Eagles

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Carson Wentz takes pride in not letting plays die easily. 

In Sunday’s 34-3 win over the Steelers, one play he didn’t let die ended up being the back-breaker in the blowout. 

We’re, of course, talking about the 73-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles at the 13:08 mark in the third quarter. Coming into the second half, the Eagles had a 10-point lead, but this touchdown pushed it to a 20-3 advantage and the rout was on. This play was a tone-setter (see story)

“That’s something that we talk about a lot,” Wentz said after the game. “We always say that a play is never dead. I like to make plays when we need to and everyone just does a great job of getting open in those situations.”

This was the first big off-schedule play Wentz has hit during his three weeks as the team’s starter, but the signs were there. In the Chicago game, there were several times where he showed his ability to extend plays. We broke them down in a film review last week (see story).

Throughout the week, Wentz had been compared to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. One of the reasons was their shared ability to extend plays and make something happen. Big Ben showed his ability in the first quarter and almost connected on a huge touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton in the back of the end zone, but the receiver couldn’t pull it in. 

When Wentz got his shot later in the game, Sproles was able to pull it in, then make something happen with his feet. 

“I saw Carson scrambling this way,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Darren was literally right in front of me and when I saw him wheel, my first reaction was to find the sideline to see if he stepped out to be quite honest.  He hadn’t, and Carson just — it was like in slow motion — floated that ball up the sideline and Darren did the rest from there. It was a tremendous play from those two individuals. I guess the last thing I did is I always look back to make sure there are no flags on the ground on those long plays.”

There were no flags. Touchdown. Game. 

Let’s take a closer look at the play: 

Wentz is in shotgun with Sproles in the backfield with him. The Eagles come out with three-wide on the far side of the field and a lot of space on the near side. 

Stephon Tuitt, who actually had a pretty good game against the Eagles, takes this route to the quarterback. When he gets to left guard Allen Barbre, Barbre either didn’t see him or didn’t react quickly enough. 

While Sproles is still running his short out, Wentz feels the pressure and is able to step up through the hole created by Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks. As soon as he makes it through, Wentz still has his eyes downfield. 

Now Wentz is through the hole and sees Sproles finishing his out-route. This is when Wentz, on the run, motions to Sproles to take off. This is something we’ve seen Wentz do a few times during his three weeks as Eagles quarterback. 

Wentz was left with a tough decision here. He could have run for 10, maybe even 15 yards. It was wide open, but he decided to try to make a play with his arm instead. 

“I always want to be a thrower first,” he said. “Even when a play breaks down, I’m always looking [to throw] because that’s where the big plays are happening. If I scramble I might get 5, 10, 15, 20 yards, but I’m not that fast. I always want to get it to the guys that can make plays. We always want to make plays when they’re there, and that’s what happened.”

With the line of scrimmage at the 27, Wentz has enough awareness to run horizontally to make sure he didn’t cross. And as soon as Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell takes that first step toward him, Wentz sees how much room Sproles has to work with. 

Ryan Shazier, who was covering Sproles on the play, froze and then started to step toward Wentz too. He said he thought the quarterback crossed the line of scrimmage, but Wentz was aware enough to stay behind.  

Once Sproles catches the ball in open space, he begins to do Sproles things. Defensive back Sean Davis took a bad angle on him and once he gets close, the veteran turns it inside. Davis said he was trying to buy time for the rest of his defense to get there and stop Sproles. It didn’t work. 

“Man, it’s Sproles!” receiver Nelson Agholor said. “Did you think he was going to get tackled?”

While he’s blocking downfield, Dorial Green-Beckham actually trips himself up and does a somersault. But it didn’t matter — Sproles didn’t need a great block. He pretty much did it himself. 

“Anytime that you can put it in the hands of [Sproles] something special can happen on any play, and he did the rest of it,” Wentz said. 

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Next 3 Eagles opponents should ease Nick Foles' transition

Next 3 Eagles opponents should ease Nick Foles' transition

Nick Foles has stepped into a pretty good situation. The team he is now the starting quarterback for owns the best record in its conference and is tied for the best record in the NFL. The Eagles have already clinched their division and could have a bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs wrapped up by Sunday night. His offense is scoring the most points per game in the league. The Eagles rank second in rushing and 11th in passing. His defense is allowing the fifth fewest points per contest.

Beyond that, the first opponent he’ll face is the cover-your-eyes-bad, 2-11 New York Giants. Following that are the disappointing, 6-7 Raiders and the 7-6 Cowboys, who could very well be eliminated from the playoff race by the season finale on Dec. 31. Dig a little deeper into the teams that Foles will face and you’ll find three clubs that could aid greatly in Foles' getting some serious confidence under his belt before a postseason run.    

