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Eagle Eye: Carson Wentz Thrives On Third Down Against The Redskins

Posted Sep 11, 2017

It is a huge success any time you can go on the road and get a win in the division. It is a great way to kick off with a feat like that. Carson Wentz became the first quarterback in team history to lead his team on an opening-drive touchdown in consecutive years. That’s why there’s no better place to start in this breakdown than the first possession of the game.

On the very first play, the Eagles went for it all. Off play-action, Carson Wentz drops back in a clean pocket and has Torrey Smith open down the field. This is likely a touchdown if the ball is thrown a little bit over the top or a bit further out in front. This incompletion didn’t keep the Eagles from going back to the deep ball as the game went on.

With a couple of attempts downfield, to both Smith and Alshon Jeffery, the Eagles didn’t come away with a deep ball touchdown inside of structure. Still, the ability to go deep keeps defenses honest in terms of coverage, and with increased reps, it’s only a matter of time before some of these shots connect. The Eagles also had a couple of other deep pass plays called where Wentz decided to either check down or pull the throw due to pressure or coverage. Now, let’s get back to that opening drive because it ended with a deep pass down the field.

This play didn’t go anything like how it was drawn up, but it ended with the longest play of wide receiver Nelson Agholor's career. The best part? Agholor began the play as not even being a part of Wentz’s progression.

The Eagles line up in a 3x1 set with Agholor, Smith, and Jeffery to the left and tight end Zach Ertz to the right as the X-iso receiver. Ertz runs a corner route as part of a high-low concept with the running back. This is where Wentz begins his progression. Ertz, covered by Washington’s best cover man in Josh Norman, is unable to get open. The pressure gets to Wentz before he can get to his next read, which is on the back side. That read is another high-low concept with Jeffery and Smith. Agholor, lined up as the No. 3 receiver, just ran a clear out route straight down the field, hoping to open the middle for Smith and Jeffery in case Wentz had to get the ball in that direction. The play breaks down, and as soon as Wentz breaks the pocket to the left, Agholor knows where to go. He works downfield in the same direction as his quarterback and catches a pass for a long touchdown to get the Eagles on the board.

Later in the second quarter, the Eagles reached the end zone again in a much different manner.

It’s third-and-1, and the Eagles come out in a "full house" backfield here, but look at the personnel and where they are located. Ertz and LeGarrette Blount are on the line of scrimmage as "tight ends." Trey Burton is lined up in the backfield as the "tailback" with Brent Celek and Jeffery lined up as "fullbacks." The Redskins' defense is confused, as the players struggle to get matched up on their assignments. After the motion, we see the players line up in their typical positions. The matchup to focus on is Blount against Zach Brown, who is an athletic, rangy linebacker, but even he is unable to out leverage Blount to the flat, resulting in an easy pitch and catch for Wentz.

The other scoring drive that really stood out to me was the two-minute drill Wentz put together at the end of the first half. The possession only ended in a field goal, but it put the Eagles up at halftime and allowed them to go into the locker room on a high note after giving up the lead in the second quarter. Two throws stood out to me in particular from that drive, and both happened to come on third down.

On this third down, Wentz starts his progression to the left. He appears to be looking at Agholor running the out-breaking route, but when that’s taken away he gets to the backside dig from Ertz. His tight end ran a crisp route in the middle of the field. Wentz slides in the pocket to create an even bigger passing lane for himself, and he hits Ertz for a 12-yard gain and a first down.

The Eagles once again face third down three plays later. It’s third-and-6, and the Redskins sit back in Cover 3 zone. Agholor, running out of the slot, sits down in the middle of the field beyond the sticks in the soft spot of the zone coverage. Wentz hits the former first-round pick for a 10-yard gain and a first down. These two third down conversions played a huge role in helping the Eagles hit the field goal just before halftime.

Third down was a huge area of success for the Eagles on Sunday. Wentz finished the afternoon 9-of-11 on third down, throwing for 148 yards and two touchdowns with a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3.

This is from the second series of the game. Agholor again lines up in the slot and runs a route right at the nickel corner, stopping just beyond the sticks for a first down. You see the quickness from Agholor on this route, helping him create separation for an easy throw and catch for a first down. Watch the end zone angle of that play as well, however, because Isaac Seumalo makes a great play in protection. The Redskins run a three-man game to the offense’s right, and plan to loop Ryan Kerrigan right up the gut at Wentz. To keep Seumalo distracted, Washington lines up linebacker Mason Foster right over him, hoping that the second-year guard doesn’t see Kerrigan coming from the opposite side of the formation. Their hope was misplaced, as Seumalo keeps his eyes up, slides inside to pick up Kerrigan, and helps give Wentz time to deliver this throw.

