The Philadelphia Eagles have come on leaps and bounds since Doug Pederson’s arrival in 2016 and they have a Super Bowl ring to highlight that progress. It’s not just the talent that’s taken huge strides though. The same can be said for the offensive success of the team and more specifically, their performance inside the red zone. What is truly terrifying, is that the ceiling is only getting higher as time goes on.
In 2016, the Eagles turned a woeful 49.09% of their red zone drives into touchdowns, a number that ranked them inside the bottom ten of all NFL teams. One year and an evolved playbook later, that number soared to a stunning 64%, ranking them second in the NFL Next season? That’s where the fun begins.
It’s not exactly hidden knowledge that tight end is the hardest person to cover in the red zone. The combination of physicality, stature and speed often make tight ends unblockable at times with just inches separating their big bodies from the end zone. The Eagles had a lethal combination one year ago of Zach Ertz and Trey Burton, but the team lost the 6’3, 235 lbs, former UDFA to free agency after a scintillating Super Bowl memory was created. His replacement, is someone a little more physically intimidating.
Second-Round pick, Dallas Goedert, measures in at 6’5, 256 lbs. A clean route-runner who became the heart and soul of the South Dakota State offense, Goedert wasn’t just an open-field threat during his time at College. In the NFL, that will become very apparent, very quickly.
“Yeah, it’s going to be exciting I think.” Doug Pederson said when asked about the rookie. “I’m encouraged obviously where Dallas is and his progress. He’s still learning just the different intricacies, the details of route running, understanding coverage and leverage. But I think that as we scale back, when we get into a game plan and we’re game-plan specific, when he can really detail, I think it’s going to be an exciting matchup with he and [TE Zach] Ertz out on the field. We just continue to work. It’s really our first time this training camp to work the red zone. We did a lot of it in the spring, but something now that we’ve got it on tape and we can go back and make corrections.”
‘Exciting matchup’ is one phrase to describe the potential of this tandem, ‘absolute nightmare’ would be another for NFL defenses. For context, Zach Ertz has caught 11 of 17 red zone passes last season. 8 of those went in for a touchdown. When inside the 10 yard line, Ertz caught 5-of-7 attempts that went in his direction. Adding a big, brutish tight end who can be just as lethal as a pass-catcher is going to have the same effect that Timmy Jernigan had on Fletcher Cox. it removes the attention because defenses are forced to look elsewhere.
In a way, that’s why Trey Burton was so effective for the Eagles. In this red-zone look used in week 5 against the Cardinals, the play-action drag route distracted the two inside defenders, opening a nasty match up for the second tight end to dominate with inside leverage. With a 6’5 rookie who moves like a slot receiver added into the mix, the potential is incredible.
Here’s another example taken from ‘The Philadelphia Eagles 2017 Third Down Manual’ (Which I’d highly recommend). On this play against the Panthers, the running back motion was all the Eagles needed to release a lethal dig route that would gain outside leverage. The two tight ends demanded so much attention over the middle that again, it gave the wideout inside leverage.
The sheer presence of Zach Ertz is enough to put defenses on their heels. What Trey Burton did well during his time with the Eagles was emerge as a true under-the-radar weapon due to his low profile and eccentric versatility. Goedert is much more ‘in your face’, but when there’s a 5’11 nickel cornerback stopping a 6’5 tight end moving 3 yards forward, that’s exactly what the Doctor is asking for.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Eagles have a 6’4 target in Mack Hollins, a 6’3 target in Alshon Jeffery and versatile backs such as Darren Sproles and Corey Clement who can sting from just about anywhere. The question for defensive coordinators aiming to silence the offense inside the 20 is a simple one. Where do you even begin?
Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports