Eagle Eye: The Evolution Of Nelson Agholor

Any time you lose a game like the Eagles did on Sunday, there are plays here and there that you look back on and wonder, "What if?" It certainly wasn’t the best game for the offensive side of the ball, and there were many reasons for that. There were some issues creating separation, some miscommunication in pass protection, and some yards left on the field in the passing game as well. Head coach Doug Pederson has plenty of things to work on with his offensive personnel as the team prepares for its third game of the season.

One big bright spot, however, was the play of Nelson Agholor. The former first-round pick has continued to shine in this Eagles offense. He had to shoulder the load for the receiving corps once again with the other three of the top four wideouts out of the lineup for most of this game. Agholor has been used inside and outside, as a runner and as a receiver as well as a decoy. Here are some of the ways Pederson and Mike Groh use Nelson as he shines in this offense. I expect that to continue with Carson Wentz in the starting lineup.

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Tight ends Zach Ertz and Josh Perkins were also very involved with the passing game as well. Ertz was a go-to target for Foles in some critical situations at every level of the field. Perkins saw a lot of extra snaps as well, particularly after Mike Wallace went down with an injury.

Why didn’t rookie Dallas Goedert get more reps? Pederson was asked about it in his postgame press conference. This is my best guess at translating the answer he gave (he couldn’t completely dive into all the details in his response).

Not all 12 personnel groups (one running back, two tight ends) are created equal.

There are different variations of 12 personnel on every team. Look at the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles. You have one 12 personnel look where the grouping is LeGarrette Blount, Zach Ertz, and Brent Celek. You may have another that's Darren Sproles, Ertz, and Trey Burton. Those two groups look the same in a playbook (RB, TE, TE) but are obviously different when you actually see them on the field. One of them indicates run, and the other one suggests pass.

You're going to have a different set of plays in the weekly game plan for each grouping. So from Wednesday through Saturday during practices and walk-throughs, each personnel group works on its package of plays for that given game.

When the team lost Wallace, it was left with a receiving corps that included Agholor, Shelton Gibson, Kamar Aiken, and DeAndre Carter. This was in a game where the Eagles were down early, and were forced to go a bit pass-heavy with a limited receiving corps. One of their best pass-catching running backs (Sproles) was not playing. The Eagles' 12 personnel group that is geared toward the pass game features Ertz and Perkins. That grouping, most likely, has similar route concepts that the 11 personnel group has in a given week’s game plan.

Perkins is 6-3, 223 pounds. In theory (and I haven't studied his college film so I can't speak to how he was used there), he can do similar types of things that Trey Burton did for the Eagles last year in terms of his size and athleticism. I can envision a scenario where, in this 12 grouping, he's listed ahead of Goedert, especially if you're not trying to throw much on the rookie's plate with a heavy playbook week in and week out.

Each week, the "regular" 12 personnel group (Ertz and Goedert) has a specific set of plays installed in the game plan, and the "light" group has its own set (just as the "heavy" set with Isaac Seumalo has its own set of plays). My guess is that when the team lost Wallace, Coach Pederson leaned more heavily on the light 12 personnel package, which is why we saw so much of Perkins instead of Goedert. This should not be perceived as a huge red flag on Goedert, but more of trying to leverage the athleticism of Perkins while not overtaxing the rookie.

Perkins showed the ability to win one-on-one against corners. He’s an athletic kid who showed to be savvy as a route runner this summer while also having the ball skills to finish at the catch point. He’s an intriguing player moving forward in this Eagles offense.

Corey Clement was heavily involved on third down against the Bucs, hitting on a couple of long screen passes and participating as a blocker in pass protection. The second-year back proved to be effective in this role as a rookie last year and I expect him to continue being used in critical situations like these moving forward.

The Eagles haven’t hit their full stride so far on the ground, but the playbook continues to impress with its sheer depth and volume schematically. Pederson and his staff utilize a wide variety of zone runs, gap schemes, and misdirection plays in the backfield, keeping defenses on its toes so they’re constantly guessing as to what’s coming next. It continues to be one of my favorite parts of Pederson’s offense.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai stepped up for Jason Peters once again in this game and I thought the third-year blocker performed well. Big V impressed me in the run game, especially, as he was a key player in both of the Eagles' touchdown runs in the game.

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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