The Eagles have played eight games of a 16-game schedule, and sitting at 4-4 are at a bit of a crossroads. At this stage of the season, entering a stretch that many onlookers consider to be the toughest of their slate and following up a three-game stretch against teams coming off the bye, wins are coming at a premium. The Eagles have not been able to finish at the end of games for a number of reasons.
Success and failure in the NFL, in both a micro and a macro sense, come with such a small margin of error. If you've followed my work for the last few seasons here, you've seen the countless reasons of why this is the case. Twenty-two players are moving at any given point on a field. If one of them blows an assignment, he may completely derail that play for his team, even if 10 others do their job. One misstep can mean failure in the NFL, and it's the case on every single play from scrimmage.
So how close have the Eagles been? Well, only four other teams (Dallas, Atlanta, Detroit and Seattle) can say that they have yet to lose a game by more than seven points. Of all the teams with four losses or more, the Eagles are tied with the lowest margin of defeat, losing four games by a combined 19 points (along with San Diego). "You are what your record says you are", Bill Parcells says, and the Eagles are 4-4. But with all of the circumstances surrounding this team coming into the season, including new schemes on both sides of the ball and a rookie quarterback in the starting lineup, lumps were to be expected as this team continues to "learn how to win," as the saying goes. Let's look at Sunday's loss and see what went right, and what wrong, against the Giants.
Shot 1 - Wentz's first INT, which starts with Kelce/Wis' feet getting tangled. Wentz tries to run, rushes throw to Agholor; overthrown INT. pic.twitter.com/Dx3n6okYv1 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 7, 2016
This is Carson Wentz's first interception that occurred on the opening drive of the game for the Eagles' offense. It's second-and-3 in the first quarter. This is a basic form of the Levels concept. Nelson Agholor runs a shallow cross and Zach Ertz goes out on a dig route from his tight end spot on the line of scrimmage. On the outside, a pair of stacked receivers run vertical, and that's where Wentz starts his progression.
The issue on this play is that Jason Kelce's left foot gets caught on Stefen Wisniewski's right leg, and the center trips backwards. This leaves a gaping hole for nose tackle Damon Harrison. Wentz feels that pressure right in his face, which causes him to run to the right, directly into the eyesight of defensive end Olivier Vernon, who disengages from Halapoulivaati Vaitai and bears down on the rookie quarterback. Wentz rushes the throw and misses high to Agholor, his second progression on the play, and the pass is intercepted. What started with two feet getting tangled results in a seven-point swing, as the Giants turn that turnover into a touchdown.
Shot 2 - #Eagles ran same exact play in third quarter. Clean pocket, Wentz goes through progressions and hits his 3rd read (Ertz) for 20yds pic.twitter.com/opEM70vhyD — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 7, 2016
Here's the same exact play again later in the game. It's second-and-8 in the third quarter, and the Eagles run the same exact concept. You have the vertical stretch from the stacked receivers outside, and the Levels concept inside from Agholor and Ertz. This time, the pocket is pristine for Wentz, who is able to go through his progressions cleanly. You can see his eyes go from the stacked receivers (1) to Agholor's crossing route (2) to Ertz's dig (3), as he hits his third progression on the money for a 20-yard gain and a first down.
With the interception, Doug Pederson said on Monday that Wentz "was out of the pocket and I felt like he didn't have to move. He could have stayed right there in the pocket and delivered the football, but those aren't necessarily mechanical things as they are just the way he reacted to a little bit of color or pressure in the pocket."
Now, you may ask, is this a concern moving forward? Is Wentz negatively affected by pressure? I'd answer that with a resounding no. On his second interception, Wentz made that throw with an offensive lineman basically in his lap. He couldn't fully step into the throw, but I love that he stood there with bodies around him and delivered on a deep in-breaking route. The throw just sailed on him (likely because he couldn't fully step into it). Those are things the rookie is certainly working through, and it's just another part of the process with the maturation of a young quarterback.
Wentz threw two picks in the first two drives, so how did Pederson respond? If you think he'd back down and try to take the ball out of his quarterback's hands, you'd be mistaken. I loved to see the aggressiveness here from Pederson on two plays to his athletic tight end, Trey Burton, to start the third drive.
Shot 3 - The first two plays after Wentz's second INT. Great play-action call to Burton off toss-action. Then Burton on a slant vs safety. pic.twitter.com/kBURcSpXun — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 7, 2016
On the first play, a deep corner route off toss-action in the backfield, Wentz hit Burton for a 32-yard gain. The Eagles ran a few toss sweeps the week before against Dallas, so throwing this play in as a change-up was smart by the coaches. Burton releases into space and Wentz hits him with a dart for a big gain. On the very next play, the Eagles stay in the same personnel grouping, this time with Burton in the near slot to the left. He runs a slant, and Wentz hits him in stride against a safety for an 11-yard gain and a first down.
