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Eagle Eye: Carson Wentz's Best Play Of The Season?

Posted Nov 20, 2017

It was not always pretty for the Eagles' offense against Dallas on Sunday night (in fact it had one of its roughest stretches of the season during the second quarter), but when it was all said and done Philadelphia grinded out a blowout victory on the road coming off the bye against a hated division rival.

The team ran for a season-high 215 yards against the Cowboys, its ninth straight game with over 100 yards rushing. That's the Eagles' longest streak since 2011. The Eagles were multiple and diverse in the way they attacked Dallas on the ground, using a handful of different concepts to pick up large chunks of yardage. Three individual play concepts really stood out to me in this game.

One of the go-to schemes for the Eagles this season has been the Trap play. Here are three examples of it against the Cowboys, who employ an aggressive front four. The idea is simple: if you’re facing an explosive 3-technique like David Irving, let him attack upfield. Don’t block him! Instead, use that aggressiveness against him. Let him fly upfield, allow the offensive line on that side to get up to the linebacker level, and bring the guard from the other side of the line to block Irving. Often times, the defender is so out of control flying upfield that he ends up on the ground without being blocked. Look at the angles created for the blockers, and the alleys that open up for the runners in these concepts. The Eagles will continue to mix the Trap play (which is one of the oldest and most traditional plays in football) into their weekly game plan, especially against aggressive defensive fronts.

One of the other concepts that showed up a couple of times was Tackle Power, which basically is a version of a delayed Draw play. On this concept, an offensive tackle pulls from the other side as a lead blocker, gets up to the second level, and creates a lane for the back. This was the concept on Jay Ajayi’s 71-yard jaunt in the third quarter, with Halapoulivaati Vaitai coming around as the puller. Earlier in the game, they ran the same play from the opposite side with Lane Johnson as the lead blocker.

The Eagles used their tackles in a very different way with this run concept. It’s a simple Pin-Pull or Sweep play. The reason this is called a Pin-Pull concept is that there are two very specific phases of this concept - the Pin and the Pull. The Pin comes from both tackles, who are lined up next to each other in an unbalanced or tackle over set. They block the defenders on their inside shoulder. The Pullers on this play are the guard and center. Jason Kelce doesn’t need to pull, but he blocks his responsibility at the linebacker level. The guard pulls and gets the first threat off the edge in the alley. The Eagles have run this play a lot out of these unbalanced looks, and it worked well for them on Sunday night in Jerry World.

The run game was outstanding, and it was the driving force behind the Eagles winning this game in convincing fashion. I was extremely impressed by Carson Wentz’s performance in this game, particularly in the second half. He made some throws in this game that were just outstanding, both from the mental and physical side of the quarterback position.

This may have been one of my favorite plays of the year. It wasn’t anything special in the box score, just a 22-yard completion on second-and-4. The Eagles come out in a 3x1 set with Zach Ertz as the X-iso on the back side. When the Eagles break the huddle, Nelson Agholor is lined up as the No. 3 receiver to the trips side with Torrey Smith at No. 2 and Alshon Jeffery the farthest outside as the No. 1 receiver. Wentz surveys the defense and notices that the Cowboys have a cornerback lined up across from Ertz, and that’s an alert

The Cowboys play a lot of man coverage on third down, but they’re still a zone coverage defense. When they line up a cornerback over Ertz, that gives Wentz a really good feeling that this is zone coverage, particularly Cover 3. This comes from intense film study and an understanding of opposing defensive tendencies. Wentz thinks he has Cover 3, and he makes a quick change before the offense gets set. He asks Jeffery and Smith to switch places, and calls a new play, having everyone else remain in the same location.

Jeffery runs down the numbers, attacking the soft spot in Dallas’ Cover 3 zone. He should be open here, as long as Wentz does his job of holding both the high safety and the underneath hook defender in the middle of the field. Wentz takes the snap and holds both defenders with his eyes on the opposite side of the field, allowing for Jeffery to run into the void. The quarterback looks back to the right and quickly pulls the trigger, putting the ball right on his big target for a first down.

This play shows so much from Wentz. He understands coverage tendencies. He has the savviness to move a big target into the middle of the field, the ability to manipulate multiple defenders at the second and third levels, and a willingness to make a tight window throw against zone coverage. Finally, Wentz must fit that throw into a spot right on the numbers to move the chains. Simply put ... that was a big-time play from Wentz and another example of his continued development as one of the top quarterbacks in this league.

Let’s fast forward now to the third quarter. The Eagles again line up in a 3x1 set, this time with Jeffery as the X-iso receiver. It’s third-and-9, a tough spot for a quarterback, as the Eagles are in the fringe area just outside the red zone. Wentz takes the snap and drops back, putting his early attention to the three-receiver side. He doesn’t like what he sees and gets to the backside dig route from Jeffery. With a 6-7, 290-pound behemoth in Irving bearing down on him, Wentz delivers a perfect throw over the middle of the field to move the chains. Again, this is a big-time throw.

Those plays were great examples of a quarterback who can thrive in structure, but Wentz has also consistently shown that he has what it takes to make great plays outside of it as well.

The Eagles just scored to make it 21-9, and they’re going for two because of the injury to kicker Jake Elliott.

