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Tape Study

Tape Study: What to expect from the Eagles

Thursday night’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles will feature two desperate teams looking to break two game losing streaks. With NFC East teams bunched so close together record wise (only 1.5 games separates the four teams), all division games take on additional importance making Thursday Night extremely important for the Giants season. Here’s what I saw from the Eagles on tape this week:

When the Eagles have the ball…

The Spotlight: Carson Wentz

Wentz missed the first two games of the season recovering from his 2017 torn ACL. He is 1-2 in his three starts but has 914 passing yards on 67% completions and five touchdowns to only one interception. He has played very good football and is still determined to get the ball down the field. 

Inside the Numbers: Wentz threw for more than 300 yards the last two weeks, the first time he has done it since the first two weeks of 2017. He has never throw for 300 yards for three straight weeks.

The big arm to make all the throws is still there. Wentz will complete passes to all level of the defense with accuracy and zip. He will try to fit the ball into some tight spots, especially to Alshon Jeffery who his adept at making contested catches. He likes to target his tight ends in the middle of the field for big plays. 

Inside the Numbers: According to Pro Football Focus, on passes that travel ten yards or more between the numbers, Wentz has completed 12 of 17 passes for 288 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. The Giants linebackers and safeties will be challenged all game long. 

Despite the knee injury, Wentz is still very mobile. He is a wizard at avoiding the rush and extending plays with his legs to make throws downfield or scramble for first downs. They have limited the designed runs and read option opportunities for Wentz since he returned from injury.

“In terms of the quarterback, I think we were all a big fan of Carson when he came out. He’s very intelligent, he’s very competitive, I admire the fact that he’s very genuine in his approach. I don’t know him per se, but it seems to me that there’s a humility there and a competitive spirit that I’m sure is contagious for their team. He can make plays off schedule because he’s a big, physical guy. I call them 60-yard check downs, it just turns into flat chaos, he’s running around, and he can locate a guy down the field and make a big play. I think that’s what he is as a player, at least from my perspective.” Giants Head Coach Pat Shurmur

The Matchup: Zach Ertz vs. Giants linebackers and safeties

Zach Ertz has been a terror this season. He is third in the National Football League with 41 receptions, and ninth in yards with 437. Both of those numbers lead all NFL tight ends. While he is only averaging 10.7 yards per catch, he is still a constant target for Wentz going across and down the middle of the field. 

He is too big for cornerbacks to cover man on man, especially in the red zone, and he has too much speed for linebackers and some safeties. His hands are steady and he is a good route runner from the position. He will line up on the line, but is frequently lined up in the slot. He is Wentz’s number one target. 

When the Giants play man to man defense, Landon Collins will likely draw Ertz as will Michael Thomas when he plays the “big nickel” position as the fifth defensive back. The Eagles will try to get him one on one with linebackers. Ertz can also block well, by the way, making him a complete player.

Offensive Scheme and Tendencies:

The Eagles run run-pass option (RPO) plays but not as many as they did with Nick Foles, or as frequently as some analysts indicate. Often times a play action pass is identified incorrectly as a RPO. A RPO is when the offensive line is run blocking, and the quarterback has the option of keeping the ball to throw a quick pass to a wide receiver instead of handing it off. Of the times Philadelphia has run those plays with Carson Wentz, he has elected to hand the ball off more times than not. The passes in these situations are most often quick slants or quick hitters at the line of scrimmage. This is a completely different play than the read option, which focuses on a quarterback running the football.

“No, it’s the same offense. Very similar in nature, and I see a hybrid of things that we did the three years I was there with Chip (Kelly) in terms of the run game. They have Jeff Soutland there, who’s their line coach, and there’s some other coaches there, there’s some carry over, so I see some of those same concepts, but then you also see the things that Doug did at the Chiefs. They try to utilize their players’ strengths, they throw the ball to the tight ends a lot with Zach Ertz and (Dallas Goedert).” Head Coach Pat Shurmur on how the Eagles offense is different when Carson Wentz plays versus Nick Foles

Inside the Numbers:The Eagles are a pass first outfit. In first halves of games, they pass it 67.3% of the time, the fourth highest rate in the NFL. On first and ten, they have the 6th highest pass rate in the league. Ironically, the Eagles rushing attack has been strong this year. Nearly 50% of their rushes go for four or more yards, the second highest rate in the NFL.

• Doug Peterson has west coast roots under Andy Reid, and you still see a lot of those core principles in what he does. The Eagles run a lot of crossing routes, trying to open their players against man coverage with rub routes and traffic over the middle. They can be hard to with if Carson Wentz has time to throw the ball. 

