Analyzing Doug Pederson’s play-calling: Week 7 vs Steelers

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles-Minicamp
Jun 9, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson talks with the media during mini camp at NovaCare Complex. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The dust appears to have finally settled in Philadelphia. There’s a long break between the end of Mandatory Minicamp and the beginning of Training Camp on July 27th. After an off-season that had as much drama as an entire season of Game Of Thrones, it’s nice to be able to sit back, relax..and take the time to look at things in more detail.

I posted an article a couple of months ago breaking down the play-calling in that puzzling second half of the Chiefs playoff loss to the New England Patriots. While we were able to learn plenty about how Pederson likes to run his Offense, it’s still a relatively small sample size.

OTA’s and Mandatory Minicamp provided a small window into the Offensive mind of new Head Coach Doug Pederson. From new formations to trick plays, the former Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Coordinator seemed highly experimental during offseason workouts, but how much of that can we expect to see during the regular season?

It was revealed back in January that Pederson was actually calling the Chiefs Offensive plays since the second half of the Chiefs week 7 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

That week sparked the infamous 11 game winning streak for the Chiefs, but how much of that responsibility falls to Doug Pederson? In this series of articles, we will be breaking down the Offense in the second half of every Chiefs game from week 7 onwards in order to gain a deeper insight into how Pederson runs his Offense..and how much that is likely to transition into the hybrid west-coast Offense he plans on running in Philadelphia.

The Chiefs entered week 7 with a 1-5 record and faced a Pittsburgh Steelers team who were 4-2 but were also crucially without Big Ben. The Chiefs had lost Jamaal Charles a week ago and were quickly adapting to their committee backfield..but could they whether the storm against an in-form Steelers team at Heinz Field?

The Chiefs entered the second half with a 9-3 lead and possession of the football. A comfortable scenario for Pederson to begin making his mark on the Offense.

Drive one:-

Result: Punt
Pass: 0/2
Rush: 1 att, 3 yards

The drive started with a fairly simple rush to test the waters. Charcandrick West hit the hole with ease but the play was too easy to read for Safety Robert Golden.

With the pocket collapsing a play later, Smith rolled out to his right and hit Thomas on a quick slant. Thomas dropped the pass however, bringing the Chiefs to 3rd & 7.

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The play in itself was setup quite nicely following an audible. With Travis Kelce going over the middle to draw attention from the Safety, it allowed Albert Wilson to split the pair and break coverage. If the Linebackers weren’t blitzing and picked up either Thomas or Kelce coming over the middle, Thomas running underneath gives Smith an easy option if Maclin can’t beat his opponent down the seam and if the other options close up.

The key to take here is how open the field becomes, it’s something that will become a regular reoccurrence as we continue our journey down Pederson’s play-calling route, but arguably one of the most important. Chip Kelly’s Offense relied on quick, one-hit reads and tended to focus on one receiver getting open per play. Pederson’s Offense creates much more in the way of problems for the Defense as every receiver becomes a viable option.

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The final play of the drive was another incompletion. The outcome wasn’t helped by Kelce tripping and falling before continuing his route. The pocket again began to collapse and while Maclin was able to get open on a corner route at the top, Smith decided to launch into a pocket of open space that soon closed up as Wilson again broke free..resulting in an incompletion.

 

Drive two:-

Result: Punt
Pass: 0/3

The drive opened up in terrible field position as you’ll see from the short clip below. Smith makes a quick read and slings it to former Eagle, Jason Avant to pick up six yards. What’s interesting here is that if Smith had waited just a few more seconds, West would have been wide open over the middle and in position to make a big gain after elusively finding a hole in the trenches and finding plenty of room to run. A cleverly designed play that if implemented anywhere that wasn’t a situation of panic..would have caused another headache for the Steelers.

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The next play saw Smith take his first real intended shot down the field as all receivers began to attack the Secondary. Some great coverage from Pitsburgh and a slight overthrow by Smith meant that the pass to Conley ended up being marked as incomplete.

The final play of the drive again saw the collapse of the Chiefs Offensive line. Smith Scrambled on the edge of his own endzone and threw it away to bring the team to their second three and out of the half..but more importantly avoided giving up a Safety or throwing it into the wrong hands.

What was really interesting here however was the use of the running back. West came out of the shotgun and acted as an extra Offensive lineman in order to protect Smith. It’s something we haven’t seen from the backs in Philadelphia under Chip Kelly..but after reports of Kenjon Barner seriously bulking up over the offseason emerged, it’s hard to imagine that Pederson would overlook the possibility of some extra situational pass protection. Especially considering how much of a focus that is for the Offensive Line going forward.

 

Drive three:

Result: Touchdown
Pass: 3/3, 41 yards
Rush: 7 att, 17 yards, 1TD

 

Pederson’s first play-calling touchdown also included the first use of a fullback under his control. West started the drive with a no-gain run before a false-start penalty moved them five yards up the field. West then responded with a five yard gain up the middle on a rush that was perhaps given to them on a silver plater. All you have to do is see the gaping hole between the two Chiefs linemen to see where West would cement his direction. The Chiefs had four receivers spread out down the line of scrimmage to create a tricky situation for the Defense..but the rushing yards were just too easy to pick up.

