The Eagles didn’t make enough plays to win the game on Sunday on either side of the ball. That much is clear. There were certainly bright spots (mostly in the second half of the fourth quarter), but we still saw too much of the same issues that have plagued the offense throughout most of the 2018 campaign. The Eagles were 1-for-9 on third down. The run game was inconsistent. Both of those things resulted in an extremely lopsided time of possession battle that had the Eagles holding on to the football for 23 fewer minutes than the Cowboys. Let’s go to the film and detail the issues they faced through the majority of the afternoon and see how the offense got jump-started late in the game.
ALL OF THE VIDEO CLIPS FEATURE AUDIO ANALYSIS FROM FRAN DUFFY
It was clear early on that the Eagles wanted to assert themselves on the ground, calling runs on four of the first five plays from scrimmage. They got rookie Josh Adams downhill on two of them, with the former Notre Dame star keeping his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and hitting the hole hard. The first run of the game, that Trap play with Isaac Seumalo destroying the 3-technique defensive tackle, was one of the best runs I’ve seen from Adams throughout his career mainly because he flashed some lateral movement there to make two men miss in the box. He made the unblocked safety miss on the next play with a violent stiff-arm, spinning out of contact and sprinting down the left sideline for a first down.
The Eagles ran the ball effectively on that opening drive. The Trap play went for 8 yards, then after a 2-yard loss from Adams, the Eagles threw for a first down for their first (and only) third-down conversion of the game. The second Adams run above went for 24 yards and put the team past midfield.
A 2-yard Darren Sproles run on first down brought up second-and-8. An incompletion brought up third-and-8. That’s where this screen pass to Corey Clement comes into play. The Eagles lined up in shotgun and ran a play-action screen, where Carson Wentz would fake the handoff to Clement, drop back, and then try to loft it to the second-year ballcarrier down the right side for what should have been a huge gain. Instead, Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence sniffed the screen out, holding up Clement behind the line of scrimmage, and forcing Wentz to hold on to the football. The quarterback was sacked immediately, and the Eagles were forced to punt.
The Eagles ran five times in the first quarter for 28 yards. In the three quarters after that, they ran nine times for a total of 6 yards. What happened? Let’s go drive by drive. Keep in mind, this is not meant to say the Eagles should not be running the ball more. Doug Pederson would like to run the football more. But there are reasons why these things happen, so let’s take a look at why.
- On the second drive, the Eagles got the ball down 3-0 with just over two minutes left in the first quarter. A 3-yard completion to Sproles in the flat set up second-and-7, where Clement got the ball on a 4-yard loss. Wentz was in shotgun with Clement to his right. It’s tough to really tell because the shotgun snap was not handled well by Wentz, but this was either a called run to Clement or some kind of Run Pass Option play as Zach Ertz was breaking open down the right hashmark. Either way, the play resulted in a third-and-11 situation, which the Eagles failed to convert, and they punted away following a three-and-out.
In summation, a negative play on second down forced a third-and-long look that kept you from running the football.
- On the third drive, the Eagles got the ball down 3-0 early in the second quarter. A hard play-action fake had Wentz rolling to his right. With nothing there, he took off for a 1-yard run. He followed that up with a completion to Alshon Jeffery to bring up third-and-1. Coach Pederson called a running play, a Speed Option call which got the Eagles in the end zone a couple of weeks ago against the Giants. Dallas safety Jeff Heath plays this patiently, forcing Wentz to hold on to the football. Lawrence again wrecks this play, getting outside Lane Johnson as Wentz goes down for a loss.
On this drive, they went to the run game on third down but failed. Say what you will about the philosophy of the play, but it’s worked for this team in the recent past. The same exact play worked for Dallas on the ensuing drive on a third-and-1. The play was there to be made on the ground, and the Eagles didn’t make it.
- On the fourth drive, the Eagles were in a two-minute drill with 1:48 left in the first half. They threw four times before Wentz was sacked and fumbled the football.
This is a two-minute drill, so running the ball wasn’t really an option here.
- On the fifth drive, the Eagles got the ball down 6-0 to start the second half. A short completion to Ertz on first down brought up second-and-long. The Eagles called a run play for Adams and he was brought down for no gain. That brought up third-and-9, an incompletion, and a punt for a three-and-out. Against Dallas, the Eagles had four carries on second down in the entire game, and they went for a combined -3 yards. Last week against Washington, the Eagles carried 12 times for 44 yards on second down (3.70 yards per carry).
This may seem inconsequential, but if you don’t have success on first down or second down, it’s tough to have success on third down. You have longer third-down attempts, meaning fewer third-down conversions, fewer offensive plays, and fewer running plays.
- On the sixth drive, the Eagles got the ball down 9-0 with nine minutes left in the third quarter. A first-down run from Adams picked up 1 yard to bring up second-and-9. Wentz hit Jeffery for a first down, then found Ertz for a 7-yard completion. On second-and-3, the Eagles had an RPO dialed up. The ball was either going to go to Adams or to Nelson Agholor on a bubble screen. The Cowboys blitzed, which Wentz read, but he misfired on the throw to Agholor for an incompletion. Another incompletion on third down resulted in a punt.
You can see how the afternoon was going. The Eagles mixed in a couple more run plays in the ensuing drives, but the offense really struggled to get into any kind of rhythm after that opening drive until the fourth quarter. The run game was not effective. The passing game was, mostly, ineffective. When you can’t convert on third down, it’s tough to get anything going, and that was a big part of why the run game was pretty much a non-factor in this game. What would have happened had the Eagles just lined up and ran three straight plays on one drive? That’s tough to say and impossible for anyone to answer. This is a passing league, however, so you need to be able to win through the air, and the Eagles couldn’t get anything going in the first three quarters.
