This year, Josh Carney and I will break down the opposing team’s offense in our weekly scouting report. Like last year, I will be looking at the opposing team in a more broad, scheme-approach. Josh will have a closer eye on the individual players.
Alex’s Scheme Report
Eagles Run Game
Before I get into their run game, I gotta gush about the Eagles’ offensive coaching staff. Love the group they’ve brought in. There is no better trio for a rookie QB than Doug Pederson, Frank Reich (their OC), and John DeFilippo (QB coach). Pederson and Reich played extensively at QB in the NFL while “Flip,” as they call him, has been either a QB coach or OC since 2000. He did a great job with the barebones roster he had to work with in Cleveland last year so you know he’s familiar with how the Steelers’ defense operates.
The rest of the coaching staff is chalk full of younger guys who are relateable and recently played in the NFL, meaning they know how the game works today. Duce Staley is the RBs coach, last playing in 2006. Greg Lewis is the WR coach, who retired after the 2010 season. And Justin Peelle, the TE coach, finished in 2011.
The snap percentage actually favors Darren Sproles, who has played 53% of the time, though some of that has been at receiver. Ryan Mathews is sitting at 48% but leads the running back carries with 31 to Sproles’ 17. Neither have been particularly effective, however, both averaging under 3.5 yards per carry.
They have five runs of 10+ yards, tied for 13th in the NFL with Pittsburgh and a couple teams.
The Eagles probably look to run on the perimeter more than any team. Love pin and pull schemes to get some of their athletic interior linemen in space, starting with Jason Kelce.
Here is their projected offensive line: Jason Peters-Allen Barbre-Jason Kelece-Brandon Brooks-Lane Johnson. All those guys move well.
Let’s take a look at one example.
But the Eagles will run a lot of inside/outside zone and even put in some man/base block schemes.
Matt Tobin, #64, has checked in as a tackle eligible player many times the first two weeks. Per Football Outsiders, he’s played 16.8% of the time. Most of that as came in tackle eligible work.
Here they are running away from the unbalanced side. Woah.
The Eagles have run a jet sweep only once this season but will use it as window dressing to hold the EMOL, allowing the Eagles to leave him unblocked (or give on the sweep if he doesn’t respect it and crashes hard). I don’t know if the offense has any zone “reads” built-in for the QB but it gives the appearance of it, at least. And that can get players thinking and watching instead of playing fast.
From Monday night against Chicago, their jet sweep.
This isn’t an actual jet sweep but some window dressing to influence the defense the wrong way. Split zone with the TE arc releasing to the left, making players read and respect the backside threat.
Not much use of a fullback. If anyone does it, it’ll be tight end Trey Burton. But don’t expect it. NT Beau Allen (#94) has come in the game as a FB in some short yardage situations.
Eagles Pass Game
Couple important numbers to note. They have taken deep shots but haven’t been very effective at it. Just five completions of 20+ yards, tied 22nd in the league, and zero completions of 40+ yards, one of just six teams to be held without during the first two weeks.
Pittsburgh, of course, has been great at limited chunk plays.
The Eagles are scoring touchdowns at just a 50% clip in the red zone, tied for 18th in the NFL.
The biggest stat of all though is their 3rd down inefficiency. They have completed only 26.7% of their attempts (8/30). Only four teams have worse marks. Meanwhile, the Steelers have the third best third down defense, allowing a 26.9% conversion rate.
If the Steelers can keep those stats in line, they’ll be in position to win.
Ok, to the pass game itself. Yeah, Carson Wentz sure looks like the real deal. Of course, I don’t have an intimate feel for their offense but he seems to have total command of it. Look at last week. On the road. In Chicago. Monday night, primetime game. The first six Eagles plays were all passes, all five man protections. Five of them were in empty set.
And Wentz was fantastic, even in the face of blitz. He went 6/6 for 35 yards.
Wentz, and by extension, the offense has played really clean football. Zero interceptions, zero fumbles, one of four teams in the league to still be spotless. They’re +4 in the turnover margin.
Even with Chip Kelly gone, the Eagles still have a bunch of RPOs. Here’s a swing/inside zone pairing.
The Eagles run these “trio” sets more than probably anyone in the league. It’s 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) with all three receivers set into the field and the tight end away.
Couple of concepts they really like. They have this spinnaker route they’ve used in both weeks on 1st and 10 with the ball between their own 20-25. Inside receiver stems hard inside before breaking outside and running flat across the field.
I call it “spinnaker” from Todd Haley’s playbook when he was the pass game coordinator in Dallas. You can see it here.
Here it is Week One to Zach Ertz for a gain of 15.
And Monday night to Jordan Matthews for 32.
