Losing a close game is tough. Losing a close game in overtime is worse. Losing a close game in overtime to a division rival is torturous. Like every week, the coaches will go through the tape on Monday, make their corrections and move on to next week's matchup which, by the way, is also a road game against a division rival. What were the positives and negatives from the offensive side of the football in the loss to Dallas? Let's start in the passing game.
I thought that quarterback Carson Wentz had his best game since before the bye week against Dallas. For the most part, Wentz was sharp, accurate, made good decisions with the football and he took what the defense gave him. The accuracy was the best thing to see on tape because over the last three games the ball did get away from him in certain situations.
Another area where Wentz stood out on Sunday was with his eyes. Against a veteran linebacking corps with players like Sean Lee, Justin Durant and Anthony Hitchens, the rookie did his best to keep the Cowboys' defenders away from his target with the use of his eyes early in the down. This showed up multiple times in the game.
It's third-and-6 in the third quarter, and the Eagles come out in 11 personnel with one back and one tight end on the field. The Cowboys are in Cover 1 - Man Free coverage here, with man coverage across the board and Lee in the hole as a free player. Lee can read Wentz's eyes and try to make a play on the ball in front of him, and Wentz knows it. Watch Wentz look left, causing Lee to drift that way for a brief second, before he pulls an about-face and goes back to the right to pull the trigger for a first-down throw to Nelson Agholor.
Shot 2 - Wentz reads Cover 2 pre-snap, gets it, and proceeds to create a throwing lane by widening LB, puts this where only JMatt can get it pic.twitter.com/5XyO62URvN — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 31, 2016
In the fourth quarter, Wentz displays another example of the same trait. This time the Cowboys are in Cover 2, with three zone defenders right in the short middle of the field. It's first-and-5, and with two short hitch routes over the ball between the numbers, Wentz knows he has just two receivers against three defenders. Wentz has to use his eyes to make this play.
Wentz takes the snap and his eyes immediately go to his X receiver, Dorial Green-Beckham, to the left, who is also running a hitch route outside. Wentz knew that route would be taken away pre-snap, but he looked there anyway. Why? To expand the linebackers underneath and widen them out, creating a bigger passing lane. Wentz holds his eyes on DGB for a tick then gets back inside to Jordan Matthews, who finds a soft spot in Dallas' zone coverage for a 13-yard gain and a first down. When you see it from the end zone angle, notice how Wentz puts this on Matthews' inside shoulder, away from Lee, who is working away from the sideline. The middle linebacker, Durant, isn't a threat either because he opens his hips up to the strength of the formation (which Wentz expected due to his pre-snap read). This was an example of great execution from the rookie in the high red zone with the Eagles holding a one-score lead.
The Eagles did a good job of mixing in tempo throughout the game on Sunday night to keep Dallas on its toes. It was something that worked for this offense a year ago in Dallas, and the Eagles used it to their advantage again on Sunday.
It's third-and-4 in the third quarter, and the Eagles have just hit a screen pass to put them on the 5-yard line. Wentz and the offense rush to the line and they run a simple two-man stick route on both sides. Wentz just has to pick the more preferable matchup before the snap and rip it. The routes in the flat help to widen the coverage, creating gaps for the option or stick routes from the two inside receivers. Wentz hits Matthews for a 5-yard touchdown on this play to put the Eagles ahead 20-10.
Watching the game on television, I came away with a conclusion that many have written and spoken about since the final whistle: the Eagles did not even try to attack downfield. While that is the case to a certain extent, I will say that there were plays called that had receivers attacking vertically, but for different reasons the ball was not thrown in that direction.
Shot 4 - #Eagles use 'Scissors' combo to attack downfield. 2-high safety makes Wentz take the gimme throw for a first down on 2 minute drill pic.twitter.com/CuonIBDHrL — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 31, 2016
It's second-and-1 (a perfect shot play situation, by the way), and the Eagles call a version of their three-level stretch, a concept I've always known as Scissors where you have a deep post route from the No. 1 receiver (Agholor), a corner route from the No. 2 receiver (tight end Zach Ertz) and another receiver in the flat. The Cowboys are in Tampa 2 on this play, putting two high safeties in the deep part of the field.
