Sunday's win over the Arizona Cardinals was a complete team victory, with all three sides of the ball making huge plays in the game. I'm going to look at the defense tomorrow, and I'll jump on special teams later in this piece, but let's not bury the lead. This was a statement game for quarterback Carson Wentz.
I thought he had one of his best performances as an Eagle last week against the Chargers, and he followed that up with a great outing on Sunday that included four touchdown throws, making him the youngest quarterback since Donovan McNabb to throw for four scores in a game. Let's take a look at those plays and see how they happened.
Carson Wentz's Touchdown Throws
Anytime a team can start a game off with three straight touchdowns on offense, it is going to put itself in position to win the game. The Eagles got a number of key third-down conversions on their opening drive, their first possession of 10 or more plays on the afternoon, and found themselves in the red zone. It was the same part of the field where Wentz threw his first career touchdown pass in the NFL, and he hooks up with tight end Trey Burton on the same exact route - the slot fade.
Shot 1 - Wentz's 1st TD came on a staple route of the #Eagles offense, the 'Slot Fade'. Great design and great touch from Wentz in red zone pic.twitter.com/YY0pGP6lvR — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 9, 2017
Torrey Smith lines up outside and just turns to face the quarterback which makes the cornerback a non-factor on this play. This gives Burton a ton of space outside the numbers to run and, more importantly, for Wentz to drop this football in. Burton gets a great release against linebacker Deone Bucannon, and Wentz puts the ball on target to put the Eagles up 7-0.
The defense gets a stop on the ensuing drive, and Kenjon Barner busts a long punt return (complementary football) to put the Eagles back in the red zone for their next drive. Wentz caps it off with a touchdown to another tight end, his go-to target in Zach Ertz.
Shot 2 - 2nd TD came from 13 personnel. Play is designed to get Ertz on an island vs safety. Ertz physical thru route and wins at catch pt pic.twitter.com/hsgVX9jM5K — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 9, 2017
The Eagles come out in 13 personnel with one back and three tight ends on the field. This is a run-heavy look from the offense. With LeGarrette Blount in the backfield on third-and-6, the Cardinals have to respect the run. A play-action fake holds the linebackers and the routes begin to develop.
Brent Celek, lined up as the No. 3 receiver, runs a shallow crossing route, taking away a linebacker from the throwing lane. Burton, lined up as the No. 1, goes to the flat. This creates a wide window for Wentz and Ertz to work.
The Cardinals are a big man coverage team, which means that this would be a "matchup game" for the Eagles. The Eagles like the matchup between Ertz and safety Tyvon Branch, especially in tight quarters. Ertz runs a great route, breaking outside initially before cutting back inside. He crosses the safety's face making himself available for Wentz. The quarterback sticks this throw right between the numbers right in the face of a free rusher, and Ertz does the rest for a touchdown. This was a great combination of gameplanning by the coaching staff, execution in situational football, and winning the one-on-one matchups.
On the next drive, the Eagles have the ball late in the first quarter and face a third-and-5. Before the snap, the Cardinals have a bit of an overload look on one side. Wentz's mind takes over. He changes things up at the line of scrimmage and gets into a new play, a Mesh concept underneath that should open up a receiver for a first down.
Shot 3 - Shallow safeties vs #Eagles 'Mesh' concept opened door for Wentz to attack deep. Great route from Torrey & protection by JP/Lane pic.twitter.com/mZheyX5mJ7 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 9, 2017
Smith lines up on the outside, and he's not really a part of the progression when it comes to the Mesh. The Cardinals are in quarters coverage. Wentz realizes he has a chance at a home run with the safeties playing so shallow downfield. Smith runs a beautiful route, stepping on the defender's toes, and breaking toward the post. Wentz fires a line drive right into the Smith's mitts, and the veteran does the rest on his way to the end zone. The end zone angle allows fans to get a real appreciation for the offensive line. Both tackles do a great job riding their defenders around the hoop, and the interior of the line holds the integrity of what is a pristine pocket for Wentz.
On Wentz's final touchdown to Nelson Agholor, everything really comes together. There are a ton of positive takeaways for the offense on this play. It's third-and-19. The Eagles call one of their staple vertical shot plays, the Dagger concept, which is usually meant to hit an in-breaking route at around 15-18 yards in the middle of the field for a big chunk of yardage. That wouldn't be the case on this play, however.
Shot 4 - #Eagles burn Cover 0 blitz w/ great concept. Agholor runs by Budda Baker; great job tracking deep. Great block by Kelce; takes 2! pic.twitter.com/7lbDwIyJNj — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 9, 2017
The Eagles recognize that pressure is coming from the Cardinals before the snap. Wentz sees it, as do the receivers. Arizona sends a Cover 0 blitz at the Eagles, meaning there's no safety help in the middle of the field. When Agholor sees that the slot corner over him is coming, he realizes that he's going to be matched up man to man with a safety who is lining up over 15 yards away from him. That's a hell of a running start for a vertical threat like Agholor, and he does a masterful job of tracking the ball over his shoulder and making a play with the ball in his hands.
