eagles film review

2017 film shows Mike Wallace is still a burner

2017 film shows Mike Wallace is still a burner

Remember the offseason before the 2016 season?

Howie Roseman was making major moves, among them moving up to pick Carson Wentz, but he was also trying to find some cheap speed at the receiver position. The Eagles drafted Nelson Agholor the year before, but Agholor had a disappointing rookie season and the Eagles simply needed to get faster at the position. They really missed DeSean Jackson after Chip Kelly released him. 

So Roseman went out that offseason and signed T.J. Graham and Chris Givens. Two cheap and fast veterans. But neither had anything to give. Neither made the team. Then Roseman traded for Dorial Green-Beckham and claimed Bryce Treggs. Both spent the 2016 season on the roster but never really gave the Eagles that deep threat. It appeared the Eagles would have to pay a little more for their speed. 

Last offseason, Roseman did that, when he signed Torrey Smith to a little heftier contract (the Eagles also signed Alshon Jeffery, who offered more than speed). Smith was just alright and certainly wasn’t worth a $5 million cap hit in 2018, so he’s gone. The good news for the Eagles is that Agholor has grown into an important player who offers speed from the slot, but they still wanted some more outside, which explains the signing of Mike Wallace. Wallace is 31 but might still have something left in the tank. 

Since he entered the NFL, Wallace has 26 catches of 50-plus yards, second during that span to the 36 put up by Jackson, whose absence sent the Eagles looking for speed this whole time (see 10 random Wallace stats).

And if you’re worried that Wallace will be 32 by the start of the season, it’s a valid fear. But in 2017 with the Ravens, he still had the burners working. Wallace had three catches of 50-plus yards; the Eagles as a team had seven. 

Here’s a look at Wallace’s speed with Baltimore last year. We’ll look at all three 50-yard catches: 

There really isn’t much to this. This is the first play of the game from the Ravens-Raiders game in Oakland on Oct. 8. This is the first play from scrimmage; Doug Pederson isn’t the only coach who likes to take his shots. 

Just after the snap, Wallace uses a little stutter step. All he needs is for the corner to hesitate for a split second or get off balance and then he has him where he wants him. Now it’s off to the races. 

After 12 yards, Wallace has more than a step on the DB and Joe Flacco is letting it rip. The safety notices this, but he’s going to be too late getting over. This one goes for a gain of 52 yards down the sideline. 

-- -- --  

This next play actually happens later in the Raiders game. Wallace is circled. He’s not going to do anything fancy on this; just gonna turn on the burners. 

At this point, the Raiders’ DB picks up Wallace after he bursts off the line. But the corner gets turned sideways and Wallace goes right past him. The defender thought he had help, but the safety gets caught looking upfield, ready to drive on a short play. Not much help. 

By the time the safety realizes he needs to help, he's caught flat-footed and looking upfield. Wallace burns both defensive backs on this play for a 54-yarder. 

If Flacco hits Wallace in stride, this is an easy touchdown. But the ball is a tad underthrown and Wallace has to wait for it. 

This next play came in early December against the Lions. It’s a little different from the other two because Wallace is lined up in the slot. The Eagles probably won’t ask him to go in the slot a ton because that’s Nelson Agholor’s spot, but Pederson isn’t averse to moving his receivers around. So if Wallace ever finds himself in the slot, we know what he can do. 


The Ravens use a play action, which freezes the linebacker nearest Wallace. The safety doesn't seem to bite, but it doesn’t matter. Wallace simply splits the center of the field, which leaves the deep safety as the only man to beat. He doesn’t have much trouble. 

This play doesn’t finish in the end zone, but it is a 66-yard gain that gets the Ravens down to the 1-yard line. They punch it in on the next play. 

Wallace might have been 31 last year, but he still had his speed. He averaged 14.4 yards per catch and still was a threat to catch the deep ball. This signing works if he can still do that in 2018. 

