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Eagles Armchair: Play action and commitment to run are key in win over Washington

Going Deep

It didn't take long for the Eagles to unveil their gameplan. After a dominating performance from their offensive line against the Giants last week, the Eagles showed up on Monday night with a plan to attack the Redskins' front-seven that entered the game ranked seventh in the NFL against the run. But a crazy thing happened, instead of running into the teeth of the fearsome Washington defense, the Eagles used their productive rushing attack to finally unlock their down-field passing game.

The Birds drained over seven minutes of clock and had six different players pick up first downs on their opening drive, which ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate, his first score as an Eagle. Carson Wentz was improvising like he did a season ago, directing traffic in and out of the pocket as he tortured the Washington defense with his legs, despite not registering a carry all night. 

The Eagles offense seemed to finally find the identity they have been searching for all year. The running backs picked up 134 yards on 29 carries and Wentz completed four passes over 20 yards en route to their second-highest scoring output of 2018.

"“Play action is something we’ve always thought was one of our bread and butters, especially on first and second down," Wentz explained after the game. "Getting the run game going really opens up those things. It gets me on the edge and a chance to make some plays."

Things still aren't perfect for the Eagles, Doug Pederson admitted as much after the game. But the Birds finally have an idea of what their offense is capable of. Josh Adams is the bell cow, Corey Clement is the change up in the screen game and the wide receivers seem to be on the same page as Wentz, allowing the quarterback to pull off Aaron Rodgers-esque improvisations for big plays. Oh, and they happen to have the best tight end in football moving the chains. 

"We’re not there yet, but we’re getting close," Pederson said. "I think things are kind of clicking a little bit, especially the offense is kind of working through some things and some rhythm and timing and getting more guys involved."

The Birds' offensive line has seemingly rallied around Pederson's newfound interest in running the ball. After struggling to protect the quarterback early in the season, Wentz wasn't sacked once on Monday night and was hit just three times. Although, one sack was negated by a defensive holding penalty. Still, keeping Wentz healthy and upright is the easiest way for the Eagles to ensure their success moving forward.

Everything is still a work in progress for the Eagles, their red zone offense has struggled and Wentz hasn't been able to consistently protect the ball, turning the ball over in every game but one this season. But they have won back-to-back games for the first time in 2018 and are just one win away from taking over the top spot in the NFC East from the Dallas Cowboys, who shut down the New Orleans Saints' high-powered offense last week. 

"I think we’re playing well together, meshing together," Wentz said, “We're kind of doing what we do best."

Injury Report

Did not play: Jalen Mills (foot), Jordan Hicks (calf), Avonte Maddox (knee)

Tim Jernigan: Jernigan was active for Monday's game but never made it on the field due to back spasms that flared up during pre-game warmups. It's certainly worrisome to see a guy who is coming off back surgery suffer another injury to that area of the body, but Pederson assured reporters after the game they held Jernigan out for precautionary reasons. With the Eagles going against Dallas's high-powered rushing attack next week, the availability of Jernigan will be a huge factor in the Eagles' chances to win.

Jason Peters: The veteran left tackle injured his leg in the closing minutes of the game and limped off under his own power. Peters has been banged up for much of the season and has played well in recent weeks, despite having a torn biceps. Honestly, it would be shocking to see anyone but Peters starting at left tackle next week, but we may see some rotating of the tackles, should the pain become too much for the future Hall of Famer.

Measurables

90: Adrian Peterson's 90-yard run was the longest run allowed by the Eagles in franchise history. The Eagles looked confused pre-snap, but they rebounded after the big play and allowed just 8 yards to Peterson the rest of the night. In fact, the veteran became just the second player in NFL history to have a 90-yard run and finish with less than 100 yards, joining former Eagle, Herschel Walker.

36: The Eagles allowed just 36 total yards of offense in the second half. The Redskins were clearly out-classed, playing with their third-string guards and quarterback Mark Sanchez. We talked a few weeks ago about the Eagles defensive scheme relying on superior talent and mismatches and Monday night was a prime example of them feasting on an inferior team.

17: With his 9 catches last night, Ertz finds himself just 17 receptions shy of tying Jason Witten's single-season record for catches by a tight end. If he remains on his current pace, Ertz will finish the season with 124 catches and 1304 yards, which would shatter Witten's record, but fall just shy of Rob Gronkowski's single-season yardage record. It's nearly impossible to ask Ertz to sustain this pace over the final leg of the season, but it wouldn't be shocking to see him dominant opponents in December like he has for most of his career.

History Tells Us...

The Eagles are 6-6 for just the second time in franchise history, joining the 2006 squad that finished 10-6 and lost to the Saints in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Hopefully the next time there is a parade down Broad Street, a few players bust out Jeff Garcia jerseys.

