Discipline is the name of the game when facing the Philadelphia Eagles. The new offense, under head coach Chip Kelly, has taken the league by storm in 2013.
The Eagles play at a blistering pace that is difficult for defenses to keep up with. They also use many different formations to exploit mismatches in both the passing attack and the ground game.
The Denver Broncos will have their hands full with this dynamic offense on Sunday. The Eagles are exciting to watch and can score a lot of points in the blink of an eye. However, the Kansas City Chiefs showed last week that the high-flying Eagles offense could be slowed down.
Broncos head coach John Fox commented on Wednesday about the challenges they'll face when playing the Eagles.
I think that one three-and-out in 38 possessions. They’re second in the league in [total] yards [per game]. They’re averaging 6.6 [yards] per rush with [RB LeSean] McCoy and [QB Michael] Vick getting the majority of that. They’re fast-paced, and you got to be on it when you play them.
Football Kung Fu
Chip Kelly likes to use an opponent's power against them. This is a form of football kung fu that we don't normally see in the NFL.
Most of Kelly's offensive formations can be studied with a quick Google search. Going into a game, most opponents will know how to quickly diagnose whether a run play is going to the inside zone or the outside zone.
If the running back is lined up behind the quarterback then the play is most likely an inside zone read. If the running back is lined up next to the quarterback then the play is most likely an outside zone read. Defenses will know this before the snap, and that's exactly what Kelly wants.
Inside Zone Read
The Eagles like to utilize the inside zone read to pick up chunks of yardage with the ground game. In the play pictured below, we see LeSean McCoy lined up behind Michael Vick. This is clearly telling for the defense that an inside zone play is coming after the snap.
The Eagles let the edge-rusher go unblocked. This time, the pass-rusher is one of the best in the game, third-year linebacker Justin Houston. We see Houston is frozen on the line after the snap by Vick. Houston doesn't know whether to keep contain on the outside or crash to the middle in pursuit of McCoy.
By freezing Houston, the Eagles are able to get an extra blocker to the play side. This greatly benefits McCoy, and he gashed the Chiefs up the middle for a seven-yard gain. The Chiefs knew what was coming, but have trouble stopping the play.
The Broncos will need to play with the same discipline that Houston and the Chiefs did. However, they will give up big gains on the ground because of it.
Outside Zone Read
The other cornerstone of the Eagles offense is the outside zone read. This formation will stretch the field laterally after the snap. Like the inside zone, the Eagles will gain an advantage if an opponent plays it the right way.
In the play below, we see an outside zone-read look as McCoy is lined up next to Vick. The play flows to the opposite side of where McCoy lines up, this time going to the right.
McCoy is able to hit the corner with his speed. However, he's looking for any cutback lanes if the defense gets out of position. The Chiefs defense does not give McCoy any lanes inside, so he takes it around the corner for a four-yard gain.
The Chiefs knew where the play was going, stayed disciplined after the snap, yet still allowed a decent gain by McCoy.
These two plays highlight how frustrating it can be to defend this Eagles ground game. These plays are the reason why the Eagles' rushing offense ranks first in the NFL with an average of 209 yards per game.
Problems with Passing
The Eagles have an especially dangerous ground game, but their passing game is a work in progress. Vick is not known as a developed passer, and this offense asks him to make quick decisions with the football.
In the picture below, we see a play designed to get the ball quickly to the tight end. Brent Celek runs a short hook route here, coming back to the football in what should be a soft spot in the defense.
We see Vick staring Celek down immediately after the snap. Veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson sees this, and he makes a play on the ball. The pass is tipped by Johnson, and safety Eric Berry picks off the ball, returning it for a 38-yard touchdown.
Whereas the defense needs to stay disciplined against the ground game, they can, instead, play with a little more aggression against the pass.
However, they can't get too aggressive against the pass because Kelly will come back at them with more kung fu.
After hitting them with short passes early in the game, the Eagles will then attempt to throw deep. In this next play, we see DeSean Jackson run what looks like is going to be a wide receiver screen to the left.
Cornerback Brandon Flowers is playing aggressively, and he quickly breaks on Jackson. This leaves the top of the defense wide-open, and Vick hits Jason Avant on a go route. The play results in a 22-yard touchdown pass.
Kelly will lull a defense to sleep with the short passing game. He'll hammer an opponent with a strong rushing attack. Then, he will hit a defense for a deep play when discipline breaks down.
The Broncos will have to rely on all three levels of their defense to stifle the Eagles offense. The defensive line, linebackers and secondary will all have to play with heightened discipline on every snap.
Denver will be greatly helped if they can get pressure on Vick with just their front four. They need to create a pocket around Vick to make sure he doesn't break outside. Once the pocket is formed, the front four needs to pinch it closed.
We're likely to see a player like linebacker Wesley Woodyard spy on Vick. He'll be responsible for making quick reads when Vick is looking to pass. Woodyard will have to shadow Vick to make sure he can't climb the ladder up the middle to escape edge pressure.
The secondary will play close to the line of scrimmage in order to help out with run defense. They'll have to keep from getting lulled to sleep by constant run plays and short passes.
The Eagles will take some deep shots, and the safeties need to make sure they don't get out of position. The up-tempo offense will put the Broncos in scramble mode from the first snap.
The Chiefs were able to hold the Eagles to 16 points in Week 3 because they played with discipline, got pressure with their front four and minimized big plays downfield. They were also aided by five Eagles turnovers.
The Eagles are built to run the football. However, Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense should put up plenty of points early and often in Week 4. This means the Eagles could be forced to going into a pass-happy mode before they want to.
So in a way, part of the Broncos defense this Sunday will be Manning and the offense. That's a bit of kung fu from John Fox.
All quotes and injury/practice observations were obtained firsthand.