There was a ton to like watching the Eagles' offense against the Los Angeles Chargers. Were things perfect in the red zone? Of course not. Everyone on that side of the ball knows how important it is to get touchdowns instead of field goals, and it was a large reason why the Chargers were able to stay in the game. There were a bunch of big takeaways, however, starting with the run game, which again was outstanding on Sunday.
The Run Game
The Eagles sit at the top of the NFC East at the quarter pole of the season. An outsider looking at the stats might think that this is a "ground and pound," ball control-type of offense. Look at these key superlatives:
No. 1 in the NFL:
- Time Of Possession (35:29 per game)
- Drives of 10-plus plays (10)
- Drives of 5-plus minutes (9)
- Runs of 10-plus yards (19)
Top 5 in the NFL:
- 2nd in fewest three-and-out drives (six out of 45 drives)
- 3rd in rushing yards per game (143.0)
- 5th in yards per carry (4.69)
- 5th in rush attempts (122)
The run-pass ratio is at 56:44 in favor of the pass. They're executing on third down. They've converted more than 50 percent of their third downs in three of their first four games, something that hasn't happened since 1992. The Eagles are 3-1 with two division wins and two wins on the road - two areas where they struggled last year. Eagles fans can't help but be excited about the direction of this team and the complementary football it is playing right now. A lot of it has to do with the run game.
I've said for a long time that I'm a big fan of this run scheme in Doug Pederson's offense because of the variety in the playbook. The Eagles have Inside Zone, Outside Zone, Sweeps, Tosses, Traps, and more at their disposal. The scheme that really got things going in this one, however, was Inside Zone, a bread and butter play that every team has in its toolbox. The double teams at the point of attack stood out in this game.
Shot 1 - #Eagles averaged 6.5 ypc from 3 WR sets (11 personnel) on Sunday. Here are 3 examples of that w/ some great double teams up front! pic.twitter.com/OL9DKozZ0g — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 2, 2017
There's a consistent theme in the three plays above - the double teams on both the back side and front side of the action. Jason Peters and the left guard, whether it was Stefen Wisniewski or Chance Warmack, obliterated the 3-techniques on Sunday. Meanwhile, center Jason Kelce and right guard Brandon Brooks also got great movement on the front side of a lot of run plays, helping create a nice pocket for the running backs to get downhill quickly to pick up positive yardage.
The other thing about those three runs is that they all came from 11 personnel (one running back and one tight end). The success that the Eagles had out of three-receiver was another theme on Sunday. The Eagles ran the ball 27 times from a spread look of three receivers on Sunday for 176 yards and a touchdown, averaging 6.52 yards per carry. I'm going to make sure we talk about that this week on *Eagles Game Plan* (to give you a hint, this will be BIG against the Arizona Cardinals).
Shot 2 - Split zone run. Ertz basically blocks 2. Agholor releases outside, removes slot CB. GREAT doubles. Blount does the rest for 68 yds! pic.twitter.com/UCIyH7e4Hw — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 2, 2017
It just so happens that 68 of those yards came on the LeGarrette Blount "runaway train" run in the fourth quarter. There are a few fun elements on this play, as I broke down with Greg Cosell in our All-22 Review.
This is a split zone run, which is basically inside zone except with one small wrinkle. The tight end, Zach Ertz, is going to flow away from the rest of the offensive line, coming down to block the backside defensive end. The positive effect from this is often two-fold. A create is immediately created for a potential cutback lane by erasing the defensive end, but the linebackers often get confused with the motion in the backfield. That's why Ertz is essentially blocking two defenders here as he cuts defensive end Joey Bosa to the ground.
The other wrinkle comes from wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who releases outside from the slot at the snap of the ball. His release essentially removes the slot corner, Desmond King, from his role in the run game. Agholor's release outside allows Blount to reach the second level where an undersized slot corner like King can only hope to hang on for dear life once Blount gets going in the open field. Blount hits this hole hard and refuses to go down on first contact, breaking five tackles on his way to setting up the Eagles' go-ahead score.
