The Eagles went down to Landover, Maryland and came away with a crucial victory in the waning moments to keep their playoff dreams alive. Carson Wentz was extremely efficient, Miles Sanders was explosive, and several facets of the offense kept the group churning to the tune of 31 points, a 69 percent conversion rate on third down, and over 400 yards of total offense. So how did they do it? Let's go to the film to find out.
Let's start with the end of the game, where Wentz found Greg Ward on a 4-yard completion in the back corner of the end zone to take the lead for the final time. It was a crucial throw and catch ... but it wasn't the first time the Eagles had run the play in the game. And it wasn't the first time it hit for a touchdown.
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Early in the fourth quarter, the Eagles faced third-and-goal from the 2-yard line, down by four points. Wentz lined up under center with a three-man bunch formation to his right. The progression in this concept was a relatively simple one. He had a high-low between Zach Ertz and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside to the right side, a crossing route coming from the back side from Dallas Goedert as his second read, and then Ward leaking out to the left on a bit of a "throwback" play as his third, and final, read.
On this play, the Washington defense busts this coverage, and no one covers Ertz, who catches the quick throw from Wentz and falls into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. But if you look on the back side, Ward was breaking wide open as well. I'm sure that when the offense looked at that on the sideline, head coach Doug Pederson felt good about calling the play again. That's exactly what he did.
On first-and-goal from the 4-yard line, with about 30 seconds left in the game and down by three, the Eagles called the exact same play from the exact same formation. This time, Washington overcompensated for Ertz, with four defenders over top of two receivers. With pressure bearing down, Wentz immediately gets to the back side of this play, where Ward is running away from veteran corner Josh Norman. Wentz puts the ball up, Ward climbs the ladder and comes down with the football for the game-winning touchdown. These were great designs from the Eagles' coaching staff, and the execution from all of the players was outstanding across the board.
It was the second fourth quarter or overtime game-winning drive that Wentz orchestrated in as many weeks. The quarterback went 8-for-8 for 70 yards to seal the victory. Wentz was actually just the third quarterback in team history to complete at least 30 passes and throw for at least three touchdowns without throwing a pick (Donovan McNabb did it against Green Bay in 2004 and Randall Cunningham did it against the Giants in 1988). Wentz has now thrown a touchdown in 17 straight regular-season games, the longest active streak in the NFL.
It wasn't the first time Ward came up big for the team in the game. I mentioned that the offense converted 69 percent of their third-down attempts (11-of-16), and Ward was on the receiving end of two of them.
Ward is proving to be consistent over the middle in the Eagles' offense as it's currently constructed. It's a great story to see him reach this point after all of the hard work he's put in for the last couple of seasons as he made the transition from college quarterback to NFL receiver.
Ward performed well in this game, but the star of the day was rookie running back Miles Sanders. Two of his biggest gains of the afternoon came on third down on a pair of draw run plays. Let's see how they worked so well.
On draw plays, the idea is to "draw" the defensive line upfield with a passing look at the snap of the ball. The offensive line pass sets, the quarterback pops up as if he's going into his drop, and the running back sells, for a step or two, that he's going to block. Once the back gets the handoff, he typically has very wide running lanes to choose from, especially on third-and-long, when the defense is playing heavily toward the pass. The Eagles very rarely have leaned on draw plays in these situations, so this was a good tendency breaker from Coach Pederson and his staff.
Sanders had a day for the record books, as he set the standard for rookies in franchise history in both scrimmage yards in a season (breaking the record previously held by DeSean Jackson) and rushing yards (a record previously held by LeSean McCoy). He is the first rookie in Eagles history to produce at least 170 yards from scrimmage, one rushing touchdown, and one receiving touchdown in the same game.
Sanders also reached the end zone in the passing game on an absolute dime from Wentz on the run. This was a well-executed "scramble drill," and Sanders was on the receiving end.
When this play is called out of the huddle, Sanders is asked to run a simple route to the flat. How does he end up in the back corner of the end zone? Once he sees Wentz break the pocket, he has to work to the sideline. Then, per the rules of the scramble drill, he has to uncover for his quarterback by working vertically up the field. When he reaches the back of the end zone, he gets his eyes back to Wentz, gets into the blind spot of the defender covering him, and makes himself open as Wentz drives the throw right between his numbers for a touchdown. Wentz is spectacular when throwing on the move, and that play was just another example of why he's one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL.
We all get excited about those kinds of plays (and we should), but we can't jump up and down and be happy about those plays and then come down hard on the quarterback when he's trying to stay alive and make a play later in the game and puts the ball on the ground. Certainly, Wentz has to improve his ball security, but quarterbacks who fight to make those kinds of plays are prone to giving the ball away at times as well. On that play in the fourth quarter, Washington perfectly covered up the Eagles' "mesh" concept.
It was extremely well done on Washington's part. Wentz had nowhere to go with the ball, tried to buy time for his receivers to get open, and was hit from behind. He fumbled the football and put Washington in position to win the game. What I love about this is that the quarterback doesn't panic. He goes to the sideline, gets the ball back, and leads his team to the win with a perfect completion percentage on the final drive. That showed big-time resiliency from Wentz and the entire offense.
Where Wentz was also particularly impressive in this game was against the blitz where, by my count, the quarterback was 10-of-13 for 116 yards (not including a run of 4 yards to move the chains).
Wentz beat the blitz in three different ways in this game – with his mind, his feet, and his arm. Getting the ball out quickly to an uncovered receiver against an all-out blitz allowed for that first-down conversion by Ertz on the opening drive. Later in the possession, he stepped away from a free rusher in the red zone and ran for a first down, showing off his ability to win with his feet. Lastly, we saw him burn the blitz with his arm, making an on-point throw outside the numbers to Ertz, who was manned up by safety Landon Collins, to move the chains once again. The Eagles will need this kind of efficiency, both on third down and against the blitz, on Sunday against Dallas – something to watch for in this week's edition of Eagles Game Plan.
With players like Jordan Howard, Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, and Nelson Agholor out of the lineup, this offense has to find ways to generate big plays, and the running backs have been a big part of that. On Sunday against Washington, Wentz was 13-of-13 when targeting running backs in the passing game.
Whether they were misdirection plays, checkdowns, or designer plays out of the backfield, Wentz has shown confidence in both Sanders and Boston Scott. To their credit, the coaches have put plays into the game plan to get them in the open field.
A big part of that, as we all know, is the screen game. Both Sanders and Scott have been huge in the screen game of late, and with the receivers and Goedert being mixed into the action as well, it's resulted in some timely chunk plays for this Eagles team. The Eagles, by my count, called nine screen passes on Sunday afternoon. One came back on a penalty, Wentz threw another into the dirt, and the other seven were completed for a combined 56 yards (8 yards per play). This offense will take that any day. I expect the screen game to continue being a huge part of the offense moving forward.
There are still things to get corrected, but this offense is doing everything it can to put up points with all of the injuries it has sustained. The Eagles will have a big test on Sunday afternoon against the Dallas Cowboys and a defense with talent at all three levels.
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.