It was not always pretty for the Eagles offense against the Chicago Bears, but despite the fact that they put the ball on the ground a handful of teams and got penalized twice as much, they were still able to score 30+ points for the fifth straight game, the second-longest streak in team history, and win by four scores on Sunday afternoon. Carson Wentz was sharper in this game than he was the previous week against Dallas, and he made some throws in all areas of the field that were impressive after going back and watching the film. To start things off, let's look at all three of his touchdown passes in the game, all of which came inside the red zone.
Wentz's numbers in the red zone are downright silly this season. The second-year quarterback is completing 65.2 percent of his passes inside the 20-yard line (30-of-46) with 20 touchdowns and, most importantly, no interceptions or sacks. He has a quarterback rating of 117.9. When he gets down near the red zone, there are a lot of weapons at Wentz's disposal, but his favorite is his trusty tight end Zach Ertz.
Shot 1 - Carson Wentz's TD to Zach Ertz was a great complement to the 'Snag' concept. Great job of Wentz holding the backside safety with his eyes while Ertz beats the playside safety with his route #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/bIgjv2PPSu — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 27, 2017
Ertz has caught nine passes in the red zone for seven touchdowns, leading the Eagles in both categories, and on Sunday he became the first Eagle to net over 100 yards receiving in a single game. This touchdown was a well-designed concept that I believe was designed to go to Ertz the whole way, and it all really starts with the formation.
Lined up on the right hash, the Eagles are in '11 personnel', with one back (Corey Clement) and one tight end (Ertz) with three receivers. Torrey Smith is the receiver lined up to Ertz's side, and Alshon Jeffery is stacked alongside Nelson Agholor at the bottom of the screen. As former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky helped point out on twitter, the alignment of the two receivers on the wide side of the field already has his 'spidey sense' drawing him in that direction. That means that in order for Wentz to hit Ertz in the post for a touchdown, they need to beat both safeties. The safety to the right, Adrian Amos (No. 38), will be up to Ertz. The safety to the left, Eddie Jackson (No. 39), will be up to Wentz.
Wentz takes the snap and drops back, and he immediately gets his eyes to the two-receiver side. The linebacker underneath, already cheating that direction because of the alignment, slides towards the sideline. Jackson, the safety, is held in the middle of the field and also keeps a close eye in that direction. That leaves Ertz to beat the playside safety, and now I want to explain the concept.
If you were to freeze this play, as I do above, just a second or so in, it would look a lot like a 'Snag' concept. This is a play that pretty much every team at every level of football runs. Amos has seen it hundreds of times in his life. Smith sits down on a little hook route at the top of the numbers. Clement runs to the flat. Ertz appears to be breaking to the corner. It has all the makings of 'Snag'...until it doesn't. Ertz snaps his head back inside to the Post, Amos' hips are completely flipped the wrong direction, and Wentz hits his tight end in-stride for a pinpoint touchdown to go up 7-0. This was an example of great game planning from the Eagles coaching staff followed up by excellent execution on the field, particularly from Wentz and Ertz, on this play, but it still may not have been as impressive as Wentz's second touchdown.
Shot 2 - Wentz's second TD came on a RPO. Wentz sees a clue pre-snap that it's going to be a blitz from the field, throws the bubble to Agholor and allows his man to make a play after the catch. #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/GSokiKTFmL — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 27, 2017
This is yet another example in what has become a consistent theme with Carson Wentz; for such a young player he is excelling in the pre-snap phase of the quarterback position. This is a Run Pass Option concept (or RPO). That means that the Eagles are running both a run play AND a pass play here. On the outside, Agholor runs a Bubble in the slot. In the box, the Eagles are running a simple Inside Zone play which could be handed off to Clement.
Wentz surveys the field before the snap, and he notices a 'tell' from the Chicago defense. In the slot over Agholor, Wentz sees two Bears defensive backs stacked over each other. To Wentz, this means pressure from the slot, but he has to be sure before he immediately throws this ball to the outside. He takes the snap, and right as the football hits his hands, look at Wentz's eyes. He looks at the slot corner, sees him triggering on the blitz, and he immediately flips his body around, resetting his feet to throw the bubble screen to Agholor in the flat. Wentz looks like a second baseman turning a sweet double play here, and he puts this ball right on Nelson, helping to set up a yards-after-catch situation. Agholor makes the most of it, flattening out the safety in the alley, hitting the afterburners and sprinting for the pylon as he somersaults into the endzone for six points. It all started with Wentz in the pre-snap phase recognizing the chance of pressure, confirming it post-snap, and putting the ball where it needed to be to allow his receiver to go make a play. That's quarterbacking in the NFL.
