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Eagle Eye: Winning On First Down

After I reviewed the Eagles' performance on defense to win the game Sunday against Atlanta, everyone had one follow-up question.

"Yeah, but how did the offense look?"

There's no question that with rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, a rookie tackle who everyone is anxious to hear more about in Halapoulivaati Vaitai and a run game that exploded for over 200 yards against the Falcons, there's plenty to discuss from Sunday's game. Doug Pederson and the Eagles' offensive coaching staff had a distinct plan going into the game, and they executed it almost perfectly. It started on the opening drive of the game.

Shot 1 - Great play design by #Eagles on first 3rd down of the game. Out route by JMatt is option 1, Drive between Sproles/Ertz option 2 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 15, 2016

On the first third down of the game, Carson Wentz sat back in the shotgun and motioned Darren Sproles to his left. The Eagles put Wentz in a lot of empty formations on Sunday, and this was the first play out of it. It was a well-designed passing concept.

To Wentz's right, Nelson Agholor ran a vertical route down the field to clear out the sideline for Jordan Matthews, who ran a quick out route. If that were taken away, Wentz would have Sproles on a shallow crossing route, and on this play both options were open. The rookie stuck to his first progression on the play, Matthews, unloading a perfect pass low and away from his receiver for a first down.

Shot 2 - Love this route from Ertz vs CB Jalen Collins, won at the top of his stem. Great throw from Wentz under pressure too #Eagles — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 15, 2016

After a false start penalty, the Eagles faced first-and-15. The Eagles put Wentz in the shotgun again. Once again, the Eagles' staff wanted to give Wentz a shot at taking advantage of Sproles in space on a quick arrow route out of the backfield. That's his secondary target. Where Wentz starts though is with tight end Zach Ertz, who runs a corner route against cornerback Jalen Collins. Ertz runs a perfect route, throwing a quick jab step inside before breaking outside for a 14-yard gain.

Shot 3 - Play-action fake pulls in the LB, creates an easy throwing lane for Wentz (4-for-4 on opening drive) #Eagles — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 15, 2016

Two plays later on first down, the Eagles went to a 12-personnel (one back and two tight end) look with Wentz under center. This looks like a run play, and at the snap of the ball it appears to be exactly that. Center Jason Kelce pulls to the left. Wendell Smallwood turns that way, and the Atlanta linebackers step up toward the line of scrimmage. This isn't a run play, however, as Matthews gets a great release off the line against Collins in press coverage and wins on a slant route from the slot. Wentz pulls up on this play-action fake and hits Matthews in stride for a 16-yard gain and a first down.

Wentz began the game 4-of-4 on the opening drive. The Eagles scored a touchdown on their opening possession for the first time since the season opener against Cleveland. Give credit to the Eagles' coaching staff for getting Wentz in a rhythm early against Atlanta's young, fast-flow defensive unit. Wentz was very efficient on Sunday, but it was the run game that carried the load for most of the afternoon. This three-play sequence to cap off the drive was proof of that.

Shot 4 - First of a three-play sequence to get #Eagles into the end zone. Sweep run play with 6 OL on the field — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 15, 2016

The Eagles moved the ball into the red zone and again came out in 12 personnel, with one small wrinkle. Instead of two tight ends on the field, rookie lineman Isaac Seumalo reported as an eligible receiver, lining up as the tight end to the left. The Eagles were going to run right behind the rookie on this play, a basic sweep run.

The ball is snapped, and Wentz hands the ball off to Ryan Mathews. Jason Peters pulls out to the "overhang" defender, linebacker De'Vondre Campbell. Kelce pulls to take on the playside linebacker in Deion Jones. Stefen Wisniewski blocks down on nose tackle Grady Jarrett, and Seumalo blocks defensive end Ra'Shede Hageman. This 6-yard run picks up a first down, and the Eagles move the chains.

