One of the two most surpring outcomes of the 2013 season were:
a) Riley Cooper's emergence as a legitimate deep threat. He ranked #3 in the NFL in YPC in 2013 (17.8) out of receivers with over 30+ catches. He posted TDs of 47, 63, 45 and 32. He posted 13 plays of 20+ yards and 6 plays of 40+ yards.
b) Nick Foles' deep ball production. By far the biggest concern about Nick Foles heading into the 2013 season (especially from this writer) was his questionable ability to get the ball downfield. The argument against Foles was that he had a noodle arm and would allow teams to play their safeties in the box and dare him to beat them downfield. Well, one year later:
- Nick Foles led all starting NFL QBs with a ridiculous YPA of 9.12
- Foles's accuracy on deep balls of 20+ yards was 7th among starters at 45.5%
- He finished 2nd in the NFL with 14 TDs of 20+ yards
- He tied for 3rd with 13 plays of 40+ yards
So for #20 on the Chip Wagon Top 25, we look back at one of the plays Nick and Riley connected on and we'll also dive deeper in to some of the other big connections to understand why and how they happened. Special attention will be paid to the "Desean Jackson effect". Obviously the Eagles offense had huge success getting the ball down the field in 2013. Desean Jackson was a big part of that in both direct and indirect ways.
#20 on the Chip Wagon Top 25 was a play that looked rather awkward at first, second, and third viewing. Essentially, it appeared to be one of the ugliest TDs you'll ever see where Nick Foles provided the doubters evidence of his noodle arm.
The other thing to pay attention to on this play, is the aforementioned Desean Jackson effect. This is a key point to highlight for those that argue that Desean wasn't double-teamed because teams played one deep safety to defend against the run. While half of that is true, it also should be noted that sometimes when teams played one deep safety it DID NOT mean they were leaving Jackson alone in one-on-one coverage. This play is a good example. The Packers load 8 in the box and play only one deep safety. However, that safety is shaded to Desean's side and you will see he offers help on this play and that "help" has a big impact on the end result.
What this means, is likely one-on-one coverage for Riley Cooper downfield:
Just as Jackson cuts to the middle of the field, you see him drawing the attention of the deep safety who steps up. Nick does a great job of staring down Jackson:
As the safety adjust, Riley is going to sneak behind the safety help. As Nick is ready to launch the ball, you can see the deep safety awkwardly turning his hips in coverage. He's dead in the water:
What you'd expect is for Nick to throw the ball right where the red X is to left of the goalpost in the back of the end zone. However, that would be a deep ball over 60 yards in the air. Also, if he puts it in that location, it's going to be a much more contested play. Instead, look where the ball is in the air. It is nowhere close where you'd expect that throw to be. Nick claimed after the game that he dramatically underthrew the ball on purpose. Reporters couldn't tell if he was joking or not. Taking a look at this play from Nick's vantage point and from the shot below you can see that Nick put this ball in a place where only Riley Cooper (a former outfielder) could track in the air and come back for it:
Cooper tracks the ball well, and scoops it in for a TD:
So either it was an absolutely horrific throw from a noodle-armed Foles, or a brilliant throw illustrating great chemistry between Foles and Cooper. Either way, it makes #20 on our list.
Speaking of that chemistry, that comes out a few more times in the 2013 season. Here are the Raiders with 8 in the box and again, only one deep safety. They are playing man coverage on the outside.
Check out the action on the deep safety. This time he is offering no help to either outside receiver. He's focused on McCoy getting ball even against a crowded line of scrimmage:
Basically Foles has one-on-one coverage on both sides of the field with Desean on the bottom and Riley on the top. Jackson isn't running much of a route at the bottom and Foles quickly moves up to Riley. As you can see, Cooper is facing press man coverage and isn't open:
No matter, Nick trusts his big WR anyway. At this point, Riley is looking back for the ball and Nick is launching it to a "Spot":
Cooper tracks the ball and chases it down for a wide-open TD.
