Eagles

Film shows why screen didn't work, how Cowboys knew it was coming

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NFL

Film shows why screen didn't work, how Cowboys knew it was coming

After all that went wrong Sunday night, the Eagles still had the ball with a chance to move down the field and at least tie the game late in the fourth quarter against the Cowboys.

But first they needed to make this play and they couldn’t. 

With 2:00 left in the game, their screen pass on 3rd-and-2 from the Cowboys’ 30-yard line didn’t work. In fact, it lost five yards and set up a 4th-and-7 that they missed converting by less than a yard, pretty much ending their comeback attempt. 

We’re going to take a look at the screen play, why it didn’t work and why Cowboys rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch knew it was coming. 

Here’s what the play looked like at the snap. It’s Alshon Jeffery’s job at the top of the play to simply take away his corner. He’s running vertical. The other three — Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz — at the bottom are selling their routes, but are just decoys. Carson Wentz is going to look them off. 

The real key to this play is Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s letting the pressure through and then Jason Kelce and Brandon Brooks getting out in front to provide the blocks for Corey Clement. 

 

Just after the snap, it looks like Vander Esch is already seeing what’s going on. His man is Clement, so he’s not going anywhere. One thing that actually plays into the Cowboys’ favor on this play is they were running a stunt up front. So the right defensive tackle, Maliek Collins, is crossing and coming inside. That’s actually going to give him a head start in pursuit, which is going to be key. 

 

Here we are just as Clement catches the ball. Ideally, Brooks gets out there and blocks Vander Esch to the outside, so Clement can hit the hole and get a big gain. The problem was that stunt from Collins (circled) has given him an easier route in pursuit. And LB Jaylon Smith seemed to diagnose the screen pretty early too. Because of that, Clement makes the decision that he’s not going to be quick enough to hit the hole and now has to try to bounce it outside. 

 

At this point, Brooks is blocking Vander Esch, but that’s where Clement is going, trying to bounce it outside. Brooks could have gotten a better block, but ideally, Clement would break this inside and then Vander Esch is coming back toward Brooks, which makes it an easier block. Now, this play is going outside and the rookie linebacker read it perfectly and makes a nice diving tackle to take Clement down for a loss. 

If this play works, the Eagles pick up the first down and probably a lot more and maybe they score to tie the game. The problem with screen passes is that a lot of things need to go well and if one thing gets screwed up, the whole play can crap out. 

That’s what happened here. 

 

After the game, Vander Esch said he kind of knew the screen was coming there based on his own film study. 

He didn’t need to look back very far to see this on tape. Remember that touchdown on a screen pass to Wendell Smallwood two weeks ago in London? Same play. Or at least a really similar one that was just inverted. 

This is how the play is supposed to work when the spacing is right: 

 

That obviously didn’t happen Sunday night against the Cowboys. Maybe it was too predictable. Maybe it’s just a bad idea to go backward at all when all you need to do is go forward two yards in two plays. Both of those are valid gripes. And now the Eagles are 4-5 with dwindling playoff hopes.

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Will Fletcher Cox be a Hall of Famer?

Will Fletcher Cox be a Hall of Famer?

This is our first in a series of stories looking at the Hall of Fame chances of current or recent Eagles who are still active in the NFL.

Today: Fletcher Cox
Saturday, July 20: Zach Ertz
Sunday, July 21: DeSean Jackson
Monday, July 22: Jason Kelce
Tuesday, July 23: LeSean McCoy
Wednesday, July 24: Jason Peters
Thursday, July 25: Darren Sproles

Numbers: Has 44 ½ sacks in 109 career games, ninth-most among active NFL defensive tackles.

Postseason numbers: Cox had one sack during the 2017 Super Bowl run but had six quarterback hits in the three playoff games.

Honors: Cox has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last four years and this past season was a first-team all-pro for the first time.

Favorite stat: Cox is only the ninth Eagle in franchise history to make four Pro Bowls before his 29th birthday and the first defensive lineman to do it since Reggie White.

Records and rankings

• Cox is sixth in franchise history in sacks. This past season he passed Andy Harmon (39 ½) for the most sacks in Eagles history by an interior lineman.

• Cox’s 10 ½ sacks last year are third-most in Eagles history by a defensive lineman, behind only Harmon in both 1993 (11 ½) and 1995 (11.0).

• This past season he became only the second player the Eagles have drafted since 1992 with double-digit sacks in a season. The other is Trent Cole.

Cox is one of only four defensive linemen to make the Pro Bowl in each of the last four seasons. The others are defensive tackles Geno Atkins of the Bengals, Jurrell Casey of the Titans and Aaron Donald of the Rams.

