Dave Zangaro

Eagles Film Review: Shaq Thompson is no match for Nelson Agholor

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NFL

Eagles Film Review: Shaq Thompson is no match for Nelson Agholor

Coming into Thursday night's game, the Eagles thought they would have the chance to exploit a mismatch against the Panthers' defense. 

They were right.

At times, the Panthers like to stay in their base defense, which means lining up linebacker Shaq Thompson on Nelson Agholor. While Thompson is a pretty athletic guy for 6-0, 230, he's not nearly quick enough to match up with Agholor, who is having a great season. 

Through six games this season, Agholor already has 20 catches for 321 yards and four touchdowns. After a terribly disappointing start to his career, it appears Agholor has finally figured it out as the Eagles' slot receiver. 

On Thursday, he had four catches for 55 yards and a touchdown. Most of that came against Thompson. When lined up against Thompson, he had two catches for 48 yards, including the fourth-quarter touchdown. 

"They've done that in their past. Shaq's a tremendous athlete and very gifted," head coach Doug Pederson said. "[He] can run, [he is a] physical linebacker, [and] plays a lot like a nickel DB. It just so happened that he thought Nelson was going to — great move, great move at the top of the route. He juked him to the outside and he bit on the play and then Nelson broke inside. Carson (Wentz) made a very accurate throw for the touchdown. But that's something they've shown even leading up to the game."

We'll take a look at the touchdown, but first a look at an early reception: 

Agholor (circled) has plenty of space on 3rd-and-5. It looks like he's not covered, but he is. Linebacker Shaq Thompson (also circled) is about drop in coverage. 

At the top of Agholor's route, Thompson actually has pretty good coverage. After all, he's a really good athlete for a linebacker, but it's not going to be enough. Carson Wentz has plenty of time in the pocket; his offensive line is doing its job. 

Agholor wasn't his first read on this play. But Wentz doesn't like what he sees on the left side of the field where Torrey Smith is working. 

Now, Wentz has locked in on Agholor, who has gotten behind Thompson in coverage and he's about to slip to his right and get open. The deep safety sees it too. He's going to start driving toward the play, so it's going to take a perfect pass from Wentz. 

Perfect pass from Wentz. He was actually pretty shaky early in Thursday's game but this was a beautiful throw. After Agholor catches the ball he's able to get past the safety and pick up an even bigger gain of 24 yards. 

This next play is the first of the fourth quarter. The Eagles were already in the lead but this touchdown pass is about to put them up by 12 points. 

At the time of the snap, Thompson has Agholor in man coverage with absolutely no help. This isn't going to end well. 

Wentz notices the mismatch immediately and never looks anywhere else. He stares down Agholor until the receiver makes a break at the top of his route. He already has Thompson beat. Thompson is a good athlete but he can't cut the way Agholor can. 

By the time Agholor catches the ball, it's pretty clear he's already going to have the first down. But there's a lot of space in front of him. And the deep safety's momentum is taking him away from the play. 

Agholor takes a straight line right into the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown catch. 

On both of those plays, Agholor doesn't just get open in the slot. He uses his quickness to do it and then uses his speed to make something happen after the catch. For as well as Jordan Matthews played in the slot over the last few years, Agholor is just a more explosive player. 

"That's beneficial for a slot receiver to have that kind of breakaway speed," Pederson said, "and two great plays by him. Just got to keep him coming."

Through six games this year, Agholor is on pace to have the best year — by far — of his career. He's on pace for 53 catches for 856 yards and 10 touchdowns. That would be a big-time jump. 

Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Doug Pederson talks Carson Wentz's end zone dive

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Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Doug Pederson talks Carson Wentz's end zone dive

Everyone in the city of Philadelphia held their breath in the second quarter Thursday when Carson Wentz scrambled near the goal line and tried diving into the end zone throwing shoulder first.

Hearts were in throats all across the Delaware Valley as Wentz took on Panthers safety Mike Adams, even though the 6-foot-5, 237-pound Wentz has the size advantage on the 5-foot-11, 205-pound Adams. That's a golden arm at stake.

He was stopped short and threw a touchdown pass on the next play to tie the game 10-10. More importantly, he wasn't injured.

"Well, at the time, I thought he was going to score, quite honestly," Pederson said. "You don't really want your starting quarterback to lead with your throwing shoulder, but I understand, too, the situation, and him trying to get in the end zone. There was a lane at the time, but in this league, everything closed fast. Could he have gone lower? Sure. But at the same time, I think he just saw the end zone and was trying to get in."

Pederson, when asked, said plays like that and when he stands in and delivers the ball with a blitz coming at him, resonate with teammates. They appreciate his toughness and will to win.

Lazy Sunday
As you watch football games from your living room this weekend, know the Eagles are probably doing the same thing.

After Thursday night's huge win over Carolina and with their next game not until next Monday night, the Eagles are in what's almost like a little bye week.

Doug Pederson gave his players and coaches the entire weekend off. While the injured players stuck around this weekend to get treatment, the others were free to go and do whatever they want.

Pederson said he wanted them to get away and "think about the first six weeks." Those are going to be some happy thoughts. The Eagles are 5-1 and look like the best team in the NFC.

The Eagles were going to start looking at film of Washington Friday night, but they weren't planning on taking a deep dive into the division opponent until after Sunday.

Players will start reporting back to the NovaCare Complex on Monday and the team will have a light 10/10/10 practice Tuesday. The real week of practice doesn't begin until Thursday, which will be like a normal Wednesday. With the Monday Night Football game, the Eagles just push everything back one day.

