Film Review: Carson Wentz’s run plays give Eagles new dynamic

Film Review: Carson Wentz’s run plays give Eagles new dynamic

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. 

Eagles bring back special teams maven Bryan Braman

USA Today Images

Eagles bring back special teams maven Bryan Braman

The Eagles have brought back a former special teams ace for the stretch run. 

Special teamer Bryan Braman on Tuesday signed with the Eagles to rejoin Dave Fipp's special teams group.

Braman, 30, had been with the Eagles from 2014-16, when he was a major contributor for Fipp's top-end special teams unit. He can help fill the void left by the season-ending injury to Chris Maragos earlier in the season. 

During his three seasons with the Eagles, Braman led all Eagles with 1,214 special teams snaps. He played more special teams snaps than any other Eagle in each of the last two seasons. He played in all 48 games over those three seasons, but was mainly a special teams player. 

After officially placing quarterback Carson Wentz (ACL) on Injured Reserve Tuesday, the Eagles had one available roster spot. It looks like it will be filled by Braman. 

Braman was not resigned by the Eagles this past offseason. He spent some time in New Orleans but was placed on their IR and was then released. He hasn't been with a team since early September. 

Eagles' offense 'full steam ahead' with Nick Foles at QB

Eagles' offense 'full steam ahead' with Nick Foles at QB

Carson Wentz is out, Nick Foles is in. 

And the Eagles claim their offense isn't going to change. 

On it's face, that seems somewhat absurd. After all, Wentz is more than an average quarterback. He's the face of the Eagles' franchise and was an MVP candidate through 13 weeks. Foles was once a Pro Bowler, but there's a reason he wasn't a starter entering this season. 

So how will the offense look different? 

"I don't expect it will look different at all," Foles said adamantly.  

Why is that? 

"Because it's our offense," Foles answered. "This is the Eagles' offense. This is the one that is the DNA of this team. And we're going to do what we do. We have so many tremendous players on offense that can do a lot of different things. We just have to go out there and execute and have a great week of work and just keep moving." 

Offensive coordinator Frank Reich finally admitted that there will be "very minor tweaks" to the Eagles' weekly game plans with Foles in at quarterback. But he made the same point as Foles, that the system is built around the QB, but also around the other talent on offense. 

There is, however, one pretty significant difference between Wentz and Foles. 

"Now, Carson has some unique physical traits that he does exceptionally well, but it's nothing that Nick can't handle," Reich said. "We're full steam ahead."

The Eagles run plenty of run-pass option plays, but head coach Doug Pederson pointed out on Monday that the Eagles very rarely use their quarterback to run the ball in those situations. And as far as RPOs go, Foles has used them plenty before. 

Another part of the offense that has been tailored to Wentz is the autonomy the quarterback has at the line of scrimmage. Wentz has been able to make calls and checks pre-snap based on what the defense shows. It seems like Foles will have that same ability, which is something he's excited about. 

"Understand this, he's a veteran player who has played and won a lot of games, not only here, but other places that he's been," Pederson said. "Nick's a highly intelligent football player."

Pederson said he and Foles will talk weekly to make sure his quarterback is comfortable with the plays that go into the game plan. So, theoretically, things could be different. But based on what the offensive leaders of the team have said, don't expect wholesale changes. 

Now, what might change about the offense isn't necessarily by design. Because of Wentz's unique physical gifts and escapability, he's able to make incredible plays. The escape in Washington, the throw to Corey Clement in the end zone, the deep flick down the sideline in Seattle, those are plays only a handful of guys in the world can make. It would be unfair to expect Foles to make them. 

But as far as game-planning goes, the Eagles are going to do what they've done. 

"I feel comfortable in this offense," Foles said. "I love this offense. We're going to run this offense. Nothing's going to change."

Foles dealt with elbow soreness during the summer, but says his elbow now feels "amazing" and is not an issue. That's good news for the Eagles, because at least Foles has plenty of starting experience. His backup, Nate Sudfeld, has never even been active for an NFL game. 

The Eagles' hopes in 2017 rest on the shoulders of Foles. 

"I've always been a gunslinger, just let it rip," Foles said. "That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to play loose, count on the guys, lead this team. There's no other place I'd rather be. That's why I came back here. ... I'm ready to step up and help this team win."