The high safety on the left side, Barry Church, creates a dilemma for Wentz. Church could, in theory, break on the corner route by Ertz, or take away the post. You have a sinking middle linebacker running down the seam, and another corner dropping as a cloud player (Brandon Carr). Instead of taking a risk in a tie ball game with just over a minute left in the half, Wentz decides to take what the defense gave him, dumping this off to Darren Sproles in the flat for a 4-yard completion.
Shot 5 - 2 series later, another downfield throw taken away by tight man. Instead of forcing downfield he goes backside to DGB for 1st down pic.twitter.com/7HYULXLrtg — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 31, 2016
Two series later, it's second-and-6 right near midfield and the Eagles call another deep pass play. This time, you have a beautiful Cover 3 beater called on the right side, and the two inside receivers are who I want you to focus on. You have an over route from No. 3 (Ertz) and a straight go route from No. 2 (Matthews). Against a single-high coverage like Cover 3, you ideally get the safety in the deep middle of the field to attack Ertz's route, leaving a gaping hole for the go route downfield. The Cowboys aren't in Cover 3 though, as they instead go with straight up man coverage in Cover 1. When Wentz realizes that a clear throw won't be there downfield, he checks back to his iso receiver, Green-Beckham, who is running a stop route at 14 yards. Wentz hits him for a first down, to move the chains and put the Eagles in scoring range.
In the fourth quarter, the Eagles have the ball on first-and-10. Up by a touchdown, they're right around midfield and in prime position to take a shot play downfield. It's a three-level stretch concept, and Wentz has every intention of delivering this ball downfield off play-action. The Eagles keep two extra tight ends in for protection on just a three-man route. Unfortunately, Ertz gets held up by Lee in press coverage, the deep safety takes away the vertical route from Matthews and Wentz is forced to check this down to Sproles for a 3-yard gain. This is the right decision again from Wentz, with the Eagles driving and holding a lead to not force a throw downfield.
Head coach Doug Pederson, Wentz and the rest of the Eagles' offense absolutely would have liked to been more aggressive downfield? There certainly were attempts to attack downfield though, and with the way the game was going and how the defense played on those particular plays, the Eagles just did not connect on any vertical passes in the game.
One aspect of the offense that was prevalent early and often was the bubble screen. Whether there were designed throws to receivers in the flat or part of Run Pass Option (RPO) concepts for Wentz, receivers were often the target out in space to pick up positive yardage.
Shot 7 - Bubble screens are a big part of #Eagles offense; an extension to the run game. They found multiple ways to complement them vs DAL pic.twitter.com/2PoLO1Wntc — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 31, 2016
There's two examples of the bubble screen in action. On the second play of the game, Josh Huff slips this screen to the outside for a 9-yard gain on first down. Agholor does a great job blocking on the perimeter, pinning his man to the sideline. Later, you see a similar result with Matthews out in space, this time for a 4-yard gain. On both of those plays, Wentz had the option to hand the ball off or to throw the screen depending on the alignment of the defense. Just like any run play, the bubble screen isn't just about the yardage you get on that one particular play because it helps set up other layers of your offense later in the game. That was certainly the case for the Eagles against Dallas. We saw a handful of bubble screens to Eagles receivers against the Cowboys, and Pederson complemented those plays by using the Cowboys' aggressiveness against them.
Shot 8 - 1st Quarter: Bubble Screen left, RB screen to right to Darren Sproles. Big play left on the field, similar to play vs #Steelers pic.twitter.com/knmxi3XwKi — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 31, 2016
It's second-and-12 in the first quarter, and the Eagles line up Huff in the backfield next to Wentz. Huff runs a bubble screen to the left, and Wentz pumps that way to affect the Dallas defenders at the second level. Look at the reaction from the Cowboys' defense, as Sproles leaks out the opposite way. This is a similar play design the team used on Sproles' first big catch against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3. This time, the throw to Sproles falls off the mark, and the Eagles are left with third-and-12 and a potential big play left on the field.
