After examining the Eagles’ 10-sack performance against the New York Jets, I want to now look at the offense's performance in Sunday’s win.
The Eagles jumped out to a 7-0 lead on the opening possession after a nine-play, 53-yard drive that ended with this Jordan Howard touchdown run. While that run, on its own, was impressive, it doesn’t happen without two key plays on the drive. Let’s look at all three moments to kick this piece off.
ALL OF THE VIDEO CLIPS FEATURE AUDIO ANALYSIS FROM FRAN DUFFY
In the last three weeks, Howard has reached the end zone five times (four rushing, one receiving), making him the first Eagles running back to do that since LeSean McCoy in 2011. This touchdown came courtesy of a Jumbo package from the Eagles, with seven offensive linemen on the field along with both tight ends. The pivotal blocks on that play came from Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Lane Johnson, Dallas Goedert, and Jason Kelce, who helped escort Howard into the end zone.
Howard had a big 15-yard run earlier in the drive on one of the Eagles’ staples on the ground, the Split Zone run. A version of Inside Zone, this concept calls for zone blocking up front with a tight end, typically Goedert, coming across the formation to block the backside edge defender. Goedert gets a great block here, but give a lot of credit to Kelce and Brandon Brooks for getting great movement at the point of attack, creating a lane for Howard to cut up through for a first down.
That near-disaster down in the red zone still boggles my mind. Carson Wentz is in the shotgun, and the snap goes by his head and 25 yards into the backfield. I guess that 95 percent of quarterbacks would jump on the football in that position, bringing up second-and-goal from about the 30-yard line. Instead, Wentz scoops it up, turns, and finds a pursuing Mack Hollins, throwing the ball at his feet for the best incompletion Wentz will throw all year. The Eagles likely don’t score on the opening drive if Wentz just chucks this out of bounds and gets an intentional grounding penalty. That was an outstanding heads-up play to keep the Eagles alive and provide a fast start.
The run game was once again a big part of this win. While some runs came off the board due to questionable calls, I thought it was important to look at the play of the offensive line in this matchup.
Not only are there a couple of different run schemes in there, but there is some outstanding movement against a pretty stout front seven. The Jets entered Sunday’s game with a top-10 rush defense in the league, and the Eagles were able to pound the rock at times throughout this game. Brooks continues to be a monster in the trenches, and Johnson continues to prove himself as arguably the top right tackle in football. Those two form what is far and away the best right side of any offensive line in the entire NFL.
Howard ran the ball well in this game and, as Doug Pederson said on Monday, he will likely get the majority of the carries moving forward (as he’s done each of the last two weeks). Miles Sanders is still going to continue being a part of this offense, particularly because of what he can do in the passing game as both a blocker and a receiver.
Rookie running backs tend to take time adjusting to the league as pass protectors. Not Sanders. He’s stepped right in and excelled in that area. While he doesn’t have a highlight block like THAT every week, he certainly has more than held his own throughout the season as a blocker.
As a pass catcher, Sanders continues to be a big-play weapon. The Eagles used him to decipher whether or not the Jets were in man or zone coverage on his 36-yard reception. After figuring out that they were defending man-to-man on that play, Wentz threw a wheel route to the rookie down the sideline for an explosive gain. That was Sanders’ third 30-plus-yard catch of the season, the most by a rookie running back through his first five games since at least 1991.
Lastly, tight end Zach Ertz reached the end zone for the first time this season, one of two highlights for the veteran on the day.
Howard’s block on the magician-esque play from Wentz on that third-down completion to Ertz was something else. Howard started with his eyes to the right on the linebacker at the second level. Once he saw that he wasn’t coming, his eyes came back left. No blitzers came from that direction. Rather than bail and run to the flat, he gave one more check to the right, saw rookie first-round pick Quinnen Williams knifing into the backfield on a stunt, and got just enough of him to keep him from hitting Wentz clean. That grazing block gave Wentz the extra millisecond he needed to duck the contact, keep his eyes up, and deliver that throw on a rope to hit Ertz on a dime for a first down. Awesome play all around.
Ertz’s touchdown came just before halftime and gave the Eagles a three-score lead heading into the locker room. What I love most about the play was that it required a full-team effort to happen. First, Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor helped point out the blitzer from the slot. This allowed Wentz and the offensive line to adjust the protection, sliding in that direction to keep Wentz clean. Wentz knew that the middle of the field would be open on the Cover 0 blitz, and got the ball out quickly for the score. That was a great way to "burn the blitz," particularly in the red zone. The Eagles are now tied for fifth in the NFL in red zone touchdown efficiency (68.4 percent), reaching the end zone on 13 of 19 trips inside the 20-yard line. When you pair that with a third-down offense that, at 52.9 percent, ranks second in the league, this is a unit that is being very efficient and making the most of their scoring opportunities despite missing their vertical threat in DeSean Jackson.
This was not a great performance from the offense when it was all said and done. Penalties (fair or not) derailed multiple drives. Sloppy play kept things from getting going at an acceptable rate. But a win is a win, and the team needs to learn lessons this game taught them and take it with them for a tough matchup in Minnesota.
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.