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Eagle Eye: Missed Chances For The Offense

Posted Dec 4, 2017

There were a lot of plays on both sides of the ball where the Eagles can look back at the tape from Sunday and wonder ‘what if’. In the first half alone, there were several instances where one play may have changed the scope of the game at that moment, potentially flipping the final outcome.

Here are three examples of how this game got away from the Eagles early. The first came from a flat out miss from quarterback Carson Wentz on a pass intended for Nelson Agholor. The Eagles were running a three-level stretch concept to the short side of the field. A deep route, run by Torrey Smith, removed the corner to that side and got the eyes of free safety Earl Thomas as well. That put Agholor all alone streaking across the intermediate area of the field. Wentz has made this throw in tighter quarters a number of times this year. On Sunday night, his off-leg tightened up a bit on the throw, and he sails this pass over Agholor’s head, an uncharacteristically inaccurate pass from the second-year quarterback this season. Quarterbacks are going to have their share of misses (Wentz acknowledged after the game that he needs to make this throw), and this one certainly hurt.

On the second play, we see another pass in the high red zone, an area where the Eagles have been spectacular this season. Wentz is going to throw a little ‘Corner-Post’ route to Zach Ertz down the seam, a route we’ve seen dozens of times this season from those two for big plays in that area of the field. It was a good route from the tight end, but the ball is underthrown and falls incomplete. When you look at the end zone angle, you can see why. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson beats guard Stefen Wisniewski outside and gets into the backfield quickly, and if you look closely you can see Richardson’s left hand strike Wentz’s right shoulder blade as he’s cocking his arm to throw. Wentz gets this pass off, obviously, but that contact affected the ball placement of this throw, as it’s short and a bit behind his intended target for an incomplete pass.

The third play came from the run game, and this time the Eagles are in the red zone. They line up in a ‘tackle over’ set (an unbalanced line), with Lane Johnson on the left side next to Halapoulivaati Vaitai. This will be an outside run for LeGarrette Blount, who bounces this perfectly, staying on track for a big gain that puts him inside the two-yard line. An unnecessary hold from Alshon Jeffery, however, sends this play in reverse, and instead of getting the ball on the fringe of the goal line they have to back this up and settle for a field goal.

The Eagles were an uncharacteristic 0-for-2 in the red zone against Seattle. Arguably the number one red zone offense in the league was shut out inside the 20-yard line. If you want to look for a stat that helped determine the outcome of this game, this is one of the first I would point to. On all three examples, the plays were there to be made, but for one reason or another the Eagles came up short in each case. It’s something the entire offense will see on film and look to improve upon for next week in Los Angeles.

An area where I think Wentz was affected, especially early on was with pressure. It didn’t always end with sacks (like the play above did) but the threat of pressure was apparent early on. Michael Bennett, Frank Clark, and Sheldon Richardson in particular were extremely disruptive for most of the night for the Seahawks. I thought on this night the Eagles struggled handling some of Seattle’s two-man stunts. Here, it leads to their first sack of the game.

The Eagles are sliding their protection to the right, leaving Wisniewski and Vaitai in ‘man protection’. The Eagles are helping Vaitai here with a running back out of the backfield as a chipper, but the back won’t be able to help against a looping defensive end on this stunt. The tackle over Wisniewski flies upfield on the guard’s outside shoulder, and he has no sight line on the looper inside. The defensive end, Clark, waits for both Wisniewski and the tackle to pass him by, and then flies inside to bring Wentz down for the sack. These stunts gave the Eagles issues throughout most of the night, and I can guarantee it’s something they will be ironing out all week in practice and in the meeting room.

It was pretty clear that Wentz was just out of sync in the first half. The passing game never really got into any sort of rhythm, and he was held to just 45 yards through the air through two quarters, a season-low. To help Wentz out, the Eagles made more of an effort to run the football in the first half, and they actually went into the locker room with more called run plays than pass plays. The Eagles got the ball to start the second half, and I thought their approach with Wentz made a lot of sense to open the third quarter. After a first down run, Doug Pederson called for a pass concept that I know as ‘Levels’. This is ultimately a ‘high-low’ read for the quarterback, reading the linebacker in the middle of the field. If the defender runs with the shallow cross in front of him, it should open up a passing lane for the dig route behind him. On second down, the play works to perfection, and you see Wentz hit Ertz in rhythm (albeit a bit off in terms of ball placement) for a first down.

On the next play, Pederson went back to the same concept. This time, however, linebacker Bobby Wagner reads the play. He collides with the shallow cross and falls off into the passing lane, taking away the throw to Ertz. Wentz sees it, feels pressure from the blindside, spins out of it, and rolls to his left. He keeps his eyes downfield and hits Alshon Jeffery for a first down. These two plays were examples of the Carson Wentz we’ve seen throughout the season, a quarterback that can play within structure but also create plays for himself when things break down. From that opening drive through the rest of the second half, I thought Wentz looked more like himself, and the Eagles were officially back in the game offensively.

