It wasn't always pretty for the Eagles' offense on Sunday against San Francisco. With the torrential downpour persisting throughout the afternoon, the run game was never really able to get on track and Carson Wentz was unable to get into a true rhythm for a chunk of the game. Some of the missed throws could be attributed to the weather, but he was also under consistent pressure from a San Francisco front seven that did some different things on the field than what they had shown previously on film. First, I want to look at the performance of second-year tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, getting his debut as the starter on the blind side.
Big V On The Blind Side
Vaitai did allow a sack in this game. He got beat on the outside but the ball probably should've been out earlier. Other than that sack, however, Vaitai was more than solid throughout the afternoon in those conditions. He moved people around in the run game, both between the hashes and out on the perimeter, and was stout as a pass protector as well. Let's look at a few of Wentz's best plays in the game while also keeping a close eye on Vaitai.
Shot 1 - Nice completion from Wentz to Agholor on a simple high-low concept for 1st down. Keep an eye on Vaitai vs Solomon Thomas #Eagles pic.twitter.com/b7Ni3DMWjw — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 30, 2017
It's first-and-10 on the opening drive, the fourth play of the game, and the Eagles call a high-low concept in the middle of the field to get Nelson Agholor the football down the seam. The slot receiver runs by the linebacker and Alshon Jeffery takes the underneath defender's attention away. Wentz is able to squeeze this ball in for a 17-yard pickup and a first down. Watch Vaitai on the play. He's matched up against San Francisco's first-round pick Solomon Thomas. Off the edge, Thomas is known as more of a handsy technician and power rusher than a pure speed guy. He tries to get inside Vaitai's pads on this rush. Vaitai drops his weight down, anchors against Thomas' bull rush, and helps maintain the integrity of the pocket for Wentz to deliver this pass for a first down.
Shot 2 - Good anchor here from Vaitai against a bull rush off wide DE. Ertz catches the crosser on 3rd down to move the sticks #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/MffqSDW3KZ — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 30, 2017
On the next series, Vaitai stands out again. This time, it's against linebacker Dekoda Watson, who is lined up as a wide 9-technique off the edge. The Eagles will face similar looks this week against Denver with this "split mug" front, forcing Vaitai into these one-on-one situations. Vaitai anchors down against this speed-to-power rush and pushes Watson out of the way as Wentz hits tight end Zach Ertz for a first down.
This is actually the same play design that Wentz hit Ertz on last week for a big gain (which quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo broke down for us on Eagles Game Plan). This time, Ertz runs the shallow crosser (which was run by Jeffery on the play last week) instead of the deep over route (run by Agholor on this play). With the safeties staying deep downfield and no one running with Ertz on the crosser, Wentz gets to that part of the progression and hits his favorite target for 12 yards and a first down.
Shot 3 - 1st down #Eagles using 'Mesh' concept. Pre-snap shift helps create a void in coverage for Trey Burton. Vaitai strong in pass pro pic.twitter.com/24HOvQe3iy — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 30, 2017
Five plays later, Wentz gets another third-down conversion through the passing game, this time to Trey Burton. Notice the pass protection from Vaitai, this time matched up against veteran Elvis Dumervil. Again Vaitai faces a bull rush. And again the young tackle shuts it down, keeping Dumervil at bay to keep Wentz clean.
This is one of the Eagles' staple route concepts, called Mesh. They've been running it since Chip Kelly took over as head coach in 2013, and it's been an effective concept for them ever since. It works against both man and zone schemes, and the Eagles do a good job of disguising it here so that the defense has very little time to react before the snap of the ball. A late shift moves all of the eligible receivers around the formation. At the snap, the two linebackers underneath run sideways with Ertz and tight end Brent Celek. With the underneath coverage expanded, the hole opens up for Burton over the ball. Wentz hits the athletic tight end for 15 yards and another first down.
Shot 4 - Wasn't always great in the run game but I thought Vaitai was solid on the ground vs SF. Lot of good reps in run and the pass. pic.twitter.com/gGpNISyriH — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 30, 2017
Vaitai was solid in the run game as well. The FOX broadcast team did a good job of breaking down his one fatal mistake against a slanting defensive lineman that led to a tackle for loss. Was he great? No. He was far from bad, and there was plenty for him to learn from against a tough front that presented the Eagles with some different looks.
On Monday, head coach Doug Pederson talked about those various looks in his press conference, saying that some of their third-down looks fooled the Eagles at times. The 49ers ran the same "three-man game" on a couple of plays, giving the Eagles trouble both times in the first half.
