When practicing against yourself doesn't mean much---as in Eagles red zone drills

When practicing against yourself doesn't mean much---as in Eagles red zone drills


When practicing against yourself doesn't mean much---as in Eagles red zone drills

I know these early training camp sessions are under a media microscope— but I think we grade these Eagles offense vs. Eagles defense reports too seriously.

You run the risk of putting too much emphasis on results of a practice play and not enough emphasis on the process of learning from the play.

For instance, at Wednesday’s practice, the defense dominated the Carson Wentz-led offense in the Red Zone drills…

Now what exactly does that mean?

The offense had 12 cracks at the end zone from inside the 20-yard line during a Special CAT (category) drill, and the defense pitched a shutout. Here’s how the 12 plays went from Fran Duffy’s view on the ground in the back of the end zone:

1. Quarterback Carson Wentz went to wide receiver Torrey Smith in the back of the end zone against tight coverage from Jalen Mills, resulting in an incomplete pass.

2. Cornerback Patrick Robinson and safety Malcolm Jenkins helped take away a throw to Smith on the second rep, forcing Wentz to start 0-for-2 in the drill.

3. The offense went to the ground on the third play, with defensive tackle Fletcher Cox meeting running backWendell Smallwood near the line of scrimmage for almost no gain. Jenkins cleaned the play up at the end.

4. The Eagles offense lines up in a trips formation to the left, but it’s another handoff, this time to running back Darren Sproles. He runs from the offense’s left to the right side. Defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, one of the stars of Tuesday’s session, exploded into the backfield and stopped the veteran runner for a loss.

5. You can sense that the energy and confidence are building for the defense. As the offense lines up and shifts formations, there’s great communication in the secondary and with the linebackers as they change assignments and make checks. Safety Rodney McLeod, cornerback Aaron Grymes, and Mills all lock up their receivers to the side Wentz is looking after the snap and force an incomplete throw.

6. On the next throw, Mills makes a great play at the goal line, jumping a route from tight end Trey Burton and nearly intercepting a pass that hits him right in the numbers. You’d like to see Mills come away with the pick there, but it was an outstanding example of anticipation and route recognition on the goal line, where things happen very fast.

7. On this play, the offense lines up with reserve offensive lineman Dillon Gordon in the backfield as a fullback on a running play. Jenkins slices through the protection and stops the run short of the goal line for another defensive stand.

8. Wentz hits wide receiver Jordan Matthews in the back of the end zone, but the ball slips through his fingers thanks in part to tight coverage from Robinson.

9. Much like Mills’ play earlier against Burton, C.J. Smith steps in front of a throw intended for Smith and nearly picks it off on a slant route. It was a great rep from Smith, drawing praise from Undlin in the back of the end zone.

10. Jenkins blankets tight end Trey Burton near the goal line, forcing an incomplete pass in tight coverage.

11. Wentz rolls to his right off play-action with three options at his disposal. The defense erases all of his receiving targets, forcing the quarterback to throw the ball into the dirt for another incompletion. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox was running step for step with Wentz. At this point, head coach Doug Pederson is impressed, yelling, “Great job, D!”

12. The Eagles’ offense was called for a false start with Stefen Wisniewski in at center for Jason Kelce. The drill ends with a throwaway by Wentz, who was looking for wide receiver Nelson Agholor on the right side. Nelson tried to shake Mills in the end zone, but the second-year corner was all over him, forcing an incomplete throw. It was interesting as well to see Agholor working with injured receiver Alshon Jefferybetween plays throughout the day, getting pointers on his releases at the line of scrimmage. The veteran presence of Jeffery shows up, even when he’s not between the lines. – Fran Duffy

Quite frankly, all this apparent ineptitude of the Eagles’ offensive red zone play proves nothing.

First off, the defense knows the Eagles playbook as well as or better than the offense does.  They know what’s coming.

Secondly, these guys are not firing off on all cylinders yet in the physical attack mode. They’re still in the “take care of each other” mode. That goes for both offense and defense personnel.

In other words, it’s still a rigged game.

Hey, in the end it’s just reps and a choreographed practice. It might mean more if the drill were being run against the Patriots or the Dolphins in joint practice with full hitting allowed and an impartial NFL ref crew calling the action.

But it’s not. It’s just an intramural scrimmage.

It doesn’t predict anything valid about either our defense or our red zone offense. It just doesn’t.

For all we know, offensive failure against your own teammates in a drill like this is exactly what it takes to make you better perform later—when it counts.

Drops the mic…


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