Shot 5 - #Eagles 'Trap' schemes were very effective vs #Falcons. Gets OL right up on LBs and RB can get downhill quickly. — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 15, 2016

On the next play, the Eagles called a basic trap play for a big gain on first down. The trap is a quick-hitting run that the Eagles' defense has seen a ton of this season. It's a play that takes advantage of aggressive defensive fronts. Peters and Wisniewski release up to the second level. Brandon Brooks pulls to the front side to block defensive tackle Courtney Upshaw, and Kelce blocks down on the nose tackle. Mathews is able to get downhill immediately with a head of steam. Watch him put his shoulder right into the chest of the linebacker for an 8-yard gain on first down to bring up second-and-2.

Shot 6 - Great movement by Big V and Brandon Brooks, working up to LB to escort Mathews in for the TD. #FlyEaglesFly — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 15, 2016

After forcing Atlanta to take a timeout thanks to the fast tempo, the Eagles' offense run a basic Run Pass Option. Wentz had the ability to throw a bubble screen to the flat, but instead hands this ball to Mathews, who gets going immediately on an inside zone run. Watch the movement the Eagles get from the backside double team of Brooks and Vaitai, working up to the linebacker and guiding Mathews into the end zone. Credit Kelce with a strong block at the point of attack as well on what ended up as a 4-yard touchdown run to put the Eagles ahead early in the game.

The run game was simply dominant against Atlanta. The offensive line has never looked better this season than it did on Sunday afternoon. The Eagles controlled the ball for over 38 minutes, while the Falcons held it for just under 22 minutes (their lowest time of possession since early in the 2009 season). The Eagles posted seven runs of 10-plus yards, the most this season, grinding out a total of 208 yards, also a season high.

What was most important for the Eagles, and it will be as important Sunday against Seattle, is their rushing output on first down. Pederson called 18 runs on first down against Atlanta for a total of 133 yards, averaging 7.39 yards per carry. That impacted the Eagles' ability to convert on third down, which has been a struggle this season. On Sunday, Wentz was 8-of-11 on third down as a passer, converting five first downs. Picking up big gains on the ground on first down has so many benefits, and it is certainly a winning formula that the Eagles should hope to try and replicate moving forward.

Shot 7 - Classic 'Split Zone' run from #Eagles. Great double teams at point of attack, Mathews reads safety and cuts off Kelce's inside leg — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 15, 2016

It's first-and-10 from the Eagles' 18-yard line, and they call a split zone run with Ryan Mathews in the backfield. This is your basic inside zone run, except with tight end Zach Ertz coming across the formation to block the backside defensive end. Both double teams are perfectly executed inside, generating good movement at the line of scrimmage. The linebackers get out of position, partially due to Ertz's movement in the backfield. Mathews reads his block beautifully, cutting off of Kelce's back side for his longest run of the day, a 21-yard pickup.

Shot 8 - Counter step causes rookie LB Jones to get out of his gap. #Eagles averaged 7.4 yards per carry on 1st down. HUGE help for 3rd down — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 15, 2016

It's first-and-10 in the third quarter. Wentz is under center again on this handoff to Mathews. With a counter step in the backfield, watch Jones' reaction at the second level. He gets out of his gap thanks to the counter-action. Mathews reads it and flies through the A gap for a 14-yard run on first down.

Shot 9 - I love this play. Trap run with Jet Sweep action. 3 blockers release to 2nd level. Creates 11yd run and a near long TD #Eagles — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 15, 2016

On another third-quarter run, it's once again first-and-10 and Wentz is under center. The Eagles bring speedster Bryce Treggs in jet sweep motion right before the snap, a play the offense has shown on tape. It's something the Falcons' defensive ends had to prepare for during the week of practice. For that reason, defensive end Brooks Reed reacts to Treggs in the backfield for a split second. That's the first part of the play.

The second part is back to your basic trap concept, meaning you have Brooks coming from the back side to block the playside defensive tackle. This means three blockers (Wisniewski, Peters and Ertz) all release up to the second level clean to block defenders in space, creating a wall for Darren Sproles. Wentz hands the ball off and Sproles nearly takes this the distance, but gets tripped up after gaining 11 yards.

