With the arrival of the first preseason game, many people, both fans and media alike, were anxious to see a lot from the Eagles. How would defensive end Derek Barnett look in his first live action? Well, I’ll cover that in a couple of days. How would the corners look against another team’s wide receivers? There’s some news on that front, which I’ll hit on in this space tomorrow. My focus here is on the most important player in Eagles green, or white last night, quarterback Carson Wentz, and the pieces that surround him in this offense.
Head coach Doug Pederson put the ball in Wentz’s hands early with a rollout to the right, where he dumped a quick pass off to Jordan Matthews in the flat for an easy completion to get the season started off right. The second-year quarterback faced third-and-2 just shy of midfield after two running plays. Green Bay has already shown that it is prepared to send pressure, and Wentz was ready for it on this play.
Shot 1 - Wentz sees a blitz coming pre-snap, calls for a route adjustment & gets the OL to slide that way, resulting in a 1st down #Eagles pic.twitter.com/O07ImQaW3m — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) August 11, 2017
One big theme from Thursday night was that the Packers sent a ton of pressure defensively, mostly off the edge. This was just the second pass of the night, but Wentz read the pressure before the snap. He pointed to Matthews that his man was coming on the blitz, instructing him to cut off his route and be ready for a quick throw. At the same time, Wentz ensured the protection was slid in that direction, with Lane Johnson picking up the nickel corner to help create a quick, efficient throw for a first down. That’s the type of Quarterback 101 play that you want to see from Wentz as he heads into his second season.
Four plays later, the offense faced fourth-and-6 inside Green Bay territory, and Wentz made his first "wow" play of 2017.
Shot 2 - Great job by Wentz keeping his eyes downfield under pressure, executing an off-platform throw, and getting a first-down on 4th-&-6 pic.twitter.com/iGkBMrSkj8 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) August 11, 2017
Tight end Zach Ertz was lined up to the near right, and he’s going to run straight down the seam, creating a void in the middle of the field. Matthews ran a crossing route into the void, and Wentz faced pressure right in front of him as he prepared to throw. He withstands a little bit of contact, but stayed poised, keeping his eyes downfield and staying under control. Wentz pulled the trigger and made a throw from an awkward platform - something every quarterback has to do at one point or another in this league - netting a completion for a first down between the numbers. Keep a close eye on LeGarrette Blount as well, sticking his face into a blitzer and blocking him through the end of the play. Two Blount runs later, and Wentz would throw his final pass of the night, the one that got everyone excited for the start of 2017.
Shot 3 - #Eagles play of the day. 'Post-Cross'. Torrey Smith takes the top off. Wentz evades Clay Matthews. Mack Hollins stiff arms for days pic.twitter.com/jIE0ZrnmP4 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) August 11, 2017
This was a post-cross concept from the Eagles, a very common vertical pass play that is prevalent in most offenses in the league. The basic idea is to put the free safety in the middle of the field in a bind. If the safety jumps down on the dig route (run by Mack Hollins on the right), then the post will be open for Torrey Smith on the left. The safety stayed home, creating a gaping hole in the middle of the field. The Packers run a three-man stunt up front, creating a free run at Wentz for linebacker Clay Matthews. This isn’t Johnny Anonymous coming down the pike at Wentz, it is one of the most ferocious defenders in the NFL. Wentz showed off his athleticism, again keeping his eyes downfield and delivering this throw to the rookie, Hollins, who makes a great play after the catch, running through one tackle and stiff-arming a second defender with authority on his way to the end zone. It was an outstanding play by the Eagles' offense, and (hopefully) a good sign of things to come with this new-look unit.
Shot 4 - Not the only impressive play for Mack Hollins on the night. His competitiveness shows up in everything he does, including his YAC pic.twitter.com/OqynHcuXzA — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) August 11, 2017
One of those newcomers is Hollins, the fourth-round pick from North Carolina. At 6-4 and over 220 pounds, the senior receiver was billed as the best special teamer in all of college football over the last two years. His abilities as a receiver seemed almost secondary. He was very productive before he broke his collarbone last fall as one of the top deep threats in the nation. Hollins showed off some of that same competitiveness that makes him such a great special teamer after the catch, making a defender miss and scooting down the sideline for the score.
Hollins flashed last night, but so did another young receiver who was on the roster in 2016, Bryce Treggs. The speedster from Cal made an incremental impact as a rookie, but he has come along in all areas of his game with an offseason’s worth of work with new position coach Mike Groh. That hard work showed on Thursday night.
Shot 5 - Another young WR who stood out was Bryce Treggs. Still explosive and has improved as a route runner; he has had a good camp #Eagles pic.twitter.com/aEs3ZRvOEu — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) August 11, 2017
Whether he was working vertically or creating separation in the quick game, Treggs had a good showing on Thursday. He also laid one of the biggest hits of the game with a crack block in the first quarter. The technique was not perfect, but you got to see his competitiveness and willingness in the run game that I do not remember seeing a year ago.
I also saw the willingness to do the little things as a blocker from another undersized Eagles skill player - rookie running back Donnel Pumphrey.
Pumphrey didn’t have the greatest game, with some struggles in the kicking game and a fumble as a ball carrier, but I thought the biggest thing from him came on a play in the second quarter when Matt McGloin stepped up to throw.
Shot 6 - REALLY wanted to see this from Pumphrey. Technique is not perfect, but willingness to stick face in the fire vs a Cross Dog blitz pic.twitter.com/EnlWLZfIFz — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) August 11, 2017
The Packers sent a cross dog blitz at the Eagles, with two inside linebackers crossing as they attack the A gaps, right up the middle of the protection. Is the technique perfect here by the rookie? No. But I absolutely love the willingness to do the dirty work and step up into the teeth of the rush and deliver a blow to a free defender. If Pumphrey is going to turn into more than just a gadget-type of player in the NFL, he needs to be able to block. This was certainly a good sign in that department for his future. He wasn’t the only one who stood out in pass protection against the Packers.
Corey Clement, going back to the state where he played his college ball, also stood out in a number of ways. The undrafted free agent back ran hard on Thursday night, made a couple of defenders miss when given the opportunity, created a play in the passing game, and most importantly showed up in protection. I really liked the first block, because he shows the ability to scan the defense and pick up the extra rusher. On the second, he helps clear a throwing lane on the quick pass to the right which resulted in a completion.
The big thing to remember during the preseason, and this goes for all three phases, is that the scheme is not just secondary. It’s almost tertiary in importance to the other things we see on the field. Coaches want to see their players play fast which shows they’ve got the talent, but also understand their role and responsibilities so well on any given play that they aren’t thinking, and that they’re giving top effort. Despite the final outcome, I think you saw a lot of both from the Eagles' offense on Thursday night.
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.