Looking at film of the Philly Special and its origins

Looking at film of the Philly Special and its origins

By now you've heard just about everything there is to hear about the "Philly Special," the one play that you'll probably never forget from the Eagles' 41-33 win in Super Bowl LII. 

You've heard how the Eagles came across it while watching Bears-Vikings film from the previous year. You've heard that the Bears actually called it "Clemson Special" from when the Tigers used to run it with Tajh Boyd. 

You've seen the video where Nick Foles comes to the sideline and suggests the play by saying "Philly Philly" and Doug Pederson still knew what he meant. Pederson, after a brief pause, responded, "Yeah, let's do it!" 

Yeah, let's just call the gutsiest call in Super Bowl history. Let's call a trick play on fourth down in the Super Bowl against Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Let's do it. 

Of course, it worked. The Eagles sold it beautifully. Everyone did their jobs on the play and the Eagles walked away with a touchdown and a 22-12 lead heading into halftime. 

Let's take a look: 

OK, so it's 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line with 38 seconds left in the second quarter of Super Bowl LII and the Eagles are really going to do this. This is just after Foles motions Corey Clement behind him. Clement is going to need to be there when the snap eventually comes his way. 

Trey Burton is lined up behind Torrey Smith. He's going to come across the back of the formation to get the pitch from Clement and then throw the ball to Foles in the end zone. The former quarterback is going to throw a touchdown in the Super Bowl. 

At the top of the screen, it's going to be Alshon Jeffery's job to just clear out some space. He's a complete decoy on the play. 

Then there's Smith, who is going to sneak across the line of scrimmage and get wide open in the end zone. He's Burton's second read on the play, but the Eagles never need to go to him. 

The Eagles won the Lombardi Trophy, but Clement deserves an Academy Award too. It's very subtle, but as Foles begins to walk up to the line to say something to Lane Johnson at right tackle, Clement tosses his hand out as if to say, "Nick, what are you doing?" 

Here's the point of the snap. Clement is now going to start running toward the bottom of the screen, while Burton comes up toward the top. Jeffery is going to drag his defender out of the play, Smith is going to sneak behind the coverage, and Foles is going to be wide open in the end zone. 

Foles (circled) does a great job of selling it. He doesn't do anything for a second. 

Once Burton gets the ball in his hands, it's over. The Patriots have completely forgotten about Foles, while Jeffery is simply taking his cornerback away from the play. By the time Burton throws this ball, Foles might actually be too wide open. He had some time to think about it, but he snags the catch. Meanwhile, Burton's second read, Smith, was open in the end zone too. 

Yeah, it was a beauty. And the Bears ran it to perfection a little over a year earlier in the same exact end zone of U.S. Bank Stadium. Really. 

That's, of course, how the Eagles saw the play. They were studying for their NFC Championship Game against the Vikings and saw the Bears' play. Wide receivers coach Mike Groh, who was with the Bears last year, helped the Eagles install the play for themselves. 

They liked it so much they actually thought about using it against the Vikings and had to question if they would get fooled by it twice in two seasons. But then that game ended up being a blowout, so the Philly Special was put back into Pederson's sleeve. 

Here's what the Eagles saw on tape when they watched the Bears run it: 

OK, so the stakes aren't as high for the Bears here. They're down 17-0 in the last game of the 2016 season and they're going to finish with just three wins. But a good play is a good play. There's 1:52 left in the second quarter and it's 3rd-and-goal from the 2-yard line. 

Our old friend Matt Barkley brings Jeremy Langford in motion all the way from the top sideline. Langford lines up behind Barkley and gets ready for the snap. 

Same thing. What is the quarterback doing? Oh, he's talking to the right tackle. Oh, here comes the football. 

In the Bears' play, the role of Clement is played by Langford. Burton is Cameron Meredith, who is about to come across the formation and get the pitch. Deonte Thompson is Smith; he's going to sneak across the line and be the second read. Daniel Brown is Ertz, blocking to give just a little extra time. 

