Eagles Key Plays: How They Happened
The Eagles scored three times, gave up two touchdowns, forced four turnovers and tallied one giveaway in their 24-17 win over the Jets. Here’s how it all happened.
The play: Darren Sproles returned a punt 89 yards in the second quarter for the first touchdown of the game.
How it happened: There’s an NFL saying that captures this play quite well: Great players make great plays. Sometimes it’s as simple as that, and Sproles certainly made a great play by making five Jets miss. However, as you’d expect, he also got help from his blockers, particularly Eric Rowe. The rookie did a great job alongside Walter Thurmond to hold up the right gunner, and finished the play by blocking the Jets’ last line of defense: the punter.
To give you a sense of how well Rowe and Thurmond did, when their man was 10 yards past the line of scrimmge, the left gunner was more than 20 yards down field. This helped give Sproles about 15 yards of space between him and the nearest defender when he caught the ball.
Bird’s-eye view: “It’s more or less just letting Sproles do his thing,” Bryan Braman said. “If you’re going to block somebody, make sure you give him a decisive look. If you’re going to block the left side, block the left side. All he sees is [jersey] color, so you have to give him a clear look so he can make the right read.”
The play: Sam Bradford threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Mathews in the second quarter.
How it happened: This is one of the throws Bradford consistently made in training camp and the preseason that got people excited about his potential. This is a great throw, and when Mathews is side-by-side with the linebacker as the video pauses, it’s automatically a touchdown if the throw is on point. It’s also a well-designed play because the play-side receiver (Nelson Agholor) and tight end (Zach Ertz) both run routes to the inside, drawing the safety to them and leaving the running back one-on-one against the linebacker in space.
Bird’s-eye view: “We felt the way they were playing Mathews in the game, it was a lot of man coverage,” Bradford said. “A couple of those looks we got him matched up on a linebacker. The past couple of games, we ran a lot of routes with him going to the flat, so we figured they’d be hard on the flats and then it looks very similar and he just wheels up.”
The play: Ryan Fitzpatrick completed a 15-yard pass to Brandon Marshall, who fumbled the ball before Jordan Hicks picked it up and ran 11 yards.
How it happened: Hindsight is 20-20, but this was obviously a bad decision by Marshall even as he did it. This play also showcases why defensive pursuit is important because if Connor Barwin doesn’t play through the whistle, the pitch may have been successful instead of bouncing off his helmet.
Bird’s-eye view: “It’s just a matter of running to the ball and good things happen,” Hicks said. “Right place, right time.”
The play: Sproles ran for a one-yard touchdown, giving the Eagles a 24-0 lead in the second quarter.
How it happened: Allen Barbre and Jason Peters both made good down blocks, although it looks like Peters tackled the defensive lineman at the end of the plat. Riley Cooper also did a solid job because even though he got little movement on the defensive back, he didn’t get pushed behind the line of scrimmage and he prevented his man from making the tackle.
Bird’s-eye view: “Pretty much everybody had a man in that situation and there were no combo blocks,” Barbre said. “My steps are based on where my man is. He was lined up inside so that’s where I went.”
The play: Marshall caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick shortly before the first half ended.
How it happened: Although the Jets scored a touchdown, this is a smart wrinkle defensive coordinator Bill Davis implemented throughout the game. He lined up his play-side outside linebacker (Barwin) inside of Marshall to take away the quick slant. However, it didn’t matter because Fitzpatrick made a good throw in a collapsing pocket. Although they didn’t get to him, the Eagles got good pressure with only three pass-rushers.
Bird’s-eye view: “We were in regular quarters coverage and Brandon Marshall ran up to me and Fitzpatrick threw it out and away from me,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “He’s just bigger and taller than me so that’s a good throw and catch by them.”
The play: Rowe intercepted Fitzpatrick’s pass intended for Devin Smith in the end zone.
How it happened: Rowe did an excellent job running with his man and benefited from a poorly thrown ball. The rookie defensive back has said he’s more comfortable on the outside than at the slot corner, and he likely earned some snaps in the nickel going forward if Chris Maragos isn’t available.
Bird’s-eye view: “I heard people on our sideline yelling ‘Ball!’ so I looked, leaned and squeezed,” Rowe said. “Next thing I know, the ball is in my face and I go up for it.”
The play: Fitzpatrick threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Kerley to cut the Eagles’ lead to 24-14 early in the fourth quarter.
How it happened: It initially appears E.J. Biggers is at fault because he gave up inside leverage after Jenkins came down to cover a shallow crossing route. However, the safety explained how he caused a coverage breakdown below.
Bird’s-eye view: “I take responsibility for that because I made a decision that was different than how we practiced picking it up,” Jenkins said. “We saw that before and knew it was coming, but I changed the way we defended it so one guy thought he was getting help when he wasn’t. That’s on me having a mental error switching from nickel [corner] going back to safety. When we practiced that play, I was the nickel, but that’s a concept we’ll see again and I’ll get it right.”
The play: Mathews fumbled the ball on 1st-and-10 from Philadelphia’s 44-yard-line, giving New York the ball in plus-territory midway through the fourth quarter.
How it happened: I say it every time there’s a fumble, and it’s easier said than done, but running backs have to carry the ball high and tight to their body. Mathews carries it looser than he should running through the hole, but the defender also did a great job of putting his helmet on the football, which is a great way to cause a fumble.
The play: Hicks intercepted Fitzpatrick’s pass intended for Marshall at the Philadelphia 32-yard-line.
How it happened: The rookie linebacker gets most of the credit in the box score, but this play is made by Brandon Bair. The defensive lineman had three pass deflections in his first career start, and he did a great job of disrupting Fitzpatrick’s throwing lanes when he couldn’t get to the quarterback.
Bird’s-eye view: “[Bair] has a knack for that, but it was part of what we talked about with what Fitzy does,” Chip Kelly said. “One of those points of emphasis this week is that if the ball’s out so quick, we may not be able to get to him in a pass rush. We need to clog the throwing lanes for him.”
The play: Thurmond intercepted Fitzpatrick’s pass intended for Marshall at the Philadelphia 18-yard-line, effectively ending the Jets’ comeback bid as the Eagles led by 10 points with the ball and about three and a half minutes left.
How it happened: Thurmond did a great job of finishing the play and keeping his feet in bounds to complete the catch, but Marshall also short-armed the pass. Nolan Carroll did a good job as well of being close enough to Marshall to cut Fitzpatrick’s throwing lane down.
Bird’s-eye view: “[Carroll] had some great depth in his underneath coverage and it forced Fitzpatrick to throw the ball a little high,” Thurmond said. “I saw it was high and going to be a tough catch for Marshall to make and I just kept running the ball and he tipped it and I was able to capitalize on the opportunity.”