Eagles Preseason Week 2 at Patriots: What happened on 3rd down?
For the second preseason week in a row, the Eagles failed to get off the field on third down time and time again. This week, the starters played deep into the third quarter, ample time to evaluate their play, even against backups. And given that tonight’s game against the Browns will feature the most vanilla game plan you’re likely to ever see from an Andy Reid squad, a look back at last week’s game should be more instructive than anything you’ll see tonight.
So let’s go to the tape to see what happened…
Notes and analysis after the click…
13:44 – Mallet drops back to buy time, but is pressured and throws across his body to a tightly covered Branch. Incomplete. Punt.
10:24 – Shotgun formation, 3 Wide Receivers. Edelman is set back off the line of scrimmage, motions to left side. Eagles blitz six, but blow past the developing screen pass. Edelman follows ample downfield blocking for the first down. First down.
6:57 1st – Shotgun draw on third and long. A give up play by the offense. Gostkowski splits the uprights on 4th down.
3:11 – Good pressure from Cox and Hunt forces Mallet into a bad throw. Cromartie jumps the comeback rout and gets the interception at the sideline. But Cox is called for a soft but illegal late hit on Mallet. First down.
2:22 – Eagles show heavy blitz package but only rush five. Early pressure from Kendricks forces Mallet to roll left, where he is swarmed and clobbered by Trent Cole. But this one’s called back too, on a defensive holding call penalty committed by Mr. Nnamdi Asomugha. First down.
:52 – Philip Hunt gets to Mallet quickly, but Mallet throws off his back foot to connect with Branch on a route over the middle for a 20 yard gain. DRC was beaten to the inside on the play. First down.
15:00 – Eagles rush six defenders again. Castillo seems to like blitzing Kendricks. Patriots OL does a great job of selling the pass protection before releasing all their rushers upfield and turn to block for a perfectly set screen pass to Vereen. The Patriots tailback scampered for a 20 yard gain. First down.
13:49 – Eagles rush four. Mallet has loads of time. Alex Silvestro, who probably won’t make the Patriots final 53 as a tight end, beats Kendricks on a simple out. Touchdown.
8:24 – Shotgun draw on 3rd and 2. Bolden gets the carry and finds space for a 4 yard gain. First down.
5:06 – Brian Hoyer has all kinds of time, and finds Branch in the hole between Kendricks’s and Coleman’s coverage. First down.
3:48 – Shallow cross to the slot receiver Ebert. DeMeco Ryans recognizes it instantly and chases Ebert down for a 1 yard gain. Field goal is good.
2:02 – Good pressure from the Eagles DL, but Hoyer steps up into the pocket to buy time. He finds Donte Stallworth along the sideline at midfield for a 20 yard gain. First down.
1:40 – Single back set on 3rd and 18. Patriots rush up the middle with Bolden for a 5-yard gain. Another give up play. Punt.
9:50 – 3rd and 6, Mallet throws to a tightly covered Donte Stallworth. Curtis Marsh doesn’t get his hand on the ball, but he forces the incompletion. Punt.
4:56 – Another screen pass on 3rd and long. This time, you can hear somebody on the field yell “Screen!” Tom Nelson gets the tackle after a 4-yard gain for Shane Vereen. Gostkowski scores another trey on 4th down.
By my count, the Pats were 9-for-15 on third down conversions. The two quarterbacks combined to go 8-10 for 105 passing yards and one touchdown.
While 9-for-15 is bad for the Eagles defense, it’s actually worse when you consider that two of the failed conversions were “give up” plays – runs on 3rd and long – and that three of the stops still resulted in field goals.
I’ve liked the concept behind an attacking front four ever since I first heard of Jim Washburn several years back when Big Al was still making noise in Tennessee. But all the pressure it creates comes with some drawbacks, and we saw that in full effect against the Patriots. A well-practiced screen pass is going to continue to gash this defense until the line and linebackers can learn to recognize them more quickly.