Inside the Numbers: The Eagles have the second best time of possession advantage in the league, holding the ball just under 33 minutes per game. The rest of their offensive rankings are deceptive, given Nick Foles started the first two games of the season.

• Alshon Jeffery is Wentz’ big perimeter target. He will throw contested passes to Jeffery, trusting the 6’3 218 pound wide receiver to beat the cornerback to the ball on slants and back shoulder throws near the barrier. With the Giants playing a lot of man with inside technique, I would expect Wentz to try to attack either Janoris Jenkins or Eli Apple with back shoulder throws to Jeffery throughout the game.

• Nelson Agholor is the Eagles deep threat despite the fact you’ll often find him lining up in the slot. The addition of Jordan Matthews might push Agholor back outside a bit more, but it won’t stop them from trying to get him vertical. They especially like getting him across the field on deep posts, and on shallower drag and crossing routes to beat man on man coverage. The Giants slot cornerbacks will have their hands full with Agholor, who has the speed and quickness to separate one on one.

Inside the Numbers: The Eagles have a league high 7 fumbles recovered by the opposition. It’s the big reason they are -4 in turnover ratio, better than only two other teams (Jaguars and 49ers). The Eagles are losing games by less than four points on average, a slim margin that can be explained by their inordinate number of lost fumbles. Every game the Eagles have played in this year has been a one score game

• We already covered Zach Ertz, but the Eagles second tight end, rookie second round pick Dallas Goedert, is also a big part of their game plan. The Eagles play a lot of 12 personnel, with Ertz and Goedert on the field with Jeffery and Agholor. May times, both tight ends will be split outside on the same play, whether on the same or opposite side of the field. Goedert has the athleticism to win in the pass game and get downfield, much like Ertz. The tight ends are a huge part of the Eagles passing game, and slowing them down could be the key to the Giants victory on Thursday night.

• The Eagles operate under a running back by committee. Jay Ajayi has been lost for the season with a torn ACL, and Darren Sproles has been out with a hamstring injury, leaving Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement (who missed Weeks 4 and 5 with a quad injury) as the team’s two feature backs. Clement is the bigger back at 5’10 and 220 pounds, and Smallwood at 5’10 and 208 pounds. They will be used interchangeably throughout the game. Running back Josh Adams might see some action too. You will see a lot of different run looks, and a lot of play action passes off some of that same run action.

Inside the Numbers: The Eagles run to the edges on 30% of their running plays according to Pro Football Focus, accounting for 36% of their rushing production. They average over five yards per carry running outside to the left and right.

• The Eagles offensive line is a veteran group that looks like it will be together for Thursday night, despite the fact left tackle Jason Peters had to leave their Week 5 game with a quadriceps injury. He and right tackle Lane Johnson are one of the best tackle duos in the league, though Johnson has struggled in a few recent games. Jason Kelce is an excellent athlete that can move and is considered one of the best centers in football. The Eagles have allowed 12 sacks in the last three weeks, but they played two excellent fronts in the Titans and Vikings.

Inside the Numbers: Jason Kelce has allowed no sacks, one quarterback hit and tree hurries this year according to Pro Football Focus. He is their highest graded center this season.

• I haven’t seen too many trick plays from the Eagles offense since Wentz returned from injury. On a nationally televised night game on color rush night, I don’t think Doug Peterson will be able to resist rolling at least one out there.

When the Giants have the ball:

The Spotlight: Fletcher Cox

There aren’t many players in the league that can dominate a game from the defensive tackle position, but Fletcher Cox is one of them. He is one of the best players in football. He will line up at the three technique (just outside the guard) on either the right or left side of the line. He can win with power, speed, quickness or technique.

The Eagles Wide-Nine defensive line formations gives him plenty of room to operate in the middle of the line and he uses it to win outside or inside against opposing guards. He has a variety of moves, and will use them to affect both the run and pass game. 

Inside the Numbers: Cox is Pro Football Focus’ second highest graded interior defensive lineman in the league, right behind Aaron Donald. In addition to his three sacks, PFF credits him with nine quarterback hits and 15 hurries to go along with 10 defensive stops.

The Matchup: Brandon Graham vs. Chad Wheeler

Brandon Graham only has one sack this year but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been a disruptor. He had 9.5 sacks last year, a number far more line with his production. The Eagles will move him around, but he will line up over the offense’s right tackle more times than not, with Michael Bennet lining up over the left tackle.

