The Eagles stayed alive with a last-second win over the Houston Texans, and there were a lot of big takeaways from the victory from an Eagles perspective.
One concept that was prevalent throughout the game was the Mesh concept, a play that has worked for the Eagles for a long, long time. Here’s how it works and how it opened things up for the Eagles in this meeting with Houston.
ALL OF THE VIDEO CLIPS FEATURE AUDIO ANALYSIS FROM FRAN DUFFY
Nick Foles was 4-for-5 passing on this pass play, including the 37-yard touchdown to Darren Sproles. What I love most about it was that Foles hit all four different progressions over the course of the afternoon. He hit the wheel route, he hit the sit route, and he hit both crossers. Not only does that show off an efficient afternoon from Foles, but it also shows all of the ways that this play concept can work for an offense. The Eagles went back to this play late in the game, and Foles targeted Sproles out of the backfield, but the pass fell incomplete.
Foles was great in this game, and in my opinion was much better than he was last week against the Rams in that upset victory. He was efficient, he was poised, he moved well in the pocket, and he made big throws when needed. This was one of the best performances of his career, and that showed up in the stat sheet. Foles threw for a team-record 471 yards, breaking Donovan McNabb’s 14-year record from that memorable Sunday night victory over the Green Bay Packers back in December 2004. The 471 yards were the second most by any quarterback in the league this year outside of Patrick Mahomes’ big day (478 yards) against the Rams a few weeks ago in prime time.
That wasn’t Sproles’ only reception of the day, though. Here are three more of his touches, including a 31-yard catch on a wheel route from Foles in the second quarter. This was a perfectly executed "rub" concept on third down, where Alshon Jeffery did an outstanding job of creating a pick for Sproles without initiating contact (and drawing a flag). Foles hit Sproles for one of his third-down completions to move the chains. Sproles was efficient as a runner as well, looking decisive in the hole and finding space to work against one of the top run defenses in the NFL.
Sproles posted the most receiving yards (76) in a single game since Week 3 of the 2016 season against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and here’s a bit of irony for you. That fourth-down catch on the Mesh play above? That was the longest fourth-down touchdown catch for the Eagles since Pro Football Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins caught a shovel pass from Brian Mitchell for a 57-yard score back in 2002. The opponent that day? The Houston Texans.
Foles wasn't the only player with a record-setting day. Zach Ertz set the single-season receptions record by an NFL tight end on the first play of the second half. As has been the case all season long, Ertz created space on his own as a route runner, made tight catches with defenders on his back, and was freed up thanks to creative play concepts from the Eagles' coaching staff.
Exiting Sunday’s win, Ertz now has 113 catches, again an NFL record by a tight end in a single year, after reeling in 12 passes on Sunday. That was his 10th career game with 10-plus catches, which happens to be a franchise record. The former second-round pick now also ranks third all time in franchise history with 434 receptions, trailing only Harold Carmichael (589) and Pete Retzlaff (452).
Ertz’s legendary season continued on Sunday, putting to bed any narrative that the offense couldn’t – or shouldn’t – successfully run through him as a primary pass catcher. This offense is going to feature the tight end, not just this season, but for years to come. Ertz is a big part of that, as is Dallas Goedert. Here’s an example of what that can look like.
The Eagles tied the game on this third-quarter drive with a handful of plays in a row utilizing 13 personnel (one back, three tight ends). By spreading the defense out in an Empty set, the Eagles dictated to the Texans what coverage they had to play. No defense wants to take linebackers and put them out in space in man coverage, so the Texans were forced to play Cover 2, and the Eagles attacked it, creating this 52-yard catch by Jeffery. Expect plays like this from the Eagles moving into 2019 and beyond. When you have versatile players like Ertz and Goedert at that position, these are the things you can do.
Later in the third quarter, the Eagles regained the lead when Foles hit Nelson Agholor for an 83-yard touchdown.
This play was another example of the Eagles attacking the Texans’ coverage schemes. This is what is commonly referred to as "Bracket" coverage from the Texans, where they double-team Jeffery on the boundary, and essentially play with three defenders over two receivers inside – with two safeties and a linebacker lining up on top of Ertz and Agholor. This is a matchup zone coverage concept, so if you run both of these receivers vertically, it essentially becomes man defense. Ertz runs across the field, taking one safety away. Agholor flies down the field on a deep post route, matched up against safety Tyrann Mathieu. This is the matchup the Eagles wanted. When Foles has an idea that this coverage is coming pre-snap, he sets up the play.
Agholor actually finished as the team’s leading receiver in this game thanks to that play with a season-high 116 yards, the second-highest total of his career. It was the longest pass play not only for Agholor or Foles, but for any Eagle since 2010 when Michael Vick hit DeSean Jackson for a 91-yard touchdown catch against the Dallas Cowboys. Both Agholor and Jackson had the same touchdown celebration.
These are my three favorite plays from the Eagles on that game-winning drive. The first was the big-time throw from Foles to Jeffery on third down backed up in their own end. This is a Dagger pass concept, with Jeffery running a deep dig. What makes this even more impressive is that Jordan Matthews, who is supposed to clear out the middle of the field with a vertical route, gets jammed up at the line of scrimmage. He can’t clear it out, and in fact is right at the catch point with his defender. That created more of a crowd for Jeffery to work through, and Alshon still came down with the huge catch. Never mind the throw, where Foles had a former No. 1 overall pick in the explosive Jadeveon Clowney cruising down the A gap at him, delivering a huge blow into his chest cavity, a hit big enough to sideline Foles temporarily. Foles stood tall, delivered, and made a huge toss for a first down.
Foles came out for a play, but he returned and hit Ertz for a third-down conversion on a deep out-breaking route. This wasn’t Foles’ best throw of the day, but it was a great adjustment from the tight end, pirouetting to reel this pass in along the sideline to move the chains and stop the clock.
Lastly, on second down, head coach Doug Pederson called a draw running play to Sproles, who had three big men out in front for a 16-yard gain and a first down. This got the Eagles into the red zone and set up the game-winning kick from Jake Elliott.
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.