The missed opportunities, unfortunately, continued to mount for this team. Here are four more plays where the Eagles clearly left points on the board, both in the run and pass games. On the first play, you see Wentz’s fumble down on the goal line that rolls out of the end zone for a turnover. Obviously that’s a huge momentum swing in the game. On the second play, we see a screen call right into a blitz. The playcall was perfect and this play is dialed up for a huge gain, as Jay Ajayi sneaks out to the left with lead blockers out in front. Unfortunately, the veteran back is unable to reel the pass in and the Eagles leave a ton of yards on the field. On the third play, Wentz underthrows Agholor on what was an explosive play downfield and a big completion, but it could’ve been much more. Lastly, you see a fourth down play in the third quarter that fell incomplete where Kenjon Barner leaked out to the left and stumbles releasing from the box. The timing is thrown off from him and Wentz, and what would’ve been an easy first down and potentially more results in a turnover on downs. That’s seven plays that I’ve shown from both halves of this game, and if one or two of them go the other way I think we see a much different kind of outcome. The quarterback will always have misses. There are going to be drops. There are going to be penalty flags thrown. There are missed blocks, missed tackles, and blown coverages. That’s football. The best teams eliminate as many of those mistakes or are able to cover up for those errors as possible. The lesser teams don’t. The Eagles, for a large majority of this season, have kept those errors to a minimum, and I expect this team to overcome it moving forward. All that being said, I think there were certainly some positives to take away in this game.

This was a throw from that opening drive of the second half, and this is the kind of play we’ve seen from Wentz all season long. It’s first down, and the Eagles are in a 3 x 1 set, and watch Wentz get through to the third route in the progression, a post route run by Alshon Jeffery. You have Nelson Agholor in the slot, and he runs a great route in the middle of the field. Not only does Nelson shake the slot corner, but when he gets into the middle of the field watch him subtly attack the safety with a vertical stem before continuing to break to the opposite side of the field. Agholor’s route holds the eyes of safety Earl Thomas, and then watch Wentz in the pocket. As he gets through his progressions, look at the bounce Wentz has in the pocket, as he deftly avoids the rush from his right, resetting his throwing arrow and delivering this pass with pinpoint accuracy to Jeffery on the run for a first down. That’s the kind of play we’ve come to expect from Wentz this season.

One area where Wentz has been so strong all season long has been on third down, and especially on third-and-long (where his production and efficiency has been astronomical). That continued on Sunday night in Seattle. Here are two examples of Wentz attacking the Seahawks’ zone coverage concepts and netting huge gains downfield.

On the first rep, one of the best individual plays of the game, Wentz rolls to his right after feeling pressure from the blind side and hits Agholor for a huge completion. The concept was a ‘Post Wheel’ route, which is a killer against Seattle’s Tampa-2 coverage scheme. With the Post route removing the safety, Agholor glided down the right sideline and was open for Wentz to deliver this football with a defender draped over him for a big conversion on third-and-forever.

Another third down completion from earlier stood out to me as well. This time, the Seahawks were in their staple Cover 3 scheme, with three deep zone defenders and four underneath guarding the first down line on third-and-12. The Eagles are running deep curl routes across the width of the field, so mathematically the Eagles are in trouble with three receivers against four defenders underneath. That’s no bother to Wentz, because he knows what his play concept will do to the coverage. Zach Ertz’s route to the sideline holds the flat defender to the left, so he will not be a factor against Torrey Smith. That means Wentz has to beat the ‘hook’ defender in the left middle of the field. To do that, Wentz stares down Agholor between the hashes, forcing that player to respect Agholor inside. The gap widens, and Wentz pulls the trigger to Torrey Smith on a play that should’ve been a first down but was stopped just short to bring up fourth-and-inches.

One last third down conversion stood out, because this time it went for a touchdown. On this play Seattle is in man coverage, and the Eagles know it, because they run a ‘man beater’ with another Post-Wheel concept. This time, however, it’s a three-man route. Jeffery lines up to the left and runs a Post route. That eats up the safety and removes the cornerback from the left side of the field. The slot corner over Torrey Smith is a non-factor in this play in terms of defending Agholor, but he does help to serve as interference, because Smith runs a bit of a Rub Route here inside, helping to create traffic for the defender over Agholor to run through. Nelson breaks free on the Wheel route, and Wentz steps away from pressure to deliver a beautiful touch throw for a score.

Let’s transition lastly to the Eagles run game. They ran the ball for over 90 yards against a physical, aggressive Seattle front in the first half, and while they had to get away from the run game late in this game as they tried to come back you can see that all three of the ball carriers are settling into their roles. All three are going to run the same concepts, but each of them have their individual strengths and the coaches are going to leverage them for success on the ground. Blount’s biggest strength is his size and power when he gets going downhill, so these Traps and Whams like we see on the first play really cater to his tools. On the second play, we’ve got an outside run for Corey Clement, something that’s been a bit of a staple over the last three or four games. This one came on a ‘Jet Flip’ play where Torrey Smith was sent on jet motion in the backfield pre-snap, getting defensive flow to the opposite side of the field from Clement. He takes the pitch and follows two outstanding blocks from Vaitai and Mack Hollins, who cut their defenders in space to help spring the rookie for a first down. Then you get the zone run game from Ajayi, who flashes his short-area burst and ability to pick his way through the trash at the line of scrimmage to net big chunks of yards. This run game has an identity, the scheme is really good, and they’re finding good ways to use all three of the talented runners. I’m excited to watch this offense moving forward, and think they’ll have an opportunity to bounce back against a very talented Rams unit this Sunday afternoon.

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