Eagles Film Study

Eagles' underrated blocking machine vs. Falcons

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Eagles' underrated blocking machine vs. Falcons

Toward the end of the regular season, the Eagles' offensive line just didn't seem to be hitting its stride. 

That all changed on Saturday against the Falcons. 

The Eagles' O-line dominated in the trenches and helped guide the Birds to a 15-10 win to advance to the NFC Championship Game. What was the line missing down the stretch? Stefen Wisniewski. 

The starting left guard missed a couple games with an ankle sprain but returned for the regular-season finale. Then, he just happened to have his best game as an Eagle in the divisional round game. It also happened to be the very first playoff game of his career. 

The 27-year-old Wisniewski had played in 107 regular-season games without getting to the postseason — more than any other player on the active roster. When he got his first shot, he certainly made it count. 

Because Wisniewski didn't just do his job against the Falcons. He was dominant and made things happen all afternoon. 

Here's a closer look at some of his impressive plays against Atlanta: 

This first play came on the Eagles' second drive of the game. It's 2nd-and-3 and Jay Ajayi is about to break off an 11-yard gain right behind the hole Wiz opens up. Wisniewski is about to get to the second level after the snap and find linebacker Deion Jones, who is a dynamic player but is also just 222 pounds. 

At the mesh point, Trey Burton has come across to take care of the defensive lineman while Wiz is getting out in front on Jones. He doesn't just block him, he's about to push him back. 

Ajayi finishes the run strong, picking up 11 yards. He rode on the back of Wisniewski the whole way. 

Here's a different angle on the block to get an idea of how far Wisniewski drove Jones back. 

 

•••

These next three plays happened on consecutive downs. They were the last two plays of the first quarter and the first play of the second. Wiz got in a zone. 

On this one, Wiz is about to take on big Ahtyba Rubin, who weighs 310 pounds. 


On this zone read play, Ajayi sweeps left, so the entire defensive line shifts that way. Rubin goes with the play, but you can see where Wisniewski opens the hole. He makes it pretty easy on Ajayi. 

•••

The very next play is a screen, which has been a big part of the Eagles' offense when it gets clicking. 

"The screen game has been something we've worked on the last couple of weeks," head coach Doug Pederson said, "and it had to get better as the season wore on for us." 

On this play, Nelson Agholor is at the bottom of the screen. He's about to come in motion to create some space at the bottom of the screen. That's where Wisniewski is going to get out in front to clear a path for Ajayi. 

Ajayi is working through the line and is about to settle in his spot to catch the pass from Nick Foles. Meanwhile, Wisniewski gets to the second level to find a hat to block. 

Then, Wiz just bullies Jones again. He really used that size and strength edge to his advantage and didn't let the quicker Jones get around him. 

This was an important play because it showed just how big of a key the screen game could be. A little later, you'll get to see Wiz's most impressive play. It came on a screen later in the game. 

This is the first play of the second quarter. After Ajayi picked up nearly 50 yards in the first quarter, he's on the sideline getting a breather so LeGarrette Blount is on the field. He's gonna run right behind Wiz. 

Just after the snap, Wiz lends some help to Jason Kelce, who is blocking big 346-pound tackle Dontari Poe. He then turns his attention to Jones, who has become his whipping boy at this point in the game. 

At this point, Wisniewski has picked up his second block on the play and you can see where Blount is going to find the room to sneak ahead for an 8-yard gain. 

••• 

This next play comes about a minute later in the second quarter. The Eagles were running all over the Falcons but Foles was having trouble getting into a rhythm. Pederson is going to find a way to get the ball into one of his playmaker's hands anyway. Agholor will take the ball on an end-around and Wisniewski is going to make it happen.

Lane Johnson swings around to get out in front of Agholor to provide a lead block, but it's Wisniewski who opens the hole. 

The Eagles gained 21 yards on this play to get them down to the 3-yard line. This led to their only touchdown of the game. 

We went in chronological order, which allowed us to save the best for last. Wiz was incredible on this 32-yard screen pass in the fourth quarter. He actually blocks three guys on one play and forces one away from a tackle. 

