Screen test: Can Corey Clement and the Eagles' screen game help take down the Cowboys?
The Eagles' screen game helped them beat the Redskins last week. But can it be effective against the Cowboys and their athletic linebackers?
Corey Clement would love to be getting the 20-carry-a-game workload that rookie Josh Adams has received the last two games. But unless something happens to Adams, that’s probably not going to happen this season.
As Clement showed in Monday night’s 28-13 win over the Redskins, however, he still can be a very valuable offensive contributor for the Eagles.
Clement rushed for 27 yards on five carries in the game. More significantly, he caught three passes for 47 yards that contributed to two of the Eagles’ three touchdown drives.
All three catches came on well-executed screens. On the first one, late in the second quarter, Clement rode the blocking of center Jason Kelce to an 11-yard gain. Two plays later, Darren Sproles scored on a 14-yard run to give the Eagles a 14-10 lead.
The other two screens to Clement came on the late-third-, early-fourth-quarter touchdown drive — covering 85 yards in 11 plays — that put the game away.
He gained 23 yards on a second-and-10 screen early in the drive, getting great blocks from Kelce (on cornerback Greg Stroman) and left guard Isaac Seumalo (on safety D.J. Swearinger).
On another second-and-10, at the Washington 17-yard line, the Eagles slid the blocking and isolated Clement on linebacker Ryan Kerrigan.
Clement intentionally let Kerrigan through and then caught a short spot screen from Carson Wentz, who made a nice throw underneath Kerrigan’s arm as he leaped toward the quarterback.
With Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson in front of him, Clement gained 13 yards, giving the Eagles a first-and-goal at the four. Wentz hit Jordan Matthews for a 4-yard touchdown on the next play.
“Those were three really well-timed, well-designed screens,’’ said NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger, who spent 11 years as an offensive lineman with the Eagles, Cowboys, and Colts. “The linemen did their jobs, Clement set it up really well, and Carson did a good job of selling the plays.
“The Redskins have a pretty experienced defensive line. They can smell a screen if you leave [your block] too early. But, they didn’t sniff out any of them.’’
Johnson said the Eagles’ commitment to the run game Monday night was a big reason for the success of the screen game. The Eagles ran the ball 33 times against the Redskins, including a season-high 17 times in the first half.
“Any time we’re running the ball, it makes the offense flow a lot better,’’ Johnson said. “Y’all know that. I know that. It’s something we’ve got to do.
“Screens are all about timing. If we can have some success with the run game, get a few play-actions and get those [defensive] guys guessing and maybe not reading us as efficiently, that’s one of the biggest things that helps the screen game.’’
It remains to be seen whether Clement and the Eagles will be able to duplicate Monday night’s screen-game success against the Cowboys on Sunday.
Dallas has fast linebackers and a smart, athletic front that can sniff out screens really well.
The Eagles had a couple of near-misses on screens in their 27-20 loss to the Cowboys at the Linc in Week 10 that could have influenced the outcome of the game if they had been executed a little better.
The first one was late in the second quarter. The Cowboys were clinging to a 6-0 lead, and the Eagles had the ball on the Dallas 38.
Wentz ran a bootleg to the right with a throwback screen to Clement. The running back had four blockers in front of him against just one defender. It had big gain written all over it.
But the timing was off, and the pressure got to Wentz too fast, and his pass to Clement was underthrown and fell incomplete.
With 2:06 left in the game and the Eagles at the Dallas 30 and trailing by 7 points, they ran another screen to Clement, who had Kelce and right guard Brandon Brooks in front of him on the right side, with the Cowboys’ rookie linebacker, Leighton Vander Esch, the only defender within 20 yards of Clement.
But Vander Esch made an outstanding play, slipping past Pro Bowler Brooks and tripping up Clement for a 5-yard loss.
“That’s not the way the play was supposed to be run,’’ Brooks said Thursday. “I’ll just leave it at that.’’
Said Wentz: “We had a couple [of screens] that we just missed on. Last week, I thought we used our screens effectively to keep them off-balance and move the ball.
“We go into every game with a handful of screens. Then, we just see how they’re playing us and let coach [Doug Pederson] feel that out and plan accordingly.’’
The art of the (non)blitz
When the Eagles faced Dak Prescott four weeks ago, they blitzed him just six times on 40 pass plays (15.0 percent). Don’t look for that percentage to change much in Sunday’s rematch at the AT&T corral.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz historically has blitzed less than most of his counterparts. He prefers to rely on a four-man rush and drop seven into coverage. This season, though, he’s taking not-blitzing to a new level.
The Eagles’ blitz percentage on pass plays is 17.5, down from 21.7 last year. Against Mark Sanchez and the Redskins, he sent extra rushers just three times on 28 pass plays (10.7 percent). The previous game, against Eli Manning and the Giants, he blitzed just twice in 39 pass plays (5.1 percent).
