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.
I talked to Leighton after the game. He said he had a feeling screen was coming there. I asked if that’s because he’d seen on tape Eagles run that screen in similar down/distance situations. He said yes. https://t.co/ONEOmE4zyz— Geoff Mosher (@GeoffMosherNFL) November 12, 2018
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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