Doug Pederson told a little white lie last week.
On Wednesday, as the Eagles prepared for their Sunday matchup against the Lions, Pederson was asked if he would start calling some designed runs for Carson Wentz.
Here was his answer: “Without giving away the game plan? No, I’m not. Now, this week for us, it’s our fourth game of the season. As a staff, we’ve got to be extremely smart on how we handle that aspect of the game.”
Sneaky, sneaky, Doug.
Pederson went on to talk about how the Chiefs used Alex Smith in the run game, saying that as the season went on, it was a possibility they would dial up some runs for the quarterback if there were playoff implications.
Then Pederson called two zone-read-look run plays for Wentz on Sunday anyway.
Both of Wentz’s runs came in the second quarter but on different drives. The first went for a 10-yard gain and the second went for four. Aside from just those plays, we then saw that the Lions had to respect Wentz as a runner for the rest of the afternoon.
“Yeah, they were very successful,” Pederson said this week. “Obviously [we] gained a couple of first downs by doing that. The ability to run the inside zone with Carson reading the defensive end and/or linebackers, depending on plays, is something that we're going to continue to develop and continue to grow with.
“Again, we're still relatively early in the season. So I don't want to expose our quarterback necessarily to too many hits outside of the pocket that way. But we'll continue to explore it and keep utilizing those types of runs.”
Here’s a look at how Wentz’s running plays helped the Eagles on Sunday:
On Wentz’s first running play, at the 12:57 mark in the second quarter, he’s in shotgun with Darren Sproles to his left, trips to his right and Zach Ertz as the tight end on the left side of the line.
Now, we’re at the point of what looks to be the handoff. You can see the Lions, at all three levels of their defense, are pushing toward where they think the run is going. It leaves a nice pocket of space toward the left sideline.
By the time the Lions defenders realize Wentz kept the ball, they have to try to stop dead in their tracks and recover. Wentz isn’t an Olympic sprinter, but he is fast enough to get around the edge here. Wentz picks up 10 yards and the Eagles score a touchdown three plays later.
This next play starts with the Eagles on their own 46-yard line. It’s 2nd-and-1, so they’re pretty close to picking up the first down. On this play, Wentz is again in shotgun with Sproles to his left. But this time, he has three wide on the left side and a tight end of the right side of the line.
As Wentz puts the ball into Sproles' gut before pulling it, you can see Lions defensive end Devin Taylor bite just hard enough. All of his force is going left, toward where Sproles is going.
That hesitation by Taylor to go after Wentz is just enough time for the quarterback to get around him, pick up four yards and move the chains. The Eagles went on to kick a field goal on the drive at the end of the second quarter.
This last play comes at the 8:49 mark in the fourth quarter. This is a key 3rd-and-2 situation inside Lions territory with the Eagles down 21-20. Wentz lines up in shotgun with Sproles now on his right. This is a three-wide formation, with Ertz the only tight end. Ertz goes in motion from right to left before the snap.
As you can see, the offensive line immediately opens a large hole for Sproles. Meanwhile, the Lions’ free defensive end and linebacker sort of freeze. Earlier in the game, it’s likely they would have assumed Sproles was going to carry the ball, but they were beaten earlier by Wentz’s legs, so they now have to respect his running ability.
By the time it’s clear that Sproles has the ball, Jason Kelce is in the second level blocking the free linebacker, and it’s too late for the defensive end to recover. Sproles has a huge hole and picks up 10 yards and a first down.
Of course, the Eagles ended up losing the game, but this play helped lead to what would have been the game-winning field goal. The Eagles set it up throughout the game, by showing their play-action and Wentz’s ability with his legs.
Even when Wentz doesn’t take off running, teams will now have to respect the threat. That can be a huge weapon for the Eagles going forward.