The Eagles have arguably the best tight end duo in the NFL so it’s no surprise they have been working hard to get Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert on the field together.
But two games into the 2020 season, the Eagles are using their two-tight end package at an absurd rate … even for them.
And to make matters worse, it’s not really working. At least not yet.
The Eagles led the NFL in 12 personnel usage (1 running back, 2 tight ends, 2 receivers) last season at 52 percent. Two games into the 2020 season, the Eagles have been in 12 personnel for 74 percent (!!!) of their offensive plays, according to Sharp Football.
On Sunday, they were in 12 personnel for 56 of 69 (81 percent) of their offensive plays.
“We are comfortable in 12 personnel,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “We feel like we have some matchup advantages with our tight ends in situations like that.
“But I think coming out of 12 personnel, I think you got to use it more — you know, obviously the running game can be a big part of that with the 12 personnel. Play-action passes which we alluded to.
“There are some things we can do to get a little bit more production out of that personnel group. It helps you to maybe maximize the protection a little bit to allow the ball to go down the field. So there are some opportunities there that we can take a look at.”
To put that 74 percent figure into perspective, the next closest team in 12 personnel usage is Arizona. The Cardinals are lining up in 12 personnel on just 33 percent of their plays. And league-wide, even including the Eagles’ absurdly high number, the average is 19 percent. The Eagles have run more plays out of 12 than the next two teams combined.
Here are the top five teams in 12 personnel usage so far this season:
Eagles: 74 percent
Cardinals: 33 percent
Seahawks: 30 percent
Buccaneers: 30 percent
Browns: 29 percent
The NFL in 2020 is about speed. It’s why literally every other team in the league has spent more time in 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end, 3 receivers) than any other grouping this season.
So the Eagles are bucking the trend, which wouldn’t be a problem … if it was working.
But through two games, the Eagles are averaging 6.3 yards per passing attempt out of 12 personnel and 4.2 yards per carry. Those figures are down from last year, when they averaged 6.7 and 4.4 And remember, after last year, the Eagles decided they needed to become a more explosive offense and tried to add speed. Traditionally, 12 personnel lends itself to slower, more methodical drives.
The real question is this: Can the Eagles’ offense be explosive from 12 personnel?
Goedert certainly thinks so. But it’s worth noting that he’s the one who benefits most from this Eagles trend.
“Going back to Week 1, I think we had quite a few explosive plays from 12 personnel,” Goedert said. “But like I said, last week, we kind of knew it was gonna be like that where they're going to filter everything into the middle. They weren’t gonna give up the big plays.
“But yeah, there's gonna be opportunities for big explosive plays whether we can get the play action going, [DeSean Jackson] can take a big play or (John) Hightower, we can get J.J. (Arcega-Whiteside) started rolling. But just everybody has to be better."
Maybe he’s right. Maybe there’s not a causation here. It’s very possible the Eagles’ offensive isn’t ineffective because they’re using 12 personnel so much. Maybe 12 personnel has been ineffective because the entire offense is out of sorts. It’s not like they’ve been any better in 11 personnel — in fact, they’ve had a similar level of success and failure. And it’s not like all the offense’s problems will go away if they take Goedert off the field and put Greg Ward Jr. out there more.
The Eagles think — and rightly so — that Goedert is one of their best skill players so they’re going to play him.
Now, you can certainly question how the Eagles built their offense. In a league that values speed now more than ever, two of the Eagles’ best skill players are tight ends. But that’s not likely to change this season. So the best thing they can do is try to make their 12 personnel package work a little better.