The Eagles have a new wide receiver, and that is objectively exciting.
Figuring out the value of the trade — a 3rd-rounder for a 30-year old Golden Tate on the final year of his deal — is a trickier matter. We’ll talk about that a bit on here, but you should listen to the latest Kist and Solak Show on BGN Radio for a full rundown.
Regardless of how you feel about the value, Golden Tate is a member of the Eagles, and we gotta rip through his film to understand 1) what he brings to an offense, 2) how he should be deployed for Philadelphia, and 3) what the Eagles can do with him and Nelson Agholor, a similar player.
Let’s talk about Nelly real quick: As Arif Hasan of The Athletic notes, Agholor’s career was basically saved when he moved to primarily slot play in 2017. Across the past four seasons, Agholor averages 0.61 more yards per route run from the slot as compared to an outside alignment; that’s the third-biggest delta, behind Michael Thomas and Jeremy Kerley. Over the same time span, Tate is relatively equal in production from the slot and from the outside.
It’s worth noting that Agholor has performed slightly better from the outside as compared to the slot in this season, but he is generally having a down year, so his numbers are a bit wonky. He’s at a career low this season with yards/rec at 9.1, and his depth of target has dropped over 2 yards as compared to his 2015-2017 numbers (10.6 to 8.1).
Remember: slot receivers have an advantage with two-way goes — they can cut both inside and outside into space. You like to put your quicker players there because they maximize that freedom in the route tree. But you can also manufacture that inside/outside space with reduced splits: bringing the outermost receiver inside, as if he were aligned in the slot.
Detroit did this a fair bit with Tate, and Philly should do the same.
Not the slot but a reduced split here. Eagles already use these tight bunches A LOT and will continue to do w/ Tate on the roster. Bring that corner in to make him fear the flat route; then burst up behind him. Quickness! pic.twitter.com/xaWZBFgSs7— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) October 30, 2018
The out and up route lulls that flat defender to sleep. It mimics the eventual action of a pure go route, but with the extra breaks, maximizes the quickness of the route runner and manufactures that space up the sideline — the defender would have already been there if it were a pure outside release.
Detroit loved this route for Tate just about as much as Philadelphia loves it for Zach Ertz (just ask Harrison Smith). They ran it again with success against the Packers, this time in a traditional slot alignment. Watch how well Tate sells this route with the head fake and urgency in his outside cut before whipping back upfield — that’s really pretty route running, and it creates immediate separation.
When Detroit went deep w/ Tate, it was always with multi-break routes out of the slot. Route-running details w/ quickness make him a big threat to separate downfield. Again, look at the head sell and the footwork. pic.twitter.com/Zl776DgFUm— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) October 30, 2018
The concern with the lack of a ‘deep threat’ for Philadelphia is a warranted one — the Eagles are laboring to produce explosive plays this season. But the idea that outside receivers run deep routes and inside receivers run short routes is an antiquated approach to the game: By using the outside space offered by the slot, Detroit worked Tate into the intermediate areas of the field.
Doesn't get much cleaner than this— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) October 30, 2018
*Deadleg release (h/t @BradKelly17) w/ physicality through stem
*Eyes back and up, selling fade route
*Hard stop and explosion to sideline to maintain leverage
*Anticipation of tackle and quickness/body control to evade pic.twitter.com/ushvKUZQWl
Can’t talk enough about how clean this route running is. Everything from the moment the ball is snapped to the moment the ball arrives is intentional and well-executed. This is an isolation route against man coverage that builds off of the Stab concept, which is Philadelphia’s slot-fade idea. They love to run it in the near red zone, and working this slot-comeback idea in as a natural counter makes a lot of sense, especially considering the quality execution from Tate.
But that’s not the primary way Tate will generate explosive plays for the Eagles: he is one of the best YAC threats in the game. Per Next Gen Stats, Tate has generated the most gross yards after the catch since the 2016 season. Also over that time span, he’s best in the league at expected YAC +/-, a metric that measures how many more/fewer yards after the catch a receiver gains as compared to the average YAC generated by receivers running similar routes with similar separation.
Typically, you envision YAC generation as a result of hitting a receiver in stride, with his momentum and eyes both downfield, lots of space to work with. That’s not really how Tate generates a lot of his YAC — typically, Tate’s catching sit routes and spacing curls, his back to the defense, his momentum at a standstill.