"We've got three really good, exciting games coming up before our official bye [week], all at home," Pederson said. "So it will be an exciting week. Looking forward to it."

Barnett gets his first sack
Sort of.

Derek Barnett was able to hold onto Cam Newton's leg for dear life in the fourth quarter before Justin Hamilton came and took Newton down. The seven-yard sack was split between the two players, neither of whom had an NFL sack coming into the game.

"Cam's a big dude," Barnett said. "He was trying to get out. And he almost did."

Barnett hasn't been producing the way fans probably hoped for his rookie season. The all-time sack leader at the University of Tennessee and the 14th overall pick has gotten close but didn't get one until Thursday.

Does he think this first half sack will open up the floodgates?

"I mean, I feel good rushing the last few weeks," Barnett said. "I just have to keep being critical of myself. My coaches and teammates have to be critical of me, too. It's just getting more reps and stuff and everything will slow down for me. But I feel confident rushing and stuff. I just have to become smarter and when I get at the top of my rushes, learn what to do and what not to do. I just have to keep grinding. The best thing about coming to work is that everybody is pushing each other. It's fun coming into work and getting better."

In the locker room after the win, plenty of his teammates were ribbing Barnett about his first sack. He couldn't help but smile when he heard some of it. Hopefully, for the Eagles, there will be plenty more sacks to come for him.

A numbers game
The Eagles are 5-1. That means they have a really good shot of making the playoffs, but nothing is a done deal.

Before this season, there have been 225 teams in NFL history to win five of their first six games. Of them, 173 have made the playoffs. That means there's a 76.9 percent success rate. Those are pretty good odds. But you'll remember, the 2014 Eagles started the season 5-1 and failed to make it into the playoffs.

Pederson now has to make sure his players don't think they've accomplished everything yet.

"It's tough. It's a fine line because the players are — they're going to read and they're going to listen to all the media outlets on TV and stuff and just hear how people are talking about them and saying how good and how great they are," he said. "But [we have] to keep it real, too. That comes from me. Yeah, we're winning these games, but there is a lot to fix, a lot to correct as well. It's never perfect. [The] bottom line [is] we do want to win the game, but at the same time, I've got to keep them focused and grounded on — even some of the situational stuff still.

"We've got to eliminate the big play on defense. We've got to get better in the red zone on offense, and just keep working in those areas. We weren't as good on third down last night, so we've got to keep working that area. So just keeping them focused and detailed on those specific areas."

Best quotes from after Thursday's game
"It was tough. Maybe Carolina had a little bit of help tonight, them being at home. But we were able to overcome it; that was the most important part." — Rodney McLeod

"He was like, 'Man, I don't know who you is, but you a beast. And I'm like, 'You don't know who I am? You must not know football. But you know me today.'" — Nigel Bradham on his interaction with a Panthers player

"S---, it felt good. It felt like he's back to his normal self. Dominating, doing what he do." — Tim Jernigan on getting Fletcher Cox back

Random media guide note: Halapoulivaati Vaitai says the strangest thing he likes to eat is octopus.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai rebounds after brutal start against Panthers

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Halapoulivaati Vaitai rebounds after brutal start against Panthers

It looked like "Big V" was heading for another big disaster. 

It was almost impossible to watch Julius Peppers go around Halapoulivaati Vaitai on the fifth play of Thursday night's game and not think back to his first start last year, when Washington's Ryan Kerrigan turned him into a turnstile. 

That's the way things looked when the 37-year-old Peppers went around Vaitai and got a strip sack on Carson Wentz to set up the Panthers' first drive in great position. 

"Yeah, it's unfortunate," head coach Doug Pederson said. "He took just a bad set line on the sack. He learned from it, obviously, the hard way. But, hey, listen, Peppers is a great player. But he settled in. He did some nice things after that. Trust his technique. Trust his fundamentals, and he did a nice job. It's great to see, again, a young player step in on a short week and play against a fine defensive end like he did. It just gives us a lot of confidence moving forward with him."

It was a bad start for "Big V," who was filling in for a concussed Lane Johnson, but it didn't turn into a complete disaster.

"After that first drive, I bounced back and I trusted my coach," Vaitai said after the Eagles' 28-23 win. "There's always room for improvement so I'm going to take the time off, reflect and then come back ready to work."

No, Vaitai wasn't great the rest of the game, but he wasn't awful either. He at least didn't ruin the Eagles' entire game plan. 

And while the Birds finished 2-8 without Lane Johnson last year, they're now 1-0 without him this season. 

Getting Vaitai ready to start in just a few days probably wasn't very easy. Johnson suffered a first-half concussion against the Cardinals and the short week didn't allow him enough time to clear the league's concussion protocol. 

Then, on Thursday night, the Panthers sent all kinds of blitzes and used a lot of D-line stunts that seemed to confuse the Eagles early. Eventually, the Birds were able to settle down and figure out where the blitzes were coming from. 

Thursday was the 2016 fifth-round pick's seventh career start. He had played this season as an extra tackle in run formations; that role was assumed by Isaac Seumalo against the Panthers. 

Johnson will have extra time to clear the NFL's concussion protocol because the next game is a Monday night tilt. So it seems likely Vaitai will be heading back to the bench. But maybe he'll have more confidence after taking a punch and getting back up. 

"Being the sixth man off the bench, it's unfortunate for Lane," Vaitai said, "but that is my job and so I have to step up and fulfill that."