In Cover 0, the defense is always going to be rushing more defenders than the offense can block. For that reason, the quarterback almost always is going to have to get the ball out quickly. Wentz, fortunately, doesn't have that unblocked defender because center Jason Kelce displays outstanding awareness, blocking the extra man coming from the deep part of the field and occupying two rushers. This allows the rest of the offense, including Barner (who makes a great block across the formation against the DB originally lined up over Agholor), to win their one-on-one battles. Wentz steps up to deliver a beautiful deep ball for a score. On that play, all 11 players needed to execute to reach the end zone, and that's exactly what happened for a huge play.
Success On Third Down
The Eagles' final three touchdowns all came on third down and were a part of Wentz's outstanding day in that situation. The second-year quarterback finished 11-of-12 (91.7 percent) for 225 yards (18.8 average) and those three scores on Sunday, including nine first down conversions and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. It's the second time this season Wentz posted a 158.3 passer rating on third down in a single game (season opener at Washington). The Eagles now rank No. 1 in the league this year on third down, a remarkable feat that can be pointed to as one of the main reasons for their early-season success.
When you look at what the Eagles do on third down compared to a year ago, it's not as if they've completely remodeled what they do schematically. The Eagles are running similar plays compared to what they did in 2016 (when they finished 20th in the league at 37.9 percent), but execution across the board is so much better. That combined with the maturation of Wentz and the success has skyrocketed.
Shot 6 - Wentz was 11-of-12 on 3rd down for 225 yards and 3 TDs vs ARI. #Eagles lead NFL with 53.4% on 3rd down. Outstanding improvement. pic.twitter.com/gQ8InQGntG — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 9, 2017
This is just a simple bang post from Ertz, where he wins his matchup against Branch and crosses his face for Wentz to deliver an accurate ball to move the sticks. The Eagles ran this often last year in third-down situations. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn't. Here, the Eagles convert and it helps keep a drive alive that gets the Eagles on the board to start the game.
Shot 6 - #Cardinals are in 2-Man Coverage w/ Peterson over Alshon. Goes for 2-hand jam (w/ safety help), Alshon sneaks by for 1st down pic.twitter.com/25x3FE5l5Z — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 9, 2017
Later in the drive, the Eagles line up in a similar formation, another 3x1 set with Alshon Jeffery to the boundary this time. The Cardinals are in Cover 2 Man (which is probably my favorite coverage in football), and Patrick Peterson lines up over Jeffery. The All-Pro cornerback tips his hand a bit here, showing that he's going to go hard at Jeffery at the snap. Why? Because in Cover 2 Man, corners are typically coached to be more aggressive in press coverage because even if they get beat at the line they are taught to play trail coverage underneath with a pair of safeties high in the deep part of the field. Here, Jeffery avoids the jam and makes himself available quickly for Wentz and the two connect for a first down.
Shot 7 - Great use of RPO on 3rd down. LB gets sucked in, Wentz throws it around DE to Marcus Johnson right on numbers to move the chains pic.twitter.com/uW9N6dJEA3 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 9, 2017
This is a quick RPO (Run-pass Option) on third-and-1 where Wentz has the ability to hand this ball off to Corey Clement or throw a quick pass to Marcus Johnson on a slant route. The linebacker gets sucked in on the run play. Wentz pulls the handoff and puts this ball right on Johnson's chest to move the chains.
Shot 8 - Great job by Agholor settling into the soft spot of Cover 3. Check out Peters / WIsniewski passing off stunt too #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/q3OeIIiGi2 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 9, 2017
Here's a third-and-8 throw from Wentz that is made almost completely by Agholor out of the slot. He runs a curl route right at the sticks against a Cover 3 zone. The underneath defender is right in Wentz's line of vision. Agholor slyly shuffles into a more favorable passing lane, and Wentz hits him for the first down. Both the quarterback and the receiver are on the same page on what really ends up being somewhat of a second-window throw. Don't overlook the great pass-off in protection from tackle Jason Peters and guard Stefen Wisniewski as the Eagles get another big play on third down.
One of the last things I noticed about the incredibly successful day on third down? The Eagles' average distance-to-go on third down was 8.3 yards! Whether it was penalties or sacks or negative runs, they were behind the sticks way too often but still found a way to execute when it mattered against the Cardinals.
Learning On The Run
It wasn't all perfect for Wentz, as he threw his first downfield interception of the season against the Cardinals late in the first half down in the red zone. The Eagles ran a version of the Switch concept, what was ultimately a Post Wheel combination, where rookie Mack Hollins lined up outside and ran a deep post and Ertz (the intended target) ran an out-and-up route down the sideline.