• Only seven Eagles in history have longer streaks of Pro Bowls than Cox: White (7), Pete Pihos (6) and Chuck Bednarik, Donovan McNabb, Tommy McDonald, Mike Quick and Troy Vincent (5 each). White is the only defensive lineman in Eagles history who was picked to more Pro Bowls.

Analysis 

Cox is at the same point now that Jason Peters was in his prime. He’s so dominating that he’s going to make the Pro Bowl every year that he’s healthy.

Cox is in his prime right now and let’s conservatively give him three more Pro Bowls. That would give him seven in his career, and taking a look at the 15 tackles in NFL history who made seven Pro Bowls, 13 of the 14 who are eligible have already been enshrined in Canton.

He’s already won a Super Bowl, made four Pro Bowls, been an all-pro and piled up 44 ½ sacks, and he’s only 28 and still getting better. And the Hall of Fame voters probably won’t consider it, but Cox is a beast against the run, as good a run stopper as we’ve seen in an Eagles uniform.

The biggest thing working against Cox is Aaron Donald, who is the best tackle in the game. Donald already has 59 ½ sacks in just five years, including 20 ½ last year. If the voters look back 10 years from now they may conclude that Donald was the elite defensive tackle of this generation and hold that against Cox.
 
But Cox is on his way to becoming an all-timer in his own right, and if he keeps stringing together Pro Bowl seasons and adds a couple more all-pro first-team honors it’s going to be impossible to keep him out of Canton.

Verdict: Will be a Hall of Famer.

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Is the 2019 Eagles roster the best we’ve seen under Doug Pederson?

Is the 2019 Eagles roster the best we’ve seen under Doug Pederson?

Over the last two years, the Eagles have been one of the top teams in the NFL, winning Super Bowl LII and then getting into the second round of the playoffs last year. They have 26 wins in the last two seasons, behind just the Patriots with 29. 

And the Eagles fully expect to compete for a championship this season. Based on the roster Howie Roseman put together, this team should be in the mix to win Super Bowl LIV in Miami. 

So before the team broke for summer, Doug Pederson was asked a pretty simple question: Is this the best roster the Eagles have had since he became head coach? 

From a talent-wise (standpoint), you know, yeah, I mean, I would say that it's pretty good. I would say that, you know, from a skill position on offense (standpoint), it's probably the best we've had going into my fourth season. 

“From a depth standpoint, as I mentioned earlier, I think it's equivalent to what we had going into the 2017 season. 

“But listen, all that can change in a heartbeat, as we know. This is a violent sport, violent game … and I'm not going to sit here and make predictions and put our team in a box that way, but we still have to go coach and play games, obviously. But on paper, it appears that way.

Pederson is right. On paper, you can certainly argue that this is the best roster he’s had. 

But he’s also right that injuries can change everything. That was the special thing about the 2017 season: despite injuries to many key players, the Eagles continued to roll. If Pederson is correct, that the depth on this roster equals the depth on the 2017 roster, that’s pretty damn important. 

Pederson also undersold how good his skill position players are this season by using the word “probably” before saying they’re the best he’s had. They are the most talented group he’s had. Period. And this collection of receivers should be the best in Eagles’ history. 

Let’s take a closer look at the top skill position players heading into all four seasons under Pederson: 

2016: Carson Wentz, Chase Daniel, Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Kenjon Barner, Wendell Smallwood, Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Josh Huff, Dorial Green-Beckham, Bryce Treggs, Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton 

2017: Wentz, Nick Foles, LeGarrette Blount, Sproles, Smallwood, Corey Clement, Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Agholor, Mack Hollins, Marcus Johnson, Shelton Gibson, Ertz, Celek, Burton 

2018: Wentz, Foles, Nate Sudfeld, Jay Ajayi, Sproles, Clement, Smallwood, Jeffery, Agholor, Wallace, Gibson, DeAndre Carter, Ertz, Goedert, Rodgers 

2019: Wentz, Sudfeld, Clayton Thorson, Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, Clement, Jeffery, Agholor, DeSean Jackson, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Ertz, Goedert, Rodgers 

I’d take the 2019 group without hesitation. 

It’s also important to note that those skill position players can only do their jobs if the offensive line in front of them is good and — more importantly for this team — healthy. The Eagles have some questions about health on their OL, but if that unit is solid, with these skill guys, this offense could be dynamic. 

Of course, talent alone doesn’t win. The Eagles know that. But talent is a pretty good place to start. And this roster is full of it.

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