Giants (2-11)
New York is a four-alarm dumpster fire. The Giants have already canned their head coach and general manager. They’re 0-4 in the NFC East and 0-9 in the NFC. You may have heard, Eli Manning was benched, then he wasn’t. Defensively, they are dead last in the league in yards per game, second to last in rushing and passing yards, and 27th in points allowed. This team doesn’t just have tee-times made, they’re on the 17th hole. Yes, the Eagles needed a Jake Elliott 61-yard field goal to beat them at home in Week 3 but that was forever ago for both teams. This is an ideal launching spot for Nicky Six 2.0.

Raiders (6-7)
Oakland went 12-4 and made the postseason last year. This year’s version has been a major disappointment. The Raiders rank 20th or below defensively in points allowed, total defense and passing yards per game. The only reason they still presently cling to any playoff hope is that the Chiefs have won just two of their last eight games and the Chargers started the season 0-4 only to dig out and sit at 7-6. Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio called out his club for its lack of urgency in a loss to K.C. on Sunday. Oakland trailed 26-0 in a game with everything on the line. The silver and black are on the mat and don’t appear really interested in getting up. Yet another great spot for Foles and the Eagles to tune up for the playoff run.

Cowboys (7-6)
There are four teams ahead of the Cowboys for the final wild-card spot in the NFC. They need some divine intervention type of miracles to get back to the playoffs this year. Ezekiel Elliott has one more game to serve from his suspension so he would be back for the Eagles … if it matters. The heavy odds are it won’t. The more realistic question is, how will Doug Pederson and the Eagles approach this one if the Birds have everything sewed up and a bye the next week? Will he sit Foles and the bulk of the starters? Will he take a preseason game No. 3 approach and give him a half? A cameo for a series perhaps? Andy Reid would sit his guys in these spots in years past but Pederson may want to get Foles some additional work since he became the starter so late in the season.

Any way you slice the three games, they give Foles an opportunity to get reacclimated to being an NFL starter and getting some game-time chemistry down with the ones against some not-so-great teams. 

Eagles OC Frank Reich very familiar with situation facing Nick Foles

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AP Images

Eagles OC Frank Reich very familiar with situation facing Nick Foles

As of Tuesday afternoon, Frank Reich hadn't yet shared any stories with Nick Foles about the 1992 NFL season, but maybe he will in the coming days. 

After all, if there's anyone who might have some idea of what Foles is going through, it's Reich. 

And this week, as Foles is getting set to take over for Carson Wentz, the Eagles' offensive coordinator can't help but think of his own experience as a backup quarterback, coming in for a transcendent talent and leading his team into the playoffs. 

"Absolutely. I can't not think of that," Reich said. "And (Jeff) Hostetler, when he stepped in and led the Giants to the Super Bowl right around that same time period, I was on the other side of that one. So Kurt Warner when he stepped in for Trent (Green), so on and so forth. There's other examples around, not just my example and Nick knows that. He's a smart guy."

Things worked out pretty well for Reich that year.  

Back in 1992, Reich was in his seventh NFL season and was cemented behind Jim Kelly as the Bills' backup quarterback. But after Kelly started all 16 games for the Bills, he hurt his knee in the season finale against the Oilers. 

The Bills needed Reich to start the next two games and he led them to wins in both, including the biggest comeback in NFL history. Against those same Oilers in the wild-card game, Reich orchestrated a comeback after the Bills were down 35-3. The next week, he led the Bills to a win over the Steelers before Kelly returned for the AFC Championship Game. Eventually, Kelly came out of the Super Bowl and Reich took over, but he couldn't pull off another comeback. 

Anyway … one thing still stands out about that season: People thought there was no way Reich could replace Kelly and things could keep on rolling. 

"I remember when in that year, everybody thought, well, hey, Jim Kelly, no-huddle offense and it was like, now the offense is going to have to change because the franchise quarterback was out and this backup was coming in who didn't have the same skill set," Reich said. "I remember as the backup going in and talking to our coaches and saying, ‘Don't change anything. This is the offense that I know. This is the offense that I want to run. This is the offense that our players are used to. Let's just keep this thing rolling. We'll get it done. We've got the guys in this room to get it done.’ This is our DNA. This is what we've built this upon, so let's just go in there and play ball. So that's what I expect from Nick."

Reich brought up that example to show the reasoning behind the Eagles' saying they're not going to change their offense just because they lost Wentz. The team is confident in Foles, even though they know he's not Carson Wentz. 

Back in 1992, Reich wasn't Jim Kelly either. 

A big difference between Reich in early 1993 and Foles right now is experience. Reich had started just six NFL games before starting in those playoffs. Foles has 36 career starts already under his belt and one start in the 2013 playoffs. 

At some point this week, Reich might tell Foles a story about the 1992 playoffs. It could be valuable. 

"But what Nick is going to draw on is his own experience," Reich said. "The guy went to the Pro Bowl. I mean, we have a backup quarterback who was the MVP of the Pro Bowl. Just credit Howie (Roseman) for having the foresight to get someone like Nick here for something like this."