The Eagles' offense had a familiar look on Sunday against the Colts with Carson Wentz back under center for the first time in nine months. Fans around the NFL were so excited to see him return to the field, and he did not disappoint.
The Eagles opened the game in hurry-up fashion, with Wentz commanding a 13 personnel grouping that featured Nelson Agholor as the only receiver. Corey Clement rotated with Wendell Smallwood at running back on the opening drive. Your three tight ends were Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, and Josh Perkins.
There were a lot of benefits to opening up this way. First off, the ball came out of Carson’s hands quickly. He wasn’t going to get hit on the opening drive, things were well-defined for him, and he could just rack back and throw. Doug Pederson mixed in a variety of quick throws, perimeter runs, and run-pass options (RPOs).
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Here are a few takeaways from those shots above.
The usage of 13 personnel can definitely create favorable one-on-one matchups in space. Perkins outside the numbers in man coverage against a linebacker? That's stealing. Goedert towering over a safety? Easy money. Ertz running routes down the seam against pretty much anyone is a cause for concern defensively. The matchups that get undersold, however, happen in the run game. With three tight ends on the field, the defense is going to counter with its base package. In this case, three linebackers on the field mean less team speed. The Eagles have one of the most athletic offensive lines in football. They’re already in an up-tempo mode and have the defense on its heels, and they’re able to just beat the defenders to spots on the perimeter for big plays. The unsung hero in the run game on Sunday, however, was Goedert. The rookie was a mauler in the run game, and it started on the opening drive. Thankfully, he was rewarded quickly.
The Eagles marched down the field in 12 plays, mixing things up along the way as they matriculated the ball, moved the chains, and got into position to put the ball into the end zone.
The Colts bust this coverage, there’s no question about it. I think part of that is the formation the Eagles line up in, with three eligible receivers to the short side of the field. It appears to me that everyone on the defense is playing Cover 2 ... except for the safety to that side, who is trying to play Cover 3. That leaves a void down the seam, and Goedert and Wentz are on the same page for an easy six points. Credit Wentz for doing what he needs to do to keep the other safety, Malik Hooker, away from the passing lane with his eyes on the touchdown pass, his first of the year.
Let’s get back to Goedert in the run game though, because this guy was just mauling people as a blocker. Remember when that was a question mark for him coming out of South Dakota State? The preseason was a good omen for his development in that area, but through three games (and especially this last one) that looks like it will not be a problem for him moving forward.
Goedert was effective in everything he was asked to do as a blocker, whether it was on defensive ends, linebackers, or safeties. He gave great effort, blocked with proper technique, and showed the ability to get movement quickly at the point of attack. It was awesome to watch.
Goedert was very, very rarely asked to block in college, so many assumed he couldn’t do it in the NFL. It reminds me of last year, when many assumed Clement couldn’t catch because he wasn’t used as a receiver at Wisconsin. Let that be a lesson for us moving forward when projecting players to the NFL. Just because a player wasn’t asked to do something in college doesn’t mean he can’t do it in the future. If the traits and, more importantly, the willingness to succeed are there, then the future should be bright. I’m excited about Goedert and his role in this offense.
The tight ends were extremely involved in this game outside of just the opening drive. The Eagles played 64 percent of their snaps (55 out of 86) in multiple tight end sets against the Colts. They were in 13 personnel on 28 plays and in 12 personnel (two tight ends) on 27.
One area where the Eagles were able to attack Indianapolis was in the Colts' various zone coverage concepts. The Colts love to sit back in Cover 2, and they did it a lot in this game. The Eagles knew that, and as long as they were able to protect Wentz, he was able to attack the voids in the coverage.
These are two reps of the Eagles against Cover 2, and on both plays Wentz is able to hook up with his tight ends for first downs.
The play design on the first snap is pure gold. With a YY formation (both tight ends lined up next to each other on one side by themselves), the Eagles show Indy two clearly defined strengths of the formation. To the tight end side, this is a "run" strength. To the two-receiver side (at the bottom of the screen) you have the "passing strength." The Eagles were expecting Cover 2, and that’s exactly what they got. One of the keys to this play working is that the Eagles know, that in Cover 2, the middle linebacker will open up his hips to the passing strength. Watch him at the snap, as he drops back and turns his hips to the bottom of the screen. He won’t be a factor on any routes behind him to the offensive left side.
Now, the Eagles just have to take care of the safety over the top. That’s Goedert’s job on this play. He has to run right at the safety and take him away, and he does that by attacking downfield and breaking to the corner. The other underneath defender is held by the running back’s action in the backfield and, voila, you have a huge void over the middle of the field down the left hash. Ertz runs a post route for 28 yards and a first down. That just shows a great understanding of defensive tendencies and how to attack them.
Another area of weakness in Cover 2 is what I like to call the “Turkey Hole”, the soft spot in zone coverage over the cornerback and under the safety along the sideline. On the second play, Goedert runs another corner route here, right into the Turkey Hole, and Wentz hits him for a first down after initially looking at the running back underneath (just to hold the corner for a split second).
Speaking of play design and attacking zone coverage, it doesn’t get much better than what the Eagles did on this second quarter pass to Wendell Smallwood down the field.
Now I’m going to break this down alongside Amy Campbell later this week on the Eagle Eye in the Sky video feature, so keep an eye out for it, but this is a play that took the NFL by storm a year ago. We saw it with guys like Kareem Hunt and Todd Gurley running free down the seam for long plays in the passing game, as offenses continually attacked single-high coverages with the concept all season long.
The play starts with a Jet Sweep action in the backfield. This gives the defense some eye candy and holds those linebackers in place for a beat at worst, or takes them to the sideline at best. Then, you have the outside receivers. They’re running vertical routes with mandatory outside releases. They have to get outside because they need the corners looking at the sideline, not at the middle of the field. Next, you get a deep over route from the tight end. This route is designed to take away the post safety in the middle of the field. Smallwood releases down the seam and runs for daylight into a giant void in the defense. The play works perfectly as he gets downfield for a huge 34-yard completion to set up a field goal for the Eagles' offense. Great design and execution for Pederson and Wentz on that play.
With Wentz, the biggest question was going to be how he would look both physically and mentally after the injury. Would he look as fearless in the pocket? Would he process things as quickly? Would he hang tough under pressure and make tight-window throws in clutch situations? Would he break the pocket and make plays with his legs? To me, he passed all of those tests with flying colors.
Several times, Wentz had to break the pocket and create with his feet, and in big spots for this Eagles offense. He was sacked five times, but Wentz here kept three plays alive and either picked up the required yards with his feet or stayed up to deliver the ball downfield for conversions. I saw what I needed to see from him in terms of his health in this game. The Eagles' patience with Wentz certainly paid off!
The Eagles wrapped up this game with an extremely long drive, a 17-play march that ended with this touchdown run by Smallwood. This play was helped by a great double-team on the backside by Ertz and Jason Peters, as they created the crease for Smallwood to hit downhill for a score.
Was Wentz perfect? Was the offense spotless? No. This was a sloppy game in the rain without several key playmakers at the skill positions with the starting quarterback making his debut against a young, hungry defense and a coaching staff that had a good bead on what the Eagles may try to do schematically. Wins are hard to come by in the NFL, and the Eagles left the Linc on Sunday with one. I’m excited what they’re able to do with another week of prep this week down in Nashville.
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.