Pederson caught the Falcons off guard by running a screen pass to the same side on two consecutive plays. He knew they wouldn't be expecting it. But it was still gutsy to run it on a key 3rd-and-7. 

Just after the snap, Wisniewski gets enough of a block on Adrian Clayborn to give Foles plenty of time to deliver the ball. It's Wiz's job to let Clayborn through, but if he doesn't get a piece of him, the talented pass-rusher might have been able to blow up the play before it ever got a chance to develop. 


After getting the block at the line of scrimmage, Wiz gets out in front and takes care of the two defenders that get in his way. It's hard to see it with the photos, so take a look at his incredible play here: 

Pretty impressive, huh? This 32-yard screen pass got the Eagles across midfield, and they eventually got close enough for Jake Elliott to kick a 21-yard field goal to put them up 15-10. It was a huge score because then the Falcons needed a touchdown instead of a field goal. 

"I'll tell you, it was just set up perfectly for us and well-executed to have Wiz downfield and block one," Pederson said, "but take out two, obviously helps the play."

It took Wisniewski a while to prove himself this season. Even though he signed an extension this offseason, the Eagles seemed hesitant to give him the starting left guard spot. Isaac Seumalo was the starter going into the season and Chance Warmack was given the first shot to replace him when he struggled. 

Eventually, though, Wisniewski got the nod and has been playing at a really high level all season. The Eagles have three Pro Bowl or All-Pro linemen, but without Wisniewski, this line just didn't seem to work. With him, they were dominant on Saturday. 

How Sidney Jones' debut really looked on film

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NFL

How Sidney Jones' debut really looked on film

No matter how he played on Sunday, seeing Sidney Jones back on the field had to be great for the Eagles

The second-round pick got his first game action against the Cowboys on Sunday after a lengthy recovery process from a torn Achilles. There was bound to be some rust after not playing a game in a full calendar year and that was evident. But Jones did plenty of good things too. 

"Little bit of rust today," Jones said on Sunday night. "First game so there's going to be a little bit of rust as expected. But I feel like I did pretty good." 

After the game Malcolm Jenkins made a pretty good point: After not playing for an entire year, expectations for Jones in the game were pretty low. 

It was an up-and-down NFL debut for Jones. He played 29 defensive snaps and would have played more had his back and quad not started cramping. We're not going to look at all 29 plays, but here are a few from his debut: 

This was Jones' fifth defensive snap of the game and he's still looking for his first real contact. Jones (circled in red) has off coverage at the top of the screen. The Cowboys are backed up on 2nd-and-9, so they're going to try to pick up some quick yards with a wide receiver screen to Ryan Switzer (circled in green)

At the point of the catch, things are setting up nicely for the Cowboys. They have a hat for a hat on the right side of the field and some room to work with. 


Switzer tries to cut it back inside, but Jones doesn't give up on the play. He gets off his block and cuts back inside too, eventually making his first NFL tackle. 

 

••• 

This next play comes just a few snaps later. It's 1st-and-15 after a penalty. Jones is on the top of your screen. This play is a handoff to Ezekiel Elliott, who will burn Jones and the Eagles' defense for a 16-yard gain. 

Jones' recognition was good. He sees that Elliott has the handoff, so he's going to come up and try to make a play. Jim Schwartz obviously wants his corners to cover, but their tackling ability is important to him too. Earlier in the game, Jones showed he can.

This is where the play went wrong. Jones came inside too hard and Elliott is about to show his speed to the outside. Jones was simply trying to make a play but lost contain and left a lot of green grass outside the numbers. 

•••

Here's the sluggo route where Terrence Williams just beat the rookie. Bottom of your screen. 


Jones bites hard on the slant and Williams is able to get over top of him. These routes have given Eagles corners fits all year, so Jones is just fitting in. After the game, he just said he got beat but was grateful the safety over the top was able to get there. 

The pass falls incomplete. 

•••

Here's a chance to see Jones in the slot. This was one of his most impressive snaps of the day. Rasul Douglas and Patrick Robinson are both outside, which leaves Jones on Ryan Switzer inside. 