“I think we might have blitzed like three times in the last two weeks,’’ Schwartz said, only a little off. “You try to manage the game and sort of find a formula for what you’re best at that week.’’
The Eagles seldom have been best at blitzing this season. Opponents have a 105.7 passer rating when Schwartz has sent extra rushers. That’s considerably higher than last year, when the Eagles held opponents to a 69.3 passer rating when they blitzed.
“That’s sort of been a challenge for us these last half-dozen games or so, because, particularly in the back end, we’ve had a different cast almost every week,’’ Schwartz said.
“As soon as you start getting a feel as a play caller, and think, ‘OK, this is what we can execute, and this is what’s good for our matchups,’ you have another injury, and the next week’s a little bit different.
“That’s sort of where we are right now. I think the other part that goes into that is our D-line has done a good job of pressuring, and they’ve done a good job of getting pressure without blitzing. When you can do that, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense to subject your secondary to more one-on-ones and a heavier load.’’
Just four of the Eagles’ last 22 sacks (they have 31) have come on blitzes.
Figuring the Eagles
In the last four games, opponents have scored 26 points against the Eagles on their first two possessions. The Eagles have allowed 6.3 yards per play and 21 first downs on those eight possessions.
The Eagles’ 17 rushing attempts in the first half against the Redskins were the most first-half carries they’ve had in a game this season. They had 16 against the Colts in Week 3 and 15 against the Panthers in Week 7. Their 33 total rushing attempts against the Redskins were their second most. They had 35 (for 152 yards) against the Colts.
Both of Carson Wentz’s touchdown passes Monday night were with 11 personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR). In his first nine starts this season, just four of his 16 TD passes were with 11 personnel. Last year, 18 of his 33 TD passes were with 11.
Josh Adams is the first Eagles running back with back-to-back 20-carry games since DeMarco Murray in 2015. He had 22 rushing attempts against the Giants and 20 against the Redskins.
Wentz has attempted 16 throws of 20-plus yards in the last four games and has completed just three of them — two to Nelson Agholor (against the Redskins and Cowboys) and one to Zach Ertz (against the Cowboys). For the season, Wentz is 16-for-42 (38.1) on 20-plus-yard throws, with three touchdowns and four interceptions. His completion percentage on deep balls was even worse last year: 22-for-65 (33.8) with eight TDs and four interceptions.
This and that
The Eagles ran 26 of their 72 offensive plays (36.1 percent) from under center against the Redskins. That was their third-highest under-center percentage this season, behind only the first Giants game (44.7 percent) and the Jacksonville game (38.7 percent). When I innocently asked offensive coordinator Mike Groh for the reason, he acted as though I had asked him for the nuclear codes. “I wouldn’t want to say, being that we have to play them again,’’ he said. “I wouldn’t want to divulge that information.’’
Defensive end Chris Long was named the Eagles’ nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award on Thursday. The winner will be announced on the nationally televised NFL Honors show in Atlanta the night before the Super Bowl in February. Earlier this year, Long and his wife, Megan, created the First Quarter for Literacy program, which provides underserved Philadelphia families and families in the other two NFL cities where Long has played, with free books, literacy resources and mentoring services. Long donated his entire salary last year to educational equality programs. “If you look at the other guys who got nominated, it’s an honor,’’ Long said. “It’s not why you do this stuff, but it’s cool. It gives our foundation a lot of exposure and helps do more good. It also feels weird, because you’re, like, ‘I’m not really that great a guy. I screw up all the time.' There’s a lot of great men in this locker room and around the league. So, it’s hard to be nominated for something like Man of the Year and think, yeah, they did the right thing. I’m humbled by it, and it helps our foundation. It helps advance our goals.’’
Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray is one of the most exciting players in college football. He’s thrown 40 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions this season and has led his team to a FBS playoff berth. But, when the Sooners’ season ends in a few weeks, so, too, probably, will Murray’s football career. He’s also a tremendous baseball player and signed a $4.5 million signing bonus with the Oakland A’s after they made him the ninth overall pick in the 2018 draft in June. He probably could get out of it, but baseball appears to be his preference. While NFL scouts love his arm and speed, he’s only 5-10. Would a 5-10 quarterback be a top-five pick in the NFL draft? Probably not. That doesn’t mean he isn’t viewed as a potential starter in the NFL. It just means he might not be initially looking at the kind of contract that last year’s No. 1 pick in the draft, and Murray’s predecessor at OU, Baker Mayfield, got (four years, $32.6 million, including a $21.8 million signing bonus). “There’s a place for Kyler Murray" in the NFL,’ said Baldinger, who broadcasts Big 12 games for Fox Sports. “I’ve had coaches in the Big 12 tell me this year that he’s more difficult to defend than Baker. This guy gives you more problems. He’s never going to be as accurate as Baker. But his speed is blinding.’’
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