There’s a very good chance Ben Muth will write about this topic more in-depth in his role as an Eagles O-Line analyst for Football Outsiders, and he’ll likely do a much better job, but until then…
Note this exchange that took place between Chris Brown and Ben Muth after the Washington game:
(The video Brown references has been removed from YouTube. I embedded a different one below. Mute recommended. Takes about 6 seconds before it starts showing plays.)
Against Washington, the Eagles used this method with RG Todd Herremans and C Jason Kelce on every offensive snap except for their only three non-shotgun plays (the two kneel downs and the first quarter touchdown pass that Jon Gruden said Chip Kelly stole from the Saints).
Muth notes head-bobbing / head-jerking as a way to vary the timing, but the Eagles went on one head-jerk for all but once. That one play happened to be the play where they successfully got OLB Darryl Tapp to jump early, but it was ruled a false start on LT Jason Peters because he didn’t react naturally enough. Tapp jumped because he was using the head-jerk to time the snap.
I found it odd that the Eagles elected to abandon their one-head-jerk pattern on a 2nd-and-20 from the WAS 43 in the first quarter of a game when they were up 5. An offsides/encroachement penalty merely makes it a 2nd-and-15, and they couldn’t have been doing it to try to get a “free play” since Kelce did not snap the ball once Tapp jumped. Why not save that change-up for a 3rd-and-4, or is a changed-up snap count too predictable in that situation?
Washington clearly was timing their jumps off the tap and head-jerk. For the entire first half, Kelce head-jerked and snapped with a pretty predictable short interval after Herremans’ tap. Then starting the second half, Kelce began waiting different amounts of time after Herremans’ tap.
Then, a week after using it for all but three snaps, the “RG tap, C head-jerk” silent count was never used in the San Diego game. That made me suspicious as to whether I could ever expect to see it again. So I wondered:
1. Was this a regular thing for Chip Kelly?
I have not seen it in any of the Oregon games I have access to.
2. Did he use it in the preseason?
The Eagles had actually unveiled this 3rd week of the preseason against the Jaguars, but never before then, and not in week 4 against the Jets. The fact that it wasn’t used in the Jets game is interesting because that was the other road preseason game. So that slightly (it’s just preseason after all) discredits the notion that it’s something Kelly plans to use for all road games as a way to overcome crowd noise.
I’m not sure what to make of it. If they’re not really varying the number of head-jerks (maybe Chip was setting up a future opponent?), it seems like a great way to help a defense get a good jump. Also, everyone but the center must be looking at the ball (as Muth pointed out), and Herremans doesn’t even get a chance to look at what the defense is doing until very shortly before the ball is snapped. I suppose if it weren’t Herremans though, it’d be Kelce, so it’s just a trade-off.
I’ll keep an eye out for it as the season continues.
(Update: The Eagles used this in their next road game, against Denver. Also, I was watching parts of old games for a different project and noticed Detroit used the RG to alert the C with a hand tap on some, but not all, of its shotgun snaps in their week 1 game at Tampa Bay in 2011. Then the center went with a head-bob. Watching Detroit in 2013, the RG no longer seems to touch the C, but the RG is clearly looking back on road shotgun snaps and perhaps verbally letting the C know the QB is ready. Detroit also mixed up the number of head-bobs. Still not really sure how prevalent this system is around the league.)
Follow the author, Allen Rodriguez, on Twitter (@ByAJRodriguez).