The Eagles once again put up a pretty impressive performance offensively against the rival New York Giants on Sunday, led by a rushing attack that carried the offense from goal line to goal line. That’s where I want to start this week’s recap, with a focus on Josh Adams, Corey Clement, and the offensive line at the point of attack to explain how the Eagles got the run game going against the G-Men.
ALL OF THE VIDEO CLIPS FEATURE AUDIO ANALYSIS FROM FRAN DUFFY
Let’s look at a handful of runs from Adams, who had a career day against New York. The rookie undrafted free agent set career highs with 22 carries and 84 yards on Sunday, and it could have been even more had it not been for a holding call on his first carry of the day that went for 52 yards and a score – more on that in a second. Those two numbers were the highest by an Eagles rookie since 2012, when Bryce Brown tore up the Dallas Cowboys in December of that season. Adams is a tall, high-cut runner who is at his best downhill in a straight line. The Eagles called plays that got him running north quickly. There was a lot of inside zone in this game with Adams, who benefited from some great double teams at the point of attack from guys like Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, Jason Kelce, and others. He also showed the vision to create something out of nothing on a couple of occasions as well.
Doug Pederson knew that with the limitations they had defensively from a personnel standpoint that it would be imperative for the offense to run the football and control the clock. There’s a reason why star running back Saquon Barkley only touched the ball five times in the second half. People are quick to blame the Giants' coaching staff, but in reality, that’s because of the Eagles' ability to control the clock and hold the football.
The Giants ran 22 plays in the second half, which is an extremely low amount. Credit the defense for making the Giants go three-and-out on two of the first three possessions of the half, but the Eagles' offense held onto the football for 19:43 in the second half, compared to 10:17 for the Giants. They nearly doubled the time of possession in the final two quarters! That requires a full team effort, but offensively that comes down to two things: staying ahead of the chains (they faced only four third downs in the entire second half) and running the football. Pederson stuck to the run game, and despite some early struggles, the offense came through, particularly on a fourth-quarter touchdown drive that featured five straight runs for 38 yards and a touchdown.
Under Pederson, the Eagles have always had a very versatile and "multiple" run scheme, meaning that they utilize a lot of different running plays out of many variations to attack defenses. Rather than having one or two staples that they lean on week in and week out, they instead like to mix and match with more tools in their toolbox depending on the weekly opponent. This week, one of those tools was the use of the Tackle Trap or Tackle Power run plays.
On both of these play designs, Jason Peters pulls from the left side over to the right. Usually, guards are used as pullers, but occasionally, a tackle comes from the back side. These plays may look similar, but one small difference changes it from a Power to a Trap play. On a Trap play, there's a hat on a hat across the board with single blocks and offensive linemen releasing immediately to the second level. On those plays, Peters just blocks the most dangerous defender in the B gap (the space between the guard and the tackle). On Power plays, there is a double team from the center and guard on a defensive tackle, with Peters pulling up to the playside linebacker. Both plays are essentially quick-hitting, downhill runs for the back, and look at the holes opened up by the offensive line on all of these. These were really well done by the Eagles across the board.
Most of the Eagles' runs came out of 11 personnel, meaning they had just one back and one tight end on the field with three wide receivers. They did have one drive late in the third quarter that relied heavily on 13 personnel, however.
These are just two of the runs from that drive featuring Adams and some great blocks along the offensive line. The three-tight end set started on the second play and lasted for a five-play sequence as the Eagles matriculated the ball into the red zone. After that 19-yard scamper by Adams, the rookie gained 2 yards before Carson Wentz hit Alshon Jeffery for 7 yards before 9 more yards from Adams on the last two plays. The addition of Richard Rodgers gives the Eagles a bit more effectiveness as a blocker out of these 13-personnel sets.
The run game showed up on both of the Eagles' two-point tries on Sunday as well.
After Zach Ertz’s touchdown catch, the Eagles went for two and called Clement’s number on a Speed Option play. The Eagles came out in a Tackle Over set, with Johnson lining up next to Peters on the left side. This gives the defense a run-heavy look to one side of the field, as the Eagles try to draw the front’s attention that way only to go in the opposite direction. On a Speed Option, the quarterback sprints to his right and reads his "pitch key." In this case, that’s defensive end Kareem Martin. So, Wentz runs to his right and if Martin chooses to attack him, Wentz will pitch it backwards to Clement, who is running to his right in the flat. That’s exactly what happens and Clement converts for two points.
