Eagles

Eagles Film Review: Getting the ball to Nelson Agholor in space

Eagles Film Review: Getting the ball to Nelson Agholor in space

We saw a different Nelson Agholor during the Eagles' 30-17 win over Washington on Sunday. He followed up his excellent offseason with a career game, setting career highs in catches and receiving yards (see story)

Now, it's probably too early to definitively say it's going to last. After all, he had a big touchdown in Week 1 last year too. 

But he clearly looked more confident on Sunday. That could be a big boost for the Eagles because while Agholor isn't a starter outside anymore, he still has a huge role as their slot receiver. 

And on Sunday, we got an idea of one way the Eagles really want to use him this season. Doug Pederson wants to get the ball into Agholor's hands in space. 

"Putting the ball in Nelson's hands can be exciting with his speed that he has," Pederson said on WIP Monday morning. 

So with that in mind, we'll take a look at three plays from Sunday's game where Pederson simply tried to get the ball in Agholor's hands. They worked to varying degrees. 

This is the play we've heard a ton about during and since the game. It happened in the first quarter (6:37 left) on 2nd-and-9 and resulted in a fumble. It was a disastrous play. 

Pederson explained that this play was a run play, a read-pass option, and Carson Wentz decided to get the ball to Agholor as an "advantage throw" because Washington showed zone coverage. "It turns into basically a punt return on the perimeter," Pederson said. 

The play ended up being a backwards pass, but it never should have been. The throw is designed to go forward. 

Live, I thought the play call was atrocious. After rewatching it, I'm still not convinced it was a great call, but this wasn't all on Pederson. Three different Eagles screwed up on this play. The call wasn't great but the execution was much worse. 

Before the snap, Agholor was brought in motion behind Wentz in the shotgun. On Monday, Pederson admitted that Agholor got a little too deep, which eventually helped lead to the play's failure. 

You'll notice on the outside, Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith are in 1-on-1 coverage and their blocking assignments on the play are pretty simple. 

At the point of the throw, it's clear to see the problem with how deep Agholor was. The pass was never supposed to go backwards but Wentz doesn't have much of a choice. Agholor is three yards behind him. 

Also, you'll notice at the top of the screen that CB Kendall Fuller dissects the play early and has already blown past Smith, who completely whiffed on the block. That's the second ingredient that led to the disaster. 

The third is the throw. It's a little early to see here, but Wentz completely soars the ball. The fumble could have been avoided if he places it in Agholor's hands. 

Agholor almost pulls it down, but the defender is already in his face thanks to Smith's whiff block and the fumble is inevitable. 

One more thing: Smith needs to get on this football. He probably thought it was an incompletion but if the quarterback is jumping in the pile, it's a bad look to stand there and watch. 

This next play call I thought was tremendous. While it is pretty unique, the Eagles actually ran this play early in the 2016 season against Chicago. Back in Week 2 last year, the Eagles ran it late in the third quarter on a 1st-and-10 from the Bears' 14-yard line. It went for an eight-yard gain. 

This time, the Eagles ran the play on the first snap of the second quarter from the Washington 8-yard line on 2nd-and-4. It went for a five-yard gain, but it should have been a touchdown. The only major difference in design from last year was this time the play went to the right. 

I also seem to remember Chip Kelly running these types of plays with DeSean Jackson when they were together. 

On Sunday, Wentz is lined up under center, with LeGarrette Blount in the backfield. Agholor (circled) is at the bottom of the screen and is about to go in motion. 

Agholor is speeding toward the backfield, which gives the appearance of a possible jet sweep. The Eagles run those types of plays to Agholor fairly often, so Washington was probably prepared for it. 

Here, you'll see Agholor's ability to stop on a dime, as Wentz pulls off a little play action look. By this point, Jeffery is taking Josh Norman out of the play and there's a lot of space to the right side of the field. 

