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A Must-Do For Offense: Stay Aggressive

Posted Jan 23, 2018

It’s too early to have a sense of what the Eagles have in mind for New England in Super Bowl LII (I love typing that!) but you can be sure that this veteran coaching staff will approach things aggressively. That’s the personality of this football team. And it shows up on gamedays ...

It’s too early to have a sense of what the Eagles have in mind for New England in Super Bowl LII (I love typing that!) but you can be sure that this veteran coaching staff will approach things aggressively. That’s the personality of this football team. And it shows up on gamedays.

“That’s what I believe in,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “I want us to be smart and aggressive in every phase of the game.”

Amid the glory of Sunday night’s win over Minnesota was a return of the "X" play in the offense. The Eagles had four plays of 36 yards or longer – a 53-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery, a 43-yard connection to Nelson Agholor, a 41-yard touchdown on the flea-flicker to Torrey Smith, and a 36-yard shot to Zach Ertz. All came in the passing game.

Quarterback Nick Foles was at his best on Sunday night.

“He's been spectacular. We've said it all along, he's comfortable in his own scheme,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said of Foles. “When you look at the whole body of work, he's a big-play machine. He knows how to make big plays. He gets in a groove and gets in rhythm, but that's the whole team. He understands that. That's the great thing about Nick. He's got the maturity to understand. He's not trying to be the hero.”

It took some time to get the vertical passing game going with Foles, who was limited in Training Camp with a sore elbow and who did not play a lick in the preseason. In the win over the Giants, when Foles threw four touchdown passes, his longest completion to a receiver or tight end was only 19 yards. In the 19-10 victory over Oakland, Foles connected with Ertz for a catch-and-run that gained 25 yards, but there was no success down the field.

In the playoff win over Atlanta, the offense had a few big gainers but they came on catch-and-run plays to Jay Ajayi (32 yards), Jeffery (21 yards), and Smith (20 yards). Otherwise, the offense was a bump-and-grind affair.

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“It’s a big part of what we do, throwing the ball down the field,” Smith said after Sunday’s win over Minnesota. “Getting those chunk plays, those big yards, makes it a lot easier on the offense. You want to strike quickly in the NFL and we did that in this game.”

Why the improvement in the deep-passing game with Foles? There are several factors. One, Foles has developed timing with his receiving corps in the last few weeks after taking almost zero reps (and in reality, it could literally be zero) during the season in practice. He’s a much better, more confident quarterback than he was in those early starts. Also, the offensive line did a magnificent job on Sunday night providing a solid pocket for Foles, who worked the pocket beautifully with his feet and created space when needed. The receivers won battles down the field in coverage.

And Foles delivered with a great deal of authority and accuracy. Combined with a creative game plan that kept Minnesota off balance, the Eagles were able to stretch the field unlike at any time since Wentz was injured against the Rams on December 10.

It goes back to being aggressive, Pederson’s mantra.

“We’re going to take shots,” Jeffery said. “You have to take shots in this league. We have confidence that we can win those battles and come up with the football.”

Anything can happen against New England. Pederson and his staff don’t yet have a game plan in place, but it’s coming and, if Pederson holds true to the form he’s shown in his time as the head coach here, it will be spectacular and unpredictable.

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