And at the top of the screen, Alshon Jeffery is ... Alshon Jeffery. Yup, for both plays, Jeffery is just a decoy. His job is to take his cornerback completely out of the play. He runs a different route, but the job is the same. 


Too easy. The linebacker looks like he's on to something here, but he's not. Barkley is wide open for a touchdown. 

Here's the full look: 

And if you're wondering where the Bears got the play, well, they used to call it the Clemson Special. Not hard to figure out why. 

It's kind of crazy this play that has been passed through the ranks has become one of the biggest plays in Philadelphia sports history, but it did. This is a copycat sport and if the Eagles see something they like, they're going to see if it works for them. 

They really pulled it off. 

Visual proof that Big V is really, really good


Visual proof that Big V is really, really good

Before Eagles fans felt a sense of dread over losing Carson Wentz, there was the impending doom caused by the season-ending injury to Jason Peters. Turns out, just like at quarterback, they were going to be fine at left tackle.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai has been largely fine in place of Peters all season but may have played his best when the Eagles needed it most in the NFC Championship Game. Working against Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen for much of the contest, Vaitai silenced the three-time Pro Bowler and defense’s best rusher.

Big V opened holes in the running game and did his part to keep Nick Foles upright in the pocket. Technically, Griffen was credited with two quarterback hits, though both were ineffective — one well after Foles released the football, the other a glancing blow.

Prior to the matchup, Eagles coach Doug Pederson called Griffen “a game wrecker.” Yet, a supposed backup offensive lineman shut down one of the best pass rushers in the NFL.

It’s time to give Vaitai his due. The kid is pretty good.

Early on, Pederson gave Vaitai plenty of help. It wasn’t necessarily in the form of straight double teams, but the Eagles used the traffic created by tight ends running their routes and simple misdirection to slow Griffen’s attack.

But in the second quarter, Pederson began trusting Vaitai to block Griffen one-on-one. It worked. Some observers would even be tempted to say Big V had his number on this particular series.

Here, Griffen tries to bull rush his way through Vaitai. The 6-foot-3, 273-pound defender does get some initial push, but the 6-6, 320-pound tackle stands his ground, keeping the pocket clean for Foles.

Next play, Griffen attempts to use his speed and go around the edge on Vaitai. That’s not happening, either. The second-year player is in perfect position the entire time and barely lays a finger on the rusher, who winds up running himself right out of the play.

Finally, on the very next pass-rush opportunity, Griffen goes to his vaunted spin move. Vaitai sticks with him the whole way. Not even close.

The Eagles wound up punting two plays later, but Vaitai’s ability to handle Griffen allowed Pederson to open up the offense. For example, the 41-yard flea flicker to Torrey Smith in the third quarter doesn’t happen if there isn’t the utmost confidence in Big V to win his one-on-one matchup.

It wasn’t exactly a pancake block or very pretty but Vaitai got the job done. Same again on Foles’ earlier 51-yard touchdown to Alshon Jeffery, which required the offensive line to hold up in protection for five full seconds until the ball was released.

Vaitai put the exclamation point on his near-flawless performance at the end of the game. With time winding down and the Vikings fully aware the Eagles were running the football, Big V helped clear the way for two first downs.

Minnesota never got the ball back in the final 5:52 seconds, in part because of blocks like these from No. 72.

Griffen is 30 years old. The eighth-year veteran managed just 2.0 sacks over the final seven games of the season, including playoffs. It’s possible, perhaps likely he was worn down by the NFC Championship Game.

Regardless, some people still have this perception that going against Vaitai can rejuvenate a pass rusher who’s in a slump. That clearly was not the case here and hasn’t been for most of the season.

Over the course of his first two seasons in the league, Vaitai has proven he can be a full-time starter in the NFL — maybe better. After all, he just shut down the top defensive lineman on the No. 1 defense in football, doing his part to clear the way for the Eagles’ trip to the Super Bowl.