Shot 4 - We'll all remember where we were for Bryce Treggs' 1st career catch. Great cleanup by Wis, good throw on comeback by Wentz #Eagles pic.twitter.com/wQ3xLLnWvn — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 7, 2016
On the very next play, the legend of Bryce Treggs begins. The Giants blitz from Wentz's right and he rolls left hitting the rookie receiver near the sidelines for an 11-yard gain and a first down. Treggs ran a comeback route on the play as the Eagles attacked downfield with a version of the Four Verticals pass concept. Don't miss the great cleanup block by Wisniewski on this play as he passes Johnathan Hankins off to Jason Peters, then looks for work and comes back inside to clean up Harrison as Wentz delivers this throw at the sticks for a first down.
Shot 5 - Wentz to Treggs for 58 yards. Ball travelled 59 yards in the air. 6 OL in the game. Treggs' vertical speed on display #Eagles pic.twitter.com/JW8bH2RHhr — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 7, 2016
Two series later, early in the second quarter, the Eagles got the ball off a New York punt and trotted out a 13 personnel package with one running back, Darren Sproles, one receiver, Treggs, and three tight ends. Except the third tight on this play was not Burton, as the Eagles instead brought out Matt Tobin to serve as an extra blocker in protection. This was a vertical shot play all the way, and with the speedy Treggs on the field, Pederson wanted to stretch the field vertically. The rookie wideout ran a deep post route against a safety lined up fewer than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. Ertz ran an out-and-up pattern that would've also netted a first down had Wentz decided to go that direction. The speed was too much for Wentz to pass up on, however, as he unloaded this pass for a 58-yard gain and a first down.
Treggs has been on this roster just over two months at this point. When he arrived, he suffered an injury setback that further delayed his development. Then you factor in the amount of time he needed to learn the offense. Remember, he's just a rookie. He played at Cal in Sonny Dykes' version of the Air Raid offense that features a wide-open passing attack. He started his pro career with Chip Kelly and the San Francisco 49ers. Treggs had a pretty steep learning curve getting adjusted to the terminology here in Philadelphia. At wide receiver, it's tough to even make a player active "just to run deep" because if another player at his position gets hurt, you need that rookie to step up and play full time late in a game. It took a few weeks for him to be able to earn the trust of the coaches to be ready to play. Now that he's ready, the coaches have seen enough for him to take on an expanded role in the passing game for this offense, as he brings a vertical element that they sorely needed.
That was a good ball from Wentz, but that doesn't mean that it was all rainbows and butterflies after the first two drives. The rookie had a couple of missed throws as well, and there were opportunities left on the field for this Eagles offense.
Shot 6 - Missed opportunity here for #Eagles. Great design by Pederson for Matthews beating zone coverage. Wentz pass falls just short of TD pic.twitter.com/FnZRe5Nevg — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 7, 2016
It's second-and-6. The Eagles are driving late in the first quarter. Wentz drops back in an empty set, and Jordan Matthews breaks free on a beautiful play design from Pederson. With Ertz running a route in the middle of the field, he crosses the safety's face, taking him toward the post. That opens up a huge void in New York's Cover 2 zone, and Matthews runs right through it. Wentz had to subtly slide in the pocket from pressure, so the ball comes out a hair later than he would've liked. He falls away from the throw just a tad, and the ball dies at the end of the pass for what would've been an easy touchdown.
Shot 7 - #Eagles first 4th down attempt. 6 blockers vs 6 defenders should equal 2 yards in the run game. Missed block at poa results in TFL pic.twitter.com/iRdHF4zf30 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 7, 2016
Two plays later, the Eagles face fourth-and-2, and Pederson keeps the offense on the field. This is your basic sweep play, except instead of the ball going to the running back, Wentz keeps it.
The reason why the quarterback run game is an effective scheme is because it, in essence, gets the numbers back in the offense's favor. As this play is run, there are essentially six Giants defenders to the play side. If Wentz were to just hand this off to Darren Sproles for a playside sweep, there would be six blockers for seven defenders. By running Sproles to the right and removing a defender from the box, there are now six blockers for six defenders, meaning that Wentz should have the ability to pick up 2 yards on the perimeter if everything is blocked up correctly. Unfortunately here, that is not the case. A missed pin block from Matthews on Jason Pierre-Paul forces Peters to pick up the defensive end. One defender comes free, as cornerback Janoris Jenkins flashes from the edge, forcing Wentz to stop his feet and ending the play in the backfield.
