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Eagle Eye: Grading Carson Wentz's Night

Posted Sep 20, 2016

The Eagles' offense got off to an exciting start on Monday night against the Chicago Bears, with quarterback Carson Wentz in full control at the line of scrimmage as the team marched down the field to start the game off with a field goal. I’ll dive into the deeper intricacies of that drive in the video format of this piece, but I thought it was really interesting to see the Eagles and their staff get Wentz comfortable early in the game out of those empty looks.

Being in an empty set - which we saw on Wentz’s first-career touchdown against the Browns - forces a defense to declare itself early on. It’s very difficult to disguise what you’re doing against an empty set from a coverage and pressure standpoint, so as a quarterback there are a lot of positives to being in that position even though it keeps only five blockers in for protection. I thought that was a great way for the coaching staff to get him in a rhythm early in the game, and I think it paid dividends down the road. Now to the really impressive throws from Wentz.

It’s second-and-10 in the second quarter, and the Eagles run a three-level stretch play off play-action. Brent Celek runs the intermediate route over the middle of the field. Running back Ryan Mathews is late to pick up blitzing linebacker Danny Trevathan after the play fake, and Wentz now has a free runner coming right up the A gap as he looks to deliver the football. Wentz knows he’s about to take a shot here, but watch him stand tall and step into this throw that was on the money for what should have been a first down before a penalty brought the play back. It’s an unfortunate result, but from a big-picture standpoint you love to see your young quarterback making throws like this so early in his career.

On that play, you saw the pocket poise from Wentz. What about his pre-snap abilities? Well, we saw a great example of that on the very next series.

It’s third-and-5, and the Eagles come out in 12 personnel with one running back and two tight ends on the field. One of those tight ends, Trey Burton, is flexed out wide at the bottom of the screen, and is matched up against a defensive back. Wentz lines up under center, and reads pre-snap pressure from the Bears in the form of a double A-gap blitz. So what does he do? In a way very reminiscent of his long completion to Jordan Matthews last week, Wentz backs away from center into the shotgun, changes the protection at the line of scrimmage to buy himself more time and delivers a throw to Burton on the perimeter for a first down to move the chains. That’s outstanding quarterback play from the rookie on third down against a veteran defensive coordinator in Vic Fangio.

On the very next play, the Eagles picked up another first down on a play that had a lot of moving parts. First, the Eagles bring Matthews in motion to the near slot as the No. 3 receiver to the right. The Bears are in man coverage here, and when Matthews releases he appears to be running an over route across the field. Watch as the defender over Matthews passes Matthews off to the linebacker inside of him. Once he passes Matthews off, the linebacker thinks he’s free to defend anything in front of him.

He’s not afraid of any route being open behind him. That’s his biggest mistake, as Matthews sticks his foot in the ground and breaks back outside toward the sideline. The two receivers who lined up outside Matthews before the snap ran deep posts here, clearing out that side of the field, creating a huge void in the coverage for Matthews to take this throw from Wentz for a 32-yard completion. When you watch this play from the end zone angle, make sure to notice the job Wentz does of stepping up in the pocket to evade the rush off the edge before he delivers a perfect touch throw to a receiver on the run to move the sticks.

Three plays later and that poise from Wentz shows up again. It’s third-and-9, and look at him deliver this throw to Burton on the run for a first down as he takes a shot at the end of the play. That’s a big-time throw for a first down.

On the next series, Wentz made a different kind of throw that really displayed his athletic ability and accuracy on the run, and I feel a lot different about it after watching the All-22 than I did live on the broadcast.

It’s second-and-4, and the Eagles are running a post-wheel concept with Nelson Agholor running a post from the outside and Matthews running a bit of an out-and-up, or a wheel route, from the slot. Where this ball goes is almost entirely predicated on the technique of the cornerback defending Agholor before the snap. If it’s man coverage, and he turns and runs with Agholor toward the middle of the field, the throw to Matthews will be open all day long. If it’s zone coverage and the corner stays home along the sideline, then Wentz has the ability to get back inside to Agholor.