Shot 3 - OL was downright NASTY yesterday. Great double teams again up front. Peters / Wiz get 3-tech on the ground. Kelce/Brooks stretch NT pic.twitter.com/mAaBwUbo6L — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 2, 2017
After a few cracks at the end zone out of heavier personnel groupings with multiple tight ends, the Eagles spread the Chargers out in 11 personnel and get two more great double teams. Peters and Wisniewski bury the 3-technique to the ground on the front side, while Kelce and Brooks push the nose guard toward the sideline to help create plenty of space for Smallwood to leap into the end zone.
Complementing The Run Game
Establishing the run game, especially against a linebacking corps like the Chargers have currently on defense, helps play-action become successful. The Eagles use play-action and run-pass option (RPO) concepts to really open things up in the quick passing game and help get Wentz into a rhythm.
There are three examples of Wentz pulling the trigger after run-action in the backfield. It's not always easy to see whether these plays are truly play-action or a run-pass option, but they have similar outcomes when it's all said and done. A strong dose of the run game really helped set things up for the Eagles.
One of the other things the Eagles did in this game was use misdirection to get the linebackers flowing from one side of the field to the other on a horizontal track. One of the best ways they did that was with the screen game.
There's a LOT going on with this screen to Smallwood, and it was one of my favorite plays of the game that, honestly, could've picked up more yardage than it did. It was a great play design by the coaching staff. First, there's the run-action in the backfield to suck the linebackers up. The split zone-action with tight end Brent Celek further sells the run fake. You pair that with the orbit motion in the backfield to Mack Hollins, and now the linebacker's eyes are moving away from the direction of the play. Also - and this is really cool - the Eagles send Agholor on an over route. His route essentially blocks two key defenders who could be able to make this play, the safety and the backside linebacker. They are removed by Agholor's vertical crossing route. Smallwood now catches this pass with a convoy of three Eagles linemen against two Chargers defenders, and he races for a huge gain.
Soon afterward, the Eagles went back to a similar type of play, except instead of a screen pass it was a vertical shot play down the field. This time, the play didn't go as it was drawn up on the whiteboard.
The Eagles similar look here early in the down. There's the backfield run-action with the orbit motion (now from Torrey Smith). There's the over route from Agholor. This looks like it could be another screen play. It's not, however, because the Eagles want to run a three-level stretch concept to the right.
Wentz's progression on this play is supposed to be deep from Alshon Jeffery to Agholor and then Smith as the checkdown. They're banking on defensive end Melvin Ingram biting on the run fake to then get blocked by Celek. Ingram is a smart player. He reads this play and gets deeper upfield, slipping Celek's block. He's now in Wentz's lap, and Carson is unable to carry out the rest of the play. He executes an athletic move to evade the rusher, then resets and throws across his body toward the middle of the field - which is usually a big no-no - and completes this pass to Blount, who wasn't even a part of the play. This is just an example of your franchise player going out and making a great play to pick up yardage when the play breaks down. Blount makes a man miss and turns it into a first down. This was a really fun play to watch.
A Deeper Look At Carson Wentz's Performance
I thought Wentz was wired into this game from the jump, and honestly, I thought it was one of his best individual performances as an Eagle. He was poised. He was accurate. He confidently pulled the trigger on tight-window throws but was smart and didn't force the issue. He showed great touch on deep throws. He displayed proper ball placement in the quick game. He burned the blitz with his arm and with his legs, and he put the offense into good looks in both the run and pass games. He was excellent against the Chargers. Let me show you why.
Shot 7 - Wentz was dialed in for this game. I thought he was really, really good on Sunday. Great touch downfield on this slot fade #Eagles pic.twitter.com/PjSK0rBrlL — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 2, 2017
This throw to Agholor, which came on a slot fade route that is a staple of the Eagles' offense, was picture-perfect. It's third-and-3, and Wentz sees a matchup he likes in the slot over the top. He peeks at the safety and puts this ball beautifully outside the numbers over Agholor's shoulder out of harm's way for a first down, all while being prepared to take a huge hit after the throw. He puts this on the money and sets up for his first touchdown of the day, an 8-yard throw to Jeffery in the red zone at the goal line.
