After five games, the Philadelphia Eagles stand atop the NFC East with a 4-1 record and their only blemish is a road loss to the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. A big reason for their success has been the play of second-year quarterback Carson Wentz. The young QB has been dazzling this season, completing 62.1% of his passes for 1,362 yards and 10 touchdowns against three interceptions. For those believers in Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt, Wentz is among the top 10 quarterbacks in the league right now, posting a 7.16.
Where Wentz really stands out is on third down. On third down this year Wentz has completed 37 of 52 passes (71.2%) for 574 yards with six touchdowns, one interception and a 137.8 passer rating. Those numbers place him first league-wide on third down in terms of passing yardage, touchdowns, first downs and passer rating. For completion percentage, only Alex Smith and Josh McCown have posted better numbers.
A design that the Eagles love to utilize in those situations is the slot-fade. This is a scheme to get a vertical shot down the field, often with an advantageous matchup.
The first example comes from Philadelphia’s trip out west to take on the Los Angeles Chargers. Facing a 3rd and 3 on their opening drive, the Eagles line up with Wentz (#11) in the shotgun and 11 offensive personnel on the field. The Chargers show blitz up front and Cover 1 in the secondary:
Nelson Agholor (#13) runs the slot fade route here, while the Eagles use a pivot route and a smoke route to that side of the field as well. Backside, Alshon Jeffery (#17) runs a post route while the running back releases to the flat.
The main player that Wentz needs to worry about is the free safety. Given the trips formation, that defender should shade to Agholor’s side of the field. But with Jeffery weak-side, Tre Boston (#33) is understandably concerned about that side of the field too. Wentz just needs to freeze Boston for a second, which should free up the fade to Agholor.
That’s exactly what he does:
Wentz holds Boston in the middle of the field for a step, which gets Agholor the space he needs on the fade. The quarterback drops in a perfect throw and the Eagles are in business. Looking at it from the end zone camera, you can see Wentz peek at Jeffery, Boston shuffle his feet to that side of the field, and the QB then drop in the throw:
Here is a similar usage of the slot-fade concept, this time in the red zone to tight end Trey Burton (#88). Again, the Eagles have three receivers to the left, and use a smoke/fade/pivot combination. Backside they run a Smash Concept. This time, they have 12 offensive personnel on the field:
The Arizona Cardinals show Cover 1 on this play, but here, Wentz is not worried too much about moving the free safety. In the red zone, the play will happen quicker, so Wentz just needs to make sure Burton gets a step on Deone Bucannon (#20).
Burton holds up his end of the bargain:
Once more, Wentz drops in a perfect ball for the score, and the Eagles are up early.
The development of Wentz from year one to year two is one of the great early storylines of the 2017 season. The Eagles’ usage of the slot-fade is one illustration of his growth. As we saw on the first example, the young QB is starting to hone his ability to move defenders with his eyes. More plays like this, and Philadelphia will keep rolling in that tough NFC East.