Can Eagles Continue to Win with the Same Formula?
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - During his day after presser Eagles coach Doug Pederson confirmed that he used seven different personnel groupings in Sunday's win over the Washington Redskins, a creative necessity with Philadelphia lacking proven playmakers on the outside.
Pederson's receivers at Fed Ex Field were Greg Ward, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Rob Davis with Ward serving as the late-game hero and the other two being non-factors.
Arcega-Whiteside played 71 of the Eagles' 77 offensive snaps and put up Mack Hollins-level production, no receptions on two targets and a drop of what should have been a touchdown. Fresh off the practice squad, Davis played just 16 snaps and wasn't even targeted as Pederson and offensive coordinator Mike Groh leaned heavily on running backs Miles Sanders and Boston Scott, as well as tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert.
Typically Pederson's default as a coach is 11 personnel (three receivers), something that morphed into more 12 (two tight ends) than another team in the NFL due to the quick development of Goedert and the absence of DeSean Jackson. More often than not when Pederson has everything at his disposal, he'll only toggle back and forth between three personnel groupings.
Against the Redskins you saw plenty of 21 and even some 22 and even 23 personnel with both Sanders and Scott on the field together, although hardly in traditional two-back looks. Usually, Scott would line up outside before motioning somewhere else in the formation.
"The planning is still the same, but there's different body types now that you can incorporate," Groh explained. "... Taking all of that into consideration, the skill sets of the different guys, trying to utilize those guys, and get them on the field, not only -- we talk about tempo in here all the time, but change the pace with the personnel groups, as well.
"It allows you to be creative in that direction."
Sanders had his best game as a pro with 172 all-purpose yards -- 122 rushing and 50 receiving -- with touchdowns through the air and on the ground. As the complement, Scott ran it six times for 26 yards and also caught all seven targets in the passing game for 39 yards. Overall Carson Wentz tried to get it to Sanders and Scott 13 times in the passing game and connected all 13 times.
In many ways, it was dink and dunk but the Eagles put together scoring drives of 16 plays, 10 plays, 12 plays and 11 plays in the what turned out to be a 37-27 win that set up Sunday's all-important tilt against Dallas, as a likely NFC East title game.
"I think it's a fine line on how much you want to be creative, especially with some young players on offense," Pederson admitted. "You don't want to get so creative that you're putting too much in and then it becomes a mental block for a lot of these guys. But at the same time, we know that we have to do some things to take advantage of our strengths on offense and put people in position."
The changes so late in the season when everyone has so much tape on everyone else actually helped the Philadelphia offense quite a bit.
"The thing is, you have so much tape out there and coaches and teams are going to study your tendencies and your personnel and they are going to have a beat on you," Pederson said. "So you have to be a little creative and move some guys around and use different personnel groups and use the strengths of each player too, to your advantage. That's what we've been able to do the last couple of weeks that's helped us."
The downside to that is now the Eagles have put the Sanders/Scott tweaks on film so the Cowboys are aware of certain plays being repackaged from different looks.
When asked 'if the Eagles can continue to win this way or he will have to get more players involved?' Pederson was glib.
"The easy answer would be to expand [the offense]," the coach joked, something that can only be accomplished if players like Jordan Howard and Nelson Agholor return to the lineup from injury.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen