The Eagles' offense was missing some key parts in the season finale against the Dallas Cowboys, but there were a lot of takeaways from the game as the team moves into the offseason.
First off, the performance of Zach Ertz was a good way to go into 2017 as he continued to build off of a strong second half of the season. Ertz posted a season high in catches (13), yards (139) and touchdowns (2) against the Cowboys. He was the first Eagle since Keith Jackson in 1988 to post at least 10-100-2 in a single game. The fourth-year tight end finished the season as the team's leader in receptions (78), just three behind the team record for a tight end (Jackson with 81) and ranks fifth in the league amongst other players at his position. Considering that Ertz did all of this after he missed two games due to a rib injury, it was a very impressive campaign for one of the Eagles' offensive leaders. So how did Ertz come up with the biggest performance of his career? Let's go to the tape to see how it went down.
On his first catch against Dallas, Ertz did something that he's been really working on improving throughout the year, and that's making defenders miss with the ball in his hands. He does just that off a delayed release on this first-down grab.
Shot 2 - Nice route by Ertz out of the slot; Wentz hits his TE - the 2nd read in progression - to move the sticks on 3rd down #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/WulyLAJbjc — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) January 3, 2017
Later on the opening drive, the Eagles faced third down and Ertz lined up out wide. He motioned into the slot pre-snap and ran an over route across the field. Quarterback Carson Wentz began his progression to the left, saw that route was taken away, and got inside to Ertz immediately. Wentz hit his tight end in the numbers for a big gain and a first down. Give props to Ertz on the route as well, as he created separation downfield at the top of his stem.
Here's Ertz's first touchdown of the game. The tight end shakes Byron Jones at the line of scrimmage with a quick outside stem before breaking upfield and working inside on the slant route. It was a play that was eerily similar to a play where he and Wentz couldn't connect on an interception against the Washington Redskins a few weeks back. While that was against a slightly different coverage and a defender that aligned inside of him, it was good to see both the quarterback and the tight end on the same page to get the Eagles on the board a few weeks later.
Here's another example of the two being on the same page. The Cowboys send a blitz from the left side, and both players see it early. Ertz cuts off his route and sits down quickly. Wentz knows where his hot route is, and the offense burns the blitz for a near first down.
Shot 5 - Ertz's 2nd TD came on 'Bash' concept; a 3-man high-low read for QB. Ran same play earlier for incompletion; connect on 2nd throw pic.twitter.com/yhWb7ylpBH — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) January 3, 2017
Wentz hit Ertz for his second touchdown on this 20-yard catch later in the game. This is a play that I know as the Bash concept, which plays off of the All-American Smash concept of a simple high-low read for the quarterback. Once Wentz knows that the cornerback outside is in man coverage, he knows that the outside corner and the defender over Ertz will not be able to impact the throw. The quarterback floats this pass into the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. The Eagles actually ran the same play earlier in the game, but Ertz flattened the route out a bit too much because he was disrupted early in the down. Doug Pederson saw that the play was there to be made, so he went back to it later in the game for six points.
This was one of my favorite plays in the game, as weird as that may seem, because it illustrates one of my favorite parts of Pederson's offense. He consistently wants to pair his best run plays with play-action concepts off of it, whether they are quick game throws or deep shot plays. The Eagles have called plenty of one-back power in the run game, and that's what this looks like at the snap of the ball. Guard Brandon Brooks pulls from right to left, and the Dallas linebackers are all thinking "run." This is a pass all the way, however, as Wentz has a clear throwing lane over the middle to hit Ertz for a first down. Plays like this are examples of what I think Pederson's offense will look like in 2016 when the passing game and running game are working on all cylinders.
Ertz was also productive in the screen game, one area where he's had some plays taken off the board throughout the 2016 season (think back to the Seattle game where a long touchdown was taken away by a penalty). The Eagles hit Ertz twice in the screen game against the Cowboys for big plays. First, a run fake to the right helped generate defensive flow. Watch tackle Jason Peters out in space along with Brooks at the second level. On the next play, a fake bubble screen to Byron Marshall helped create the same idea, as Isaac Seumalo and Peters both get out in space and do damage to create room for Ertz to move the chains downfield.
Shot 8 - When you have an athletic OL like the #Eagles will have in 2017 you can be very creative in the screen game. Expecting that next yr pic.twitter.com/FjfTDfs3yl — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) January 3, 2017
The screen game is not just a way to get Ertz the ball, but the running backs see the fruits of that as well. Here, Darren Sproles catches a pass from Wentz for a first down, and watch the blocking at the next level as Jason Kelce and Brooks release into space to help create a running lane.
Shot 9 - Rookie RB Byron Marshall showed position versatility Sunday; lined up often in the slot. Nice first down grab here on 2nd-and-1 pic.twitter.com/5ta9I7xNtr — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) January 3, 2017
We all know what Sproles can do in space, as he's been one of the most productive receiving backs in the history of the NFL. Marshall showed that he can also be an asset in the passing game. Here, he lines up in the slot and wins for a first-down catch on second-and-1 where you see the quickness on this speed cut to move the sticks. That was his only big completion of the day, but he left some big plays left on the board as well.
Shot 10 - Some missed opportunities for Marshall in the passing game. I think he can turn into a nice piece in #Eagles backfield in future pic.twitter.com/QqfIr2trQx — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) January 3, 2017
Here are some missed opportunities for Marshall in the passing game. These are two great play designs by Pederson and the coaching staff. First, a Mesh concept helps get Marshall matched on a linebacker, but the running back and Wentz are not on the same page. Whether Wentz overthrew Marshall or Marshall throttled down too quickly, the pass was out of his reach for an incomplete pass. Later in the game, Marshall was flanked outside and matched up against a linebacker. Watch the former college receiver win downfield on a vertical route. This could've been a big play, but Wentz went elsewhere with the football based off what he saw before the snap. Marshall now has film of him getting in space to learn from as he begins his first offseason here in Philadelphia.
Shot 11 - Some really impressive runs from Byron Marshall in this game. Great job setting up blocks - which were also strong from #Eagles OL pic.twitter.com/0R1Lk9gr7f — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) January 3, 2017
The rookie from Oregon displayed patience and decisiveness as he set up his blocks from start to finish and looked much calmer and collected throughout the game. Marshall's lateral quickness and short-area burst also came in handy, but watch the athleticism of his teammates up front as well. Whether it was the collection of draw plays or zone runs from the Eagles, linemen were out in front of the rookie to seal up blocks throughout the second half against the Cowboys.
Shot 12 - Again, more impressive blocks from #Eagles OL but I thought Terrell Watson ran really hard vs Dallas. Worth a look this offseason pic.twitter.com/rmvB14MPde — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) January 3, 2017
The other young rusher we saw in action was the newest Eagle, Terrell Watson. The former undrafted free agent from Azusa Pacific was added to the practice squad late in December and was called up to replace Ryan Mathews (Injured Reserve) on the roster for this game, and he came through with some late carries. Watson ran really hard, showing a level of physicality and competitiveness that's needed for backs with his frame and skill set. In the four runs above, including his first career touchdown, you see his ability to get downhill both between the tackles and out on the edge. Watch him accelerate through contact and deliver blows as a ball carrier. Will Watson be a feature back in Philadelphia? That's probably not in the cards. However, he did show that he is worthy of a look moving into the offseason as the team works to develop into a playoff contender in 2017.
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.