Eagle Eye: Offense Struggles At The Most Inopportune Time

I took time on Monday to review what happened defensively in the team’s loss to Carolina, so now it’s time to look at the offense. The unit finished with just 17 points, but possessed the ball extremely well and controlled the flow of the game through three quarters. The Eagles put up zero points on the final three drives. Most importantly, they couldn’t get first downs when they needed it most, especially in the four-minute drill scenario. Let’s look at the positives from the first three quarters followed by how the game ended.

The tight ends were extremely effective in this game. Zach Ertz continues to be extremely productive at every level of the field as he finds multiple ways to win in space. Dallas Goedert continues to impress with everything he does, as he found the end zone again but was also effective both vertically and in the screen game. The rookie also has been a standout blocker through the first half of his first NFL season.

ALL OF THE VIDEO CLIPS FEATURE AUDIO ANALYSIS FROM FRAN DUFFY

The Eagles have two mismatch players in the middle of the field with Ertz and Goedert, players who are too athletic for linebackers and too big for safeties to handle in space. I also love the ways the coaches have used both tight ends together to make things easy for Carson Wentz before the snap. Here’s what I mean.

The impact of having guys like Ertz and Goedert not only helps Wentz, but it also makes it harder for teams to key in solely on Alshon Jeffery on crucial plays, meaning on third down or in the red zone.

At the snap, the Panthers have what appears to be some kind of extra attention toward Jeffery. The Eagles move Goedert to that side and the Panthers change their coverage up, deciding to "double" Ertz in the slot instead. Any lesser tight end would not command that kind of attention. This creates the one-on-one scenario for Jeffery, who abuses cornerback James Bradberry with his route and wins for a touchdown. This is also a phenomenal example of the Eagles' coaching staff understanding how opponents will react to their various shifts and motions to help get answers to Wentz before the snap and create room to work for their pass catchers in space.

Alshon has been outstanding so far since his return from shoulder surgery. He has a big test this week against Jalen Ramsey and the Jacksonville secondary, but I find it difficult to imagine a scenario where he’s not going to get his catches. Whatever the coaches ask him to do, Alshon comes through. His ability to win above the rim in contested situations, as a route runner, or even after the catch has been fun to watch this year with his numbers being as high as they’ve been.

Now let’s get to the fourth quarter. The Eagles got the ball back up 17-6. They proceeded to drive down the field before getting just shy of the 50-yard line and being forced to punt. On the next drive, this time up 17-14, they went three-and-out to give the Panthers the ball back with plenty of time on the clock. How did those drives stall out? Two words -- Luke. Kuechly.

On second down on the first drive, Kuechly "green dogs" off the running back in pass protection. He’s responsible for Corey Clement in man coverage. When Clement stays in to block, Kuechly doesn’t just sit back and become a spectator. He has the green light to blitz and insert himself into the rush. Announcers will often refer to this as a "delayed blitz," but really it’s just the linebacker reading the running back or tight end he’s responsible for and then taking off after the quarterback. Kuechly closes in on Wentz and wraps him up for the sack.

On the next drive, Kuechly sniffs out a screen pass on second-and-8 to force third-and-long. The screen game had worked out really well for the Eagles in this game. They hit the one to Goedert that I previously detailed, a good one to Nelson Agholor, and a long one to Wendell Smallwood that came back on an unfortunate holding penalty. The Eagles went back to the screen here and Kuechly brought it back for a loss, forcing third-and-long and an eventual punt.

Here’s the final drive, with the Eagles down by four and in need of a touchdown.

It started with a bang thanks to a pass interference penalty on Jeffery down the field, a great play call against the Panthers' coverage.

Wentz nearly throws an interception after a miscommunication with Ertz in the middle of the field. After an 8-yard run by Smallwood (which Wentz audibled to before the snap), the critical third-and-2 play comes up.

Wentz starts to his left on a high-low concept. Once he sees the cornerback sinking deep to take away Ertz’s corner route, Wentz comes back to the middle of the field. Could he have checked down to Smallwood? Probably. I’m sure if you ask him now, he’d like to have that back. But at the same time, we applauded his ability to keep plays alive and create down in the red zone last week against the New York Giants with his touchdown pass to Jeffery to start the game.

When you have quarterbacks who push the limit and are willing to make tight-window throws, sometimes you’re going to come up short. This one just happened to come at the most inopportune time. That brought up fourth down. Wentz drops back. He starts to his left, hoping to hit Ertz. His tight end is doubled, however, and he has to get back to the middle of the field to Jeffery. As soon as Wentz goes to deliver the football, he’s hit. The offensive line, which had protected Wentz well for a large majority of the game, broke down against a simple two-man stunt up front. Game over.

The Eagles' offense showed plenty of good and then some bad. The latter just happened to come at the worst possible time. I’m excited to see how they rebound this week against a Jacksonville defense with talent at all three levels of the field.

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.

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