Shot 8 - #Eagles second 4th down attempt of the game. Double teams unable to work up to LBs results in no gain. Basic zone play gets 0 yards pic.twitter.com/2AZcman046 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 7, 2016
On their second fourth-down attempt later in the game, the Eagles had just 1 yard to go and run a simple zone play to the right. Rookie guard Isaac Seumalo is brought in as a lead fullback. The Eagles have two double teams on this play, and the doubles are drawn up to work to the linebackers at the second level. The first double team at the play side gets negated by Hankins at the line of scrimmage, forcing a cutback from Sproles. The linebacker on the back side comes in free for the tackle at the line of scrimmage because the backside double team is unable to work up to the second level.
Shot 9 - #Eagles third 4th down attempt of the game. Great throw by Wentz on 3 level stretch over the hook player in Cover 2 for first down. pic.twitter.com/zSsCaXcZB4 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 7, 2016
With the offense 0 for 2 on fourth down, facing fourth-and-9 from the 46-yard line, Pederson pulls the trigger and goes for it again. This time Pederson puts it in Wentz's hands as a passer. The rookie comes through in a big way with a dynamite throw against the Giants' Cover 2 zone.
This is a three-level stretch concept from the Eagles, where they use Treggs to take the safety out of the picture and basically high-low the defenders to the play side, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Coty Sensabaugh. The basic premise is to set bait underneath to draw the defenders closer to the line of scrimmage, creating a void behind them to run a receiver through. Agholor is the bait here, running a hitch route short of the first-down marker. Both Giants defenders, despite the fact that it's fourth down, bite on the hitch, creating a hole beyond the sticks for Matthews on his out-breaking route. Still, Wentz has to make this throw over defenders, and he does it with a beautiful touch pass to Matthews in stride for a first down. This conversion sets up a field goal to make the score 28-23.
The Eagles get the ball back thanks to a clutch interception by linebacker Jordan Hicks, and they get four cracks at a first down from the 17-yard line. Let's look at those four plays.
Shot 10 - 1st of 4 plays to end game from 17yd line. Cover 0 Blitz, Wentz throws this away immediately to play for another down #Eagles pic.twitter.com/DSQZc9Ca4Y — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 7, 2016
On the first play, Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo sends a Cover 0 blitz against Wentz (which he did multiple times in the game). Wentz throws this ball away to play it safe and play for the next down. Time is not a factor here. Wentz could've tried to burn the blitz and make a throw to one of his slant routes in the middle of the field, but he threw the ball away.
Shot 11 - 2nd Down. Well designed play from stacked set. LB Keenan Robinson works thru trash perfectly. Cover 0 blitz forces quick throw. pic.twitter.com/ca4JIEOM2n — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 7, 2016
On second-and-10, the Eagles go to an empty set. The Giants are again sending an all-out Cover 0 blitz against Wentz. This is a good play design by Pederson, lining up Sproles in the backfield behind Matthews in the slot. Linebacker Keenan Robinson, manned up on Sproles, works through this interference perfectly and is there to affect the quick throw from Wentz. Robinson played the best game I've ever seen him play in the NFL. He was extremely disruptive against the run and the pass on Sunday.
Shot 12 - Absolute killer. This is a screen for a TD if JPP doesn't make a great play to knock this throw down. Perfect call vs Cover 0 pic.twitter.com/Nr6WBgGxex — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 7, 2016
On third down, the Eagles again look for Sproles, this time in the screen game. Sproles leaks out to the left, and Wentz floats this ball up just as he's hit. Sproles, if he had gotten his hands on this pass, had two blockers out in front, and would've walked in for the game-winning touchdown. Pierre-Paul breaks the pass up to bring up fourth down.
Shot 13 - Final offensive play. Slot fade to J-Matt. Ball is just too far outside for the WR to make a play on the fade. Incomplete #Eagles pic.twitter.com/dGFYewnLYX — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 7, 2016
The final offensive play of the game, and they go to a slot fade route from Matthews. It was the right coverage for it (single high), and it was to a receiver who Wentz has a lot of faith in on these types of passes. The ball is just thrown a bit too far outside, away from where Matthews opens up for the pass. The two hit on a very similar route earlier in the game for a big gain where the ball was thrown on point for a first down. I was planning on showing that play, but this was from a similar spot on the field ...
Shot 14 - Same throw in similar part of field. Ball is thrown close enough inside for J-Matt to make play. Just didn't happen Sunday vs NYG pic.twitter.com/hiaAk7rdz8 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 7, 2016
This is Wentz's first career touchdown. The ball is thrown tight enough inside over Matthews' shoulder so that he's able to make the play for a touchdown. They make this throw in practice routinely, and we've seen it multiple times throughout the season as well. On Sunday against the Giants, the throw was just too far outside. Maybe it was the Cover 0 pressure from the previous three plays, or he maybe just missed it. But we've seen the two connect on this throw in the past, and we'll see them connect on a similar play for a touchdown down the road as well. As an old Eagles coach used to say, this sport is "cyclic." Stay tuned Tuesday for my recap of the Eagles' defensive performance from Sunday against New York.
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.