The Eagles line up in an empty set with Jeffery lined up to the back side as an X-receiver again. That’s where Wentz wants to go with this ball initially, but it’s taken away by what appears to be double coverage in Wentz’s eyes. When the quarterback tries to get to his next progression, he sees Irving once again roaring right at him up the gut, and he has to break the pocket. Wentz avoids Irving just in time to see the league’s sack leader, Demarcus Lawrence, running right at him. Wentz throws a pump fake and avoids Lawrence, biding enough time for Jeffery to uncover at the goal line for a completed pass and two points.

This was outstanding by both the quarterback, who eluded two fearsome rushers with his eyes down the field, followed by Jeffery not giving up on the play and trusting that his quarterback would shake free to find him open for the score.

Later in the fourth quarter, the Eagles face third-and-2 and Wentz will hit Jeffery again for another conversion, this time off play-action. Wentz rolls to his right off the run fake, and when he turns his head he has linebacker Damien Wilson right in his face. Wentz plants his foot, protects the ball with both hands, avoids the blitzer, maintains vision downfield, and then makes a throw with Wilson around his feet and another defender bearing down, hitting Jeffery for a 10-yard gain and another first down. This is just a ridiculous throw by Wentz, again connecting with his big target in Jeffery for a big play.

The two connected again just five plays later on this touchdown pass, and it was one of Wentz’s best throws of the night. Down in the red zone on fourth-and-5, the Eagles decide to go for it with Elliott out of the game. Dallas is playing Cover 2 Man, one of my favorite coverages in football. With two safeties over the top, the cornerbacks can be very aggressive underneath in man coverage, typically playing trail technique to take away short throws underneath. This means that Wentz, who is already faced with tight quarters inside the 20-yard line, will have even tighter windows to throw into with safeties over the top and cornerbacks underneath. Wentz is fearless, however, and he pulls the trigger on this skinny post route to Jeffery for a 17-yard score. It’s an outstanding catch by Alshon, and the throw was just as good. Wentz puts this where only his man can get it, far enough away from the corner and close enough to Jeffery so that the safety can’t make a play. The throw was on a rope. The Eagles go up 29-9 off this play, and the Cowboys’ fate is pretty much sealed at this point with over 12 minutes to go.

To wrap this up, I want to bring up one other factor that showed up in this game. The Eagles are, based off my film study over the last two years, one of the best teams in the NFL at utilizing 13 personnel (one running back and three tight ends) to both create favorable matchups in both the run and pass game. Look at this two-play sequence from the opening drive.

On the first play, the Eagles come out in 13 personnel, in an empty set, spreading the defense out across the width of the field. You can only do this if you have versatile weapons at both positions, and the Eagles have that. The Cowboys are understandably in their base 4-3 defense, so they have to move linebackers out in space to play in coverage, but Wentz already knows what they’re doing. The Cowboys aren’t aligned in a man coverage look, and with a cornerback lined up over running back Kenjon Barner, they’ve tipped their hand. This is going to be some form of zone coverage, and Wentz has a good feeling that, because of the down, distance, and location on the field, that it will be some form of Cover 2.

One of the soft spots in Cover 2 is an area I like to call the Turkey Hole, the void along the sideline in the intermediate area beyond the cornerback and underneath the safety. Wentz knows he has Barner running a fade right into the Turkey Hole, and when he gets the snap that’s exactly where he goes with the ball.

Who makes a Turkey Hole throw to a running back!? Carson Wentz does.

Wentz puts this ball right into the void, and Barner responds with an outstanding catch along the sideline for a 22-yard gain and a first down.

On the very next play, the Eagles stay in 13 personnel, except this time with Wentz under center, Brent Celek on the line of scrimmage, and Barner in the backfield. The Cowboys line up, and Wentz hands the ball off to Barner on an Inside Zone run play. Barner cuts off of Celek, runs behind his pads, and churns his way into the end zone to give the Eagles the lead.

The Eagles' use of 13 personnel to both diagnose coverage and dictate matchups was on display there, and it was put into use again on a two-point conversion play in the fourth quarter.

Wentz brings Trey Burton in motion from left to right. No one runs with Burton, who runs right by the very legal rub route from Mack Hollins for an easy score. The Cowboys showed very little urgency or communication on this play. When they get down in the scoring area, the Eagles are one of the best at using these 12 and 13 personnel groupings to get into the end zone. I consider it one of the strengths of the passing attack.

One last play to wrap things up. The Eagles converted all of their two-point plays up until their last one, which was a concept very similar to the one with Burton. This time, Ertz snuck underneath from left to right at the snap of the ball, and Wentz hit him in stride for a completion. Ertz was stripped, however, and the ball ends up on the ground to be scooped up by the Cowboys.

Keep in mind, the game is over at this point. It’s 29-9. I’ve already seen the Cowboys loaf on a couple of plays. The Eagles didn’t necessarily NEED to be giving maximum effort. The game was in the bag! But look at the reaction of the Eagles' offense when the ball hits the turf. All 11 players burn rubber to find the football. Look at the effort from Isaac Seumalo, who actually ran a route on this play as an extra tight end, as he ends up making the tackle from behind.

It’s this kind of complete buy-in that makes me have a special feeling about this team. The culture is outstanding in the locker room, and it shows up in so many ways. On film, this is just one example of that culture shining through.

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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