- In this edition of Morning Roundup presented by Microsoft, Jim Schwartz discusses what every defensive coordinator is trying to figure out around the NFL - how to stop the run-pass option plays that helped guide the Eagles to the Super Bowl last season. We're live this morning at around 11:45 a.m. as the man who is helping implement those RPOs, offensive coordinator Mike Groh, speaks to the media.
1. Does Jim Schwartz Have An Answer For RPOs?
The concept is relatively simple for an offense. The quarterback reads a key and depending on what he sees he can either hand the ball off to the running back to pass it. And the pass options aren't just screens. They're route concepts that threaten all levels of the field. The Eagles were masterful at executing run-pass options (RPOs) last year. Most teams utilize RPOs in some fashion but not to the level of design and frequency that the Eagles do. Head coach Doug Pederson is ahead of the curve on this, and NFL teams are waiting to see the next evolution of it in Philadelphia. What does the Eagles' defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz think is the key to neutralizing these plays?
"You can't overplay anything. I think that's probably the biggest thing. If you're overplaying the run, you make yourself susceptible to the pass; if you're overplaying the pass, you make yourself susceptible to the run. I think that's been the basis of that," Schwartz said. "RPOs aren't new. Been around for a while. The increased use of them is probably a little bit more new, but it's a challenge that we've dealt with for long time now."
For a master class on RPOs, listen to the Eagle Eye in the Sky podcast below with Fran Duffy and Morgan State offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Travis Manger.
2. Jay Ajayi Embraces Contract Year
He changed his diet. He's eating vegetables after avoiding them like the plague. He "didn't believe" in salads.
Jay Ajayi has earned praise for how he attacked this offseason. Now in his first full season with the Eagles, Ajayi was acquired last Halloween at the trade deadline, he wants to capitalize on the final year of his rookie contract.
Players have approached the contract year in different ways in the past. Some thrive under the pressure. Some stress to the point where it affects the product on the field. Speaking with Ajayi on Friday, he's confident and relaxed about what the future has in store for him.
"I understand what's going on and how this year's going to affect the rest of my life, so that's definitely something to be motivated about being able to provide for my family and myself for the rest of my life is exciting for me. And I'm just excited to play the game and really showcase again who the Jay Train is because I feel again, the same, that people have kind of forgotten a little bit and I'm excited to get back out there," Ajayi said.
"It's going to be a great year for me, I definitely believe that. I'm excited to run behind the best offensive O-line in this league, having both of our quarterbacks healthy, the receiving corps - I'm excited for this offense, what we'll do and we're ready for another great run this year."
3. Where Can The Offense Improve From Last Year?
The Eagles' offense was one of the best in the league last season with Carson Wentz at quarterback, but there's always room for improvement. Dave Spadaro looked at an area where the Eagles could certainly be better in 2018.
They can certainly improve on first and second downs, and that is no doubt a goal of this Training Camp. Wentz was brilliant last season on third down, and per Pro Football Focus, Wentz led the NFL with a 127.0 passer rating on third-and-6 or longer. On third-and-7 or more, Wentz completed 44 of 71 passes for 727 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions, compiling a 117.5 passer rating. Twenty eight of the 44 completions gained first downs.
In every third-down situation, Wentz was great. On third and 4 yards and shorter, Wentz completed 20 of 24 passes for 186 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions for a 138.4 passer rating. Can the Eagles realistically rely on Wentz being so outstanding again on third down? Maybe, because he's a star quarterback and one of the best in the NFL, but they would rather not need Wentz so often to come up with something magical.
"I think we can execute in the early downs more consistently," Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz said. "You don't want to be in so many third-and-long situations. Fortunately, we found a way to keep drives going last season, but ideally you want to be in more third-and-short situations. I think we can improve there. We have balance. We can give defenses a lot of different looks, different personnel packages. We want to keep defenses off balance."
4. A Different Approach To Handling Success
Some critics don't think the Eagles are going to be able to handle the challenges that come with trying to defend a Super Bowl title. Linebacker Corey Nelson won Super Bowl 50 with the Denver Broncos in the 2015 campaign. They lost a Hall of Fame quarterback in Peyton Manning but still have not made it back to the playoffs since. In his first Training Camp as an Eagle, he likes some of the differences in how the Eagles are going about their business. Graham Foley has more.
"You can't get complacent," Nelson said. "Another thing is thinking you got it made out there on the field just because you won a championship, everyone is going to lay down for you. And it's not the case. It's the exact opposite. You become a target. Everyone plays 10 times harder against you. ... Those three things for sure - quick turnaround, complacency, and knowing that you have a target on your back. If you can understand those three things, I feel like you will have a shot at repeating again."
When players arrived for Training Camp on Wednesday, they were surrounded by messages from head coach Doug Pederson of staying hungry and taking on the challenge of facing every team's best effort. Nelson said it is a significant improvement to his time in Denver, where taking on that challenge was not a team focus.
"I was like, 'Wow, he's right on the money with it,'" Nelson said. "For him to say that, it says a lot about our team and the place that we're in and the mindset that we have going into this season which is real good."
I personally love Zach Ertz's quote at the end.
5. Play Of The Day
If you haven't been reading, Fran Duffy and Ben Fennell have been absolutely crushing it with their Practice Notes the first couple of days. They took 21 notes from Friday's workout, and Duffy offered this play below as the "best throw of the day."
Nate Sudfeld dropped back and hit Rashard Davis on a deep corner route down the field. It was a beautifully thrown pass from the third-year quarterback who figures to be a big part of the Eagles' plans in the future.
Get a glimpse of the sights from the second practice of 2018 training camp.