Safety D.J. Swearinger (circled in green) is the only chance Washington has of stopping a touchdown. 

This should be six points. Agholor has an easy couple steps on Swearinger, but the pass needs to be perfect. It isn't. Wentz lofts it a little bit, which will allow Swearinger to make a touchdown-saving tackle. 

Agholor makes a tremendous grab on a high pass, but it slowed him down just enough to let the defender back into the play. Still, Swearinger had to dive at his ankles to make the tackle. 

The Eagles scored two plays later on a short pass to Blount. 

Here's what the play looked like in real time. Great design:

This last play we'll look at came in the fourth quarter on 3rd-and-9. This design is much simpler. It's basically just a bubble screen to Agholor, who should have Jeffery and Smith — two pretty big receivers — to block. 

Agholor (circled) is at the top of the screen and will come in motion toward the near side. 

Simple enough. Little bubble screen. Agholor is now behind his two teammates who have pretty straight-forward blocking assignments on the play. Block the guy in front of them. 

Neither did. Both Jeffery and Smith missed blocks and the play was doomed, which was a shame for the Eagles because there was a lot of space on that side of the field, and Lane Johnson was getting to the next level to block. Instead of a big gain, Agholor was dropped for a loss of one. 

Some of these plays worked on Sunday and some of them failed. But the failure probably won't deter Pederson from going back to them simply because even on the plays that failed there was opportunity present. On these types of plays, everything needs to be perfect. Agholor has to be in exactly the right place, his blockers need to block and Wentz needs his throws to be on the money. 

If nothing else, though, Sunday's game gave us a pretty clear example of how the Eagles want to use Agholor for the rest of the season. 

Eagles-Cowboys predictions by our (cough) experts

Eagles-Cowboys predictions by our (cough) experts

The Birds are back.

And fresh off the bye week, they hop right into a doozy Sunday night against the divisional rival Cowboys at AT&T Stadium (8:30 p.m./NBC).

Will the Eagles (8-1) push their win streak to eight games? Or will the Cowboys (5-4) answer the bell at home and keep things interesting in the NFC East?

Here are our expert predictions for the Week 11 matchup:

Reuben Frank (9-0)
Eagles 38, Cowboys 11. Usually, I work my way up to the actual prediction and try to build up a tremendous level of anticipation with a bunch of mumbo-jumbo about matchups, trends, analytics and whatnot before getting around to the pick. 

But not this week. I’m not messing around here. The Eagles are going to crush this team. 

Here’s a stat I love: Since 2000, the Cowboys have lost 21 games by at least 22 points. Ten of them — almost half — have been against the Eagles. And five of their seven home losses since 2000 by 22 or more points have been at the hands of the Eagles. Don’t believe me?

2000 at Texas Stadium — Eagles 41, Cowboys 14
2001 at the Vet — Eagles 40, Cowboys 18
2001 at Texas Stadium — Eagles 36, Cowboys 3
2002 at the Vet — Eagles 44, Cowboys 13
2002 at Texas Stadium — Eagles 27, Cowboys 3
2003 at the Linc — Eagles 36, Cowboys 10
2004 at Texas Stadium — Eagles 49, Cowboys 21
2008 at the Linc — Eagles 44, Cowboys 6
2011 at the Linc — Eagles 34, Cowboys 7
2014 at AT&T Stadium — Eagles 33, Cowboys 10

Big Red used to crush the Cowboys, didn't he? Even soon-to-be-Florida head coach Chip Kelly had himself a rout of the Cowboys — it got the Eagles to 9-3 on Thanksgiving Day in 2014. 

So here’s the funny thing: I picked 38-11 and then decided to change my prediction to the averages of those 10 routs and it turned out to be … 38-11. That's fate. Eagles will return to Philly Monday morning 9-1 with an eight-game winning streak and a virtual lock on the NFC East. This one's going to be fun!

Eagles 38, Cowboys 11

Dave Zangaro (7-2)
No Sean Lee. No Ezekiel Elliott. And a banged-up Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith (at best). 

Even if all of them were completely healthy, I'd probably lean toward picking the Eagles. Without them? No-brainer. 

Now, maybe the Eagles come out of the bye week a little rusty. It could happen after a long layoff, especially after a flight to North Texas for the game. But the Eagles have proven time and time again that their focus just isn't an issue. There's no reason to expect that to be a problem Sunday night. 

And the Birds are getting healthy. Ronald Darby is back. As well as the Eagles' other corners fared while he was gone, there's a reason he's a starter. And they get back Zach Ertz, who just happens to be one of their most important offensive weapons. 

Games against division rivals are not normally easy, so maybe the Eagles don't blow them out. But I think this is a win. 

Eagles 27, Cowboys 20 

Derrick Gunn (8-1)
Now that their bye week is over, the Eagles are focused on wrapping up the NFC East. Dallas is licking its wounds after getting manhandled down in Atlanta. Elliott is serving his suspension. Lee is out with a hamstring injury, and the Pro Bowler Smith is ailing with a groin injury. 

It all sounds too easy for the Birds, but with Prescott on the other side, they’re not about to overlook this one. And they still remember what happened in Dallas last season.

Without Elliott and Smith, trying to establish a ground game against the Eagles’ top-ranked run defense will be near impossible. 

Dallas is 0-2 in games Lee hasn't played in this season. 

Carson Wentz will spread the wealth through the air, and now that Jay Ajayi has had extended time to get familiar with the offense, the Birds' running attack should be even more diversified. 

If the Eagles' defense can make the Cowboys' offense one-dimensional, it's game over.

Eagles 27, Cowboys 17

Ray Didinger (8-1)
The Otho Davis Scholarship Fund dinner was held this week, honoring the late Eagles trainer and awarding scholarships to students pursuing careers in sports medicine. The room was full of former Eagles players and Philadelphia fans and, of course, there was a lot of conversation about Sunday's big game against Dallas.

The confidence level was high. I heard a dozen variations on "This will be a blowout." The thinking goes something like this: No Elliott, no chance for the Cowboys. Their pitiful performance in last week's loss to Atlanta was all the evidence the Eagles fans needed. And, yes, if that same Cowboys team shows up Sunday night, the Eagles will be in fine shape.

But my guess is the Cowboys will play much better this week at home. I'm still not sure it will be enough because right now the Eagles are playing better than any team in the NFL. I'll take the Eagles, which will virtually wrap up the division title, but I don't think it will be as easy as some folks think.

Eagles 28, Cowboys 20

Andrew Kulp (8-1)
With all their injuries and suspensions, the Cowboys really don't look so hot. 

Arguably their three best players — Smith, Elliott and Lee — are all out. They won't be able to run the ball, they'll struggle to protect Prescott, and the defense will struggle to slow down Wentz and the Eagles' offense.

All the stuff about this being a division rival on the road or the possibility of the Eagles coming off their bye week flat are going to fade pretty quickly with one simple reality. The Cowboys are an inferior opponent right now. Maybe not 49ers bad, or even Broncos bad, but at this point, they could struggle to finish .500.

Eagles 38, Cowboys 23

Corey Seidman (6-3)
No Zeke, no Lee, maybe no Smith, banged-up Bryant … the Cowboys are oozing with "nobody believes in us" potential this Sunday night. And just when one team is so undermanned that all hope looks lost (see: Giants-Broncos earlier this season), things turn out in an unexpected way.

Still, I'm not taking the Cowboys in this game. If they had Zeke, I think I would. But Alfred Morris is in that Rob Kelley mold of plodding running back who tends to struggle against the Eagles, and that'll make the Cowboys' offense one-dimensional. With Bryant at less than 100 percent, I just don't see Dallas keeping the pace.

