Film Review: Carson Wentz’s run plays give Eagles new dynamic

Film Review: Carson Wentz’s run plays give Eagles new dynamic

Doug Pederson told a little white lie last week. 

On Wednesday, as the Eagles prepared for their Sunday matchup against the Lions, Pederson was asked if he would start calling some designed runs for Carson Wentz. 

Here was his answer: “Without giving away the game plan? No, I’m not. Now, this week for us, it’s our fourth game of the season. As a staff, we’ve got to be extremely smart on how we handle that aspect of the game.”

Sneaky, sneaky, Doug. 

Pederson went on to talk about how the Chiefs used Alex Smith in the run game, saying that as the season went on, it was a possibility they would dial up some runs for the quarterback if there were playoff implications. 

Then Pederson called two zone-read-look run plays for Wentz on Sunday anyway. 

Both of Wentz’s runs came in the second quarter but on different drives. The first went for a 10-yard gain and the second went for four. Aside from just those plays, we then saw that the Lions had to respect Wentz as a runner for the rest of the afternoon.  

“Yeah, they were very successful,” Pederson said this week. “Obviously [we] gained a couple of first downs by doing that. The ability to run the inside zone with Carson reading the defensive end and/or linebackers, depending on plays, is something that we're going to continue to develop and continue to grow with. 

“Again, we're still relatively early in the season. So I don't want to expose our quarterback necessarily to too many hits outside of the pocket that way. But we'll continue to explore it and keep utilizing those types of runs.”

Here’s a look at how Wentz’s running plays helped the Eagles on Sunday:

On Wentz’s first running play, at the 12:57 mark in the second quarter, he’s in shotgun with Darren Sproles to his left, trips to his right and Zach Ertz as the tight end on the left side of the line. 

Now, we’re at the point of what looks to be the handoff. You can see the Lions, at all three levels of their defense, are pushing toward where they think the run is going. It leaves a nice pocket of space toward the left sideline. 

By the time the Lions defenders realize Wentz kept the ball, they have to try to stop dead in their tracks and recover. Wentz isn’t an Olympic sprinter, but he is fast enough to get around the edge here. Wentz picks up 10 yards and the Eagles score a touchdown three plays later. 

This next play starts with the Eagles on their own 46-yard line. It’s 2nd-and-1, so they’re pretty close to picking up the first down. On this play, Wentz is again in shotgun with Sproles to his left. But this time, he has three wide on the left side and a tight end of the right side of the line. 

As Wentz puts the ball into Sproles' gut before pulling it, you can see Lions defensive end Devin Taylor bite just hard enough. All of his force is going left, toward where Sproles is going. 

That hesitation by Taylor to go after Wentz is just enough time for the quarterback to get around him, pick up four yards and move the chains. The Eagles went on to kick a field goal on the drive at the end of the second quarter. 

This last play comes at the 8:49 mark in the fourth quarter. This is a key 3rd-and-2 situation inside Lions territory with the Eagles down 21-20. Wentz lines up in shotgun with Sproles now on his right. This is a three-wide formation, with Ertz the only tight end. Ertz goes in motion from right to left before the snap. 

As you can see, the offensive line immediately opens a large hole for Sproles. Meanwhile, the Lions’ free defensive end and linebacker sort of freeze. Earlier in the game, it’s likely they would have assumed Sproles was going to carry the ball, but they were beaten earlier by Wentz’s legs, so they now have to respect his running ability. 

By the time it’s clear that Sproles has the ball, Jason Kelce is in the second level blocking the free linebacker, and it’s too late for the defensive end to recover. Sproles has a huge hole and picks up 10 yards and a first down. 

Of course, the Eagles ended up losing the game, but this play helped lead to what would have been the game-winning field goal. The Eagles set it up throughout the game, by showing their play-action and Wentz’s ability with his legs. 

Even when Wentz doesn’t take off running, teams will now have to respect the threat. That can be a huge weapon for the Eagles going forward. 

Carson Wentz rallies Eagles to win over Colts in long-awaited return

Carson Wentz rallies Eagles to win over Colts in long-awaited return

When OTAs ended in mid-June, Zach Ertz wasn’t so sure about Carson Wentz.

“I wasn’t with him every day from the end of OTAs to training camp so when we left after OTAs he still wasn’t very confident, I would say,” Ertz remembered.

“He didn’t trust the brace in particular, he was annoyed by it.”

Six weeks later?

“When I came back for training camp and he was moving around like his old self is when I was like, ‘Man, he made some drastic improvement in those six weeks that we had off,” Ertz said.

“From the moment training camp started you couldn’t really tell he was coming off a major injury.”

You couldn’t tell Sunday, either.

Wentz played football for the first time in 9 ½ months and although it wasn’t his prettiest game ever, it was pretty darn great to see.
Wentz ran, scrambled, jumped, slid, eluded, dove, threw and willed the Eagles to a 20-16 win over the Colts Sunday at the Linc in his first appearance since he tore his knee in Los Angeles last December.

