Long before the game on Sunday night became a blowout, the Eagles were facing a 3rd-and-4 on their own 16-yard line down just seven points early in the second quarter.
It would have been a huge conversion, but Miles Sanders picked up just three yards and the Eagles punted the ball away. The Cowboys scored another touchdown on the ensuing possession and the rout was on.
But let’s go back to that third down to figure out why the Eagles ran that play and what went wrong.
The Eagles started that drive on their own 10-yard line. Doug Pederson said they ran three times because of where they were on the field and because they thought they could have success on the ground.
On first down, Jordan Howard ran up the gut for a yard. On second down, he ran for five.
That set up the 3rd-and-4.
Under Pederson, the Eagles have faced a 3rd-and-4 a total of 77 times and have now had 61 passes and 16 rushes. So it’s normally a passing down; the Eagles run on 3rd-and-4 just over 20 percent of the time. And on Sunday, they passed on the three other 3rd-and-4 situations.
So why run it here?
“Again, felt like field position wise and the defense that we were anticipating, we got it,” Pederson said. “Miles just missed the hole, and that happens with young guys.”
That’s the long and short of it. Sanders missed a hole and the Eagles came up shy of the first down. Pederson said he didn’t think about going for it on 4th-and-1 because of where they were on the field.
And if you’re wondering why Sanders was the running back for that particular play, Pederson explained that the play is designed for him. Still, feel free to question the decision.
Anyway, here’s a breakdown of what went wrong.
The design of this play has Andre Dillard leaving the left tackle post for a trap block on the left defensive tackle Antwaun Woods. The idea here is for Jason Kelce and Brandon Brooks to get to the next level to get hats on the Cowboys’ very talented linebackers.
Kelce gets out on Leighton Vander Esch and Brooks gets out on Jaylon Smith.
Give credit here to No. 96, Maliek Collins, who does a great job reading the play and getting inside on Isaac Seumalo. Same with Woods, who gets to the hole too. Offensive coordinator Mike Groh said the play was blocked correctly, which it was, but the Cowboys’ tackles closed that initial hole in a hurry.
“I think [Sanders] was in the right hole,” Groh said. “I think he may have gotten there a click late. But, I think he was in the right hole.”
But it wasn’t there, so Sanders makes the right decision. He bounces it out.
The problem is that once he bounces the play, he doesn’t cut back inside and find the huge hole that opens up. After letting his man get inside on him, Dillard does a great job to then seal off the DT. And Kelce (circled) is getting a nice second-level block on Vander Esch.
This is the hole Pederson meant when he said Sanders missed it. In this case, Sanders just needs to make the split-second decision to plant his foot and burst through the hole to get a first down.
Sanders almost navigated his way to four yards, but he couldn’t make it and it ended the drive.
While he’s made some big plays in the passing game, Sanders has struggled as a runner early in his NFL career. But it’s important that he stays confident because it doesn’t seem like the Eagles are going to phase him out of the running game anytime soon.
“I think he's done a lot of really good things for us over the first seven weeks,” Groh said. “We're going to continue to utilize him.”
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