Eagles Must Identify Patriots’ Personnel at RB
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (973espn.com) - One of the things that set Tom Brady apart from most quarterbacks is the five-time Super Bowl winner's knowledge of his offense.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson is fond of saying that his QB must "know where all the bones are buried" in the offense, a clever way of saying that you must understand your progressions on any particular play.
And built into every route concept in any NFL play is safety valve, a player when all hope is lost should be sitting there in the flat uncovered.
Brady knows where all his players are supposed to be on every play and his safety valves are second nature to the point the QB doesn't even have to see the player before releasing the football.
Generally, if you've gone through three or four progressions and settle on the safety valve the play is going nowhere but New England has assembled a stable of backs that excel in the passing game and can make opposing linebackers miss.
Doing Lewis, a former Eagles' draft pick, has developed into one of the better dual-threat backs in the wing while Super Bowl LI hero James White and ex-Bengal Rex Bulkhead can also hurt you in the passing game.
And it's not just outlet throws the Pats' backs are catching. It's also screens, wheel routes and curls over the middle.
It almost becomes a game of "Where's Waldo," according to Eagles safeties coach Tim Hauck.
"They all have different skill sets," Hauck told 973espn.com when discussing New England's backs at the Mall of America Thursday. "We've really been drilling the guys to understand your personnel, know who is out there because they do different things with different backs. They don't make it easy for you."
White is the team's top receiver out of the backfield with 56 receptions and he gets almost as much traffic in the passing game as Brady's top receivers -- Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola. Lewis, the team's top rusher is next. followed by Burkhead, who's got 30 catches in just 10 games.
It's almost as if Hauck was relaying the message from the top of the Eagles' defensive food chain -- Jim Schwartz.
"You have to know your opponent, know your personnel, know what each of them brings to the table," the Philadelphia defensive coordinator said. "White's a little bit different than Dion Lewis who is a little different than Burkhead whose a little bit different than [Branden] Boldin. If [Mike] Gillisee plays, he's a little bit different than those guys so they all have a little different personality so to speak, a little different skill set. You just need to know which one of them is in the game and how they are used."
Schwartz, though, seemed nonplused about what waits for him at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday.
"We are sort of the same way defensively," he said. "We can throw a lot of bodies at them pass rush wise. They rotate a lot of players at the running back position. There's either going to be one or two of them in the game. It's not like they can line six of them out there."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen