Eagles Film Review: Using Darren Sproles as a decoy on long screen play

Eagles Film Review: Using Darren Sproles as a decoy on long screen play

No, it didn’t count. 

The 57-yard touchdown pass on a misdirection screen from Carson Wentz to Zach Ertz was called back for an illegal formation on 3rd-and-6. 

Still, it was a heckuva play. And it all started with how much attention Darren Sproles creates whenever he’s in the game. 

“It's like every time Sproles steps on the field, the defense is yelling, ‘Watch the draw, watch the screen! Watch the draw, watch the screen.’ I mean, he is a magnet,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “He just — he's a dynamic player. He has a way of making big plays. You guys have seen it a lot where Darren makes a play, even when he gets tackled how he gets up and pats the ball, he feels like he should have got 10 more yards than he got. And I think that's because great players, they see it in their mind. 

“He sees the opening; he sees where he wants to get to and so he just draws a lot of attention. So we have to continue to find ways. I think we have done a fairly good job of that, of not only getting him the ball, but using him as a decoy when we can.”

This touchdown would have given the Eagles a lead in the second quarter. Sure, it didn’t count, but it’s the type of play the Eagles should try to use every once in a while. 

Here’s a closer look:

Wentz lines up in a pistol formation, with Sproles behind him. Ertz is off right tackle and the Eagles have trips to the left. 

You'll notice Nelson Agholor isn't on the line of scrimmage, which negated the play, but let's take a look at the play itself and why it would have been successful had it counted. 

Before the snap, Sproles sprints left and Earl Thomas follows, taking him completely out of the play. Because Sproles is such a dynamic playmaker, the defense has to take notice when he's in motion for what seems like a little swing pass. 

At this point, the three receivers to the left look ready to block and Thomas is sprinting toward where he thinks the ball will be, leaving one deep safety in Kam Chancellor. 

Also, take a look at Ertz off the right tackle. He engages his block just long enough. 

As Ertz releases his man, you can see that Chancellor has started to cheat toward his right side of the field, where Sproles ran as a decoy. Instead, Ertz is open for a screen pass, Halapoulivaati Vaitai has a huge block, and center Jason Kelce is ready to sprint. 

Once Ertz catches the ball, Kelce is already out in front by about four yards. Most centers wouldn't have the speed to lead block for 45 yards, but Kelce isn't most centers. While fans always seem to notice when Kelce gets blown up by a nose tackle, this is what he’s always been very good at. 

Without Kelce, Chancellor is probably going to take a good angle and stop Ertz around here. But Kelce is out in front and while he doesn't actually need to block Chancellor with his hands yet, he does force the safety to stay wide. 

Ertz has gotten a lot of flak this season for not having a ton of yards after catch, but take a look at this cut-back effort. With three guys around him and with Kelce off balance, Ertz cuts back inside and gets into the end zone. 

No, this play didn't count. A stupid illegal formation penalty nullified it. But it was a tremendous play call and it's something the Eagles would be wise to go back to later in the season.

Eagles-Giants predictions

Eagles-Giants predictions

The Eagles will have to press on without MVP candidate Carson Wentz and turn to Nick Foles.

Foles will get the chance to keep things going against a lowly Giants team in Week 15.

We’ll get our first glance of the offense without Wentz as the Eagles (11-2) visit the New York Giants (2-11) Sunday afternoon (1 p.m./FOX).

Can Foles get a win on the road and inch the Eagles closer to home-field advantage throughout the playoffs?

Our experts provide their predictions:

Reuben Frank (12-1)
Let’s be honest, the Eagles could run Matt McGloin, Matt Barkley or Aaron Murray out there Sunday afternoon and get out of East Rutherford with a win. This is the perfect first opponent for Nick Foles to make his first start of the year. Foles, 15-9 as the Eagles’ starter, has thrown just 69 passes over the last two years and is sure to have some rust as he begins the task of replacing Carson Wentz. Who better to knock the rust off than the lowly Giants? They’re 29th in the NFL in offense, 32nd in defense and playing out the string under a lame-duck interim coach. The Giants are 2-11, they’ve scored 10 offensive TDs in their last eight games and they’ve lost games this year by 10, 10, 14, 16, 17, 20 and 34 points. The Eagles won’t need a 61-yard Jake Elliott field goal this time. If Barkley were starting, I’d pick Eagles 20-7. If Murray were starting, I’d pick Eagles 17-7. If McGloin were starting I’d go 9-7 Birds. But with Foles? This one won’t be close. 

Eagles 30, Giants 7

Dave Zangaro (10-3)
The Giants are a complete mess. So no matter what you think of Foles or the Eagles' chances of winning it all after losing Wentz, they won't drop this game. 

Foles should be more than good enough to beat the NFL's second-worst defense. And there's a real chance for the Eagles to rally around their backup quarterback. I listened to a radio interview with Jeff Hostetler earlier this week and the one thing he said stood out about his magical Super Bowl run in 1990 was the support of his teammates. He said his fellow Giants really rallied around him. That's what Foles needs to happen. 

The Eagles have overcome injuries all season, but losing Wentz is by far the biggest obstacle to overcome. In many ways, he was the reason they were able to overcome all those other blows. Can they make a run without him? Well, a lot of it depends on Foles, but the rest of the team will really need to play mistake-free football because Wentz won't be there to hide those blemishes anymore. 

Oh yeah, back to this game. The Eagles are gonna win. 

Eagles 30, Giants 13

Derrick Gunn (10-3)
What a mess the Giants are right now. GM Jerry Reese fired! Head coach Ben McAdoo fired! Future Hall of Fame QB Eli Manning sits for a game and then resumes his starting role. Their offense can't score (15.3 points per game — which is 31st in the league), and their defense, which was the heart of this team in 2016, is nothing more than a distant memory. The Giants' D is 32nd overall in yards allowed, 31st in passing yards allowed, 31st in run defense and 27th in points allowed. 

The Eagles are quickly getting over the loss of Wentz, who was having an MVP season. This should be a walk in the park for the Birds even without Wentz, but you won't hear the players say that. They have a lot of respect for their wounded division foe, and as that old saying goes, "On any given Sunday." If Dallas was able to put up 30 points on the G-men, then surely the Birds can do that. You should be able to go holiday shopping by halftime.

Eagles 34, Giants 13

Ray Didinger (11-2)
The Eagles face a steeper challenge now with Wentz gone. Yes, Foles can move the offense, but he can't do all the things Wentz can do. It will be up to the coaches to draw up a game plan that is a fit for Foles. It will start with a heavy dose of the run, which is fine since the Giants are allowing 130 yards per game on the ground (31st in the league).

Jay Ajayi is becoming a bigger part of the offense — he had 15 carries for 78 yards against the Rams — so look for him to get a lot of work Sunday. For Foles to be effective, the offensive line has to play better than it did the last two weeks. The best way to protect Foles is to control the ball on the ground and let him work the passing game off play action. It's a simple formula, really.

At 2-11, the Giants are playing out the string under interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo. I expect the Eagles defense to come out inspired and swarm all over Eli Manning and the undermanned New York offense. The Eagles may not score their customary 30-plus points but they will score enough to get the win and secure that playoff bye.

Eagles 24, Giants 13

Corey Seidman (8-4)
This week’s prediction isn’t as easy it should’ve been, for obvious reasons. 

Gotta remember, however, that the Giants are a depleted team down their top two receivers and best cornerback. I think Nick Foles does enough to win and the Eagles play ball control. The defense should force many a three-and-out against Eli Manning, who gets the ball out rapidly but often for gains of three yards. 

Eagles 20, Giants 9

Nick Foles' impressive mark as Eagles starter at home

AP Images

Nick Foles' impressive mark as Eagles starter at home

Eagles Milestone Watch just isn't quite as much fun without Carson Wentz, is it?

But you know what? There are still some pretty cool statistical plateaus to look for Sunday when the Eagles face the Giants at MetLife Stadium and through the rest of the season.

Let's take a look!

• Nick Foles has won eight straight starts at home, which is two shy of the longest home winning streak by an Eagles quarterback since 1950. Donovan McNabb won 10 starts over the 2004 and 2005 seasons, Randall Cunningham won nine straight from 1991 through 1993 and Foles (2013-14) and Carson Wentz (2016-17) won eight straight. Rodney Peete (1995-96) and Bobby Thomason (1953-54) had seven-game home-winning streaks.

• Even though he's played only five games in an Eagles uniform, Jay Ajayi has already had three games with both 75 or more rushing yards and a yards-per-carry average of at least 5.0. With one more game with 75 yards and a 5.0 average, Ajayi would join Brian Westbrook, Wilbert Montgomery and LeSean McCoy as only the fourth running back in Eagles history with four such games in a season.

• The Eagles have scored 30 or more points in eight of their first 13 games. One more 30-point game ties the franchise record of nine set in 2014.

• The Eagles are averaging 176 rushing yards per game and allowing 88 rushing yards. They're on pace to become only the third team in NFL history to gain 2,250 rushing yards while allowing fewer than 1,150 rushing yards. The others are the 1941 Bears and 1969 Cowboys.

• Finally, this: Brent Celek, who could be approaching his final three games with the Eagles, has 4,973 career receiving yards, all in an Eagles uniform. With 27 more yards, he will become the eighth player in Eagles history with 5,000 receiving yards and only the 12th tight end in NFL history with at least 5,000 receiving yards all with the same team. The only other players with at least 5,000 yards all in an Eagles uniform are Pete Retzlaff (7,412), Mike Quick (6,464), Hall of Famer Pete Pihos (5,619) and Bobby Walston (5,363).