When I first started watching the Eagles’ Offense seriously during the lead-up to the Super Bowl last winter, I realized quickly that they represented the idealized form of what LSU OC Mike Denbrock is trying to construct. The offenses both try to attack defenses in the same way, but a season ago, LSU lacked the offensive line and deep-ball accuracy to finish the puzzle. This has changed, and the offense that sits at the top of the NFL is now also at the top of college football. Even superficially, the similarities in personnel and skillsets are incredibly similar. It’s not hard to draw parallels between Jalen Hurts and Jayden Daniels, two QBs whose legs are the bedrock of their run games, but who are solid pocket passers able to access a full dropback menu. Additionally, as of this year (Daniels has taken a leap here), both of these guys are money on go balls and fades, dropping dots into buckets and throwing their thoroughbred ball winners open, which provides them a trump card to man coverage. The similarities go even deeper. Both teams are 11 personnel-based (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR), but both teams have physically overwhelming offensive lines that serve as the true foundations of their offense. The run games center around a downhill, inside zone attack, with a heavy QB run element to steal extra numbers. Both offenses have a pair of alpha dogs on the outside who can go get a bucket, and physical, athletic TEs who can block in-line and run routes in space. Schematically, the approaches are subsequently pretty identical.
Run Game: The Trenches, 11 Personnel, Inside Zone, and the Bedrock of the Offense
It all starts up front for these teams, and it starts on the ground with inside zone. Once the staple run play for most offenses, teams have since diversified into different run game bases, such as wide zone, duo, and counter. Like LSU, the Eagles imposing OL is a weapon that allows them to run inside zone against any kind of front. Running the ball from spread personnel groupings puts a lot of pressure on the OL to win their battles, pressure these units can more than handle.
Inside zone is fairly simple, it follows covered/uncovered rules (guy over you, guy not over you) to determine combinations and 2nd-level climbs. The idea is just to get double teams on the two interior DL, with the “uncovered” OL climbing to the 2nd level, with the tackle (generally) taking the frontside (away from RB alignment) DE. The back reads the interior gaps front to back, usually ending up in the backside A gap like above, but he has some latitude to look around and find space.
Because these offenses are 11 personnel-oriented, they don’t often have the benefit of an extra blocker (FB or 2nd TE). Running the ball is all about numbers, so these spread offenses need ways to even them out. Because of the double teams, the challenge of inside zone is what to do about the backside DE (to the RB side). One way to account for him, which LSU and the Eagles do more often than not when they call inside zone, is to leave him unblocked and read him. They have many variations of zone read, some with just a simple read on the DE, and some with an RPO tagged to create a triple option that accounts for 2 unblocked defenders, like the above zone read + bubble concept these teams run out of trips. In both clips, the SS comes down as a potential 7th run-defender, but since they’re caught between the bubble and the QB, they’re also in conflict. With just 6 blockers, this is a clever way to both get the double teams you need AND account for the 7 potential run defenders. When people talk about a QBs legs “stealing an extra number,” this is what they mean.
You can also use the TE to block the backside DE, but it’s a tough assignment. Because of the double teams, he has to block and move a defensive lineman one-on-one. Luckily for LSU and the Eagles, they have big, physical blocking TEs who can handle business at the point of attack in Mason Taylor and Dallas Goedert.
These offenses will often also use the TEs as RPO tags to steal numbers, because they’re also athletic. The most common variations are the above, which LSU calls SKIP when the TE’s route is to the side of his alignment, and COPY when the TE crosses the formation into the opposite flat, (I wrote about those RPOs a lot last year so it may be worth a refresher). The framework is similar to the zone-read bubble RPO, you read the DE, and if he collapses on the run, you keep and flip to the TE. If a 7th guy runs with the TE (OLB or Safety), the QB can keep it himself. Usually, the ball gets handed off or thrown to the TE.
The QB’s legs mean that defenses aren’t even safe from the run when the backfield is empty. This isn’t inside zone, but this stick-Q draw RPO is heavily leaned on. If the overhang defender widens to take the stick route, the QB tucks and runs, if he stays in the box, the QB throws the stick route outside of him. Running from empty puts a lot on the OL but again, these teams are trenched up.
PASS GAME: Man Coverage Answers and The Luxury of Bucket Getters
The following are just a few key elements of the passing game, but the passing attacks are pretty similar from top to bottom. The Eagles use more PA than LSU, but the dropback games are mostly your standard west-coasty, pro-style stuff. There’s a healthy amount of quick game, a lot of sail routes, digs tagged to the backside of things, choice routes, stuff in the seams, just pretty standard, but well-designed Pro-Style pass games. What makes them unique in a similar way, is the below:
When these teams face man coverage, the answers are the same: Slot fades and go balls. LSU leans toward the slot fade while the Eagles lean toward the sideline go, but the idea is essentially the same. They trust their guys to win off the line and get vertical, and they trust their precise QBs to drop the ball in the bucket or put it up and away from defenders. There’s no scheming open going on, they’re trusting their superstar receivers to go beat somebody and their QBs to drop dimes and that trust is well-earned. Many teams will condense and try to scheme up releases/open throws against tight coverage but when your guys are this good, there’s no need to even bother. They stay spread out, and they win their matchups.
Additionally, because of how good these outside guys are at beating coverage, and how good the QBs are throwing outside the numbers, they’ll throw comeback routes against anything. When teams play off-coverage to stop the fades and go balls, they’ll feast on comebacks and blaze-outs against the cushion. Despite the fact that these routes aren’t typically great against tight coverage, these guys get open, and the QBs fit it in, so these routes have become an anytime answer for them.
As mentioned earlier, the TEs are relied upon to be physical, but Taylor and Goedert are terrific receivers who can line up wide, run routes, and make plays in space. Taylor has a lesser role in the passing game than Goedert, but he’s been nursing an injury and there simply aren’t many targets to go around in Baton Rouge. Stats aside, he’s a playmaker on the outside. When you’re the only TE on the field, there’s a lot of pressure on you to be able to both dominate DEs at the point of attack and break down DBs/LBs in space and these dudes have that rare ability to do both at the same high level. They have identical frames, with Dallas Goedert listed at 6’5, 256 and Taylor listed at 6’6, 256 (though he’s likely no taller than 6’5), and are the unsung superstars of their offenses.
I wish LSU took even more from the Eagles (like how to use their Haason Reddick clone), but regardless, the similarities in offensive personnel have led these teams down an independent, convergent road to what is essentially the same system. It’s a clear indicator that LSU’s offensive staff understands how to build around its talent and the results in both places speak for themselves.