Wentz drops back, and when he reads the cornerback he sees the defender has his back to the sideline, but that he’s not following Agholor into the middle of the field, correctly reading zone coverage. Now, Matthews does eventually break open here, but when Wentz initially reads that corner he sees that he’s in zone and he gets his eyes back inside. Wentz feels pressure, breaks the pocket and rolls to his left. He lets go of this ball on the run to a receiver running the opposite direction as him for a first down. This wasn’t the ideal throw, going against his body on the move, but man, what a throw for a first down by the rookie.

A few plays later, Wentz made another incredible throw. With seconds ticking away until halftime, the Eagles ran Matthews on a fade from the slot, a concept very similar to the one they connected on for his first touchdown against the Browns. Just like on that play, Wentz just has to beat the safety in the middle of the field, and he holds him between the hashes long enough to deliver a beautiful ball at the pylon over Matthews’ shoulder for what could’ve been a long touchdown throw. The ball ends up on the ground for an incompletion, but it was a great route by Matthews and a great ball from Wentz, throwing away from both defenders in the area to a spot where only his receiver could go and get it. That was a big play left on the board, for sure, but as Matthews has shown throughout his career, for every one of his drops, he’s able to rebound with a big play as well.

While this one didn’t go for a touchdown, Matthews secures this over route for a first down. This was another three-level stretch concept from the Eagles, a common theme from the Doug Pederson offense through the first six games of live action since the start of the preseason. Matthews’ abilities in the middle of the field are going to be maximized in this offense on plays like this one, and you have to be encouraged by the confidence that Wentz has in No. 81 as well.

Just like the receivers were not perfect against Chicago, Wentz, too, had his share of negative plays. There were a few missed receivers in key parts of the field, and he took a couple of unnecessary shots as well.

Because of his ability to stand tall in the pocket as well as his propensity to run the football, Wentz is going to take hits when he’s on the field. With that in mind, he has to learn to eliminate as many of the unnecessary ones as he can to help stay healthy. This is the biggest hill for Wentz to climb early on in his career.

That play got the Eagles down near the goal line, an area where they have been very effective so far through two games when it comes to putting points on the board. On Monday, they were successful thanks to a pair of really well-designed plays in the low red zone.

It’s first-and-goal in the third quarter and the Eagles come out in 13 personnel with one running back and three tight ends. With Zach Ertz out of the lineup, your third tight end is swing tackle Matt Tobin. Before the snap, Wentz brings Burton in motion, which does two things. First, it helps confirm that the Eagles are in fact facing man coverage, and second, it determines which defender is responsible for Burton in the secondary. What is the No. 1 rule for an offense on a screen play? Block the defender responsible for your intended receiver.

Celek is able able to do just that on this play, as Burton reads his blocks perfectly and plunges into the end zone. It’s also important to note the quality cut block from tackle Lane Johnson on this play, effectively clearing a throwing lane for Wentz to deliver this pass to Burton on time and on the money. This is a great job all around from the design of the play to the execution of all 11 players on the field.

On the Eagles next possession, Wentz is under center again, but this time they call a running play to Mathews. This is a play known as Jet Flip, where the quarterback fakes the jet sweep (remember, the Eagles set up the jet sweep earlier on a handoff to Josh Huff) before he flips the ball on a perimeter run to Mathews. The jet sweep action takes away not just one defender, but two Chicago defensive backs who run with Agholor. It's a busted assignment. That creates a huge numbers advantage for the Eagles to the play side, and tackle Jason Peters does a great job of realizing that he doesn’t have anyone out there to block, so better for him to turn around and get a pursuit defender, allowing Mathews to run into the end zone untouched for the final nail in the Bears' coffin.

The run game had it’s moments on Monday against Chicago, and while it certainly lacked the volume of high-impact plays that went for long distances, there was one play that stood out to me late in the game. With Ertz and Burton on the sideline, the Eagles needed to milk time off the clock in the fourth quarter. They still called for 13 personnel, except with Celek being the only tight end available, they had to make do with what they had. Enter Tobin and backup lineman Stefen Wisnewski.

The Eagles run an inside zone counter run on this play to the three-tight end side. That heavy side of the formation is what coaches call a five-man surface because there are five blockers lined up from the center out with Barbre, Peters, Celek, Wisnewiski and Tobin. With the misdirection element of the play in full effect, Mathews uses his speed and decisiveness to get to the corner, make defenders pay for bad angles and go 30 yards in his longest run of the season thus far. The run game has had its moments, but it always helps when you can call a run play with seven offensive linemen on the field.

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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