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Eagle Eye: Close Not Enough For Offense

An ongoing theme this year in these day-after pieces has been the small margin of error that is associated with winning and losing football games. Everyone has heard the Al Pacino "Game of Inches" speech from Any Given Sunday. That cliché that is as old as the game, but it's one of those sayings that truly does stand the test of time.

Perhaps it's because of where I am in my own understanding of the game of football. Or maybe it's due to the fact that the Eagles have been in so many close games this year. It could be a mix of both, but when it's all said and done though, every drive, every game, every quarter of a season, every 16-game stretch can be narrowed down to a handful of moments that impact the outcome.

On some of those plays, you tip your cap to the team lining up across from you. If a team lines up in a certain formation to try and dictate a certain coverage and then they beat that coverage, that's a great job. That's what game planning comes down to. When an elite talent makes an outstanding play on either side of the ball in one of those game-changing moments, those are things you can live with. The toughest pills to swallow, however, are the self-inflicted wounds - the unforced errors you commit in key moments that impact the end result.

Whether it's jumping offsides on third-and-long, which gives the opposing team another shot to convert, or it's lining up incorrectly and taking a touchdown off the board or a foolish penalty that brings back a big play on special teams, you can't make too many of those errors against a quality opponent on the road and expect to win the game. Winning in the NFL is hard to do, which is why they say "no win is a bad win." Getting burned by plays that are within your control are the ones that hurt the most at the end of a loss.

One of the biggest takeaways for me from this game, and it's certainly been a staple for the Eagles' offense all season long, was the use of the tight end group. Once again, all three players - Brent Celek, Zach Ertz and Trey Burton - were used in a variety of ways, leveraging their skill sets in the best possible way to move the football downfield. It started on the very first play of the game on offense.

Shot 1 - Trey Burton and the TEs were a huge factor on Sunday for #Eagles. Beats a cornerback on the opening play for 14yds and a first down — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 21, 2016

It's first-and-10, and the Eagles come out in 12 personnel with one back and two tight ends on the field. One of the tight ends, Burton, lined up to the right in a closed formation and motioned outside before the snap. He was matched up against a cornerback, which is typically not a good situation from an athleticism standpoint. Burton, with his receiver movement skills, is able to separate on a quick slant and, with his tight end size, is able to keep the defender on his back for a first down off this 14-yard pickup.

Shot 2 - #Eagles run Cover 3 beater to left side, #Seahawks take it away. Wentz smartly goes backside to Celek for 19yd gain to set up TD — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 21, 2016

Two series later, the Eagles are driving late in the first quarter trailing by a 6-0 score. It's second-and-9, and Pederson calls a clear Cover 3 beater to the left side with a version of the Post Wheel with Bryce Treggs running a post route and Nelson Agholor running a wheel behind it. Seattle defends this play, perfectly, and Wentz recognizes it immediately. He reacts by getting the ball to his backside option on the play in Celek, who wins in the middle of the field and picks up 19 yards for a first down. That was a great job by Wentz of reading what the defense had eliminated from the progression and immediately getting to the safer option.

Shot 3 - Great concept out of 13 personnel for TD. Wentz checks from Stick Nod (Celek) to Pivot (Ertz). Wentz takes what D gives him #Eagles — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 21, 2016

Two plays later, the Eagles come out in 13 personnel and run a fantastic concept for a touchdown. The initial read on this play for Wentz is the Stick Nod route from Celek, where he fakes outside as if he's running a stick route only to break downfield toward the post. The Seahawks take that throw away, but underneath of it there was a void in the coverage. Ertz ran a pivot route, pretending to run to the flat before breaking back inside, right into that hole for a touchdown. Wentz again did a great job taking what the defense gave him, getting to his second read for a score. Credit Ertz as well for stretching out over the goal line to secure the touchdown.

Shot 4 - Outstanding design on a pivotal play of the game. Screen to Ertz, great blocking from Big V and Kelce. Comes back due to a penalty — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 21, 2016

On the very next series, Pederson dialed up another play for his versatile tight end, this time with a double screen. This would prove to be one of those moments I talked about above, a pivotal play that came back due to a misalignment from Agholor. This was still a masterful play design and a great call in the situation, as the Eagles send Darren Sproles in motion to the wide bunch set to the left. Ertz, the lone receiver to a "closed" formation on the right, pretends to block before turning and taking this screen pass.

