All-22: Inside Agholor’s First-Career Touchdown

How the rookie receiver got open for his first trip to the end zone.

Josh Huff and Nelson Agholor. (Jeff Fusco)

Josh Huff and Nelson Agholor. (Jeff Fusco)

Dennis Kelly put the Eagles in a huge hole. After Jason Peters exited Philadelphia’s game against Buffalo with an ankle injury, Kelly was called for holding on his first two snaps.

The Eagles were 0-for-12 in converting first downs when facing third-and-16 or longer, so they needed at least a dozen or so yards on second-and-26. Instead, Sam Bradford launched a bomb to Nelson Agholor, who hauled in a 53-yard touchdown catch for the first score of his career.

“It felt great, obviously, because it was a play that helped us out. It was not a touchdown just because; it was a touchdown that put us in position to make other plays,” Agholor said. “It meant a lot to score a touchdown in the situation I did, and for my teammates. You’ve got to think about it, the series, we kind of got pushed back a little bit and we needed to make a play and we did.”

It was a play the Eagles ran at least four times — this iteration was the second — and Bradford had open receivers each time. Chip Kelly first called it in Philadelphia’s opening series, which resulted in a 21-yard catch by Zach Ertz.

Two plays later, Darren Sproles ran one yard for the first touchdown of the game.

“We ran it numerous times … and they were sort of struggling with that concept,” Pat Shurmur said. “The way it played out, there was a lot of really good football within that play.”

The play was designed to beat two of Buffalo’s biggest tendencies: heavy blitzes and quarters coverage. According to Seyi Ajirotutu, the route combination on the left side of the field was supposed to beat the blitz. If the Bills brought pressure, the ball would likely go to the outside receiver coming inside on a drag route.

Meanwhile, the route combination on the right was designed to beat Buffalo’s version of quarters coverage.

“Based on the safety taking the tight end on the flag route and the corner having to cover the receiver on the post route, if they cover it man-to-man, it leaves the middle of the field open,” Ajirotutu said. “It’s answers on both sides of the play to combat what the defense does a lot. You call plays based on their tendencies, and that’s what we saw on film.”

On Agholor’s touchdown, the Bills did not bring pressure. According to Thad Lewis, Buffalo’s alignment gave Bradford a tip that the rookie receiver would be open.

“Based off a certain coverage or look, you can alert a guy. Nelson was the alert based off of the safety’s positioning,” Lewis said. “It’s a pre-snap thing, but also as the play develops. Because if the safety would’ve stayed high and on top of Nelson, Sam would’ve gone to Zach.

“The safety took a bad angle — instead of him staying high, he came down. His back was turned so Nelson is open.”

Lewis, however, indicated Bradford’s outstanding throw may not have been the best part of the play for the quarterback. Matt Tobin, who again struggled in pass protection as he allowed two hits and four hurries, was quickly beaten to the inside.

However, Tobin got a good shot on the defensive tackle to push him out of the play at the last minute, and Lane Johnson pushed the defensive end to the outside, giving Bradford some room to escape the pressure.

“His pocket movement was very, very good,” Lewis said. “That was important because he kept his eyes down field while some guys panic a little bit. Sam just stepped up into the pocket, had confidence and threw the guy open. That’s being comfortable and confident in yourself, but also in the offense.”

Bradford’s footwork and pocket movement has clearly progressed throughout the season. The numbers also support that, as Bradford’s passer rating under pressure in his last four games (108) is twice as good as it was his first seven (54), according to Pro Football Focus.

Against Buffalo, he completed eight of his 13 pass attempts for 78 yards and one touchdown when under pressure. He also threw an interception, but the pick was ripped out of Brent Celek’s hands.

“Each week he is getting more and more comfortable with his lower body and that is really where it starts when you throw the football,” Shurmur said. “It starts in your toes and works all the way up to your fingertips. I think he is getting better there.”

Shurmur also praised Agholor for his route and catch, before saying “the only thing bad about that play was the celebration at the end.” It appeared Agholor simply slipped, but the rookie, who kept the ball and said he may give it to his mother for Christmas, laughed off any critiques of his post-catch excitement.

“That’s because the Linc’s rocking,” Agholor said with a smile. “It’s not just me. Everybody was going crazy, so I fed off of that emotion and it was fun, and that’s what it’s supposed to be like. This is the highest level of football and we have some great fans and great players on my team.”