The biggest similarity is the presence of sit/crossing routes and the expectation of YAC. W/ K. Golladay (Babytron!) and M. Jones also in DET, Tate was frequently a checkdown option. Here, Stafford doesn't like his two verts side, so he pops to Tate, who makes a man miss for 20+ pic.twitter.com/jcRQTKePR3— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) October 30, 2018
Tate is a safety valve option here: Stafford gets the ball to him just looking for quick, short yardage — but because Tate’s been doing this for a while, he knows where the closing linebacker is coming from, and he feels the timing of the approach. That quick duck underneath is so savvy: Tate’s got a powerful lower half, and he uses a wide base at the catch to ensure he can get underneath the hit and retain his balance. After that, it’s just quickness and vision with the ball in his hands.
Agholor is a good YAC threat because he’s explosive and fast. He has good quickness, but it’s not on Tate levels, and he certainly doesn’t have Tate’s strength. Tate is more of a tackle-breaker than Agholor likely ever will be, so Agholor makes more sense as an intermediate crosser — long, straight lines that let him open up his gait — and those quick look routes in the underneath areas will belong to Tate.
This is something Tate and Agholor share: the want-to. They’re aggressive players who want every yard on the field because they believe it belongs to them. Again, Tate is a better tackle-breaker — you can see a bit of that here, and even more of it later — but the point is: you don’t need a strong depth of target from your quarterback to generate chunk plays. Getting the ball to playmakers quickly and allowing them to make plays by themselves also works.
Philadelphia will have to decide who gets the jet sweeps — Agholor or Tate. Aggy has 3 rushes for 32 yards this season; Tate has 42 on the same number. Detroit put Tate in jet motion almost as often as Philly does Nelson Agholor, and it was to Tate’s benefit with the Lions. He garnered most of those rushing yards on this long run against the Dolphins.
Tate was used by Detroit quite similarly to how Philadelphia has used Agholor thus far this season. Jet sweep is a great example. Detroit loves to motion Tate into match-ups; but that's what Philly does with Nelly a lot. V. curious to see how they use both. pic.twitter.com/keOfPpXfhK— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) October 30, 2018
Should Tate take these potential jet sweeps away from Agholor? Not necessarily on merit — I don’t think Tate’s any better on them than Nelson is — but if Agholor is going to transition to more downfield routes, then yes, Tate should get these looks by default. They more clearly translate into the quick flare routes and bubble screens that he should be running instead of Agholor.
Will that preclude Philadelphia from putting Agholor in motion to get the match-ups they want? Not at all. Expect Philly to run Agholor and Tate both across the formation throughout a game, forcing the defense into secondary adjustments that can create advantageous looks for the offense. I wrote about that idea here last week.
The final expectation we should have for Tate — that won’t show up in Detroit tape, because they aren’t as cool as we are — is his heavy usage on RPOs and packaged plays.
As I said, Tate is a tackle-breaker. Because RPO ideas often rely on number games — put the ball where the defense isn’t — receivers often get targets when they have one-on-one, or two-on-two, or three-on-three match-ups in space. That’s the situation on this play here: Eagles have a single back power look packaged with a bubble screen to the two wide receiver side; they hit the bubble screen multiple times against the Colts earlier this year.
Look at the top of the screen: that’s TE Josh Perkins, the Eagles’ third TE. He does little on this play save for taking a few hard steps upfield, then engaging the corner in a block.
Imagine now that that player is Golden Tate. Or that Golden Tate is catching the bubble, and that’s Zach Ertz out there instead of Perkins.
Instead of having that playside receiver hit a block, you could have Ertz run a five step slant. If the deep safety to that side sneaks into the box before the snap, Carson could forgo the running play entirely and just hit Ertz in the one-on-one situation. Maybe you could have it be Alshon, and have him run a fade route to the red zone if he gets press-man coverage. Maybe it could be Tate, and he could run a speed out against off-coverage for a free 4 yards.
With an extra YAC weapon who separates very quickly off the line of scrimmage, Philadelphia has another weapon they can pack into their options looks at the line of scrimmage. This gives Carson Wentz more power to pick the best match-up at the line of scrimmage, and makes Philadelphia a more versatile offense to respond to any defensive look.
Tate and Agholor can see the field together without much problem — though obviously, adjustments have to made to the offense. Again: the final note is that the Eagles acquired quite the powerful weapon for a passing game that’s failed to produce big plays and a ton of points. The expectation now falls on Doug Pederson and Mike Groh to share the wealth and coordinate a winning offense in Philadelphia’s crucial back-half of the season.