The Chicken and The Egg of The Eagles’ QB-Sneak Success
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The highlights of the Eagles' season-opening win over Washington are well-documented.
The turning point, though, came in the third quarter when Doug Pederson ordered his offense to stay on the field on 4th-and 1 from their own 34-yard line.
Even in today's NFL where most understand the analytics and the likelihood of converting in that circumstance most would bow their heads and give up possession content with understanding the post-game press conference wouldn't be peppered with questions about "unconventional coaching" if things did go wrong.
"That's what we are," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz told 973espn.com earlier this week when asked what it's like to have an aggressive-minded head coach. "That doesn't surprise us, it's been that way for four years. Our defense is ready, and we know it's our job to go out there and cover us up if we don't get that. I think any defensive player likes aggressiveness from a head coach in those situations. We're a pretty good short-yardage team, a pretty good quarterback-sneak team, and our guys have a lot of confidence in our offense's ability to get it."
The part about being a pretty good short-yardage team and quarterback-sneak team is what makes it easier for Pederson to pull the trigger based on the numbers given to him by vice president of football operations and strategy Alec Halaby, a Harvard grad, through game-day mouthpiece Ryan Paganetti, technically the assistant LB coach who also happens to be an Ivy Leaguer with a Dartmouth pedigree.
It's easy to say the math says go for it but it's even easier when you know Carson Wentz is part of the reason the math adds up to stay aggressive.
After going three-for-three on 3rd- and 4th-and-1 QB keepers against the Redskins last Sunday, Wentz is now 21-for-23 in such instances during his career, including a perfect 13-for-13 during the Eagles' Super Bowl season of 2017-18.
Last season the Eagles pulled back on the strategy due to Wentz's health issues. He was returning from a torn ACL/LCL in December of 2017 and just when he should have been feeling better the stress fracture in his back started evolving so Pederson rarely pulled the sneak out of his back pocket, using it just four times.
The two failures on the play are split, one from Wentz's rookie season when his feel for the play wasn't the same, and one last year when he wasn't healthy.
So it many ways the real number here is a perfect 16-for-16 when Wentz is feeling like himself.
"With [Jason] Kelce and [Brandon] Brooks and Isaac [Seumalo] -– and obviously over the years those have been different guys –- but those three and then the surge from really everybody, that makes my job easy,” Wentz admitted. “I’ve just got to fall forward."
There is a little more to it according to Kelce though and the QB is a big part of it.
"Having a large quarterback, a strong quarterback, you can go back and watch the tape and see [Wentz] is generating some push himself," the All-Pro center said. "It’s not a very complex play I guess in the grand scheme of things, it’s pretty simple. Everybody just dives forward, but there’s some nuance to it. As long as everybody’s going in the right direction, it can be very difficult to stop."
Brooks also noted the complementary nature needed for success.
"I just think we do a good job as an offensive line especially how Jeff Stoutland coaches it," the Pro Bowl right guard said. "As far as getting the surge and keeping our feet moving. ... Carson is a strong guy too, keeps his feet driving so some of it is on us but he does a great job as far as finding the gap."
The final part is what Schwartz calls "demonstrated performance." Pederson's confidence comes directly from that.
"Coach trusts me with that, coach trusts the O-line to get a surge no matter what the front is, and we’ve been able to stay on the field in a lot of those,” Wentz said. “I like staying on the field. I don’t really care how we do it, as long as we convert, I love it. We believe our guys are going to win this surge.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen