It wasn't always pretty - and no one will remember that part of it in December - but the Eagles came away with a huge win over the rival New York Giants on Thursday Night Football. For now, the Eagles are in first place in the division as they prepare for a pivotal matchup against the Dallas Cowboys next Sunday night. How did the biggest plays from the game come to life? I went to the film to find out.
Let's start with the end in mind this week, as we begin our breakdown with Boston Scott's game-winning touchdown catch.
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Scott was the first Eagle to speak with reporters after the game. He said that he was running short routes to the flat all game long. When he saw the safety, Jabrill Peppers, come down to defend him close to the line of scrimmage, he converted the route downfield. Wentz did a great job of working through his progressions, and he delivered an absolute DIME to Scott for six points to seal the win.
This play actually reminded me of a couple of huge touchdown catches by Corey Clement back in 2017. The first one came in prime time against a division rival, just like this Scott play. Wentz hit Corey Clement in the same corner of the end zone against Washington on Monday Night Football.
The differences between those two plays are that - on the Clement touchdown - he's a clear part of the progression, and Wentz makes a craaaazy escape to get out of trouble and make a throw off balance. Last night's splay did not feature that same action from Wentz, but this week's throw was much more impressive, as he put that one on a frozen rope to Scott over the shoulder for six.
The other play I thought of, and this is more from a pure X's and O's standpoint, was the touchdown from Nick Foles to Clement in Super Bowl LII. Here's why.
The Eagles anticipated bracket coverage, which is ultimately a double-team on Zach Ertz, who they label the most dangerous receiver on that side of the field. Clement, lined up in the backfield, is not accounted for in this concept. If they saw the play on a whiteboard, they would much rather bracket the wheel route from the backfield. They left Clement one-on-one since they did not, in fact, know what the play was. He ran to the back of the end zone, where Foles delivered a perfect throw for the score.
Both of these plays are reminiscent of the Scott touchdown on Thursday night. Aesthetically, the Washington play looks eerily similar, especially with it being in the same corner of Lincoln Financial Field. Schematically, against basically the same defensive scheme, the Super Bowl touchdown has many parallels. At the end of the day, this was a beautiful, pinpoint-accurate throw from Wentz and a clutch grab from Scott to win the game.
A play that helped set up Scott's touchdown was this 30-yard completion from Wentz to tight end Richard Rodgers.
Dagger is a basic two-man route concept that can carve up a Cover 2 zone. With that inside route from Greg Ward, the linebacker in the middle of the field is removed. That creates a void for the No. 2 receiver, in this case Rodgers, to run free. This would have been a picture-perfect play, had it not been for a New York blitz. The Giants disguised this well, forcing the Eagles to slide away from the direction of the pressure. Wentz recognized it, escaped the pocket with his eyes downfield, and hit Rodgers for the first down to put the Eagles in New York territory in a "scramble drill" situation.
Let's rewind even further now, and look at Greg Ward's touchdown catch that made it a one-score game.
This was a pretty sneaky play by the Eagles, as Ward pretends to jog from left to right in a simple pre-snap motion. Lulling the defense to sleep, he gets about halfway there and then bursts into an all-out sprint to the pylon. Wentz takes the snap and hits Ward, who beats the two defenders in the area by a couple of steps and gets into the end zone for the touchdown.
Two of the biggest passing plays for the Eagles in this game came courtesy of Travis Fulgham and John Hightower on 40- and 59-yard completions, respectively. The plays were slightly different, but one common theme showed up - the problems they posed to a Cover 3 cornerback.
In Cover 3, the outside cornerbacks are responsible for defending threats that are deep and outside. Coaches tell the cornerbacks to be "wider than the widest and deeper than the deepest." That means that no one should get outside or behind them. They should funnel everything to their help in the middle of the field. But what happens when you have two vertical routes coming right at you? You're put in a bind. That's what the Eagles did on these two plays. Cornerback Ryan Lewis was in no man's land on both of these completions, and it led to big plays down the field.
For my last point on offense, we can bring it back to the opening drive of the night. DeSean Jackson was involved early and often in the Eagles' game plan. On the first play, Wentz handed the ball off to Jackson on an end-around that went for 12 yards ... but this was a play I had seen before!
This counter end-around has been used all around the NFL this season. I talked with Head Coach Doug Pederson on Friday for a segment that will air on next week's Eagles Game Plan. He said that this was a play they've had in their playbook for a while, and he's seen teams use it against them this season. He's seen it used against the Giants on film, and as you can see in the clip above, we actually broke the play down this season on a previous episode of Eagles Game Plan with Greg Cosell. The Eagles rolled the play out to start the game, and it kicked things off with a first down.
Defensively, the play of the game came on Brandon Graham's sack-fumble late in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
Coverage was good on the back end, but I have to give credit to both Graham and Josh Sweat on this play. Both players were able to defeat chip blocks from the Giants' offense and get home to affect the quarterback. Sweat forced Daniel Jones to step up, and Graham crashed in from behind, attacking the throwing arm and getting the ball on the ground for the crucial turnover.
Here's another sack I wanted to look at. Defensive end Derek Barnett was able to get home on a nice spin move against Andrew Thomas, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Thomas has had issues early in his career. He has gotten beat with both speed off the edge as well as inside moves just like this one. Here, Thomas tries to get aggressive with a two-hand punch, but the timing of this pass rush move is perfect. There's no inside hand there to help Thomas when he loses his inside edge. Barnett gets home for a sack, as he continues to look good coming off his offseason injury.
One other defensive lineman who stood out in this game was Fletcher Cox. Whether he was sniffing out screens or disrupting the run game, I thought No. 91 showed up time and time again in this game. He was FLYING out of his stance and impacting the pocket as well.
The stat in that tweet from NFL Research piqued my interest heading into this game. Would Jim Schwartz turn up the heat on the second-year quarterback? He had not fared well against extra pressure. He certainly did, and the Eagles had lots of success when he did.
Sometimes, all you need to do to create a big play is "fake" like you're blitzing and then drop out. That's what happened on Jalen Mills' interception in the first half. The pre-snap look forced a quick throw, which popped up into the air for the diving interception.
There is a lot that the Eagles need to clean up before next Sunday night, but they get a much-needed extra couple of days of rest to get their bodies right before taking the field. Let's see if this comeback win can create some momentum for this team going into the season's biggest game to date.
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominatedEagles Game Planshow which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts,Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as theJourney to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging, and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices, and opponents.