Now, let’s get to that seventh drive of the game, which happened after a Corey Graham interception that delivered the offense the football at the 2-yard line. The Eagles responded with a play we’ve seen before.
The Eagles came out with two tight ends on the field, both lined up to the short side (the boundary). Jeffery and Agholor lined up to the wide side of the field, out in a ton of space. This is a screen pass that we’ve seen throughout the league this year, one that quarterbacks coach Press Taylor broke down for us a few weeks ago on Eagles Game Plan. It got Jeffery into the end zone as the Eagles got on the board.
After the Jeffery touchdown, the Eagles' defense gave the ball back to the offense after a sack by Michael Bennett forced a Dak Prescott fumble. A first-down screen pass to Goedert netted 6 yards. An incompletion to Jeffery brought up third-and-4. The Eagles dropped back to throw, Wentz was pressured, and stepped up for a 1-yard run to bring up fourth-and-3, with the Eagles down by a field goal late in the third quarter.
This is the Eagles' "mesh" play, a concept that Amy Campbell and I detailed in the video Eagle Eye segment two weeks ago. This is one of my favorite plays in football because it has answers for pretty much anything the defense can do. The Cowboys are in man coverage (confirmed by Ertz’s alignment with a safety lined up across from him outside the numbers before the snap). If the quarterback knows pre-snap that he has man coverage, he can choose to start his progression with the Wheel route from Darren Sproles in the backfield.
The defender across from Sproles is Leighton Vander Esch, so Wentz just has to read him at the snap. If the linebacker steps up toward the line of scrimmage on his first step, Wentz is throwing this ball to Sproles. Why? Because Vander Esch will have to work through the traffic created by Jeffery and the corner across from him. He’s going to get held up, allowing Sproles to break open down the sideline. Had Vander Esch dropped backward on the opening step, he would have been able to play over the top of that traffic, keeping Sproles in front of him. That didn’t happen, and Wentz hits Sproles for a first down and the longest play of the game for the Eagles' offense to that point.
The Eagles ran six more plays on this drive (including a pair of runs, one of which came back on a penalty), and it resulted in a field goal to tie the game at 9-9. They got the ball with under eight minutes left in the fourth quarter down by a touchdown and again went three-and-out, this time a run by Adams (on a Tackle Trap play) lost yardage, forcing the Eagles behind the sticks and an eventual punt. The next time they got the ball, they would need to be better.
That drive happened shortly after, as the Eagles got the ball down by seven with 5:25 remaining in regulation. The Eagles needed four plays to go a full 48 yards, and here are the first three. A completion to Jeffery got 12 yards, and a three-level stretch concept got the ball to Goedert for 26 yards and another first down. Both plays came off run-action from shotgun, and on both plays Wentz dropped back and hit his receiver in rhythm for a first down. On first-and-goal from the 9-yard line, Pederson called a Wham run play with Ertz blocking a defensive tackle, springing Adams for a 6-yard run before this touchdown throw.
This was great design from the Eagles' offense to get Goedert in the end zone. By motioning Wendell Smallwood outside the numbers, Wentz got a clue that it would be zone coverage before the snap. To the left, he has a "man beater," with Jeffery running a slant route underneath Agholor. The Eagles scored on a throw to Jordan Matthews last week against Washington on the very same combination. To the right, the Eagles have a Stick Nod concept, a pair of double moves from the tight ends. This should beat zone coverage, so that’s where Wentz is going to go with the football based off the motion from Smallwood. The defender he must worry about is safety Xavier Woods.
Wentz drops back, stares to his left to hold the safety, puts this ball on a rope down the seam, and hits Goedert right on the numbers for a touchdown. Goedert ran this Stick Nod route to perfection, selling the stick route outside (look at his eyes and shoulders going to the sideline), before breaking back to the post. I saw Goedert run this route a bunch of times back in the summer, and his pacing always seemed a bit too quick to get to the Nod portion of the route, and defenders rarely bit on it. Look at him now, selling the route perfectly before breaking upfield for a touchdown. Perfection.
The Eagles call Goedert’s number again on the second play of the next drive, this time down the seam on a vertical route off shotgun play-action. He’s pressed early on by Heath, and apparently trying to get off that coverage is a penalty, because an erroneous flag was thrown, and this play came back. Regardless, this gives you an idea of what Goedert can do in this offense. He’s a rookie, so it was always going to take some time for him to get fully comfortable, but I expect him to be a huge part of this offense in 2019 and beyond.
The Eagles matriculated the ball down the field after the Goedert penalty, with the biggest play coming at the hands of Agholor on a slot fade down the left sideline for 42 yards. That helped set up this game-tying touchdown to Sproles.
This touchdown was set up, I believe, by the Eagles' lone third-down conversion of the game, a completion to Ertz on the opening drive. On that play, Ertz came in motion just before the snap. Goedert is running a shallow cross, taking the linebacker with him in coverage. The running back, on that third-down play, runs to the flat and takes the safety. That creates a nice void underneath for Ertz to run into for a first down.
On this Sproles play, after the shift, you have a similar look. The ball is snapped and Goedert is running a shallow cross. Ertz looks like he’s running a slant and Sproles looks like he’s going to the flat, but then the routes change. Ertz breaks to the corner. Sproles shifts inside on a little Texas route. The void is there, Sproles takes the pass, and powers his way through for a touchdown.
The Eagles finally hit their groove offensively in the final hour of this game. We’ll see if it’s something they can build on for the final three weeks of the regular season.
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show 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 the Journey 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.