me and replacing with the ’backers.”
It’s a risk-reward play for the Giants. If McCoy isn’t stopped in the backfield, he’ll have an even bigger cutback lane to run through.
“It’s a huge hole,” Kelce added. “They’re kinda going for broke on it. But I think that was their play they wanted to stop. They knew we had tremendous success running that play up until that point, and they really wanted to stop that play in particular.”
Mission accomplished. Here are two different angles of what happened after Rogers blew past Kelce.
This happened enough throughout the game, with Rogers and Mike Patterson each using the same technique, to keep the Eagles from generating a consistent rushing attack on their inside zone runs.
Kelce was directly involved in six of eight runs that netted zero or negative yards.
It’s a copycat league, of course, so Kelce anticipates the Buccaneers taking a page from the Giants’ playbook. Tampa Bay has the NFL’s ninth-best rush defense and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is one of the league’s top interior defensive linemen.
“I know if I was a defensive coordinator and I saw what happened on film against the Giants I would definitely try and replicate it,” Kelce said. “It’s good that it happened that early in the season and we got a victory out of it, because now we can correct it and moving forward if some team is trying to do it in a game because some teams have answers for it.”
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