What's the No. 1 rule for a successful screen play? You have to block the defender responsible for the intended receiver, and that's up to right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who drives the linebacker upfield. Center Jason Kelce releases into space, and his athleticism is put to good use as Ertz races away from the rest of the Seattle defense (all of the defenders who didn't bite on the backfield action with Sproles), and it goes 57 yards for what would've been a game-tying touchdown (before the extra point attempt) with six minutes left in the half.

This play came on the drive immediately after Jimmy Graham's long touchdown catch that was only possible thanks to an offsides penalty the play before on third-and-long. If the defense had held on that drive and if this play had counted, you're looking at a potential score of 14-6 in favor of the Eagles heading into the half. Instead, the Eagles punted the ball back to the Seahawks, who would kick a field goal to make it 16-7.

Shot 5 - @ZERTZ86 had one of his best games as a blocker vs #Seahawks to go with big catches. Active as a chip blocker and in the run game — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 21, 2016

Ertz was very active in the passing game as a receiver, but I thought that he had one of his best all-around games as an Eagle because of his effort as a blocker as well. I pulled two examples of him as a "chip" blocker in pass protection (it could have been more) and I loved seeing his effort on this perimeter run to Wendell Smallwood on the final play above. A "versatile" tight end isn't truly versatile unless he can block, and Ertz has progressed in that area every year he's been in the NFL.

The Eagles probably didn't run the ball as much as they would've liked after losing both Sproles and Ryan Mathews to injury, but I thought they ran it well against a Seattle front that was pretty stout along the line of scrimmage and had two ferocious linebackers at the second level. The Eagles once again attacked the defense in a number of ways on the ground, and their first-down rushing totals, while not as high as they were a week ago against Atlanta, were still high quality. The Eagles ran 14 times for 67 yards on first down against the Seahawks, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. They ran for more than 5 yards four times, and the more you can do that and stay on schedule as an offense, it sets you up for very manageable third-down situations. With six games left on the schedule, this will be imperative moving forward if they plan on making a playoff run.

Shot 6 - Key to great zone run is play of guards and center, and #Eagles get that here with reach block from Kelce & 2nd level blocks at G — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 21, 2016

One of the longest runs of the day was this 18-yard scamper by Mathews, a Split Zone carry to the left. Focus on the play of the guards, Allen Barbre and Brandon Brooks, as well as Kelce, who executes a perfect reach block here to get this play going. Kelce is able to out-leverage the nose tackle and block him outside in, while Barbre and Brooks both make plays to cut off defenders at the second level as Mathews takes this run out of bounds.

Shot 9 - #Eagles averaged 4.8 yards per carry on first down vs #Seahawks. This 'Zone Weak' play is about as well-blocked as you can ask for — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 21, 2016

The Eagles got another 18-yard run off another zone concept, this time just a run to the weak side away from the tight ends. This is about as clean as you can draw it up from a blocking standpoint. Vaitai stretches the front side, Brooks gets to the playside linebacker clean, Kelce again reaches the nose tackle, Barbre blocks the backside linebacker and Peters cleans up the 3-technique. Smallwood picks up a huge gain on second down on this play on a perfectly blocked scheme by the Eagles' offensive line.

Shot 7 - Not sure we've seen this exact Counter scheme with both the backside G (Brooks) and T (Vaitai) pulling. 11yd gain on first down. — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 21, 2016

That play happened on first down, and so did this one, an 11-yard run by Kenjon Barner. This is a version of the Counter play I don't believe we've seen from the Eagles this year, where both Brooks and Vaitai are the pullers from the back side with counter action from Barner in the backfield. The Eagles were once again able to mess with second-level defenders' keys in the run game thanks to various forms of misdirection and backfield action, whether it was the fake screens, blocks across the formation from the tight ends or counter steps from the backs, as was the case on this play.

Shot 8 - Great design by #Eagles; brought this play back from last week. No need for Kelce to block NT as he pulls to play-side LB on Draw — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 21, 2016

We saw this play debut last week and the Eagles busted it out again. A simple draw play from the Eagles goes for a nice gain on first down, with Barbre pinning down on the nose tackle and Kelce pulling play side for the linebacker as a lead blocker for Barner. This is a well-designed play because instead of asking Kelce to block the nose tackle over top of him, he can use his athleticism to his advantage by getting out in front as a lead blocker on a linebacker. If the Eagles can continue to run the ball at this rate, it will serve them extremely well as the elements come into play in the last six games of 2016.

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.

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