The curious case of Nelson Agholor part 2: Falling victim to a vicious cycle

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Last week, we took a closer look at the opening games of the 2016 season, focusing solely on Nelson Agholor. The USC standout endured a difficult season, one filled with rises, falls and a battle against his own demons. After a hot start to the season, Agholor came to a startling halt against a ruthless Lions Defense. In a game where he was targeted more than any other player on the roster, the second year wideout was completely shut down before surrendering a game sealing interception to Darius Slay? How would he rebound from this? Enter part 2 of our series:

 

Week 6 @ Washington Redskins:
3 targets
4 receptions
34 yards
81% snaps

After taking a confidence knock against the Lions, it was interesting to see how Agholor would respond. What we saw was a mix of someone determined to right the wrongs of the loss to Detroit..and someone who was still very much haunted by the week just gone.

The game started strongly enough in terms of route running..what we actually see here is the difference an offseason of a focus on mechanics can mean for Carson Wentz. The Safety is able to read the eyes of the quarterback early in the play and shift over to help cover DGB, allowing Agholor to streak over the middle into acres of space. Although the ball is actually thrown to Jordan Matthews, the amount of space Agholor had worked himself into would have been made for the safer option. He did get knocked off the stem slightly, but the outset seemed encouraging at least.

One of the big things that separates the men from the boys at this level, is the ability to make adjustments. It’s something Agholor struggles to do for his quarterback, and this drag route exemplifies that. The ball was overthrown and while it’s easy to say he should have caught the pass, my concern is that there was no real effort to go up and get it. He had tracked the ball through the throw so saw it coming the entire time. Sure, there was pressure from behind, but not enough to pull him to the ground as the play went on to show. Maybe it’s because we’re used to seeing receivers jump and leap for passes, or maybe there wasn’t enough time to make such an effort..but the first “Drop” certainly set an odd tone.

A second “Drop” would come a little later, where Agholor would move to the inside of his defender and cut inside, only for the ball to be knocked loose moments later. There isn’t much wrong with the play itself, but as the incompletions racked up..so did the pressure.

While the performance was inconsistent, the effort was not..and that has to be the one redeeming aspect of Agholor’s season. Dorial Green-Beckham was walking at times during this game at the closing end of a route..in comparison to Agholor, who continues to flash the explosiveness he did at USC. Although this play went no further, the instincts to spin back in the opposite direction at least showed the drive possessed by Agholor to surge forward after the catch.

(Exhibit A of DGB walking..) To end the game, Agholor had a slight resurgence, breaking over the middle and coming over the top of his corner to create a strong passing lane for Carson Wentz. He was able to bring the ball in away from his body and immediately turn to drive upfield. It’s this kind of play that shows plenty of promise and reassures many that Agholor still has every chance of turning into the player they believed him to be..but could he follow it up one week later?

 

Week 7 vs Minnesota Vikings
6 targets
2 receptions
10 yards
74% snaps

Looking at the surface stats, one may say Nelson Agholor was nearly invisible in the Eagles scrappy win over Minnesota. A look at the tape would paint a slightly different picture..or at least one that depicts the reasons why. Both of Agholor’s receptions in this game were short-yardage catches. A quick out route here followed by a throw out of bounds was one of the two he would make. The other was a curl route. So why was it that he played in nearly 3/4 of the team’s offensive snaps, but struggled to emerge as a reliable target?

The confidence at this point was starting to falter. Agholor began to be knocked off his routes a little more easily, forcing him to make up ground..as can be seen in the play below. The ball was poorly thrown into a window with far too many defenders, but so was the nature of the game. Agholor did well to come back over the top, but a hit in the back from a very fired up Vikes secondary set an early tone for the game.

On the play below, Agholor gets bumped off his route twice as he tries to break inside. He’s able to do so in the end to create a nice passing lane..but the wobbles during the stem of the route hardly provided a concrete completion window for Wentz. Route running is arguably the sophomore wideouts strongest asset..and it’s these slight wobbles that when examined closer, can have a butterfly effect on the rest of his game, with confidence already dropping.

The route running aside, we have already established by now that Carson Wentz wasn’t the most accurate quarterback on deep balls during his rookie year. Passes like this, where Nelson Agholor has been able to break open, should have been home run hits. With that said, it goes without saying that the value of Jordan Matthews and his ability to adjust to help the quarterback really shines in these plays. Agholor was unable to finish the route cleanly. The ball was off the mark, but a late burst could have been the difference there.

The same can be seen on his second redzone target of the game. Aggy gets a great launch off the line and drives to the corner of the endzone, but there was little in the way of a body adjustment for the slightly overthrown pass. It’s these rookie errors that began to rise through the cracks of Agholor’s game, overwhelming his potential like a big shadow once the confidence levels began to falter.

 

Week 8 @ Dallas Cowboys
4 targets
3 receptions
25 yards
91% snaps

In the heartbreaking overtime loss to Dallas, Agholor would play in the highest snap percentile he he had all season. However, he would only receive for 25 yards on three receptions. Those catches would consist of one comeback and two slant routes. He was rapidly becoming marginalized inside Pederson’s Offense, suffocated by his own setbacks.

That factor was prominent in an early drop from the former USC standout. Agholor failed to haul in the quick pass from Wentz inside the redzone..a pattern that was ruining his chances of putting concerns to bed. After a combined 11 targets inside the 20-yard line in the opening weeks of the season, he wouldn’t see another for the remainder of the year.

Agholor did see a slight resurgence in his route running. Lining up in a bunch, he read the zone coverage in the flat and ran around the back of the linebacker, curling back outside into a nice pocket for Carson Wentz. it would have been easy to go straight ahead and cut on an out route..but he read the situation quickly and made the right adjustment.

Talking of adjustments, Agholor actually made his first notable route adjustment of the season in this game. As Carson Wentz rolled out of pressure, Agholor drops down toward him away from traffic to make a quick catch, turning immediately to dart for the endzone. A skill that was previously unseen.

The problem is that Agholor at this stage is stuck in a vicious cycle.

  • He continues to get open on deeper looks.
  • Inconsistencies on shorter looks and some technical setbacks mean that he won’t get targeted as often.
  • He can’t prove that he can become a deep threat if he isn’t fed the ball..
  • But when he is fed the ball, there’s always something that sets the play back..so the team gameplan shorter looks.
  • Repeat cycle

As we head in toward the heart of the season, we enter arguably the most important stretch of Agholor’s career so far. Stay locked in for the third part of this series that analyzes the final few games before Agholor opened up to the media and went on to miss a game to help fight off his own demons.

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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