One route that showed up throughout this game was one that I believe is one of the most difficult to cover in the NFL. It’s a double move that’s often run from the outside called the corner stop. The receiver runs upfield and breaks to the outside as if he were running a corner route before slamming on the breaks and cutting the route off, causing the defender reeling upfield to create separation.

Here are two examples of the corner stop in action for the Eagles on Sunday. The first came on third down to Torrey Smith in the third quarter. The second came in a critical situation for the Eagles on a second-down throw to Alshon Jeffery late in the game. You can see the kind of separation the receivers are able to get on this route, and it’s helped by the fact that there are so many basic corner routes built into the structure of the Eagles' offense (and every other offense in the NFL). Much like how a sluggo (slant and go) route complements slant routes, the corner stop can be a very effective tool in the Eagles' passing game.

On third down, you need your running backs to be able to impact the game in today’s NFL. They can (and must) do that in two ways to be on the field. The first is as a pass catcher, and the second is as a blocker in blitz pickup. Wendell Smallwood showed up in both categories on Sunday.

After Jalen Mills’ interception in the fourth quarter, the Eagles faced a critical third down. A punt in that situation would’ve rendered the interception almost meaningless, with minimal change in the field position. The Eagles come out in an empty formation, and Smallwood beats his man in the slot on an out-breaking route for a first down. Earlier in the game, Smallwood picks up the blitz and gives Wentz enough time to deliver a throw to Ertz downfield. That was a big step for Smallwood, who caught a lot of flak for a missed blitz pickup against the Dolphins this summer in the preseason.

Three plays after that catch by Smallwood in the flat, the team faced third-and-10 from the 26-yard line. Again, a punt here would’ve really hurt the Eagles in the field-position battle, so a conversion here was crucial. This was actually one of my favorite plays from this game because it gives you a look at the constant individual matchups on a play-by-play basis.

The Redskins send a five-man pressure, with one high safety and man coverage underneath. Safety DeShazor Everett is manned up on Ertz one-on-one. Ertz looks like he’s going to stay in to block at the snap of the ball. Everett sees this and immediately "green dogs," meaning he inserts himself as a blitzer because he doesn’t perceive his man to be a threat as a receiver on that play. Ertz isn’t staying in to block, however, because he delays his release and gets into the flat.

When Ertz releases, Brown gets in clean to Wentz, and Carson does Carson. He avoids Brown and rolls to his left, but watch Everett. When he sees Brown get in clean, he immediately realizes his mistake and tries to backtrack. Wentz rolls left, Ertz works upfield, and he comes away with a 23-yard catch and a first down.

Wentz faced heat yesterday from the Redskins, whether it was due to a broken protection, one of his men getting beat up front, or just a well-designed pressure by Washington. Wentz showed the ability time after time again to avoid the rush, keep his eyes downfield, and find an open man for a big gain. It just so happened that a lot of those plays went to Ertz. His tight end caught all eight of his targets for a game-high 93 yards through the air.

Here are two more catches from Ertz off two beautiful routes. Love to see this level of precision from Ertz at the intermediate level.

The run game wasn’t great for most of the afternoon on Sunday. There certainly were some missed opportunities left on the field, but here’s the positive. It wasn’t one specific issue that consistently came up with one specific player. I take that as good news because rather than one big issue that needs to be corrected, the team can work on improving incrementally in a couple of smaller areas.

The one run concept that did pay dividends for them is the trap play. The premise of the trap run is to allow the offensive linemen to use angles to their advantage while also preying upon the aggressiveness of the defensive front seven. If you have an offensive line that can get to the second level and on top of linebackers quickly, it can be especially effective.

These three runs are not perfect. Some linemen get stuck and don’t get to the second level in time to get a hat on a defender. Some angles aren’t perfect. The timing wasn’t always great. In some other runs, the running backs could’ve made the first man miss or hit the play downhill quicker. There are little things to work on, but overall the offense did what needed to be done to secure a victory. I’m excited to watch the unit progress in the second year under head coach Doug Pederson and the rest of this offensive staff.

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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