Shot 10 - 19 of #Eagles 208 rushing yards on the day comes on a nifty Draw play featuring Kelce as a short puller. Peters/Wis great as well — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 15, 2016

On the very next play, again on first-and-10, the Eagles call a nifty draw play, a delayed handoff to Smallwood where he follows a lead blocker (Kelce) through the B gap. This is a great concept that allows Peters to club his defender into the backfield, and release to the second level to get some more contact. Wisniewski makes a hell of a block as well, pinning the nose tackle Jarrett and getting him to the ground.

Shot 11 - 'Mid Zone' run from #Eagles - Mathews bends this back off of Seumalo, takes advantage of a bad angle from Neal and runs for 20yds — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 15, 2016

On the final drive of the third quarter on, you guessed it, first-and-10, the Eagles came out with their six offensive lineman package, placing Seumalo as the backside tight end. This is what many would call a mid zone run from the Eagles' offense. The offensive line is blocking with outside zone footwork, while the quarterback and running back are carrying out inside zone action. Mathews begins this play working off of Vaitai at right tackle, but because of the heavy slanting by Atlanta's front seven, he bends this run all the way to the backside fill player, safety Keanu Neal. Mathews makes Neal miss on a bad angle and takes off for a 20-yard gain. Notice the great job by Seumalo, riding Reed down the line and taking him exactly where he wants to go on this play.

Shot 12 - Sweep play for the game-winner. Just showed you 6 different runs on 6 separate first down plays. Eagles have a versatile run game! — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 15, 2016

Late in the fourth quarter, the Eagles have the ball on first down at the 5-yard line. This is a basic sweep play, with Vaitai and Brent Celek as your pin blockers and Kelce and Brooks as your pullers. All four Eagles do a great job, as Mathews leaps into the end zone untouched for the game-clinching touchdown.

Think about what you just saw. On the last six plays, all separate first downs throughout the game, I showed you six different run schemes (split zone, zone counter, trap, draw, mid zone and sweep). Throughout the game, the Eagles also ran power, counter, inside zone and outside zone. This is one of the things that excited me most about the arrival of Pederson from Kansas City, a versatile run game with multiple layers that keeps defenses on its toes when it's hitting on all cylinders.

Shot 13 - Carson Wentz throws a dime to Matthews on a route where he fakes the Over and comes back outside. Clean pocket from #Eagles OL — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 15, 2016

I'd be remiss if I didn't throw in a couple of Wentz's biggest throws from the day because I thought he was really good against the Falcons. This is a play concept we've seen from the Eagles plenty of times, but it was one of the rookie's better throws of the day. He brings Matthews in motion before the snap to the near slot. Matthews fakes an over route across the field before breaking back from whence he came toward the right sideline. Wentz drops in a dime from a clean pocket to Matthews on the run for a 20-yard gain and a first down.

Shot 14 - We broke this down w/ @gregcosell last week! (

New wrinkle from Eagles to attack #Falcons Cover 3 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 15, 2016

Last week on Eagles Game Plan, we broke down the No. 1 way that teams chose to attack Atlanta's Cover 3 scheme. The Eagles used the exact same play, using the No. 3 receiver to run across the field on a vertical route to get matched up on a safety or a linebacker. The one wrinkle they added was a dig route from Matthews as the No. 2 receiver, running his route immediately into the void created by the No. 3 receiver. They ran this play three times. All three times the play design was perfect, even if the pass was incomplete. This was a great job by the Eagles' coaching staff.

Shot 15 - @BenFennellNFL was excited to see this 'Bang Post' from #Eagles to Ertz. Great route vs Neal in man coverage. Need that this week — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 15, 2016

On this first-and-10 midway through the fourth quarter, Ertz lines up in the near slot slightly detached from the formation. He ran a quick post route, beating Neal off the snap and winning inside. This is a great job by Wentz too of knowing what he had in that matchup, trusting his tight end to win against press coverage. Wentz stares the defender down in the middle of the field to keep him from drifting in that direction.

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.

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