Shot 8 - Wentz drops a dime over the top to Ertz (leads all NFL TEs with 17 1st down grabs; leads NFL TEs w/ 98 catches since 10/3/16) pic.twitter.com/0yOTNGWFMe — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 2, 2017
Fast-forward to the third quarter, and there's another beautiful throw over the top from Wentz. This time, he hits his favorite target Zach Ertz on a vertical route, and this is just a well-designed play from the Eagles' coaching staff.
By lining up two tight ends in a closed formation to the short side of the field, the Eagles put the Chargers in a tough spot. The deep safety is shaded to the two-receiver side on the opposite section of the field because that's considered the "passing strength." That means that Wentz has a bit more room over the top on these two vertical routes. Wentz makes a simple read of the cornerback to determine where the ball will go. If the outside cornerback sinks back and defends Celek down the sideline, Wentz has a favorable matchup with Ertz streaking down the seam against a linebacker. If the corner runs with Ertz instead, then that linebacker has to work through Ertz and the other defender to get to Celek outside, creating more space and time for Wentz to get the ball out for a first down. The former happens, and Wentz drops a dime over the shoulder for a first down.
It's pretty clear that Wentz and Ertz have a good feel for each other at this point. No tight end in the NFL has caught more passes (98) than Ertz over the last calendar year, a number that's fifth most in the league regardless of position. He leads the league right now in first-down catches at the tight end position and is one of the leaders in the league in yards per target as well from that spot. He's being used in a lot of different ways, and it's clear that the Eagles' coaching staff and Wentz are increasingly comfortable using Ertz as a mismatch weapon in the passing game. It's been a lot of fun watching Ertz settle into this role.
Shot 9 - Only a matter of time until Wentz & Smith hit on these. Great throws here. Both have had their share of mistakes. TDs will come! pic.twitter.com/R0zAWTrlai — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 2, 2017
Not all of Wentz's best throws were caught, obviously. Two of his best throws went in the direction of Torrey Smith, and both were incomplete. One was dropped, and the second was contested, but both were outstanding throws that showed Wentz's decisiveness and willingness to deliver the ball in tight windows against zone coverage. They were aggressive shots that could've gone for huge plays.
I'm not worried at all that these two haven't hooked up for a huge play yet through four games. It's only a matter of time before they do. They've already shown they can do it. Remember in the preseason against Miami?. With the amount of times they try to hook up downfield, it's going to happen at some point. Thus far, they've taken turns with the blame. Wentz has missed Torrey, and Torrey has let a couple slip through his grasp. Just like everything else in this game, there are ebbs and flows to it, and I expect these two to connect sooner rather than later.
To wrap up my point, these are two outstanding throws from a young quarterback who is becoming increasingly comfortable reading defenses and making tough throws into tight coverage.
Shot 13 - Sometimes the best throws are the ones you don't make!! 3 examples of Wentz reading the defense and not forcing the issue #Eagles pic.twitter.com/M6t6kuqSu0 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 2, 2017
Sometimes, the best throws you make as a quarterback are the ones you don't make. Wentz has drastically cut down his interception total. His two picks this year have been tipped passes at the line of scrimmage, and he's making better decisions with the football. He had a near disaster down in the low red zone after the Blount 68-yard run, and a near-miss or two throughout the game, but I've become increasingly impressed with the young passer's ability to see the entire field and not get fooled by disguised coverages.
There are three plays in the clip above, and in all three Wentz reads what the defense shows him after the snap. This is so often different than what you see beforehand in the NFL. In two of the three plays, Wentz is able to create something with his legs, running for one first down and nearly picking up another. In all three plays, he averts a turnover and is able to play for the next down, something every young quarterback strives to do early in his career but (some) rarely succeed.
Shot 10 - Everything happens faster on 3rd down! Wentz quickly sees slant/flat taken away and hits Smallwood to move the chains #Eagles pic.twitter.com/qdeYk6Q5Cc — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 2, 2017
Wentz has plays like this one every week, but I think it's important to show them as we continue to monitor his progress. It's third-and-short, when everything happens quickly, and it's a run-of-the-mill slant/flat pass combination. Wentz quickly sees that this throw is going to be taken away, and he immediately checks to Smallwood over the ball for a first down, placing the throw away from the defender where only his receiver can get it to move the chains.
