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Eagle Eye: Analyzing Why The Eagles Are Winning The Money Down

Posted Oct 17, 2017

Third down has been an area of excellence for this Eagles offense this season. The best third-down team in the league has been successful for two reasons - scheme and execution. The Eagles haven’t completely turned their pass concepts upside down from 2016 to this season, but they do a great job of creating matchups for their best players in clutch situations. The players, meanwhile, have done a great job of executing the plays when they’re called in the huddle. That execution starts with quarterback Carson Wentz.

Wentz’s numbers this year on the most important down are mind-boggling. Wentz is 42-of-63 (66.7 percent completion) for 642 yards, seven touchdowns, and one interception. That gives him a quarterback rating of 130.5, which leads the NFL (of all quarterbacks with at least 40 attempts). The next highest? Tom Brady with a rating of 120.4

The execution isn’t just by Wentz, however, because his receivers are doing a great job as well of uncovering for the young quarterback, finding clear windows in zone coverage, and winning one-on-one battles in man.

This is the third play of the game. It’s third-and-5, and Wentz drops back looking to his left toward tight end Zach Ertz. When Ertz gets jammed up early on, he gets to his next progression, Nelson Agholor, on the other side of the field. The Panthers are in zone coverage. Agholor does a great job sliding into the next window at the top of his route, ensuring that he’s available for his quarterback. He and Wentz are on the same page, and this ball is complete right on Agholor’s facemask, creating yards after catch for a big first down.

The Eagles faced third-and-3 from their own 22-yard line on the next series. This is a "mesh" passing concept, with two shallow crosses over the middle of the field and a third route, run by tight end Trey Burton, right over the ball. This is a great man-coverage beater because of all the traffic caused in the middle of the field. Two defenders run with Ertz, another follows Brent Celek, and there’s a wide-open passing lane for Burton, who wins against a cornerback at the top of the route for a first down on this 9-yard catch.

Fast-forward to the second quarter. This conversion is almost all on Wentz. He drops back and looks to his left. I believe Wentz sees the safety rotation on this play, with the safety to the field rolling down into underneath coverage. Wentz quickly thinks the safety on the other side of the field is now rolling deep into the middle of the field, which should open up his option on the other side. Wentz evades the pressure, sprints to his right with a purpose, resets, and releases this ball on the money for a conversion on third-and-11. This was a big-time play.

Let’s go to the third quarter and one of the biggest third-down completions of the game. It’s third-and-16, and the Eagles are up by five. There are a lot of layers to this conversion.

Carolina brings pressure off both edges here. The Eagles are able to pick this up with a chip block off the right side from Ertz. Agholor reads the blitz and immediately cuts his route off, knowing that he’s the "hot" read for Wentz. If his quarterback gets pressured quickly, he can settle for Agholor and hope that his receiver can make a play. Wentz doesn’t settle for the checkdown, however, knowing that this throw plays into the defense’s hands. Instead, Wentz steps up and evades the rush off the right side, delivering a throw to Mack Hollins for a first down to keep the drive alive. This drive resulted in the go-ahead touchdown in the game, and it began with this outstanding completion in a clutch situation.

Wentz's first touchdown of the night actually came on third down as well, this time in the red zone. That should be no surprise. Ertz leads the team with eight red zone targets, catching six passes and four touchdowns. It’s third-and-1 on the 1-yard line, and the Eagles are able to isolate Ertz in a one-on-one situation on the goal line.

This is very similar to Ertz’s touchdown against the Cardinals. The Eagles are in 13 personnel with three tight ends on the field, making the Panthers initially think that it'll be a run play. When LeGarrette Blount motions to the left before the snap, the play starts to unfold. Brent Celek runs a shallow cross, carrying the linebacker toward the middle of the field. Burton sits down shallow, holding his linebacker in place. Ertz, matched up against a cornerback, wins in the middle of the field. Watch how wide the window is for Wentz to deliver this ball for a touchdown. Jason Peters and Stefen Wisniewski both help keep Wentz clean for the strike to help tie the game.

Ertz’s second touchdown came as a result of great scheme and execution by the Eagles' offense. It’s a 3x1 set with three receivers lined up to the left. The Panthers are in Cover 2, which means the middle linebacker has to open up to the passing strength (meaning the three-receiver side). With his eyes there, Ertz just has to beat the safety to the post. To make sure he has that time and that no one else (namely the other safety) can make a play on the ball, Wentz keeps his eyes on the three-receiver side, allowing Ertz to break the safety down at the top of the route, and get open for the score. That’s a great combination of understanding your opponent and executing a concept for a touchdown.

Wentz's third (and final) touchdown of the night came on a perfect blitz beater. The Panthers pressured all night long, and the Eagles were ready for heat on this play. Ertz streaks down the field to lift any remaining defenders from the middle. Agholor, matched up against linebacker Shaq Thompson in coverage, runs a great route and wins on an in-breaker at 5 yards. Wentz hits him in stride and allows him to hit this play at full speed for the game-winning touchdown.

The Run Game

The run game continued to be effective on Thursday night as Blount became a factor at key points throughout the game. Pederson’s rushing attack is a big reason why the team currently leads the NFL in time of possession (averaging over 34 minutes per game) and 10-play drives (14). The Eagles rank in the top 10 in rushing yards per game (132.5 - 5th), yards per carry (4.37 - 9th), and first-down rushing (4.87 - 6th). They’ve had carries of 20 yards or more (third in the league).

These are some outstanding double teams at the point of attack by the Eagles in the Inside Zone run game. This has been a consistent theme all year long for this group, and it was the case on Thursday night.

The other consistent themes are in the "Wham" and "Trap" schemes that the Eagles utilize up front. These are three "Wham" blocks from the tight end on an interior defensive lineman, and all of them help spring Blount for big gains. The benefits of these plays are two-fold. First, Blount stays square to the line of scrimmage and can get downhill quickly. Secondly, multiple offensive linemen can release to the second level right away by keeping a defensive tackle unblocked in the middle of the formation. This gets bodies in space to help create huge holes up front if the back gets through the line.

Mixing In The Youth

One of the things I really like about the way head coach Doug Pederson utilizes his personnel is that he makes sure everyone gets their share of reps. Injuries happen in the NFL. The young players on the back end of the roster need to be ready if/when they are called upon for larger roles. Halapoulivaati Vaitai was used as a tight end throughout the first five games of the year. Lane Johnson goes down? He’s ready for a bigger role. People thought it was crazy for Corey Clement to get critical carries against the Giants and Chargers. Wendell Smallwood gets hurt? Time for Clement to see more touches, and it’s not too big for him. This Eagles staff does a good job, both in games and in practice, to make sure that the young players continue to get worked into the lineup so that when their numbers are called; they’re ready for action.

Isaac Seumalo was benched after the team’s Week 2 loss at Kansas City. Has the staff given up on him? Absolutely not. A player with his talent and versatility has plenty of value, and there’s no reason why he can’t be a starter in the future. With Vaitai entering the starting lineup, the Eagles found a way to mix Seumalo into the game plan, and I thought he performed more than admirably. He does a great job on the back side of a zone run here, creating a seal for Blount and keeping pursuit from getting home behind the line of scrimmage.

Early in the game, the Eagles got another young player in for a big first-down catch on the left side. Second-year receiver Marcus Johnson gets vertical and runs a great route here against the Carolina corner by getting into his "blind spot" and then stomping on the brakes to come back to this ball. He creates great separation at the top of the route for a first down. You never know when this experience will pay off for these young players, but the Eagles will be ready if they are pressed into early action.

Fran Duffy is the producer of “Eagles Game Plan” which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team’s games, practices and opponents.

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