Shot 3 - Third TD came down in the red zone. Pumps to Ertz in the slot and throws a touch pass to Alshon for a score.
Wentz's third and final touchdown also came in the red zone, and this time it came to Alshon Jeffery. The Eagles come out in an '11 personnel' set again, this time with Kenjon Barner on the field at running back. He lines up in the slot to the right. The Bears are playing a form of bracket coverage, and I guarantee the Eagles expected this kind of look. With Ertz as the No. 2 receiver to the left and Jeffery at No. 3, they have their star receiver matched up on a linebacker with a safety over the top. Wentz takes the snap, throws a quick pump fake to Ertz to try and hold the safety (which works perfectly). Jeffery clears the linebacker, and Wentz places a perfect touch pass up high to Jeffery in the back of the end zone for six points. Wentz and the Eagles lead the NFL in red zone touchdown efficiency this season, reaching the end zone on 71.8 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line.
Outside of those three touchdowns, Wentz made a lot of great plays in this game. He was strong once again on third down (8-of-10 against the Bears), he produced against pressure, he took care of the football, and he made plays with his legs when he needed to. No play stood out more in that regard, however, than a third-down pickup in the third quarter.
Shot 4 - Fantastic play here by Wentz. Screen call on 3rd-and-9. Sees pressure coming from the field. Screen is taken away, so rather than kill it he spins away from pressure and runs for first down. #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/awkhi5cKp0 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 27, 2017
It's third-and-nine, and Wentz again surveys the defense before the snap of the ball. He knows that they're running a screen to Clement to the left, but he wants to make sure everything looks clear before he takes this snap. Wentz sees the crowded field-side of the formation, and he's expecting pressure. He knows that he's going to have to get rid of this ball quickly to the screen, because he's going to have a free runner coming from his right.
Wentz takes the snap, and the screen to Clement is timed well. The problem? Chicago doesn't bite, and the screen pass is sniffed out. Instead of panicking, or throwing the ball into the dirt to force a punt, Wentz fights to keep the play alive the only way he knows how. Wentz pirouettes away from the pressure - the same pressure he read pre-snap - rolls to his right, knowing that there won't be any threats in that direction, and sprints for a first down. This was a 'DNA' play by Wentz, and what I mean by that is that there aren't many people on the planet playing quarterback that can make that kind of heads up play against NFL-style pressure. That was a big-time pickup on third-and-long.
Wentz was very good in this game, but let's transition to other aspects of the offense. The big men up front played well in this game, providing Wentz more than enough time to deliver the ball more often than not. Sure, they gave up their share of pressures, but against a defense that came into the game leading the NFL in sacks on third down, they kept Wentz clean for most of the game. One player up front that has consistently impressed me this season is veteran guard Brandon Brooks, who had another strong showing on Sunday.
Shot 5 - Brandon Brooks has been so consistent all season. Stood out yesterday in the run and pass games. Great job picking up the looper on this T/E Stunt and then looking for work on second rep #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/oXYv3MZGWS — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 27, 2017
These are two pass protection clips, and you'll see some shots of him in the run game later, but you can see Brooks' ability to move laterally on two occasions here in the passing game. On the first snap, watch how he sees this looping edge rusher coming inside on a stunt, as he plants and redirects from a bit of an awkward base, sliding back inside to usher the pass rusher out of harm's way. On the next play, the Eagles are sliding their protection to the right. He's only really responsible for his outside gap on this play, his right side. But with no immediate threat on that side, Brooks looks for work. He gets his eyes inside, sees Kelce locked up on a defensive tackle, and decides to lay a hit on a defender. Brooks helps get that lineman on the ground to help give Wentz time to make a throw outside the numbers in the direction of Torrey Smith. Brooks has played at a high level all year long, and I'd argue that he may be the most consistent player up front for what's been a very good Eagles offensive line in 2017.
In the run game, the Eagles have consistently been able to pick up chunks of yardage using the 'Trap' and 'Wham' plays on the ground. The concepts, philosophically, are the same. The idea is to allow an interior defensive lineman to come upfield free of charge, he is left unblocked, up until an Eagle comes from either side and whacks him sideways to create a seal for the running back. On a 'Wham' play, that blocker is most often a tight end (though it can be a running back as well). On a 'Trap' play, that blocker is an offensive guard from the back side. Last week against Dallas, the Eagles used the Trap early and often, and this week against Chicago, they leaned more towards the Wham.
