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How the Eagles’ offense got their groove back

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With suggestions on how to keep that train going...

Philadelphia Eagles v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Dougie has his groove back. That’s the talk around Philadelphia after the Eagles won a 34-27 boat race against the previously undefeated Green Bay Packers on Thursday Night Football.

After early sputters, the offense hit its stride and ended over half their drives in the end zone. In fact, despite offensive hiccups in weeks two and three, the Eagles rank fourth in touchdown drive frequency (35%) on the season. That’s just one example of how dangerous the offense can be when they’re clicking, as it’s nearly 9% higher than their 2017 frequency when they took the league by storm.

How’d they do it? Each week I chart the Eagles’ personnel and schemes and here I’ll also use some numbers from other analytical companies to try and make sense of their recent uptick in fortune.

Finding their identity...

They didn’t just find their identity, they found incredible efficiency. Simply put, every thing worked. With Dallas Goedert no longer limited, the Eagles were able to reestablish themselves as one of the best 12 personnel teams in the league. Even without DeSean Jackson, their three wide receiver sets proved very successful.

Per my charting, here’s the breakdown by group:

  • 11 Personnel: 54% frequency, 6.4 yards per play, 53% success rate
  • 12 Personnel: 40% frequency, 4.7 yards per play, 58% success rate
  • 6OL 12 Personnel: 6% frequency, 7.0 yards per play, 67% success rate

That’s the best overall results they’ve seen in the first quarter of the season. The last two weeks they’d been a three wide receiver, non-play-action offense working primarily from shotgun. On Thursday, they utilized the cheat code known as play-action 45% of the time, a big increase from the 11% figure from the last two weeks. Over the past two weeks, the Eagles’ offense only operated from under center for 12 snaps. On Thursday, they balanced that out with 41% of their plays coming from under center.

That type of diversity in the game-plan matters. It opens up the playbook and allows the Eagles to run schemes that better suit their talent. For example, in 2017 the Eagles’ were the best trap team in the NFL. Nobody ran more traps and nobody ran them more effectively.

According to Pro Football Focus, they ran a league leading 40 plays (8.5%) that featured components of a trap play. Their 8.5% market share was well over the league average of 2.1%. Those 40 plays averaged 7.3 yards per carry, which was tops in the league among teams that ran 10 or more trap concepts and also 2.5 yards more than the league average.” - Michael Kist, The Art of the Wham

It’s more difficult to run these concepts from shotgun, especially the Eagles’ staple “Wham” play.

Rookie running back Miles Sanders has been struggling mightily to pick holes, but “Wham” makes it simple. Just run off Dallas Goedert’s butt and prosper.

The Packers had 5+ defensive backs on the field 95% of the time, which invited the run and gave the Eagles’ a distinct size advantage. The Eagles exploited this by targeting tight ends over the middle of the field, especially when getting a match-up with third safety Will Redmond. They also bullied the Packers in the run game. Jordan Howard’s 16-yard run in the Eagles’ game-winning drive shows how that can be a mistake on Green Bay’s part.

All of this contributed to the Eagles’ running game - and their offense in general - getting their groove back.

Carson’s efficient day at the office...

You’ve seen all the Carson Wentz criticisms... he holds on the to the ball too much. He misses reads. He can’t win close games. It goes on and on, but no matter how susceptible you are to drive time radio and charlatans, none of those apply to this game.

Doug Pederson reeled in the passing game on Thursday, asking Wentz to work a shorter, quicker game with a heavy does of RPOs requiring high-speed decision-making. Wentz delivered by making the reads and getting the ball out quick, including a 2.41 time-to-throw per PFF. Pederson asked Wentz to let the offense work for him and that’s exactly what he did. If you can find a missed read by Wentz, please let me know because I sure couldn’t.

It’s of note that Wentz’s time-to-throw (TTT) has been under 2.45 seconds on three out of his last four outings in 2019. Let’s use that as a baseline for the following nuggets that I found while examining Wentz’s career.

  • Overall TTT: Wentz has been over 2.45 TTT for 59% of his career games.
  • Under 2.45 seconds: Wentz’s under pressure rates drop under 30% in 83% of those games. He averages 1.8 sacks per game and takes less than 3 sacks in 61% of those games.
  • Over 2.45 seconds: Wentz’s under pressure rates exceed 30% in 73% of those games. He averages 2.5 sacks per game and takes 3 or more sacks in 73% of the games.

Without the danger element of DeSean Jackson, it makes sense that the offense would be scaled back and require quicker reads and ball distribution. Over his career, that’s had the added effect of keeping Wentz clean and protecting him from hits and sacks. With Jackson returning, an offense with only one explosive pass against the Packers can get vertical again, but that doesn’t mean they should entirely open things up.

For instance, would you be upset if this 8-play, 76-yard touchdown march was a typical scoring drive for the Eagles this year?

Condense the offense and when the looks are right give Wentz the freedom to audible to a shot play as he so effectively against Washington. That would be my advice, but I’m just a guy with internet after all.