Eagles 34, Cowboys 17

Doug Pederson uses last season's losing streak to motivate Eagles

ap-doug-pederson-eagles.jpg
AP Images

Doug Pederson uses last season's losing streak to motivate Eagles

This time last year? The Eagles actually still had a winning record and were thinking playoffs.
 
Then disaster.
 
The Eagles were 5-4 going into Week 10 a year ago and proceeded to lose their next five games, the first three in blowout fashion.
 
It was the Eagles' longest losing streak since an eight-game streak in 2012, Andy Reid's last year, and third longest since a seven-game streak spanning 1998 and 1999.
 
More importantly, it was the team's longest losing streak that began with a winning record that late in a season since the notorious 1994 collapse in Rich Kotite's final season — a 7-2 start turned into a 7-9 finish.
 
A losing streak like that can either destroy a team's character or make it even stronger.
 
And Doug Pederson knew it could go either way.
 
"I look back at that, and I just kept reminding the team that you put in the hard work and the preparation, and you believe in each other, you believe in yourself, you trust the process, and that's not cliché," he said Friday.
 
"You have to trust what I'm talking about, what the coaches are talking about, and just stick together, and there's no pointing fingers. That's what they did. They hung together."
 
That losing streak began with a home loss to Seattle. Although the final score was 26-15, it was a 26-7 game until a Dorial Green-Beckham touchdown in the final minutes. (Really.)
 
After that came a 27-13 loss to the Packers at the Linc and then the low point, an embarrassing 32-14 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati, a game the Eagles trailed 29-0 late in the third quarter.
 
"That was sort of a defining moment at that point," Pederson said. "I guess we were as low as we were going to be as a team and organization coming out of that game. The guys responded well.
 
"(The) messaging was the same. We practiced the same after that. Lot of pride, too. Lot of pride in the coaches. Lot of pride in the players and this organization. …
 
"We needed to change it. We needed to fix it. Even though we didn't win a couple games after that, you saw steady improvement (and then) we figured out a way at the end of the season to win those two games and finish on a high note."
 
The Eagles rebounded to show some fight in close losses to the Redskins and Ravens, then closed out the season with wins over the Giants and the Cowboys. Granted, the Dallas win was over a bunch of scrubs, but after a five-game losing streak, any win was welcome.
 
Pederson said Friday that pushing through that five-game losing streak and coming out and staying together as a team was instrumental in this team's 8-1 start going into Sunday night in Dallas.
 
"I think it directly affects the team this season," he said. "Things happen for a reason, and you learn from them, especially in this business. And really, in life in general. Things happen, and you learn from them. You make the necessary corrections and you move on.
 
"You don't dwell in the past, but you remember, and you reflect from time to time. So I think it's a direct correlation to where the team is today, learning how to finish games and learning how to play together and understanding that they are a good football team."
 
The Eagles are atop every NFL poll these days. They have the NFL's best record and share the longest winning streak with the Saints, and Pederson said it's not always easy for the players to ignore all the praise being lavished on them.
 
"Well, it is hard because the team, rightfully so, is being praised in a lot of areas and they're well deserved of the credit and the praise," he said.
 
"But at the same time, we understand that we can't look past this week. We can't look past this game. It's a division game on the road, national spotlight again. It's two teams that are undefeated in the NFC East. I'd like to say that every game is important, but none more important than the one we're faced with Sunday night."
 
Sunday night starts a very difficult stretch, with four of the next five games on the road and three of those road games against teams with winning records.
 
A year ago, the Eagles were 1-7 on the road, finishing with seven straight losses.
 
This year, they go into AT&T Stadium Sunday 3-1 away from Philly.
 
"Four out of the next five weeks we're traveling, it's kind of like the start of the season," Pederson said.
 
"This is sort of a tough stretch, but at the same time, it's one that we welcome. If we want to separate and become a good football team and a consistent winner in this league, these are the stretches that you have to go through and find ways to win games."