Safety Antoine Bethea makes an outstanding play for the interception from the middle of the field. Wentz probably shouldn't have been as aggressive in that area of the field in that situation. The Eagles could have scored three points going into halftime and then got the ball back again to start the third quarter. However, there's one small detail that I believe helped lead to this interception.
One of the reasons why this concept is so effective against single-high coverages is that the post route can hold that safety in the middle of the field. The safety shouldn't be able to make a play on that route from Ertz because he has to feel threatened by Hollins. The Arizona cornerback does a nice job of staying on top of the rookie. Instead of getting a hard inside release, Hollins works further upfield and allows the safety to shade more towards the sideline. For that reason, he's able to make an easier play on the ball for the pick. I'm not going to put that play completely on the rookie receiver, but I think it was certainly a contributing factor. However, Hollins has put some good things on tape so far this season.
Shot 10 - Mack Hollins continuing to do little things right. Last couple of weeks has stood out as a blocker and a route runner #Eagles pic.twitter.com/gbWStClhAi — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 9, 2017
Here is an example of a great route and a strong block on the perimeter from Hollins, who continues to do the little things both on offense and on special teams.
Every week it seems like Jason Peters is making one outstanding block after another, whether it comes on a double team where he works with a teammate to just crush a defender or if he's working out in space. The seemingly ageless wonder continues to impress, as he always has throughout his career.
Shot 11 - Continue to be amazed by Jason Peters. Has been on a tear. Great job getting two defenders on both of these runs. All-time great. pic.twitter.com/U6FuEP4ZWw — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 9, 2017
These were two run plays that eventually came back due to penalties, but in two plays he blocked four defenders with authority. I love watching this man play.
Special Teams Sets The Tempo
No matter if it was on kickoff coverage, punt return, or on field goal block, the Eagles' six special teams units all came through in a big way against the Cardinals. It seemed like every time the offense transitioned to the defense or vice versa, the third phase of the game was helping to set the tempo of the ensuing drive. One of the biggest plays happened early on, a long punt return by the "new" old Eagle, Kenjon Barner. There's a lot to take in on this play, with several Eagles doing a lot to help break it open, but let's take a look at a couple of standouts.
Shot 12 - Lot of great stuff on Barner's long PR. Love Mack Hollins' effort & great job by 2 jammers as well, Corey Graham & Dexter McDougle pic.twitter.com/Pg23nU6wnv — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 9, 2017
At the bottom of the screen on the sideline angle, the two jammers do a great job at the snap of the ball. Safety Corey Graham gets the gunner out of bounds and then peels off, doing a great job of creating a seal for Barner later in the return. Dexter McDougle finishes the gunner downfield and does a nice job not drawing a flag, staying hip-to-hip with the opponent. Chris Maragos did the same thing right at the first cut along the sideline by Barner. I love the hustle displayed by Hollins on this play as well, as he runs the full length of the field in coverage and then serves as an escort for Barner after he cuts back across the field.
Barner did a great job all afternoon of making the first defender miss as a returner, and that's really all you can ask him to do in that role. The ideal target for most punt return teams is 10 yards, because you just picked up a free first down for your offense. Typically, if a returner can make one man miss, he can pick up that first down.
Barner finished with three returns on the day, averaging 36.7 yards per return. This was obviously helped by the 76-yarder, but even if you take that out, his two returns for 34 yards were good for 17 yards per touch. My guess is Dave Fipp would take that every time!
Shot 14 - Chris Maragos and the entire STs balled out on Sunday. Set the tempo for both offense and defense every time they took the field pic.twitter.com/biNmJV55c7 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 9, 2017
The kickoff coverage unit seemed to go into this game with a plan. After watching Jake Elliott boom kicks deep into the end zone all season long, he put the ball right around the goal line early and often in this game, giving the Eagles' coverage team a chance to go downfield and make a play. Chris Maragos and company obliged with a ton of high-energy reps. I love seeing the physicality and emotion from this unit every single time.
Shot 15 - Malcolm Jenkins helps set up Pat Robinson's FGB. Wing can't lay a finger on PRob because of Malcolm's effort. Big hit on KO too! pic.twitter.com/35Dx2xNBLS — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 9, 2017
The other "big play" on special teams came courtesy of Patrick Robinson with a field goal block late in the first half. The veteran corner flew around the corner and got a paw on the ball for a big play. This started with Malcolm Jenkins, however, who flew inside to try and block this kick. He threatened the wing player's inside gap so hard, that he couldn't get a finger on Robinson. Jenkins also had a huge hit on kickoff coverage to boot. It was great to see the special teams come out strong on Sunday afternoon.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. 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.