Shot 5 - The #49ers 3-man 'game' that gave the #Eagles some trouble in the first half. Tough to block up loopers from multiple gaps over. pic.twitter.com/3S94cNu8nz — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 30, 2017
In the 49ers' four-man rush out of this exotic look, the nose tackle and the open-side edge rusher both rush upfield. The loopers come in the form of the strongside edge rusher and a wide 5-technique defender, who exchange gaps. This "three-man game" (the two loopers and the nose tackle) can create confusion for the offensive line, and any miscommunication in pass offs up front can lead to a leak in the protection. Here, the nose tackle comes in clean for a straight shot at Wentz right in his face as he prepares to deliver this ball to Jeffery. This was one of a couple of misses for Wentz on the day, and a throw he'd surely like to have back. The weather and the pressure certainly seemed to be a factor in this game.
Shot 6 - Crafty 3rd down blitz from #49ers. Late in pre-snap phase after protection is set, they shift & come from opposite side. Forces inc pic.twitter.com/cyNJUvCnOs — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 30, 2017
On the next series, the 49ers came back with another creative pressure on third down. They initially show an overload look on the inside to the left, forcing the protection call to slide that way. Once the protection is set, it's so late in the pre-snap phase that it can't change (sans a timeout or a penalty on Wentz for a delay of game). San Francisco shifts just before the snap. Instead of the pressure coming from the left, it instead comes from the right off the edge. The slide results in multiple linemen blocking nothing but air, and two rushers come in clean, forcing an incompletion and a punt.
The Passing Game Gets Going
The Eagles were up 3-0 late in the second quarter and needed a spark. The 49ers, under defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, like to play with one safety deep in the middle of the field a majority of the time. Saleh comes from the Pete Carroll coaching tree, and Cover 3 is a staple of their coverage schemes. The Eagles helped set up their first touchdown by attacking that Cover 3 scheme with a route that can be deadly against that coverage, the Skinny Post.
Shot 7 - #Eagles set up 1st TD by attacking 49ers Cover 3 w/ Skinny Posts. Great anticipation throw from Wentz/great route from Mack Hollins pic.twitter.com/4JLdNB13nx — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 30, 2017
The Skinny Post can be so effective against Cover 3 because it attacks a void between the cornerback and the safety in the deep part of the field. If the quarterback can hold that safety deep and keep him from attacking the throw, he'll be in good shape.
The Eagles are in a 3x1 set, and the safety is cheated to that side of the field on the first play. That keeps him farther away from Wentz's target, Mack Hollins, on the Skinny. Wentz drops back, stares at the safety to hold him in place, and fits a perfect throw to the rookie wideout for a first down. This was a great route by Hollins, who attacks the corner's technique (he's playing outside leverage as the outside cornerback in Cover 3), stepping on his toes before breaking inside to the post. This is a great anticipation throw from Wentz, who pulls the trigger here long before Hollins leaves the break. He's got the faith that Hollins will win at the top of the route and be where he needs to be to catch this pass. Wentz delivers this with a defender in his face for a first down. This was one of my favorite plays of the game.
The Eagles face third-and-long a few plays later, and again they go to the Skinny Post. This time, it's Torrey Smith running the Skinny. Wentz drops back, stares at the safety (who doesn't have a three-receiver side to cheat to on this play) to hold him in place, and then shoots this ball out of a cannon to Smith. This pass is on the money, and Smith draws a penalty in the end zone to set up the Eagles' first touchdown. It all started with an understanding of what coverage the 49ers would be in and drawing up the right play to attack it.
Shot 8 - #Eagles line up in 23 personnel and run a Sprint Snag concept. Late motion throws assignments off for #49ers, Ertz is wide open pic.twitter.com/PJ36X6ybW4 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 30, 2017
The Eagles come out in 23 personnel on the next play, a grouping we haven't seen often from this unit. In 23 personnel, there are two backs and three tight ends. At first, it is a run-heavy look with rookie Corey Clement in the backfield and Wendell Smallwood as a "lead fullback" in the offset-I formation. Wentz sends Clement in motion, and the play starts to develop. This is a Snag concept from the Eagles. Clement runs a quick spot route, Smallwood goes out to the flat, and Ertz dashes to the corner. The pre-snap motion throws the San Francisco linebackers, who have experienced plenty of interchanging parts over the course of the season due to injuries, roster moves, and position switches into a flurry. Assignments are missed, and Wentz hits Ertz in the back corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
Shot 9 - Love the design from #Eagles on 2-point play to Alshon. Jet motion & Wentz's eyes impact high safety, Jeffery sneaks in for TD pic.twitter.com/9fIj8aW24Q — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 30, 2017
The Eagles go for a two-point conversion in this game (after Jalen Mills' interception return for a touchdown) and they get it with some creative play-design from Pederson and the offensive staff. They come out in 12 personnel with Ertz motioned to the right side. Before the snap, Wentz sends Agholor in Jet motion from left to right. It looks like this might be a quick throw on some kind of "rub" concept to Agholor in the flat to the right pylon. Wentz opens up as if he's going to throw to Agholor, and watch how that impacts the safety in the middle of the field. He is completely removed from his spot and Jeffery sneaks into the secondary for what becomes an easy catch for a successful two-point conversion. The Eagles are now 3-for-3 on two-point conversions this season, leading the NFL.