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The next play was as smooth as they come. Smith is quick to spot Wilson creating space and slings a pass to the outside for a gain of 17 yards. The play was mirrored on the outside and you notice again, a receiver coming out in the flat after shedding his block. The play completely ripped the field open and forced the Defense to rush to the edges of the field..but this is very much a Sam Bradford play. A quick read, a nice window and a receiver (Likely Randle or Agholor) who can gain separation on the outside with ease and pick up the big yards on an accurate throw.

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Wilson was used again a play later on a slant route to pick up more double digit yards. T

West bided his time on the next run before darting up the inside for a big gain..setting up great field position for the Chiefs. The next play would cause an eye-roll moment for Eagles fans..until you see the outcome.

Smith is lightning fast on the draw and throws a screen pass to Conley who receives two huge blocks from his teammates, setting up a running lane. Conley uses his elusiveness to shake off some heat and eventually ends up at the 2 yard line. The huge difference here is the physicality. The abundance of screen passes used by Chip Kelly last year left all the work to the wide receiver. Under Pederson, the Offense looks to break open the running lane as the play develops..leaving the receiver with plenty of room to pick up yards.

Three rushes from West were enough to break into the end-zone and expand the lead to 16-3. Interestingly, West followed a block en route to the endzone..and that block came from…..a fullback.

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It’s becoming easier and easier to see why Pederson is adamant on using a fullback in his sytem.

 

Drive four:

Result: Punt
Pass: 1/1, 7 yards
Rush: 2 att, 3 yards (13 yard penalty after 11 yard gain)

The Steelers responded with a touchdown of their own, forcing Pederson to stay on the attack. A big run to kick off the fourth drive of the half was brought back due to a taunting penalty..but the run itself was impressive. The Line shifted to the right hand side, allowing West to completely bypass it on the left-hand side for a gain of 13 yards.

Spencer Ware responded with a small 3-yard gain as he attempted to rush to the right hand side of the field, before Alex Smith was sacked on the next play. Smith turned his back to the Offensive Line after faking a screen and took two big hits from blitzing linebackers. Inefficient pass-protection was very much the story of the second half for the Chiefs..but luckily it didn’t hold them back too much.

Smith was again overwhelmed on the following play as his receivers all ran verticals. The Line crumbled and Smith was forced to dump it off to West in order to avoid a sack..or even worse a Safety. The play went for 7 yards, but not enough to keep the punt unit off the field.

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Drive five:

Result: Touchdown
Pass: 3/3, 37 yards
Rush: 5 att, 47 yards, 1TD

A field-goal for the Steelers meant that the Chiefs lead was beginning to crumble..so it was time to turn to the playmakers. Travis Kelce had a quiet second half..until he found himself being boxed in and making a terrific catch for 26 yards. This was down to Kelce more than it was the play-call, Smith was quick on his read despite Kelce being covered until the release of the ball..and the result was a huge play that highlights just how important Kelce is to the Chiefs Offense.

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Just one play later, West followed his fullback before cutting to the inside and shedding numerous tackles to pick up 36 more yards. A huge run that showed why this committee was so successful. West was dominant through the trenches and tough to bring down once he got into open space..it’s exactly the sort of running game that we expected from DeMarco Murray and never saw.

Three runs later and the Chiefs scored another touchdown. This time it came from an Alex Smith pass to Conley who broke free with ease on the left hand side. Smith looked over the middle but didn’t hesitate on passing out of the flat to Conley. This is something that the Eagles struggled to do in the red-zone last year, as they completed 49.1% of passes inside their opponents 20-yard line. The multi-dimensional threat that this Offense carries is so beneficial in these types of situations..and a threat that could really help transform the Eagles Offense.

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The touchdown sealed the game for the Chiefs as they held the Steelers on the following drive and proceeded to run out the clock in order to close the game. Pederson came into the second half with a 9-3 lead and walked away with a 23-13 win. Pederson put up 14 points in the second half and despite the Steelers applying early pressure..was able to keep a level head, maintain the gameplan and get the job done to kick start what would become an 11-game win streak.

Takeaways from the play-calling:
+ Use of fullback really adds a lot to the backfield
+ The Offense became multi-dimensional and used plays to keep Defense on edge
+ Smith called multiple audibles at the line of scrimmage, QB control a big factor
+ Running backs also used to help protect the passer
+ Variety of short/deep passes..difficult to predict

–  Offensive Line hurt the Offense a lot..Smith forced to scramble too often..plays didn’t compensate for that and were lucky at times.
– Travis Kelce was kept very, very quiet until late on..despite being an impact player
– Rare to see receivers get open on the inside deep, most open looks on outside curls

Overall:
There was a nice variety in plays and it seemed difficult for the Steelers to keep all of the Chiefs weapons chained down. The running back committee played a huge part in the second half success, but it was Smith’s patience, leadership and accuracy that helped the Chiefs come through in the clutch. This would be a good example if you are to try and look at what to expect in Philadelphia..it’s also easy to see why Pederson was so high on Sam Bradford when you look at the plays he ran with Smith.

Grade: B+

 

Mandatory photo credit:  Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Screenshots/GIF credit: NFL

 

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