The Philadelphia Eagles have had one of the best passing games year in and year out regardless of who is the signal caller. Whether it was long time star Donovan McNabb or a replacement player such as Jeff Garcia or A.J. Feeley, the Eagles passing game has been one of the most consistent ones in the NFL. But the question that many have asked is, how does it stay consistent?
The main reason that the Eagles passing game has remained one of the top ones in the NFL year after year is the same reason that teams like Indianapolis and New England are near the top of the charts every year: consistency in coaching. The Eagles still have Andy Reid as their head coach, and Reid’s offensive philosophy and design has remained, with tweaks made along the way. But the core of Reid’s offense has remained the same since he was hired as the Eagles head coach in 1999.
There are various things that make up Reid’s offense, such as multiple Hi-Lo concepts, the screen game, verticals, slants, Snag, Sail, Curl/flat, shallows, and play action. These things are littered throughout the NFL and are seen every game, but the presentation of these concepts is what makes Reid’s offense stand out from the rest.
The first thing on the menu is the Hi-Lo concepts, which is what Reid runs the most in his offense. A Hi-Lo concept is one that stretches defenses vertically by running similar routes at different breaking points. The one I want to focus on is the Levels concept out of Trips formation.
The Trips formation has three receivers to one side. What this concept does is flood the middle of the field with a deep inside route that occupies the MIKE linebacker, and then two of the same routes at the same depth that grab the attention of the outside linebackers or slot defender, who is responsible for covering the hook zone. The Eagles use this concept, as well as many other Hi-Lo’s, to a great extent and for good and simple reason: it often works.
As can be seen above, the Eagles ran the All-In Hi-Lo concept against the Rams in Week 1 in the red zone. The #3 receiver (closest to the offensive line) ran a Dig while the #2 (slot) and #1 (closest to sideline) ran matching square-ins. The #1 receiver breaks off his route to the inside and is going to come free because he’s beaten the cornerback defending him and the #2 receiver is occupying another defender, which creates an opening for the catch. On this play, Michael Vick ended up throwing to the slant at the bottom of the screen, which is not pictured.
Another concept the Eagles use that can be viewed as a Hi-Lo concept is a combination of the out route with the corner route. This is similar to the Smash concept (#1 receiver runs a five-yard Hitch, #2 receiver runs a 10/12 yard corner route) except that the Eagles used this more often against the Rams. This concept is a Cover 2 beater, and it puts the cornerback, who is covering the flats, in a 2 on 1 situation by running two wide receivers in the same part of the field. The out route is ran by the #1 at a depth of twelve yards while the corner route is ran at a depth of twelve to fifteen yards by the #2 receiver, thus putting the cornerback in the middle of the two routes.
Cover 2: CB in Flats
Out by #1, Corner by #2
Another Cover 2 beater that the Eagles like to go to is the Double Slants concept. The Eagles will sometimes come out in a Doubles (two receiving threats to each side of the formation) set and run this concept to both sides of the formation. They used this against the Rams in the red zone with some success. What this concept does is occupy the curl defender (cornerback or linebacker) by running the slant inside of him and drawing him forward, thus creating an opening of the backside slant by #1.
Cover 2 beater: Double Slants
The following concept is one that is used against all four major coverages (Man-Free, Cover 2, Cover 3, Cover 4). This concept is called the Curl/Flat. The outside receiver will run a curl at a depth of twelve yards, while the flat route can be ran by either a tight end or a running back. The flat route is designed for the tight end or running back to climb to a depth of about three yards after a delayed release. This stretches the defense horizontally, specifically the outside linebacker or slot corner in coverage. By stretching the outside linebacker or slot corner wide (toward the flat), the quarterback will have a window open to hit the wide receiver, who will come free on the curl route.
Curl/Flat concept from Eagles playbook
Eagles executing Curl/Flat concept against Rams
The next concept that’s important to cover in this breakdown of the Eagles passing game is the Flood (or “H-Sail” in this case). The Flood concept is one of the most popular concepts in football because it overloads zones on one side of the field. It’s a concept that works well because it attacks defenses at three levels (short, intermediate and deep), and thus vertically stretching defenders.
What the Eagles do out of this concept is have their #1 receiver (closest to the sideline) run a fade route to occupy the cornerback deep, so the sail route can be ran by the slot receiver. The sail route is ran on a vertical stem before being broken off at around twelve yards. Meanwhile, there is a receiving threat in the flats that the defense has to keep an eye on, and the flat threat can be a running back from the backfield, a third receiver from a Trips set, or in the Eagles case, a receiver from the other side of the formation. The Eagles often use their backside receiver (Z) as their flat threat, and against the Rams, it was DeSean Jackson. The flat route from the other side of the formation is ran at a depth of three-to-five yards.
There are two final passing concepts that the Eagles like to run and that they used against the Rams. These two passing concepts are the Snag concept and Four Verticals.
The Snag concept is one that the Eagles frequently turn to because of the success it has against zone coverage. This concept is a two man combination that stretches the playside (to the side of the concept) linebacker horizontally. The snag route is one that has a diagonal stem at roughly five yards and then the receiver (Y) sits in the zone between the outside linebacker and the MIKE (middle) linebacker. The receiver who runs the snag route is taught to sit down in the zone immediately after the outside (playside) linebacker passes him. If the outside linebacker does not pass him and walls the receiver off, the receiver then turns the route back toward the sideline. Meanwhile, the second part of this concept is the flat route (F), which provides the horizontal stretch by occupying the outside linebacker.
Eagles Snag concept
The final concept that must be discussed is Four Verticals. This concept is very deadly when executed properly, and the Eagles have had some success with it through the years.
The two outside receivers (X and Z) run vertically at the snap and look to create separation down the sideline. They are typically not the primary targets, as that belongs to the two slot receivers or tight ends in this case, H and Y. The Y is running a vertical route on an outside release, while the H is running the same route, but he has a decision to make one he gets to a certain depth. If there are two safeties high (Cover 2 for example), the H will run a post because the middle of the field is open. However, if there is one safety high (Cover 1 for example), he is expected to keep running the vertical route because the middle of the field is closed. Lastly, the running back out of the backfield will serve as the check-down option if nothing is available deep.
Eagles 4 Verts are deadly
The Eagles are traveling to Atlanta to face the Falcons this weekend, and the Falcons play quite a bit of zone coverage, so keep an eye on some of these passing concepts.
One last thing to note is that these passing concepts are based out of multiple formations by the Eagles (and all NFL teams) because they need to present different looks to defenses to keep their concepts disguised until after the snap.