Shot 6 - The 'Wham' play (along with 'Trap') has been a staple all year round. Get an advantageous block for the TE on a DT to create a seal. OL playside get up to the 2nd level. Great leap by Blount on the back end of the run. #FlyEaglesFly (literally) pic.twitter.com/XgCoenSOcH — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 27, 2017
Here's an example of the 'Wham' play, with Brent Celek blocking inside on defensive tackle Akiem Hicks. This allows Jason Kelce to work up to the linebacker level. Lane Johnson blocks the edge rusher. Look at the crease created for LeGarrette Blount here, who is able to keep his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and sprint downhill for a big gain, one where he hurdles a safety on his way to a first down. The Traps and Whams are a big part of the Eagles rushing attack, and I expect that to continue down the stretch. That being said, I was intrigued by a small wrinkle against the Bears' defensive front on Sunday with their Wham run play.
Shot 7 - The #Eagles used a bit of a wrinkle on their 'Wham' play against Chicago's odd fronts on Sunday. If Kelce can't get up to the 2nd level, have Celek work up to the LB instead. Celek just plays off of Kelce. Great job by Vaitai keeping 2 defenders at bay on backside pic.twitter.com/cb1QRrxfVP — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 27, 2017
On that last run, you saw Kelce get up to the second level to block the playside linebacker, an integral part of the play. When Kelce is covered up by a nose tackle, however, it becomes increasingly hard for him to release up into space. Against Chicago's 3-4 front, there were going to be times where that would be the case, so the Eagles inserted this bit of a wrinkle in this game. Watch Celek on this play, because at the snap of the ball he releases inside as if he's going to block the nose tackle. But when he sees Kelce is locked up at the line of scrimmage, Celek leaks up to the second level, blocking the linebacker that Kelce would normally take care of. It's a simple adjustment, allowing the 'Wham' to become more of a 'Lead' run play, and it helps spring Blount for a 30-plus-yard gain from back in his own end of the field. The Eagles did this a couple of times in this game, and I thought it was a cool adjustment to make against the Chicago front.
Shot 8 - The outside zone with Corey Clement has been a staple the last few weeks with the #Eagles. He's running confident and is doing a good job finding the cutback lane. Frontside stretches, backside cuts off. Few examples here. pic.twitter.com/xpnJpWp2cy — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 27, 2017
Another big part of the Eagles run game over the last few weeks has been the outside zone, particularly with rookie running back Corey Clement. The undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin has been running with more confidence over the last month or so, and he looks very comfortable in this run scheme in particular. Here are three examples of him running east-to-west along the line of scrimmage as the athletic offensive line gets belly to belly with the defense. On these zone runs, the goal of the frontside blockers on the offensive line is to stretch them out, running them towards the sideline. On the backside, the blockers often just want to cut defenders off at the pass. With the playside stretching and the backside cutting, a natural crease is bound to form, and it just takes an amount of patience from the back to read the defense, stick his foot in the ground, and get downhill. Clement does that on these three runs for first downs, and you can see the job that players like Jason Kelce, Brooks, and Lane Johnson do in both the front- and backside of these run plays. I expect the outside zone to continue being worked into the weekly game plans for this Eagles offense. The Eagles are the best rushing team in the NFL on first down, and overall their 147.5 yards per game on the ground rank second in the NFL. They lead the league, by a wide margin, with 17 runs of 20-plus yards, and I expect that number to continue to grow with a player like Jay Ajayi on the roster.
Shot 9 - Another 30+ yard run by Jay Ajayi, finds the hole in this Inside Zone Cutback play. Runs through multiple arm tackles. Just have to protect the football on the back end of the run. Great hustle by Nelson Agholor #Eagles pic.twitter.com/I7HQurfOWv — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 27, 2017
Let's look at that long run from Ajayi, who busted off his third 30-plus-yard run in three games as an Eagle. This is an 'Inside Zone Counter' run, where Ajayi and Wentz's initial steps make it look like it will be an Inside Zone run to the right. At the last second, both players switch their footwork up, and it's actually meant to hit to the left. Chicago's defense gets early penetration, however, and second-year defensive tackle Jonathan Bullard shows color in the backfield. This forces Ajayi to reassess his path, and he cuts back to the right, quickly finding a hole and flying through it. At the second level, Ajayi runs through three arm tackles and appears destined for paydirt, but a fourth Chicago defender comes from behind and tomahawks the ball to the ground. Luckily for Ajayi, and the Eagles, Nelson Agholor made an outstanding hustle play from behind, chasing the play and being in position to recover the fumble in the end zone for a touchdown. I showed two fumbles from Eagles running backs in this piece, mainly because they came on the back end of two big runs, but also to note that, again, it wasn't always perfect for the Eagles on Sunday against Chicago, but they still found a way to win big. Sunday night in Seattle will almost certainly be a different kind of test.