Eagles-Steelers Rewind: Offensive Breakdown
With the All-22 coaches film coming out last night of the Eagles’ dominant 34-3 win over the Steelers, here’s what we observed on the offensive side of the ball:
*For the third straight game, Doug Pederson put together a good game plan and a nice group of plays to exploit Pittsburgh’s defense. Pederson’s misdirection screen plays worked particularly well, including Darren Sproles’ 40-yard gain on the opening drive. Carson Wentz faked a run to the left to Sproles, but what really got the Steelers moving the wrong way was the fake end around to Nelson Agholor. That opened up a huge running lane for Sproles when Wentz threw it back to him on the left side, with a few lead blockers who did an excellent job.
*The biggest testament to Pederson’s preparedness is how the Eagles have scored points on each of their opening drives this season. Here’s what Pederson said on Monday when asked why he has so much success early in game:
“The biggest thing for me is obviously how does our opponent begins games. And really a couple of things: You want to mix the run with the drop back. We threw a screen yesterday. Somewhere in there, you want to take a shot. It’s all based on tendency. It’s all based on conversations during the week with the quarterbacks — what they like, what they don’t like. And really a lot of times it’s just going off feel, how I feel they are going to attack us. Listen, they are only first- and second-down thoughts. They are not anything other than that. It’s also a way to help your quarterback and your offense. I’m playing the game during the week in my mind.”
*This 12-yard Wendell Smallwood run in the fourth quarter isn’t an inventive play by Pederson, but it’s a good example of how the nuances of a play design really opens things up. Between the offensive line’s movement to the left, Wentz initially showing the handoff to the left and Smallwood’s first step to the left, Pittsburgh’s entire front starts moving in the wrong direction. Then, Smallwood hits the hole and picks up an easy 12 yards because good blocking and a well-designed play gave him a ton of running room.
*We’ve already dissected Wentz’s impressive 73-yard touchdown pass to Sproles, so we won’t re-hash that. But one attribute he displayed on the Sproles pass that has been consistently apparent in the first three games is the great touch he puts on his passes. One of his best throws against the Steelers was an incompletion to Dorial Green-Beckham, as Wentz delivered a perfect ball to Green-Beckham, who couldn’t come down with the catch.
*Wentz was again outstanding against the blitz. According to Pro Football Focus, he completed six of his nine pass attempts against the blitz for 91 yards, one touchdown and a 136.8 passer rating. Over the three games so far, he has completed 75.8 percent of his throws against the blitz with a passer rating of 119. On the film, it’s easy to see why. He remains calm in the face of pressure, he’s willing to take a hit if he thinks he can complete the pass and he’s mobile enough to escape the pocket when he needs to.
*We’ve talked repeatedly about everything Wentz has done well so far — and understandably so — but let’s touch on a couple of bad plays for the rookie so you know what he may be trying to correct after watching the film. After that big Sproles completion on the first drive of the game, Wentz later threw an incompletion to Brent Celek, who had three guys around him, while he could’ve hit Jordan Matthews — who was open — for a potential touchdown over the middle if he continued his progression. Later in the game, Wentz targeted Trey Burton, who was also triple-covered and had very little room to make a potential catch. Perhaps Wentz locked onto his early reads, or maybe he just thought he could fit the ball into extremely tight windows. Regardless, we’ve gotten to the point — just three games into his NFL career — where we really need to pick his game apart to find the mistakes, which is a pretty good signal of his success so far.
*One play that perfectly exemplifies why the Eagles had success running the ball was Smallwood’s 12-yard gain in the third quarter that helped set up his touchdown. He ran about six yards untouched because of good blocking up front, but then he created six more yards of his own with a nice spin move. Give the offensive line credit for the Eagles’ 125 rushing yards, but Smallwood and Kenjon Barner played well, too.
*Speaking of Barner, he has a nice burst through the hole and he sets up his blocks nicely by widening his angle to the sideline before cutting upfield. The Eagles want Ryan Mathews back to the point where he can carry the ball 20 times a game, but they have to be encouraged by what they saw against Pittsburgh from their other running backs.
*Nelson Agholor ran a beautiful route near the end of the second quarter — one that made a Steelers cornerback trip over his own feet and fall to the ground. Agholor’s numbers against Pittsburgh weren’t gaudy — he caught three passes for 21 yards — but he continues to improve.
*Agholor also had one of my favorite plays of the game as he turned a broken screen play — the defensive back was literally right next to Jordan Matthews, so Wentz couldn’t throw it — into a seven-yard gain. Once Agholor recognized Wentz had to pull the ball, he found a hole in the defense and ran into an open area before Wentz hit him for a good gain on the run.
*It’s a theme we touch on seemingly every week, but the Eagles receivers need to do a better job of helping out their rookie quarterback. According to Pro Football Focus, Wentz now ranks third among all NFL quarterbacks in terms of dropped passes. The Birds are leaving too many points on the board because of this.
OFFENSIVE LINE/TIGHT END
*Trey Burton has obvious potential as a pass-catching weapon, and he’s made significant strides in the last couple of years, but one area he has to continue to improve on is his blocking. Burton will certainly be involved in the Eagles’ game plan even once Zach Ertz returns from injury, but the third tight end will get more snaps if his run blocking improves as much as Ertz’s has.
*It’s impressive how well Allen Barbre and Lane Johnson have played in the first three games. Johnson — on the field, at least — is justifying his big contract this offseason, while Barbre looks like a lot more than just a capable starter. Barbre was particularly good in the screen game, but he blocked well in tight spaces, too. I’d be surprised if there isn’t a drop off in Barbre’s play once he moves to right tackle because he’s less comfortable at that position, but he should still be solid there.
*Jason Kelce, on the other hand, did more of the same. He blocked well in space when he pulled and got to the second level, but he was also beaten at times in tight spaces. He had another bad shotgun snap that resulted in a fumble — although Wentz picked it up and threw a quick pass for a couple of yards — and bigger defensive linemen continue to give him trouble.