Graham has the power to bull rush, the speed to bend the edge, and the violent hands to win with technique. Graham also defends the run extremely well, setting the edge with authority and penetrating into the backfield. He is someone the Giants are going to have to account for on every play. 

Inside the Numbers: Pro Football Focus has Graham graded as the league’s third best edge defender this season. They’ve credited him with three quarterback hits, and an impressive 17 quarterback hurries this season.

Defensive Schemes and Tendencies

  • The will blitz their linebackers and safeties but they want to get pressure with their very talented front four. In addition to Cox and Graham, they also rotate in ex-Seahawk Michael Bennett, Chris Long, and second year player Derek Barnett to come off the edge. They have a formidable stable of pass rushers and will attack all game. 

Inside the Numbers: The Eagles have started slow this season and are being outscored by 16 points in the first quarters of games. Last year, they were tops in the league in that category. 

  • The Vikings worked their passing game to neutralize the Eagles pass rush beautifully last week. They ran a lot of screen passes, play action, and moved the pocket with Kirk Cousins a ton. They didn’t give the Eagles pass rush a chance to do what they do. 
  • The Eagles run a lot of Cover 3 with their cornerbacks playing off coverage. They will go to press man from time to time, especially when they blitz. They like to bring their second safety, playmaker Malcolm Jenkins, closer to the line of scrimmage to help against the run and play the short passing areas. 

Inside the Numbers: The Eagles allowed just 9 runs or 10+ yards this year, tied for second fewest in the league. They are especially good stopping the run on first down, allowing only 34% of opponent’s runs to go for four or more yards (and a 3.2 per carry average), the second best rate in the league. The Eagles are the only team in the NFL that hasn’t allowed 100 yards rushing in a game this season. The Eagles also have the 4th best third down defense in the league holding teams to under 30% conversions. The Giants would be wise to throw the football on early downs in this game, to get big gains and first downs on first and second down instead of waiting until third down. Eli Manning has three straight 300 yard passing games (and 5 of his last 7) against the Eagles.

“We look at recent history certainly against the scheme. They’re an outstanding team, they won the Super Bowl, so yeah, we look at things that were successful a year ago. We as coaches are all fond of plays that work, and dependent on who you play, you know there’s good ideas, there’s a lot of creative minds in the NFL, and so you’re always looking for something that -- we call it, ‘it doesn’t get a card.’ In other words, something that they don’t practice. In every game, you do that, and sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.” Head Coach Pat Shurmur on looking at last year’s success vs. Philadelphia:

▪ The loss of free safety Rodney Mcleod for the season with a knee injury is a big blow to the Eagles defense. He was their dependable single high safety that could be trusted in coverage, but now it’s Corey Graham who is on the back nine of his career at 33 years old. The Eagles have struggled adjusting to Mcleod’s loss. The Eagles are allowing sixty more pass yards per game, and six more points per game in their last two weeks, when compared to their first three. 

▪ The Eagles cornerbacks are young and talented but they have struggled with their play this year. Sidney Jones, a projected first round pick in the 2017 draft before tearing his achilles in predraft workouts, is still figuring out the league. Jalen Mills, a 2016 7th round pick has also struggled and there is talk in Philadelphia about whether to change his role. Ronald Darby is their top cornerback and will predominantly line up to the left of the formation. He plays a physical brand of football, but he has not played up to his typical standards so far this season.

“I was at college with Jalen (Mills), we talked every day on how do you feel, we got each other, that’s what we did. This is a familiar opponent, we go against each other each and every year, but the game plan is always going to be the same. It’s hard playing off coverage and going against very good receivers and having to respect somebody running a slant, and to run a double move. DB is a very hard position, so I’m sure he’s catching heat. I know he’s got a lot of ability. Like I said, I played against him in college, but we’re looking forward to the opportunities we have.” Giants Wide Receiver Odell Beckham Jr

Inside the Numbers: Malcolm Jenkins is the top player in the Eagles secondary according to Pro Football Focus and it isn’t close. Jenkins is PFF’s fourth highest graded defender according to PFF, with above average grades in coverage, tackling, and in the run game. All three Eagles cornerbacks are graded in the bottom third of Eagles defenders by Pro Football Focus.

Giants Keys to Victory:

Offense:

Neutralize the Eagles pass rush by using play action, moving the pocket and running screen plays. 

Attack the Eagles with passes on first and second down. 

Attack the Eagles defensive backs with passes down the field. 

Defense:

Control the Eagles tight ends and prevent them from making big plays in the middle of the field.

Swarm Eagles ball carriers, especially the wide receivers, and try to strip the football once teammates have them wrapped up. 

Protect the edges in the run game.

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