Philadelphia Eagles News

Eagle Eye: Fran Duffy shows how the ground game paved the way for the win in Buffalo

The Eagles got a much-needed win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon and there were a lot of fun takeaways in the victory. The big takeaways come from the run game, where the Eagles had statistically the best rushing performance in the Doug Pederson era against a team that came into the week as a top-10 run defense in the NFL.

The Eagles went into the locker room up by a score of 11-7 at halftime. The spark they needed to start the second half came from running back Miles Sanders on a 65-yard run to extend the Eagles' lead.


There are a few things I love about this play design. First, the Eagles caught the Bills in their nickel package by lining up in 21 personnel (two backs and one tight end). The Eagles lined up in this look last week against Dallas (with both Sanders and Jordan Howard on the field) three times, and threw it twice. They lined up once earlier in the game, as you can see in the clip above, and actually threw it that time as well. The trick of having two halfbacks in the game at once is to make teams respect the run. Sanders' touchdown will go a long way toward doing just that.

This is a simple "lead" play from the split gun formation. Quarterback Carson Wentz is in the shotgun with the backs flanking him on each side. Howard releases immediately up to the second level and blocks the playside linebacker. Center Jason Kelce blocks the backside linebacker. The other four offensive linemen account for the four defensive linemen one-on-one. This leaves the down safety, who has to respect Wentz's ability to keep the football. All of this across the board allows this play to hit. When Sanders reaches the third level of the defense, he lays on the gas and explodes to the end zone for the longest play of the season for the Eagles' offense.

As Pederson alluded to after the game, the Eagles actually ran the same play earlier in the game. It was a Run Pass Option where Wentz saw a matchup on the perimeter pre-snap with Bills cornerback Tre' Davious White (5-11) against wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (6-2) in press coverage. Wentz decided to attack downfield instead in the low post, but the pass fell incomplete.

The trick of two-back sets when you have two ballcarriers in the game is to try and get teams to respect the run. Most often, teams in these sets are trying to create favorable matchups in the passing game. The Eagles hit tight end Dallas Goedert for a touchdown last week against the Cowboys after he was matched up with a linebacker. Just like in 12 personnel (two tight ends), however, balance is crucial to prevent it from being predictable. The Eagles showed this week that they can create big plays from 21 personnel as well as they do from their 12 personnel set.

The run game was a huge part of the win for the Eagles, especially in the second half. As the Eagles continued to mount their lead, and with the weather being what it was, everyone in the stadium knew the Eagles would be relying on their backfield to win the game. The problem for Buffalo? They couldn't stop it.

The Eagles were in their four-minute offense early in the fourth quarter, grinding the clock down with a physical, downhill run game to eat up precious time off the clock. In order to do this, you not only have to have a specific mindset from your ballcarrier (Howard), but great performances up front from the offensive line and the tight ends. To a man, I thought each one of them showed up in a big way -- Andre Dillard, Isaac Seumalo, Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Zach Ertz, Goedert. These guys ALL had impressive blocks in this game, driving defenders off the ball, into the linebacker's lap, or to the ground.

It was a really fun game to watch from that standpoint. I can't possibly post each one of these blocks, so just try to soak in all of the blocks you see in some of these run plays in this piece. The Eagles made the score 31-13 with that 14-play, 83-yard drive that ate up over eight minutes of game clock. Pederson said after the win that it was the best drive of the season. The run game was a huge part of that grinding possession that took the heart of the Buffalo defense.

Before we get to the team's third-down success, the screen game was effective on second down. The Eagles ran seven screens against the Bills, and three of them went for over 10 yards. Some went to backs, some went to receivers, and others went to tight ends. It was a big part of the win.

Why were the screens successful? The Eagles found a way to lift the second-level defenders in zone coverage. This was clearly done on purpose by the coaching staff. The best way to remove those zone coverage defenders wasn't by trying to block them, but by running vertically and carrying them away from the action. This creates a huge void underneath once the pass rush moved upfield. Even if these plays didn't result in first downs, they set up third-and-short situations that were converted by the offense, which brings me to the success on third down.