These have also functioned like sail concepts with a vertical route, this corner route, and something in the flat underneath. Three level flood concept that stresses pretty much everything on defense.
They’ve run a slot fade to Matthews twice too, and should’ve come away with two touchdowns on it. They hooked up for a 19 yard score in Week One and he dropped a would-be 35 yard touchdown against Chicago. Both came on 2nd and long (9 and 10, respectively) so there’s a down/distance to keep in mind.
Personnel wise, Nelson Agholor and Matthews are the starters with Josh Huff seeing time in the slot. The tall Dorial Green-Beckham exists too, though he’s yet to find the end zone or record a catch longer than nine yards. He’s played less than 40% of the total snaps.
At tight end, Zach Ertz – if available – is a serious weapon. They’ll use 12 personnel, detach him, and get him on an island. Made this sick one-handed catch against Cleveland.
Eagles’ Special Teams
It starts with their dangerous return game, led by Darren Sproles. He has four punt return touchdowns in the last two years and already had a 40 yard return in just four tries in 2016. No Eagle has more than two kick returns, rookie running back Wendell Smallwood.
They lined up in a 6-2-1-2 kick return formation against the Bears and a 4-2-2-1-2 look against the Browns. On the one kickoff versus Chicago, they had a front line player sprint and attack one player of the Bears’ coverage team, perhaps to try to take him out of the play early. Vince Williams and L.J. Fort should have their heads on a swivel this week.
The holder is punter Donnie Jones. He threw a pass in 2008 with the St. Louis Rams.
Josh’s Individual Report
It’s Week 3 in the NFL and it’s time for a trip to Eastern Pennsylvania to take on the Philadelphia Eagles and rookie darling Carson Wentz.
If you’ve lived under a rock for the last two weeks, you most likely missed the football world gushing over Wentz’s play to start his career in Philadelphia. While some can view it as annoying at times, the gushing is justified due to the rookie’s play through two weeks.
Granted, he’s had the chance to take on the Cleveland Browns and the Chicago Bears in the first two weeks of the season; that’s what you call cupcakes in the NFL.
Despite all of the hype Wentz and the Eagles are getting to start the year, they’re just 21st in the NFL in total yards per game (341.5), 25th in passing (225.0), 26th in completion percentage (60.6) and 25th in yards per pass attempt (6.6). However, the real work with Philadelphia has been the running game where they’re 10th in yards per game (116.5) and tied for third in attempts per game (33.0) despite rushing for just 3.5 yards per carry.
If you’ve watched the Kansas City Chiefs the last few years when Doug Pederson was the head coach, you’ll know exactly what the Eagles look like with Pederson at the helm in 2016. But what really stood out with this Eagles offense is the poise, command and leadership that Wentz has shown through two starts under center.
So far, Wentz reminds me a lot of Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston, who really took control of the Buccaneers last season and emerged as a leader despite being in his first year in arguably the hardest position in the sport.
Against the Bears on Monday Night Football, Pederson and his staff had enough faith in Wentz to open the game in no-huddle and allow the rookie to make reads, checks and call his own plays at the line of scrimmage as the Eagles marched down the field to kick a field goal.
While Wentz’s throws were short dinks and dunks to move down the field, he was decisive with his throws and was extremely accurate, going 8-for-9 on the opening drive. Altogether, Wentz finished 21-for-34 for 190 yards against the Eagles. While that stat line won’t blow anyone away, you need to just watch the reads he was making, the windows he was throwing into and the presence he had in the huddle.
Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor let Wentz down with two big drops on explosive plays, one of which (Matthews’) should have gone for a touchdown. Wentz has shown impressive touch and anticipation so far, but remember that it was against arguably two of the worst secondaries in football.
Pittsburgh’s might not be that much better, but Wentz will face schemes he hasn’t see just yet.
Outside of Wentz, the Philadelphia offensive line has been pretty solid so far through two games.
Here’s how they stack up left to right:
LT – Jason Peters
LG – Allan Barbe
C – Jason Kelce
RG – Brandon Brooks
RT – Lane Johnson
Across the board the Eagles have an experienced, athletic offensive line starting with one of the top five left tackles — and future Hall of Famer — in Jason Peters. Throughout his career he’s been as steady a left tackle as there is, but sometimes gets lost on poor teams in the way that Joe Thomas in Cleveland does.
Peters can handle any form of pass rusher thrown at him, whether it’s a speed guy off the edge or a power guy looking to work through the blocker; it just doesn’t matter with this guy.
On the opposite side, Johnson is an athletic tackle as well after converting to tackle from tight end in college. In fact, Johnson was a high school quarterback who moved to tight end at Oklahoma. When you have two bookend tackles like Peters and Johnson you can pretty much run any scheme you want offensively.