Shot 11 - Wentz reads this blitz perfectly; throws right into the void. Beautiful. Don't miss the end zone shot for a Jason Peters highlight pic.twitter.com/SaRvSULu1A — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 2, 2017
Wentz's poise under pressure is impressive to watch and study as well, particularly against the blitz. Here, Los Angeles sends nickel pressure from the slot, and Wentz calmly reads the play and throws the ball directly into the void created by the vacated defender. This is a veteran move and the kind of play I've become accustomed to expect from Wentz at this stage of his career.
Shot 12 - Wentz changes things up pre-snap vs blitz. Gets thru progressions & makes a great throw under fire to move chains on 3rd down pic.twitter.com/FT6DNry9vS — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 2, 2017
Here's another example of the authority Wentz has at the line of scrimmage. He reads pressure from his left before the snap and changes the play up. Now, the Chargers adjust as well, and they disguised this pressure coming from the opposite side. This is still an impressive third-down play from Wentz, who hangs in the pocket, goes through a progression, checks back to Jeffery over the middle, and delivers with a defender all over him for a first down. Wentz took a shot on this play but was still able to do what needed to be done in order to move the sticks.
The Four-Minute Drill
The Eagles got the ball back with 6:44 left in the game, up by two points. All of the successful elements on offense culminate in a truly impressive drive, one where the Eagles drained the entirety of the clock and walked away with a victory.
Everyone knows what a two-minute drill is, as the team gets into a hurry-up mode and tries to drive the field to score quickly in comeback fashion. The four-minute drill is the opposite, where the offense is trying to sit on the ball and bleed the clock down as far as it can go before giving it back to the opposing team (or not, in the Eagles' case). The best running teams are able to have success even when the opponent knows it's coming. The Eagles asserted themselves as that kind of team on this drive, but the drive started with Wentz.
Shot 14 - Another example (this time from 4-min drill to end the game) same exact play that went to Ertz for 38yds. This time goes to Alshon pic.twitter.com/yxm7RFFSWp — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 2, 2017
This is the exact same play the Eagles ran earlier on the 38-yard pitch-and-catch to Ertz downfield. Why doesn't Wentz go in his tight end's direction this time? Notice that safety in the middle of the field? Yeah, he gets paid too, and he remembers what happened the last time the Eagles came out in this formation. Wentz sees that he's no longer shaded heavily toward the two-receiver side, and he's in better position now to take away a vertical throw to Ertz. Knowing the severity of the situation, Wentz instead gets back to Jeffery on the in-breaking route, hitting him for 8 yards to set up second-and-short. This is a great decision from Wentz, who puts the ball right on the money to put the Eagles ahead of the sticks to start the drive.
Shot 15 - Final drive again; watch how backside LB is late to react to run (RPO effect). Great pass-off frontside between Kelce / Brooks pic.twitter.com/YJfHl4uoan — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 2, 2017
The Eagles get a first down from rookie running back Corey Clement on the next play. Kelce and Brooks execute a perfect pass off from the defensive tackle up to the linebacker, as Clement selects his hole decisively and picks up a first down. The back side is a non-factor on this play. Why? The linebacker is stuck on the mesh point with Wentz and Clement. With all of the play-action and RPOs the Eagles hit earlier in the game, that linebacker is more hesitant to just crash down on the run late in the game, and the Eagles pick up a quick and easy first down to let the clock tick away.
Shot 16 - #Eagles got 5 first downs by running on 3rd down vs LA; two critical ones here on last drive. Give it to both the RBs and OL here. pic.twitter.com/EEsI4RvWEn — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 2, 2017
Then, the Eagles run to victory. Two third-and-1 conversions with great blocking up front yet again. I can't say enough about the job the offensive line did in this game. The running backs deserve a lot of credit as well. All three ball carriers ran extremely hard, were decisive and angry at the point of attack, and took care of the football in a clutch situation. Remember, the Eagles lost a game like this in Detroit a year ago in a similar situation (Ryan Mathews fumbled the ball). Young teams learn how to win and it takes time. Have the Eagles "arrived" yet on a national scale? Probably not, but this team is in a great position now to move forward into the second quarter of this still-young season with high hopes, and we can all thank the players, coaches, and front office for putting the team in that position.
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.