It's hard to see in the still image, but this is at the exact moment after Switzer pulled a little stutter move. Jones didn't bite even a little bit. He just calmly stayed with the slot guy and took him out of the play. Eventually, Dak Prescott forced an incompletion toward Dez Bryant. 

•••

OK, so this last play is a little tough to illustrate in still images. It was a play where Prescott eventually scrambled for a 10-yard gain and it didn't even count because two offensive linemen were holding. He couldn't throw it because no one was open.

Geoff Swaim is the Cowboys' third-string tight end (at the bottom of the screen), so it's not exactly like Jones was covering Odell Beckham for 10 seconds, but he doesn't give the tight end an inch and he never gives up on the play. It was impressive. 

Sure, there's some rust. And maybe Jones won't have a role in these playoffs. But it's pretty clear how talented he is and how good he can be. All of a sudden, the Eagles have a ton of depth at corner, but they'll need to find a place for Jones to play. 

The 2 Ronald Darby plays more impressive than his INT

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The 2 Ronald Darby plays more impressive than his INT

Ronald Darby made what was perhaps the biggest play of Sunday's game when he picked off a pass with 57 seconds left in regulation against the Raiders. 

The Eagles drove down the field to win the game, so the interception was huge. 

It just wasn't what impressed defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz most about Darby's game on Christmas night. He was more impressed with Darby's plays on two wide receiver screens. 

"If he doesn't play those plays as well as he played, we might give up touchdowns on both of those," Schwartz said. "That probably went below the radar a little bit because he intercepted that ball at the end and gave us a chance to win, but those plays were every bit as important in keeping that score down and keeping us in the game."

Upon his arrival to Philly, Darby said he was physical in the run game and as a tackler when needed. He's been proving that since returning from his dislocated ankle several weeks ago. 

"I just went out there and played fast, really," Darby said Wednesday. "We saw it on film that they do that a few times. I just played it perfect." 

Let's take a look at both of the plays: 

This is the Raiders' first offensive play of the second quarter. The score is still 7-0 Eagles. Darby (circled) is on the bottom of the screen with off coverage against Cordarrelle Patterson, who hasn't had a great NFL career but can still absolutely fly. The Eagles are in nickel with a single high safety. That's important to remember because if the screen game works and gets past the first level, there's just one guy to beat. 

Just after the snap, the screen is on. Rookie left tackle David Sharpe lets Derek Barnett come free at Derek Carr as he starts to take off to get a block downfield. Patterson uses that cushion from Darby and gets ready to catch the quick pass. 

This play could have been really dangerous. The Raiders are about to have the ball in a speedy receiver's hands with an offensive lineman barreling down on the closest tackler and then just one guy to beat. 


But Darby baits Sharpe outside and is then able to use his quickness to cut back inside. His move leaves Sharpe off balance and falling to the ground. Darby then finishes the play and gets Patterson on the ground after a seven-yard gain, saving what might have gone for a long touchdown. That advantage in quickness made up for the 150-pound (!) size difference between the two players. 

"You just gotta know what you're going to do right away," Darby said about going against an offensive lineman. "You can't be indecisive, then you mess up." 

•••

This next play comes with 12:18 left in the fourth quarter. Darby (circled) is on the bottom of the screen in man coverage against Amari Cooper, the Raiders' most dangerous receiver. 

The Raiders show what looks like a pitch play to the right, but they're just setting up the wide receiver screen to the other side. Again, Sharpe leaves his man free to get out in front and block Darby. Cooper is about to cut back and make the catch. 

Just before the catch, you can see how the screen is set up. The Raiders will have Sharpe take Darby out of the play and then, just like the last time, Cooper has one man to beat to the end zone. But that's only if things work out perfectly. Things need to be perfect on screens. 

Sharpe simply overruns on his block. He gets too far toward the side of the field and Darby is just going to use his quickness to get inside and make the tackle before Cooper breaks downfield with a ton of room ahead of him. 

•••

So sure, Darby's interception was huge, but don't forget about these plays either. For a team that prides itself on its corners being able to tackle, Darby has seemingly fit the mold. There are plenty of cover guys in the league who avoid contact all the time. It appears the Eagles might have a guy who can do both.