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Eagle Eye: Quite Simply, A Marvelous Play Call

The first win streak of 2018 is here! Looking back at the film from Monday night’s win over Washington, there are a lot of the reasons why the Eagles were able to come away with a decisive victory. They ran the ball well, controlled the clock, and kept Washington from converting on third down.

Let’s start this piece, however, with the man of the night – tight end Zach Ertz. The veteran set a new single-season team record for catches (93 and counting), passing the previous number of 90 set by Brian Westbrook back in 2007. Let’s start this off with some shots of Ertz from the game, then get into a few more of his superlatives heading into this week’s game.

ALL OF THE VIDEO CLIPS FEATURE AUDIO ANALYSIS FROM FRAN DUFFY

When you look at Ertz and his off-the-charts production this year, it comes down to three separate factors in my opinion. First, you have his relationship with Carson Wentz on the field, as the quarterback clearly has full trust and faith in Ertz to win both before and at the catch point. That showed up on the very first play from scrimmage for the Eagles, where Wentz pulled the trigger early on a throw inside the numbers, threading the needle between defenders, and squeezing that ball into his Pro Bowl tight end. Second, you have the scheme, as Doug Pederson and his coaching staff have done an outstanding job of creating space for Ertz to navigate in the intermediate area of the field.

That showed up on the 20-yard catch above, as the coaches created a huge void in the middle thanks to complementary routes from Dallas Goedert and Josh Adams out of the backfield. So many of Ertz’s catches come without contact at the catch point and that’s a credit to the coaches and their ability to attack opposing coverages. Last, and certainly not least, you have to love Ertz’s abilities as a route runner, where I’ve argued for the last two seasons that he’s the best route-running tight end in the league. I'm not alone in that assessment.

Ertz now has 983 receiving yards on the year, placing him second all time on the single-season list for Eagles tight ends behind only Pete Retzlaff’s 1965 campaign. Retzlaff’s mark of 1,190 yards is certainly attainable at Ertz’s current pace. Ertz’s 93 catches are tied for 13th most by a tight end in NFL history in a single season, and he’s just seven receptions short of becoming the fourth tight end ever to hit the century mark in one year (a list that includes Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez, and Dallas Clark). The Pro Bowl tight end also passed Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome for the eighth-most receiving yards by a tight end in their first six seasons.

The other pass catcher who caught my eye in this win was the newest Eagles receiver, Golden Tate, who caught all seven of his targets on the night (eight if you include the two-point conversion), including his first touchdown with the team. Let’s look at a handful of those targets.

Tate led the Eagles in receiving yards against Washington on Monday night in what was easily his most impressive outing in midnight green. Tate looked like a seamless part of the offense, getting worked into the passing game in a number of different ways while also providing Carson Wentz with a safety valve underneath on multiple occasions.

Watching the film from Monday’s game, one of the biggest takeaways for me was how the Eagles attacked Washington’s man coverage concepts. The go-to way for them to do that was with multiple "rub" concepts. This was a theme from the opening drive and it carried through to critical scores late in the game.

These plays are legal. If you’re not initiating contact beyond 1 yard of the line of scrimmage (though some refs will give teams wiggle room within 2 or even 3 yards), you have every right as a receiver to run your route and look for the football. If your route just happens to get in the way of a defensive back trailing a receiver running in space? Well ... that’s the name of the game. These concepts are great quick-hitters and are a pain for man coverage teams. So, keep an eye on them this week against Dallas as well.

Now, let’s shift the focus to the run game, which has clearly been a point of emphasis for this Eagles offense the last two weeks. Josh Adams ran for a career-high 85 yards (the highest by any rookie since Bryce Brown in 2012) on 20 attempts, averaging 4.3 yards per carry against Washington. Adams ran hard, as did Corey Clement and Darren Sproles, but we must give a lot of love to the guys blocking for those backs in this game.

The offensive line was downright dominant at times up front, moving around a Washington defensive front that, to be frank, hadn’t been moved like that all season (at least not in the games I’ve watched). On the right side, Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks delivered some devastating double teams at the point of attack. On the left side, Jason Peters joined up with tight end Dallas Goedert to get great movement as well. Isaac Seumalo had one of his best games as a starter and was consistent from start to finish. Jason Kelce did a great job as well, particularly so on one play in particular.

On Sproles’ touchdown run, Kelce delivered the key block, getting up to the playside linebacker and riding him downfield to keep Sproles clean. This was a Sprint Draw play, where the offense had a bit of a pass look right at the snap, as Jason Peters dropped into a pass set and tried to work the pass rusher upfield to create a lane for Sproles. Kelce got the first linebacker. Ertz got the backside linebacker. Those are the three key blocks to help spring the back. Then both receivers, Nelson Agholor and Jordan Matthews, did a great job of working downfield to help get him into pay dirt. Credit Sproles as well, as he made the decision about 5 or 6 yards out to just stick his head down and plunge into the end zone, forcing his way in for a touchdown.

One of my favorite parts from this offensive performance was the use of play-action against Washington. The Eagles, like all good offenses, execute run plays from various looks, but then match up their best play-action passes or screen passes with those same run looks. So, if you call a run play on the opening drive with Agholor lined up as a wing and coming across the formation to block someone on the back side, you can call a play-action pass with Agholor doing the same action. Those things keep defenses off balance and help create chunk plays in the passing game. The Eagles gained 436 total yards in this game, the fourth-highest mark in the regular season during Pederson's tenure, and they converted 7 of 13 attempts on third down.

Agholor was a huge part of the Eagles' run game on Monday night. He was used very often as a "wing," lined up slightly off the line of scrimmage offset from the tight end. That’s a credit to the effort he plays with in the run game, and it also allowed him to be used in a variety of ways either as an intended target or as the decoy in the passing game. I’m excited to see more variations of these plays moving forward. Agholor was rewarded with a deep passing play later in the game.

This play was actually one of my favorites in the game. Why? Because it was set up by what the coaches saw from Washington earlier in the drive. The Eagles came out in 12 personnel with one running back, two tight ends, and two receivers. Out of that set, they lined up in a YY formation, with both tight ends right next to each other on one side and two receivers lined up in a twin set on the opposite side of the field. Washington chose not to "travel" its corners against this look, meaning that one cornerback remained over the athletic tight ends while safety D.J. Swearinger stepped down to cover Agholor in the slot.

Once the Eagles' coaches saw how Washington was playing against this look, they came back three plays later and attacked it, sending Agholor vertically down the field for a huge play in the passing game. Guess what? The Eagles lined up in that formation a couple of other teams later in the game ... and Washington's corners traveled, making sure that Swearinger was matched up on the tight end instead.

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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