Coming into Thursday night's game, Tampa Bay had by far the best run defense in the NFL allowing 45.8 rushing YPG. They had not allowed any team they had played so far to rush for 100 yards or over four YPC. Last night, the Eagles rushed for 100 yards on 5.3 YPC. Now some of that came from Hurts scrambles on pass plays. Others believe Tampa took their foot off the gas and did not place great emphasis on stopping Philly from running since the majority of their rush yards came in the 4th quarter when the Bucs had the lead. However, Philly deserves credit for being able to do something no team has done all season against a great run defense, and in today's film session, we'll break down how they did it.
The two biggest reasons the Eagles had more success running the football vs. the Bucs than any team this season is that they took advantage of opportunities when Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh were out of the game, and they utilized read-option, and RPO plays to gain a numbers advantage. The main reason the Bucs are so tough to run has been the play of their starting DTs Vea and Suh. It's really tough to run when those two are in games. This brings us to the first reason the Eagles found success on the ground late in the game. Four out of the six runs shown in this film room were of plays where Vea and Suh were on the sideline. If you've watched the Bucs this season, you know that they like to platoon sub at DT, often subbing Vea and Suh in and out together. The Eagles took advantage of this. But beyond that, Philly made the Bucs dedicate manpower to containing Hurts which allowed Sanders to find room on some of their read-option plays.
The first play below is a great example of how the threat of Hurts running in the option game freed up Sanders. Kevin Minter, number 51, is the LB on the right in this play, and he loops around the edge appearing only to be focusing on Hurts while Sanders runs right past him. Even if his assignment was to take the QB, that's a bad play. If he had his head up scanning his entire field of vision, he would have seen that Sanders had the ball and changed his path. At pre-snap, Tampa has a six-man box. This play is possibly an RPO because the TE goes out and never attempts to block anybody. Knowing that at pre-snap, the numbers say five-on-six in favor of Tampa. However, because Minter had to account for the QB, It turned into a five-on-five situation, and the Eagles took advantage.
The next play is another read-option play, and this time Hurts keeps it and gets loose on the edge. Shaq Barrett and Devin White both bite on the fake handoff. Because they did, the Eagles never had to block either of them on this play. When teams can run the ball without having to account for at least one box defender, let alone two, it greatly increases the odds that they will have a positive result on a run play.
The third play appears to be an RPO play, and if so, it was an easy read for Hurts, who made a great decision to give it to Sanders. At pre-snap, Philly is in a spread look with only five players in the box vs. a six-man box for Tampa. However, Minter drops into coverage immediately at the snap, and White loops outside looking to contain. The result is TB doesn't have to block either LB, and it creates a five-on-four advantage in the box. Even with Veta in the game on this run, they can get two guys on him without needing to worry about climbing up to an LB due to the numbers advantage.
In play four, it's mainly the threat of pass in the RPO game and the phenomenal run-blocking of Jason Kelce that opens up the middle for what was Philly's easiest run of the night. Kelce takes care of one LB while the other LB drops into coverage and out of the play.
Another potential RPO gets the Bucs another numbers advantage in play five. This time, the Bucs appear to have a zone-blitz on in which the right slot corner blitzes along with an LB off the right edge. The remaining LB drops into coverage to replace the blitzing slot corner in coverage. This leaves no defenders in the middle of the field. The Bucs try to compensate for this by having Barrett not go up the field, and he does a good job in his pursuit angle. But Kelce is probably the best lineman in the NFL when it comes to run-blocking at the second level, and he finds him and gives him a last-second push that frees up Sanders for a big run.
In play six, a lot goes right initially for TB when Veta gets great penetration and blows up any chance for the inside run. Hurts pulls, and a couple of things lead to this play ending up being a successful run. First is the athleticism of Hurts. He does a great job of outflanking the defense to the sideline. The TE also made just good enough of a block on JPP to help Hurts get to the edge. And finally, the effective double team of Suh, which is highlighted during the play, I believe contributed to impairing the vision of the LBs for just a second which caused them to be a step behind in their pursuit of Hurts to the sideline.
One question that might come from the Eagles second-half run performance is, have they given the NFL a blueprint to having more success vs. the Bucs in the run game? The answer to that question is yes and no. No, because most teams don't have a QB athletic enough to force Tampa Bay to dedicate box players solely to account for the QB on run plays. So that aspect is not replicable by most teams. However, RPOs can be utilized by all teams, even without a mobile QB. Teams might want to start incorporating more of them to help open things up on the ground vs. Tampa in the future because the film shows they are willing to drop their LBs into coverage and ignore the threat of run in some cases. Some might wonder, can't this be accomplished using play-action. Well, RPOs are different than play action because the result of the play isn't predetermined. Play-action is meant to make the defense think it's a run and then have the QB throw no matter what. So it's not as effective if the defense doesn't bite. RPO's let the QB read the LBs and determine quickly whether to give or throw based on what the LB initially does at the snap. Given how stingy the Bucs have been in the run-game, offensive coordinators are going to have to get more creative with their run plays to have success, and last night's second half was an example of how it can be done.