Up-Down Drill

Up: Golden Tate

Tate looked like he was fully integrated into the gameplan for the first time since the Eagles' trade for him. Wentz didn't force the ball to the veteran wide receiver and the two's connection on some broken plays on the first drive of the game was a sight to behold. Wentz directed Tate upfield after he ran a route to the flat and the result was a 19-yard completion down the sideline.

The pair then connected on a 6-yard touchdown after Wentz eluded the pressure and rolled out of the pocket before hitting Tate, who shook off his defender. That touchdown represented just the third game the Eagles scored in the first quarter. Tate even showed off his elusiveness on a 32-yard catch-and-run in the second half. Tate's performance on Monday night was what the Eagles were hoping for when they acquired him last month.

Down: Dallas Goedert

The Eagles traded up for Goedert in the 2018 draft, and despite showing some flashes of potential, it is worth wondering if those resources would've been better spent on a player who could've contributed more than a backup tight end.

Granted, Goedert is stuck behind the best tight end in football, but with a thin secondary, aging lines and struggling linebackers, using a second-round pick on a guy who has recorded more than three catches just twice this season is a questionable use of resources. The rookie had zero catches on Monday night, which was the fourth time he was held without a catch this season.

Up: Rasul Douglas

Douglas may not be the fastest guy in the secondary, but he has proven to be a physical defender, leading the Eagles in tackles on Monday night. Douglas's best play came on a cross-field lateral, where he didn't get fooled by the misdirection and dropped Jamison Crowder for a loss.

With the Eagles so thin in the secondary, Douglas's ability to compete and make solid tackles that limited big plays have been a huge help to a struggling unit. Even when Mills returns from injury, it would be wise for the Eagles to keep Douglas on the field to aid their run defense.

Down: Red Zone Offense

The Eagles boasted the best red zone offense in football last year, but came up empty on two of their red zone trips last night. The first ended with a turnover on downs after Pederson called a run attempt that was stuffed by an unblocked Zach Brown. Even if Adams had eluded the linebacker, he would've been stuffed by a defensive line that was blocked by Goedert and Jordan Matthews.

Wentz's red zone interception was another inexcusable gaffe, as the quarterback stared down Alshon Jeffery on a goal-line slant and the route was undercut by Josh Norman. The Eagles seemingly dominated the entire game, but still found themselves with just a 1-point lead in fourth quarter, thanks to these mistakes they will have to clean up if they expect to compete against quality teams.

Three-Step Drop

1. Darren Sproles played a full game for the first time since Week 2 of last season, returning punts and also carrying the ball 5 times. The 35-year-old didn’t look nearly as explosive as he was before he tore his ACL last season, but he showed a lot of toughness, breaking tackles on his 14-yard touchdown run. That score was his first touchdown in nearly two years.

Sproles may not be the game-changing talent he was during the Chip Kelly years, but defense still have to respect his presence and it will be interesting to see if he finds a role in the passing game in the next few weeks. At the very least, Sproles is a reliable returner who still may have a few tricks up his sleeve.

2. One of the biggest things the Eagles have had to overcome this year is their inability to create turnovers. Nate Gerry's interception of Sanchez was just the ninth turnover forced by the defense, which the second-lowest number of the season.

On average, NFL teams win about 80 percent of the time when they win the turnover battle, something the Eagles have done just twice all season. For comparison's sake, the Birds won the turnover battle 10 times last year. Getting extra possessions and handing the offense a short field is an easy recipe for success, but the injuries on the Eagles' defense has robbed them of their top playmakers.

3. Last week, the Eagles won thanks to Pat Shurmur's blunders, and this week's victory can be credited to Sanchez's incompetence. As for next week, I don't see any members of the 2015 Eagles on the Cowboys' roster, so the Birds will be forced to win without an assist from a former friend. 

Who's Next

It hasn't been pretty, but with the Eagles back-to-back wins over division opponents, they will head to Dallas with a chance to tie the Cowboys for the NFC East lead. Since the Cowboys beat the Eagles three weeks ago, they have broken off three-straight wins, including an impressive 13-10 victory over the New Orleans Saints last Thursday.

With the addition of Amari Cooper, the Cowboys offense seems to have found a groove, utilizing his ability to stretch the field to open up the box for Ezekiel Elliott. The Eagles' season will ride on Sunday's game, with a loss effectively ending their chances at a division crown. Prior to their win last night, the Eagles were 6.5-point underdogs and an ugly win versus an over-matched opponent shouldn’t affect that line too much. For the Birds to win, it will take their best performance of 2018 as they have yet to look like a Super Bowl contender for an entire game all season.

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