Shot 10 - Wentz's INT came on Dagger route. Outstanding play by rookie CB Ahkello Weatherspoon jumping play. Hollins throttles down. INT. pic.twitter.com/KfLwihQCr4 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 30, 2017
Let's look at Wentz's interception on this play, a concept they run all the time, the Dagger route. The vertical route from the slot receiver lifts the coverage, which should open things up underneath for the Dig route from the outside. Hollins runs the Dig route, and he's matched up against fellow rookie Ahkello Witherspoon. This is one of the most athletic plays I've seen Witherspoon make on a football field. I wasn't the biggest fan of his coming out of Colorado a year ago. He hustles to cut off Hollins at the pass. Hollins throttles down (after running a not-so-great route). Wentz doesn't see it, and Witherspoon finishes for an interception.
Shot 11 - I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Hollins' continued play on STs, where he continues to stand out. Flies by jammer to make stop. pic.twitter.com/x42v2A7vJV — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 30, 2017
Hollins may not have run a great route and wasn't on the same page as his quarterback, but let's not forget the route he ran to set up the first touchdown or what we've seen of him on special teams as well throughout the year. The rookie has been as good as advertised in the third phase of the game, and that continued on Sunday. He flies by the opposing jammer on this punt, stacks him, and breaks down to bring the returner down for a minimal gain. Whether it's in coverage or as a blocker, Hollins has been an asset for Dave Fipp and this special teams unit so far through eight games.
The Run Game
Let's close this out with the run game, which struggled to get going for much of the afternoon. However, when it mattered most, the team was able to run to help secure the victory at the end of the game.
Shot 12 - Great pin blocks by Ertz and Vaitai and great pull by Wiz and Kelce to spring Clement here. Great cut by rookie to get downhill pic.twitter.com/kxX2P1w8Pj — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 31, 2017
The 49ers scored a touchdown, and it appeared momentarily that they may not be completely out of the game. Then, Corey Clement hits this Sweep for a big play right up the gut. The Eagles get a pair of strong pin blocks from both Vaitai and Ertz, creating the seal on the inside. Stefen Wisniewski pulls and kicks out the force defender, and Jason Kelce releases downfield to block the linebacker on the play side. That creates a huge hole that Clement sees quickly, as he gets north and picks up a huge gain to set up the final passing touchdown for Wentz on the afternoon.
Shot 13 - Wentz hits Jeffery for the big play. #Eagles in 3x1 set, Wentz stares down FS to keep him in the MOF. Has faith in AJ to win 50:50 pic.twitter.com/7Qm1qwfNt0 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 31, 2017
Again, the Eagles are in a 3x1 set, and the safety cheats to the three-receiver side. Just to be sure, Wentz stares him down to hold him steady in the middle of the field, then pulls the trigger on a deep ball down the right sideline to Jeffery. He allows Alshon to go up and win on a contested fade, and the receiver does just that for the touchdown to swing the momentum back permanently in the Eagles' favor. It started, however, with the run by Clement.
Shot 14 - Four runs that really stood out to me to help #Eagles close out the game. Great movement by everyone on OL, great effort by RBs pic.twitter.com/TaCdtG46zY — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 31, 2017
Four other runs really stood out to me in this game, and you can see all four of them in this shot above. There is a great double team from Brandon Brooks (who was excellent on Sunday) with Lane Johnson on the back side to open up a hole for LeGarrette Blount. On the next play, blocks from Kelce, Celek, and Brooks help spring him for a touchdown on an Outside Zone Stretch play. On the next drive, a Jet Flip run to Clement features a great block on the perimeter by Marcus Johnson (and I love the rookie's know-how to stay in bounds to let the clock bleed). Lastly, a final run to end the game is highlighted by Wisniewski and Brooks getting great movement at the point of attack.
Again, it was far from perfect for the Eagles on Sunday, but the offense still managed to come away with 26 points (remember seven were from Jalen Mills' pick-six) against a San Francisco defense with nothing to lose. Considering the conditions, I'll take that, and a win is a win at this point in the season. I'm excited to see this offense take the field next weekend against Denver.
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.