Sometimes there are plays that stick with you after a loss like the one the Eagles suffered in overtime in Dallas.
This is that play for me.
It’s 3rd-and-1 from their own 27-yard line with 8:48 left in the second quarter. The Eagles are down 3-0, but Rasul Douglas just made a huge interception to basically take points off the board.
And Doug Pederson dialed up a speed option to the short side of the field against a defense with great lateral speed.
Pederson’s reason for the play call was that they expected DeMarcus Lawrence to “spike” and get inside Lane Johnson on a pirate stunt. That would have allowed Johnson to block Lawrence to the inside and would have opened up the option play to make No. 38 (Jeff Heath) pick his poison.
But Lawrence didn’t go inside. Instead, he stayed outside, Johnson couldn’t block him and the play failed.
To me, this play seemed like a tough one to make work. An option to the short side of the field against a really quick defense.
“Well, not when you have the leverage that we thought we were going to get, like coach said,” offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. “Have to give Dallas credit. Demarcus Lawrence made a really good play on it and we got strung out and we didn't make it.
“We had a good scheme in for the right reasons, a solid play, and it didn't work. If it was something that we didn't do a good job of studying, then that would be a different question. But the guy made a play. We studied all their tendencies. We spent a lot of time doing it and thought we had a good call.”
OK, let’s take a closer look.
Lawrence is circled at the top of the screen. Based on their studying, the Eagles expected him to try to shoot the B gap hard and it wouldn’t matter if another player looped around because they’d be too far out, but Lawrence doesn’t. And because he doesn’t, this play is doomed from the start. Just behind him is No. 38, Heath, also circled. He’s the guy the Eagles want to beat with the option.
At the snap, Ertz is going to get a quick shot in on Lawrence before getting to the second level to block No. 55 Leighton Vander Esch.
This is the point where Johnson engages Lawrence. You can see that Ertz chips but is getting to the second level. If Lawrence did spike, Johnson would have the leverage to keep him inside, but that doesn’t happen and take a look at Johnson’s feet here. Gotta get a good push against a Pro Bowler like that.
At this point, the play is doomed. Lawrence has taken Johnson where he wanted to go and Lane never got a decent block inside on him. Lawrence is about to tackle Wentz — he wrecked this play — as the safety didn’t have to even make a decision yet. He’s still halfway and was really patient. The idea was that Wentz would be able to dive ahead and get a yard, but Lawrence blows up the play for a loss of a yard.
I get the idea here. The Eagles had studied the Cowboys’ tendencies on plays like this and thought they could get an advantage, but I’m not sure the reward was worth the risk of running the option to the short side.
For what it’s worth, the Eagles are right. The Cowboys have used this pirate stunt this year (by the way, pirate stunt sounds much cooler than it is), but they didn’t use it here. It makes it even tougher because the Cowboys were able to use an option and got it to work not long after the Eagles failed.
When I asked Groh about this play on Tuesday, he seemed to get defensive about the option, saying they scored on it the week before. I think he was probably talking about the two-point conversion in the Giants game, but that was a different play in a different situation.
On that play, the Eagles were in tackle over on the left side, which means Jason Peters and Johnson lined up next to each other on the left side of the line. There was no safety there, so they ran the option on a D-lineman and there was no DeMarcus Lawrence to blow it up.
I’m not against the option; I just didn’t think it was the right call for the situation against the Cowboys. Obviously, this is in hindsight, but it was a call based on an educated guess about what the Dallas front would do. And the Eagles had to know if the Cowboys didn’t run that stunt, Lawrence would have been able to blow up a speed option to the short side of the field. That's exactly what happened.
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