For the second time in three seasons, the Eagles are NFC East Champs. It required a full-team win on the road against the rival New York Giants. It wasn't always pretty, but the team came away with a huge victory and will play January football for the third straight year. Here, I want to focus on the offense, and I want to start the conversation with a discussion about Carson Wentz.
Coming into Week 17, Wentz became the first quarterback in the 100-year history of the NFL to complete at least 30 passes in three straight games without throwing an interception. He did it without a complement of weapons that most NFL teams would not refer to as "half" full. With key receivers, running backs, tight ends, and offensive linemen all out of the lineup throughout this season, Wentz has been the one constant. On Sunday, he broke his own franchise record with 388 completions in a regular season (a mark he set as a rookie in 2016) and became the first quarterback in team history to throw for over 4,000 yards (Donovan McNabb threw for 3,916 in 2008). Wentz also became the first passer in Eagles history to throw at least one touchdown in all 16 regular-season games. His streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass is 19, dating back to last year. It's currently the longest such streak in the NFL. But enough with the numbers, let's talk about what we've seen on film over the last month.
Wentz has been outstanding during this four-game win streak. He's been crisp with his decision-making. If you remove the Hail Mary at the end of the Miami loss, he hasn't thrown a "real" interception since the last time the team faced Seattle in Week 12. Furthermore, he's been accurate, confident, decisive, and he's gotten himself out of trouble. Wentz has defeated pressure with his legs, with his arm, and with his mind. Perhaps most importantly, he's developed a rapport with the weapons at his disposal. As the chemistry has improved, so has the flexibility within the offense. On Sunday, Wentz and the Eagles were more aggressive in the vertical passing game with designed shot plays. A great example of that was on Wentz's touchdown throw to Joshua Perkins.
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With just two receivers running routes against eight defenders in coverage, Wentz dropped back off play-action, rolled to his right, and waited for his target to uncover. This was a concept meant to attack a single-high safety in the deep middle of the field, but the Giants covered that up. Improvisation was needed. To his credit, Perkins did a great job of keeping the play alive, running through the zone as Wentz threw him open, lofting a pass to the far side of the end zone from the opposite hash, a throw that traveled over 50 yards in the air on the money for six points.
A few years ago, then-Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich joined us on Eagles Game Plan. I remember him talking about a similar type of play where Wentz completed a pass late across his body – usually a "no no" for quarterbacks. Reich's quote about that was great.
"He shouldn't be throwing to him ... when you scramble right, you never throw back left ... unless you're a great player and say you're going to take this game into my own hands and you make a great play," he said.
I thought about that quote when watching Wentz throw this touchdown on Monday morning while reviewing the film. I also thought back to a line from quarterbacks coach Press Taylor last year on Eagles Game Plan. Taylor told us that we could thank Carson's parents for his ability to make those kinds of throws across his body when referencing a pass he completed to Alshon Jeffery in the back of the end zone at MetLife Stadium. You either have that ability in your DNA or you don't! This throw was absolutely big-time and it got the Eagles into the end zone for the first time on the afternoon.
That wasn't the only time the Eagles were aggressive downfield in the passing game. My favorite two-play sequence in the entire game happened at the end of the third quarter. On the final play of the third quarter, Wentz dropped back off play-action and hit Robert Davis on a deep crossing route for a huge gain. Momentum shifted. This was the spark that the Eagles needed ... until the play came back on a holding call. This could have been deflating, taking the air out of the sails of the offense. Instead of panicking, Doug Pederson took the intermission to dial up another shot on first-and-20. On the next play from scrimmage, Wentz rolled right and dropped a dime to newly signed receiver Deontay Burnett on a vertical route. Wentz saw Burnett working one-on-one downfield, trusted him to make a play, and laid out a perfect pass. He threw the young veteran open, allowing him to come up with the reception where only he could get it.
The Eagles will need this kind of aggressiveness in the playoffs. It's tough to play in a 15- or 20-yard sandbox in the postseason, so the ability to create big plays will be paramount, starting this Sunday against the Seahawks.
I mentioned that we're watching the rapport with Wentz and his new assortment of playmakers develop right in front of our eyes, and that's no truer than while studying Greg Ward and his role in the offense.
On these throws, watch how quickly the ball comes out of Wentz's hand. These are called "spot" throws, where Wentz pulls the trigger before the receiver gets to the top of his break, trusting that he will be exactly in the right place at the right time to complete the pass. This was an issue in previous weeks, but Wentz and Ward are absolutely in-sync right now as he's developed into a reliable target at all three levels of the field.
The guy who stood out to me on film from a pass catching standpoint, however, was tight end Dallas Goedert. Filling in for an injured Zach Ertz, Goedert started and was a huge part of the win, coming up with some key third-down catches on scoring drives and moving the sticks on others. Goedert had excellent ball skills at South Dakota State. Some of his catches over the last couple of games brought me back to his days in college. He's developing into the player the Eagles envisioned when they took him in the second round of the draft. You can see his confidence growing every week. He made some outstanding grabs through contact in this game to move the chains for first downs.
The Eagles will need the passing game to continue firing on all cylinders as they prepare to face the Seattle Seahawks, a team that has won a ton of close games this year (10-2 in one-possession games). Every drive will count on Sunday, and the Eagles have to continue to be efficient in all areas of situational football offensively to come away with the win and advance to the Divisional Round.
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominatedEagles Game Planshow which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts,Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as theJourney to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. 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.