“Felt good,” Wentz said. “Felt good to finally be out there. It’s been a long time coming. A lot of excitement, a lot of emotions.”

If we didn’t know Wentz was back before, we definitely saw it on a 3rd-and-6 late in the second quarter when he escaped trouble in the pocket, took off toward the left sideline and literally flew in the air past the sticks for a first down. 

That was the moment where you just took a deep breath and said, “He’s back.”

It was impressive. Even if Wentz wasn’t impressed.

“I thought it was a normal scramble to me,” he shrugged. “Made a guy miss in the pocket, saw the first down marker and go for it. Pretty standard for me.”

Wentz is now 13-2 in his career at the Linc and 19-11 as a starting quarterback.

He wasn’t perfect. He committed a couple bad turnovers – an interception and a fumble -- deep in Eagles territory in the third quarter that led to Colts field goals.

But the important thing is that he’s back, he’s healthy and he’s going to be leading this team to victories for a long, long time.

“It was exciting to get him back out there,” Doug Pederson said. “I know he’d probably want to get the fumble back, he’d want the pick back – those are things that can’t happen, especially backed up on our end of the field. But I thought for the first time back? Not bad.”

Not a knock on Nick Foles, who’s forever a legend in this city, but Wentz gives the offense a sense of order, a sense of consistency. He raises everybody’s level of play.

There’s just something magical about him.

“Same old Carson, honestly,” Ertz said. “He’s a winner. He’s a competitor. That’s why we love playing with him and for him. Because he’s going to do everything he can to win.

“He instills confidence in this team that no matter what we’re going through, we’re going to win.” 

Even the guys on defense noticed that.

“He’s an electric player and he does some things that are just flat-out special,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “I think it definitely gave us juice as a team and made us better. It’s just fun to watch.”

Playing without half the Eagles’ receivers and backs, Wentz still completed 68 percent of his passes for 255 yards with a TD to Dallas Goedert and the one interception.
But Wentz has never been about stats or numbers. In the end, he did on a surgically repaired knee the exact same thing he did before he got hurt.

He won.

And knee surgery or no knee surgery, that’s what he’s best at.

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Eagles' red zone defense comes up huge again in win over Colts

Eagles' red zone defense comes up huge again in win over Colts

You were probably gripping your chair pretty tightly when the Colts drove down the field late in the fourth quarter with a chance to score a touchdown and take a lead. 

But the Eagles stopped them once they got in the red zone.  

Of course they did. 

That’s what the Eagles do. 

“We know if we keep teams out of the end zone, really what happens between the 10-yard lines is irrelevant,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said after the 20-16 win (see Roob's 10 observations).  

The Eagles allowed the Colts just one touchdown in five trips to the red zone on Sunday. And in their two wins this season, the Eagles have allowed just two touchdowns in 10 trips for their opponents. 

They are dominating down there. 

“I think we’re more comfortable in the red zone than anywhere else, to be honest,” Jenkins said. 

Jenkins admitted he was being slightly facetious, but said the Eagles’ defense does feel really confident in their abilities with their backs against the wall. The Eagles should feel confident. They were stout down there on Sunday after giving up two red zone touchdowns on two chances last week. 

After the Colts’ first trip into the red zone yielded a touchdown on Sunday, they didn’t get back into the end zone. It was like there was an invisible brick wall across the goal line. The Eagles gave up three field goals — including two on drives that started in the red zone after turnovers — and forced a turnover on downs on the penultimate drive that virtually ended the game.  

The Colts gained 17 net yards on 18 offensive plays inside the red zone on Sunday! Yikes. 

Less than one net yard per play is absolutely incredible. 

Here’s how those drives went for the Colts once they got into the red zone: 

- 5 plays, 15 net yards, TD 

- 1 play, 0 net yards, FG 

- 4 plays, 4 net yards, FG

- 3 plays, 3 net yards, FG

- 5 plays, -5 net yards, TOD 

That’s simply dominance from the Eagles, who have now given up just four touchdowns on 12 trips into the red zone by their opponents (33.3 percent). For some perspective, the best red zone defense in the NFL last year — the Chargers — gave up touchdowns on 36.1 percent of opponent trips to the red zone. 

“I think the biggest thing, is when we have our back to the wall, that’s when we really rise to the occasion,” defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. 

So what makes the Eagles so good on defense in the red zone? 

It starts with simple scheme that allows players to think quickly and stay aggressive. The players admit they’re not tricking anyone. Then, they have some good personnel down in the red zone. They have pass rushers who get after QBs and stuff the run. They have DBs who play straight up and don’t allow fades and slants. And they have linebackers who are playmakers, starting with Jordan Hicks, who always seems to be around the ball. 

“That’s our standard for the defense,” said Derek Barnett, who had the game-saving play. “We may give up a play here and there, but we really hold our hat on not letting them get into the end zone for seven points.”

Oh yeah, and now the Eagles have plenty of confidence in the red zone. Crossing the 20-yard line is like entering a dead zone. 

It might be taking years off your life, but the Eagles are winning football games because of it. 

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