Waiting through the Eagles’ bye week was a bummer. To help ease the absence of our favorite 8-1, Super Bowl-bound team, I’ve decided to compile a mini-series that focuses on plays the Eagles run with frequency out of different formations with different personnel and how they’re successful. You can find the previous installations of this series here.
Today I’ll be looking at a play the Eagles have had a lot of success with — the slot-fade. Unlike the three-level stretch play I broke down yesterday, this route is limited to the formations which it can be run from, due to it’s nature, but it is not limited by personnel as far as tight ends/wide receivers/running backs are concerned. This play is typically effective against single-high coverage because the sideline on the play side is typically vacated by a deep defender.
The first play I’d like to take a look at is Nelson Agholor’s long catch against the Los Angeles Chargers. Pre-snap the Chargers are showing a single-high look, with what looks to be a blitz built in. Wentz scans the defense pre-snap and body alignment tells him that they’re running man coverage. The Eagles are in 11 personnel — one running back, one tight end — with two receivers and a tight end to the right and one receiver on the left, closer to the line of scrimmage.
When the ball is snapped, the wide receiver out right runs a smoke route, Agholor in the slot runs a fade, Zach Ertz at tight end runs what looks like a pivot route (or whip route) while Alshon Jeffery runs what appears to be a skinny-post route. This play works in part because the single-high coverage.
The slot-fade, the way the Eagles run it, forces the outside corner to play the smoke route, giving the slot corner more area on the boundary for the quarterback to work with. The safety can be manipulated by the quarterback or a matchup to one side of the field of the other. Wentz does a tie job of glancing to his left to hold the safety for a step, although it probably doesn't hurt that Alshon Jeffery is lined up there. The neat thing about the slot-fade in Pederson’s offense, is that the play design allows for a nice backside read....
The same concept again, the only difference is how receivers are aligned in the play. Alshon Jeffery bumps into the far slot, shifting Agholor closer to the LOS, while Ertz replaces Jeffery on the left side. The Cardinals, much like the Chargers, came out with single-high coverage, indicating either cover 1 or cover 3. The indicator as to what the coverage ultimately was, was Zach Ertz who drew safety Tyvon Branch in the box. Pre-snap, Carson Wentz changed this up, likely recognizing the matchup advantage with Ertz. Ertz is able to bully his one-on-one matchup and Wentz delivers.
Sticking with the play design genius of Doug Pederson, it’s evident that he pays attention to detail in an attempt to give Wentz as many options as possible regardless of the initial play-call.
This play feature the same 3x1 alignment as the previous plays, but this time the Eagles run it with 12 personnel, with tight end Trey Burton being the far slot receiver. The Cardinals again come out with a single-high safety in the red zone. From that point, it’s game over. Even if that safety shades further over to the trips side, it’s still a tough play to make with a condensed a field. Carson Wentz identifies his matchup pre-snap and knows exactly where he’s going with it.
A trip down memory lane brings us to Carson Wentz’s first career touchdown, which also came on this same slot-fade concept. Here the Eagles go with empty (five-wide) which helps gives the offense a better look at what matchups they’ll be getting in the red zone. This is important, because unlike the adjustments Pederson has made this year with different backside reads, the Eagles are running a slot-fade and hitch route to each side of the field. What this does for Wentz — who was a rookie at the time — is allow him to pick his matchup. He picks Jordan Matthews, who has more field to run under a ball and in turn that eliminates the safety from making a play. Year one to year two, observing these plays, I believe it shows how much Doug Pederson trusts Wentz, that he’s building two concepts into the play and trusting Wentz to take the right one based on what he sees pre-snap.
Last peek at this play. On 4th and 1, just looking to put the game away, the Eagles run the slot-fade. Against a single-high safety, this works predictably well. I do have to give Denver credit because the defensive back defending the smoke route knew exactly what was coming as soon as the receiver showed that he was just a decoy. While the play design of the slot-fade is nice when called against the right coverage, the quarterback has to be able to drop the ball in a bucket, typically over a defender’s head while keeping the receiver in bounds. The play design is efficient, but as it goes with any play, the execution needs to be here. As I mentioned earlier, I love how Pederson has evolved this play to include multiple quarterback friendly layers that allow for adjustment based on the pre-snap looks.
I hope I was able to shed a little light on how the Eagles utilize scheme and personnel to get looks that they like. If there are any other plays you notice with frequency, feel free to drop a comment or send a tweet to @TJackRH, where you can follow me for more analysis like this. I’ll try to get two or three of these rolling and then get to some suggestions. Hope you enjoyed!