In the third quarter on first-and-10, the Eagles run another RPO for Wentz with a bubble screen on the perimeter. Except this time, the outside receiver is going to run a slant route instead of blocking. Look at the window created by the Dallas safety crashing down to tackle the bubble screen. Wentz puts some mustard on this ball to Green-Beckham. It wasn't a perfect throw and it bounces off his receiver's hands for what would have been a first down.
Then in the fourth quarter, the team goes to another complementary bubble screen play. Huff comes from across the formation on a bubble screen, and Wentz throws it to him. Watch half of the Dallas defense attack downhill before Matthews releases down the sideline. Huff floats this ball up, before getting crushed, and the pass falls incomplete. Dallas was on its heels as the Eagles looked for a big play down the field to extend their lead.
It's important to remember that bubble screens and other facets of the Eagles' quick passing game are often just extensions or add-ons for the run game and should be treated as such. The coaching staff is always looking to complement those plays with similar looks and changeups to catch the defense off guard, as they did multiple times in a variety of ways against the Cowboys. Unfortunately, none of those three plays were able to connect.
Shot 11 - Josh Huff doing dirty work in the run game cracking down on DEs. Love seeing him develop this year in every phase #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/8SxkDmstSw — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 31, 2016
Transitioning to the run game, I felt the need to give Huff some more love. He's gotten so much better in every facet of his play this year, and it's been really fun to watch him develop. Here are two examples of his ability as a crack blocker in the run game, coming down and washing out defensive ends in the sweep game. Give credit to Halapoulivaati Vaitai as well for his ability to get out in space and pull on both of those reps.
The Eagles lost starting guard Allen Barbre early in Sunday night's game. We have yet to see veteran Stefen Wisniewski in extended game action this regular season. I was anxious to see him coming in cold in a game where the Eagles would need to run the ball to win. I thought Wis played well though, holding up in pass protection and in the run game.
Here's Wisniewski working hand in hand with Jason Peters on double teaming the 3-technique and working up to the linebacker on this run play. Great job by both linemen on the left side and a great cut by Sproles for a good gain on the ground.
Shot 13 - Great read by Wentz getting #Eagles out of bad look, checking to a run away from the blitz. Big block by Big V on the playside pic.twitter.com/VyxSgG0Pdq — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 31, 2016
One of the great parts about Wentz is that, he's been calling audibles to get the Eagles into good looks on the ground. Here, the Eagles have a play called at the line of scrimmage, and when Wentz reads a blitz from the left he appears to change the play at the line, calling for a run to the right. The Eagles pick up 8 yards on first down. Big props to Vaitai again on his block on the play side.
It was a handful of plays that could've changed the outcome of this game. You can overcome a mistake here or a mistake there, but you can't have the amount that the Eagles had and expect to win a game on the road against a tough division opponent. It's really hard for that to happen. Penalties were down in this game, but there were too many drops, an untimely turnover and blocking breakdowns that helped keep the team from progressing the ball down the field in key situations.
Shot 14 - 2 key plays in the game, but you can't point to one &d say thats THE reason for the L. Everyone on both sides must improve for NYG pic.twitter.com/UfmLQd2yCE — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 31, 2016
To me, these were the two plays that stood out most. This drop by Green-Beckham, on a route that he's caught so many passes on this season, was key inside the 5-yard line. The Eagles ended up settling for a field goal on that drive where an extra four points would've obviously made a world of difference. The fumble by Wendell Smallwood gave the Cowboys three easier points than they would've gotten with at least a punt. You can't point to one play as THE ultimate reason for the loss, but collectively the whole team on both sides of the ball needs to continue and improve with a road matchup against the New York Giants looming on the horizon.
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.