Same with Kelce in the middle; he’s every bit as athletic as centers such as Maurkice and Mike Pouncey, who are known for pulling out into space. Kelce does the same thing and is exceptional at it.
At guard, Brooks really fills a hole for the Eagles, which hadn’t really been fixed since Evan Mathis was cut two years ago. Brooks is a mauler in the run game and has improved as a pass rusher throughout his career. Opposite of Brooks is Allan Barbe, who — while solid — isn’t anything to really write home about. He can definitely be taken advantage of with blitz’s, stunts and twists along the interior.
By providing Wentz with great protection up front, the rookie can get the ball to his playmakers in space, starting with Matthews and Agholor.
Both certainly have drop issues, but Matthews is a physical specimen making the move from the outside in Chip Kelly’s old system to slot receiver. Standing 6’3”, Matthews is a mismatch for corners in the slot in this league, but he’s not overly physical and really struggles to catch the ball with his hands, often relying on body catches.
Agholor won’t scare secondaries, but the second-year receiver out of Southern California is starting to carve out a role as the possession receiver in this Philadelphia offense by working underneath and in the middle of the field. The same goes for Dorial Green-Beckham, whom the Eagles acquired from the Tennessee Titans via trade during training camp. Green-Beckham certainly has character concerns, but there’s no denying that he’s a special talent on the football field due to the tools at his disposal. It’s all about putting it together on the field to realize that potential.
The second-year receiver our of Missouri showed flashes of just that on Monday night working on crossing routes, deep ins and comebacks.
While the trio of receivers won’t blow you away, Philadelphia has done the right thing with this group by sticking with them through the ups-and-downs to let them develop with Wentz. The talent is there, so it’s going to be scary when they put it all together.
In the meantime, Wentz has security blankets in tight ends Zach Ertz and Brent Celek. Ertz has missed time this year with a displaced rib injury suffered in Week 1 against Cleveland and hasn’t practiced yet this week, so it looks like he’ll miss Sunday’s tilt. That’s a big break for Pittsburgh as Wentz and Ertz hooked up six times for 58 yards on seven targets against the Browns. Ertz is your prototypical move tight end that is a mismatch for corners and linebackers, but the former Stanford product can also serve as a solid in-line blocker as well.
As for Celek, the veteran tight end can be described simply as “steady” regardless of who is throwing him the ball. He’s a similar build to Ertz in size, speed and ability on the field, so the Steelers will still have to contend with a move tight end that’s had plenty of success in this league.
With all of that said though, the biggest weapon that could do the most damage against the Steelers in Week 3 is also going to be the smallest on the field on Sunday.
Darren Sproles is a serious matchup problem as a pass catcher out of the backfield. Based on the success Giovani Bernard had last week in Pittsburgh, expect the Eagles to utilize the veteran Sproles in a very similar role to not only get Wentz rolling early, but also provide the rookie with a hot read should Keith Butler dial up the elaborate blitzes this week.
Sproles has just four catches on the year, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see him match that number in the first half alone on Sunday.
As far as “true” running backs go though, Philadelphia has a workhorse in Ryan Mathews, who emerged as the go-to guy last season despite having DeMarco Murray in the fold.
Mathews isn’t a flashy runner, but he fits the speed/power combination that Pederson loves in his running backs. Mathews doesn’t dance much in the backfield looking for holes; he just barrels ahead looking to gain positive yards on carries. Sometimes that’s really all you need. The Eagles will also mix in former dynamic college running backs in Kenjon Barner and Wendall Smallwood into the mix to give the running game a change of pace. Sproles also gets work as well, providing the Eagles with a great balance of serious speed and wiggle while also having power with Mathews.
Overall, this isn’t a flashy offense that will put up eye-popping stats, but they’re steady in all phases of the game offensively, and a cerebral young quarterback who seems to be firing on all cylinders at this point leads them. With all of that being said, Sunday’s matchup with Pittsburgh will be their toughest to date.
On special teams, Philadelphia isn’t as deadly in the phase as they once were, but they still have the ever-dangerous Sproles returning punts while adding Josh Huff and Wendell Smallwood into the return game. All three have game-breaking abilities, but they haven’t been able to find room yet as the longest kickoff return has been 30 yards by Smallwood.
Sproles does have a 40-yard punt return to his credit this season, so it will be important for the Steelers to punt away from him on Sunday.
In the kicking game, Caleb Sturgis, despite his freak injury in the preseason, has been solid to start the season on field goal attempts, going 5-for-6 through two gams. Sturgis has a 53-yarder to his credit, but is 0-1 from 40-49 yards. Sturgis has also missed one extra point so far this season.