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Film Review: The Eagles Red Zone Boom

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(Photo by William Howard/Icon Sportswire)

You’ll often see or hear, at any point in any game, a fellow fan say, “we need a touchdown this drive” or “we can’t beat this team with field goals”. Yes, ideally you want to score every drive.  Yes, ideally you would rather punch it in rather than settling for a field goal. Luckily for the Eagles, settling in scoring position has not been standard operating procedure.

Excluding field goals, the Eagles have run 53 offensive snaps in the red zone. They’ve run 26 passes and 27 runs. The run game has only produced 43 yards on those 27 runs, but has found pay-dirt 3 times. The real reason behind the Eagles success in this area has been the passing game.

In 2016 Carson Wentz struggled in the red zone despite being responsible with the ball. He posted a stat line of 42/86 (48.8%), 246 yards, 12 TD, and 1 INT for a 90 QB Rating.

In 2017, the tables have turned. Wentz is far more impactful and accurate: 16/26 (61.5%) for 124 yards, 9 touchdowns, and zero interceptions.

Only one team, Houston, has improved their red zone production more than the Eagles. In 2016, Philadelphia scored touchdowns on 49.09% of their visits deep inside enemy territory, 24th in the league. This year that number has skyrocketed to 63.16%, good for 4th best in the league with an improvement of 14.07%.

Aiding Wentz in bolstering his numbers with a compressed field is TE Zach Ertz. Head Coach Doug Pederson has done an excellent job getting Ertz isolated in space against favorable match-ups.

Looking at the numbers, Ertz is Wentz’s favorite and most effective red zone target. Already surpassing his 2016 totals in yards and TDs, he’s been thrown to 8 times, a team high, while hauling in 6 of those for 49 yards, 5 first downs, and 4 touchdowns.

Let’s look at each of the Wentz to Ertz red zone touchdowns:

Week 3 vs NYG: Up 7-0, 3rd Quarter 5:19, 3rd & Goal (3).

(#86) Ertz motions to the right of (#87) TE Brent Celek which causes NYG (#21) SAF Landon Collins to roll up to press. At the snap, Ertz widens him out, using a whip release to gain an inside release to space. (#29) RB LaGarrette Blount holds Collins to the flat, Celek releases inside and holds the playside (#52) LB Jonathan Casillas. The spacing of these routes creates a void for Wentz, who throws a strike before NYG (#27) SAF Darian Thompson can roll down.

This is all about spacing, which provides Wentz with easy decisions depending on how the zones gets stretched. This concept stressed Casillas, who visibly gets caught in a blender deciding between covering Ertz or Celek.

Week 5 vs AZ: Up 7-0, 1st Quarter 4:22, 3rd & 6 (11).

From 13 personnel (1 RB, 3 TE), the Eagles isolate Ertz on a safety by alignment. This time he is up against AZ (#27) SAF Tyvon Branch, which is a match-up the Eagles exploited throughout the game. The concept is similar, create space and give Ertz room to operate. Ertz widens on his release, shows strength at the breakpoint, catches clean at his chest on the move, and withstands a shot from (#32) SAF Tyrann Mathieu.

Week 6 @ CAR: Down 3-10, 2nd Quarter 2:54, 3rd & Goal (1).

In 13 personnel, Ertz is flexed to the slot with two tight ends lined up to his right. Blount motions left to a plus split and is followed by (#54) LB Shaq Thompson, signifying man coverage. This means Ertz has one-on-one coverage with (#26) Daryl Worley. Ertz widens to attack Worley’s outside leverage while (#88) Trey Burton bolts to the flats, causing (#29) Mike Adams to vacate the middle of the field. Ertz uses his strength to create separation at the breakpoint before snapping his route inside for an easy pitch and catch TD.

Week 6 @ CAR: Tied 10-10, 3rd Quarter 4:22, 2nd & 10 (17).

The Eagles go 3×1 from the Shotgun. Ertz is solo on the right side, detached from the line in a “nasty split”. Pre-snap notice Ertz point out (#24) CB James Bradberry before the snap. He’s signaling to Wentz that based on Bradberry’s leverage, he’s expecting him to drop to the flats in a zone Cover 2, and that’s exactly what happens.

Wentz holds (#58) LB Thomas Davis and (#59) Luke Kuechly with his eyes as he glances to the 3 WR side of the formation. This creates a gap between levels in which for Wentz to throw. Ertz nods to the outside at the breakpoint, causing SAF Adams to drift outside, leaving enough room for Ertz to cut inside and box Adams out for his 4th red zone TD of the season.

Success for the Eagles is the result of a perfect storm. Effective play-calling has put their play-makers in position to succeed, Wentz is executing the subtleties of the offense and making the correct decisions, and Ertz has harnessed his play strength and nuanced route running to form a powerful offense to deal with in the red zone.

Michael is an NFL Draft enthusiast, aspiring scout, and grandson of longtime East Stroudsburg (Pa.) HS football coach John P. Kist. He hosts Locked On Eagles and writes for Inside the Pylon & Breaking Football.

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