It has been an up-and-down, frustrating season for Carson Wentz and the Eagles Offense. Injuries and inconsistent play have prevented Philadelphia from being able to take control of the worst division in football. But what makes up for inconsistent play? Scoring 6 instead of 3. And the Eagles have been among the league’s best in this department, converting 66% of their red-zone opportunities into touchdowns (4th best in the NFL). Their red zone and goal line offense has kept their season alive over the last few weeks.
What does it take to be successful in the red zone? One of the major traits is the ability to beat man coverage, which is predominantly used by defenses in this area of the field. Its usage increases as the offense gets closer to the goal line. Head Coach Doug Pederson has done a great job of attacking man in these situations.
Over the last few weeks, the Eagles have relied largely on trips-bunch formations to beat man coverage on the goal line. Bunches enable free releases for the receivers who align off the line of scrimmage. They help create picks and traffic for defenders to have to fight through. In an attempt to combat picks, defenses sometimes play the releases of receivers instead of playing the man, meaning the outside defender takes the outside release and the inside defender takes the inside release, for instance.
But this takes great pre-snap communication to avoid confusion of assignments. It takes well-disciplined defenses to handle these formations and the associated route combinations. Knowing this, Doug Pederson’s approach has been to use motion and tempo to catch the defense off guard and prevent them from having the opportunity to communicate.
Take the Eagles’ overtime game-winning touchdown against the Giants in Week 14. Instead of aligning in a trips bunch initially, tight end Zach Ertz aligned on the perimeter before motioning inside.
The Eagles snapped the ball quickly after the trips bunch was formed. The Giants had little time to make adjustments between the moment the new formation presented itself and when the ball was snapped.
It looked like some defenders ended up playing man and some played the releases. Clearly not everyone was on the same page. Keep your eyes on the 3 circled Giants defenders.
You can see how the inside and outside circled defenders ended up covering no one while Ertz ran free to the back of the end zone.
It’s easy to say, “How do you leave Zach Ertz that wide open on the goal line?!!!” But getting that wide open was created by the formation, motion, and play design.
This doesn’t excuse the Giants here. I assume that they frequently practice making calls and adjustments on the goal line in response to motion. They should have been able to handle this. However, responding to motion on a whiteboard in a meeting room or in practice is a different animal than doing so on game day. Nerves, crowd noise, etc. can impact communication and the ability to make adjustments. Whatever the reason was here, Doug Pederson capitalized.
In Week 15 against the Redskins, we saw a similar tactic employed. Again, the Eagles used a trips bunch. The only difference this time was that instead of using motion, they rushed to the line so the Redskins would not have time to make any adjustments to the formation. The result was Zach Ertz again being left wide-open for a touchdown.
Again, it’s so important that all 3 defenders handling the trips bunch are on the same page.
Later in the game, the Eagles called the same play and again rushed to the line to snap the ball quickly and prevent the opportunity for adjustments. Watch the entire Redskins Defense practically run to the trips bunch side. With one of the routes going across the field, this left 4 defenders accounting for 2 receivers, and left wide receiver Greg Ward in a 1-on-1 situation.
It’s tough for any corner to have to run all the way across the field with a receiver and not allow any separation.
There are other aspects of the Eagles Offense that have helped make them successful in the red zone. Namely, their quarterback is very capable of making 2nd-reaction plays. Despite Carson Wentz’ struggles this season, he has been one of the better red zone quarterbacks in the league, firing 18 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and playing to a 104.2 passer rating. The two plays below from Philly’s last three games show you everything you need to know about Wentz’ physical ability.
In their last 3 games, the Eagles have scored 10 touchdowns in 13 red zone trips. They will need to be just as successful against the Cowboys this Sunday if they want to have any shot of stealing the division.
Like what you read? Follow us on Twitter @FB_FilmRoom (Football Film Room) for more insight and analysis.