You can see Cooper doing a nice job with a subtle push off...and he simply does a much better job of tracking the ball than the defender:
Here's another one deep safety look with man coverage on the outside. Desean on the top, Riley on the bottom:
Ertz runs down the seam drawing the attention of the deep safety leaving both Riley Cooper and Desean Jackson streaking downfield in one-on-one coverage:
Foles has two options. Deep down the sideline to one of the best deep threats in the NFL. Or deep down the middle of the field to Riley Cooper. In blustery, wintery conditions, he choose Cooper. Cooper beats his man downfield and makes an incredible over the shoulder catch. This was a huge play in the game that sparked the turnaround where the Eagles couldn't get anything going on offense:
Let's take a look at a couple of 2 deep safety looks. This one againt the Bucs:
Check out the attention McCoy draws on the fake from the 2 deep safeties:
The result is again, one-on-one coverage downfield for both Jackson and Cooper and Foles has a choice. Again, Cooper is not open, but Foles is going to throw that way anyway:
Riley and the defender battle the whole way downfield and the refs let them battle:
Riley wins another:
Another 2 deep safety look:
The safety on Riley's side comes up to cover Lesean in the flats:
Celek runs down the seam drawing the attention of the other deep safety. This next shot is a great illustration of the beauty of a spread offense. The field is stretched horizontally with McCoy at the top and Avant on a bubble at the bottom. Celek draws the deep safety in on the seam route. Again, Foles has 2 one-on-one options on the outside. Desean on the bottom, Riley at the top. Again, Foles chooses Cooper who beats his man (who falls down in chase) and scores another long TD:
Last one against 2 deep safeties and some great route running and chemstry from Riley Cooper:
Desean is going to get bracket coverage from over the top occupying one safety. Riley is in the slot, but his man is going to leave Riley in zone coverage with his safety help over the top as he covers Lesean in the flat (So basically, Jackson draws a safety and a CB, while Cooper gets a safety):
Riley is going to do a great job on selling the slant to the inside. I've been trying to decide whether this was an option route where based on coverage Cooper makes a decision on the fly. Based on the routes Desean and Maehl are running, I'm guessing it was a designed route to Cooper in the vacant area. Cooper is one on one against the safety and digs his foot in the ground to turn back to the corner. Check out the separation he gets on this route as the safety slips:
An easy TD for Cooper.
Some some potential take-homes from this post:
1) As Jason Kelce suggested on twitter to a fan (which he later removed), Jackson was not necessarily the exclusive difference maker to how defenses defended us. Teams didn't just happily play 2 safeties super deep against us like they did back in the end of the AR era. Defenses respected Chip Kelly's willingness to run, and of course our All-Pro running back Lesean McCoy. As a result, we saw a lot of one deep safety looks with an extra man in the box for run support. However, that does not mean Desean Jackson was not doubled. The first illustration shows a pretty common look we saw saw last year against the one deep safety defense. Often times, like it did in the first illustration, it opened up a big opportunity for Riley on the other side. In other words Desean MATTERED.
2) However, even in this small subset of offensive plays, you'll see Desean gets lots of opportunities in one-on-one coverage. Yes, his speed needs to be respected, but we need to move on from the ridiculous notion that defenses exclusively double-teamed Desean Jackson on every play.
3) It will be good for our soul to also move past the notion that everytime Desean Jackson got one-on-one coverage he ate it up by blowing past CBs, because his speed is unmatched by any defender. I'm not seeing great separation on any of these one-on-one opps.
4) We've seen several occasions where play design allowed for both receivers on the outside to get one-on-one coverage. However, on several of these occassions, it sure appears that Nick Foles preference on a downfield throw (unless Desean is wide open) is to throw the ball up for grabs to Riley Cooper. This makes sense considering Cooper is 6'3 and Desean is 5'10. Not to mention, as shown in some of these plays, Cooper plays big. As good as Desean was as an Eagle...he did not play big. He was very weak on challengable balls in the air. Cooper is excellent at it.
and most importantly
5) Cooper is not going to replace Desean Jackson's production. That will take a group effort with the help of Jeremy Maclin, Darren Sproles, Zach Ertz, and hopefully a rookie from the 2014 draft. This offense got worse with the departure of Desean Jackson both from a production standpoint and a scheme standpoint. We'll see what Chip has up his sleeve in 2014, but I think contrary to some people's belief, he's not left with complete dreck at the WR position. And as we move forward with Nick Foles as the franchise QB, we need to acknowledge just how important it is that we now, for the first time in over 10 years, have a QB who will throw the football to a spot when his receivers are covered. With that in mind, some of Riley Cooper's skills exhibited in this post become really important as we push ahead.
Yes, I would rather Foles throws the ball to a guy who consistenly gets wide open. But that doesn't happen on most plays in the NFL. So when it doesn't, you need guys who will challenge for the ball and make plays in competition.
It ain't speed, but it ain't nothin' either.