Following Adams’ fourth-quarter touchdown, the Eagles leaned on him again for an Inside Zone run. I love the double team on the back side with Johnson and Brooks. Look at the movement Brooks gets on the defensive tackle, creating that crease inside for the conversion.
Now let’s get to the passing attack, starting with the screen game. The Eagles hit on a couple of key screens on touchdown drives in this game, and both (Dallas Goedert in the first half and Clement in the second half) were cued up by plays earlier in the game or earlier in the drive that set up the screens. Here’s the Goedert play as an example.
The Eagles ran a bit of an exotic motion that we hadn’t seen from them this season, motioning Golden Tate from the slot into the backfield and then immediately to the flat, throwing a Bubble Screen to him. The pass fell incomplete and people were bothered by the play call. What’s up with that design? Why can’t they get things going with Tate? Well, that play was used to help set up the screen pass to Goedert, as the Eagles ran the same exact motion with Tate on that play. He moved into the backfield, ran to the opposite sideline, and after Wentz pump faked that way, he came back to Goedert and hit him on a screen for a big play and a first down.
One of the objectives of the "script" that Coach Pederson puts together for first- and second-down plays to start a game is to try and test different things with a defense. How do they react to a motion? How do they react to a formation? Those plays set up things that the offense will run later, and this Goedert screen play is an example of just that. It helped lead to Wentz’s touchdown throw to Ertz later in the drive.
This touchdown was one of my favorite plays of the game because it’s a great example of Wentz and the kind of quarterback he is. The Eagles are in the red zone and, as they tend to do, send a receiver in motion across the formation. This gives Wentz a clue as to what type of coverage the defense is playing. Is this man or zone coverage? If it were zone, no one would run with Tate. If it were man, a defender would follow him across the field, and that’s exactly what happens. The defender chases Tate across the field, so Wentz thinks this will be man coverage. The Eagles are running a "man beater" pass combination to the left, and that’s where Wentz begins his progression based off what he saw pre-snap. When Wentz gets the ball and looks to his left, he sees cornerback Janoris Jenkins sink back in Cover 2.
Wentz sees it, realizes that he must get to the other side to his zone-beating concept with Ertz, and he hits him for a touchdown. The throw was decisive and on time, enough so that Ertz could create yards after the catch and plunge into the end zone for a touchdown. This was a great example of Wentz and his ability to read the defense and react after the snap of the ball on the fly. He wasn’t fooled by New York, as the Giants disguised their coverage well in the red zone trying to force him into a bad throw.
Ertz continued his torrid pace of production on Sunday with another big day. Here are some of his other big receptions from the afternoon.
Ertz led the Eagles with seven catches for 91 yards and that touchdown, becoming the fourth tight end in NFL history to post 400-plus catches in their first six seasons (joining Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten, and Antonio Gates). Ertz now ranks fourth on the all-time receptions list in franchise history, trailing only Harold Carmichael, Pete Retzlaff, and Brian Westbrook.
I thought Wentz was also very decisive with the football against the Giants. He usually is, and there are examples every game of him getting the ball out quickly to his receivers, but I thought it was especially prevalent in this game.
These plays show so much of getting YAC is on the quarterback as much as it is on the receiver. Good timing and anticipation and accuracy go a long way toward allowing the receiver to get extra yardage with the football.
For the last shot, let’s look at the fourth-down throw to Nelson Agholor, which came on a play that has been a staple of the Eagles' passing game going back to 2013, the Mesh concept.
The Mesh play beats zone coverage, it beats man coverage, and it has alerts in the quick game and in the vertical passing game. There are a lot of answers for the quarterback, which is why it’s such an effective play and why the Eagles have had so much success with it over the last few years. They ran it about a dozen times in the Super Bowl with great success (including on Ertz’s key fourth-down conversion late in the game). I hope we continue to see it down the stretch here in the regular season.
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.