The Eagles leave Week 8 as the second-best third-down offense in football. On Sunday, they converted at a 53-percent clip (8-of-15). What does it take to win on third down? Success on first and second down is certainly a contributing factor. The Eagles rank 12th in the NFL right on third-and-6 or more yards right now, but there are some other things to consider as well.

I thought the Eagles had some well-scripted plays on third down to give Wentz some crisp, easy throws to move the chains. The best offenses in football do this, and with the use of stacked sets and pre-snap motions to create space for talented playmakers in the open field, Wentz just has to get the ball out quickly and accurately to allow his teammates to make a play. These layups helped move the sticks and allowed the team to get in position to put points on the board.

The other X-factor on third down was Wentz using his legs, as he was able to drive knives through the hearts of the Bills' defense multiple times on Sunday by making plays outside of structure. All year long, Wentz has done a really good job of understanding when to take off, when to check down, and when to try and bide time for his receivers to separate downfield. On Sunday, with that wind, he relied on his feet to make plays when creases opened up, and he made Buffalo's defense pay.

One of Wentz's biggest plays came early in the third quarter. Buffalo scored a touchdown that cut the Eagles' lead to 17-13 and momentum teetered on the brink of going either way. How would the Eagles respond? On the first play of the drive, Wentz dropped back and delivered a teardrop throw down the left side to Jeffery, who executed a double move on a sluggo route to beat the corner and win downfield.

After the game, Wentz explained how that play was set up by something they saw in the first half. I don't know for certain, but my guess is that it happened on the third series. The Eagles came out in the same personnel group (12 personnel) and in the same formation (closed with both tight ends on the line of scrimmage and both receivers on the same side). Levi Wallace, the corner over Jeffery, attacked the slant HARD on this RPO play. I believe the Eagles saw that and knew to attack him out of a similar look later in the game.

The last two players I want to highlight are the tight ends, Ertz and Goedert, because both had a huge impact on this game. Ertz continues to have his best season as a blocker, and hit on several key blocks in the game to help spring both Howard and Sanders. He also came up with a big-time catch to set up another Eagles touchdown in the red zone.

Goedert continues his strong play as well, not just as a blocker but also as a receiver, particularly in the red zone, where he came up with another important touchdown late in the first half. Goedert leads the Eagles with six go-ahead or game-tying touchdowns since he entered the league.

On Monday, the Eagles traded a future draft choice to the Cleveland Browns in return for second-year pass rusher Genard Avery. The former fifth-round choice was a hybrid linebacker-pass rusher during his college days at Memphis. He was an outstanding athlete who could win off the ball and threaten the corner as an edge player. His skill set led to him playing a key role for the Browns as a rookie, when he racked up 4.5 sacks as a rotational player in subpackages. His skill set fits well here in the Eagles' attacking scheme. I can't wait to watch him continue to develop with some of the young pass rushers who are already here. First thing to know about Avery, though? His athleticism, and how he uses it to get after the quarterback.

That athleticism also carries over to some of the things the Eagles do schematically. The Eagles have varied up their pressure packages this year, with different fronts and alignments to create one-on-one matchups and the use of stunts and twists to get rushers free. Avery will be really valuable in those types of schemes because of his movement skills.

Lastly, just watching Avery, one of the major things to watch is his motor. I love this kid's play personality. When you watch Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, they're constantly chasing plays down from behind. It's one of the things I love about Josh Sweat and Vinny Curry and Derek Barnett as well. Avery will fit right in with that group because of that mindset.

Avery is a fun player who, for whatever reason, couldn't get on the field in Cleveland's new scheme this season, but the Browns' loss is the Eagles' gain. I'm excited to see how quickly he can make an impact here in Philadelphia.

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.

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