The top five reasons the Eagles defeated Denver on Sunday:
Who said they can’t be run on?
All week long, the Eagles’ offensive linemen and running backs listened to people tell them the Broncos’ run defense was a mountain they couldn’t climb. Opponents were averaging just 3.0 yards per carry against the Broncos. Denver had allowed more than 80 rushing yards just once in seven games.
As for the Eagles, their running backs had averaged just 3.5 yards per carry in the four games since that 407-yard ground explosion against the Giants and Chargers in Weeks 3 and 4.
But armed with new addition Jay Ajayi, the Eagles rushed for 197 yards on 37 carries in the lopsided, 28-point win. Their offensive line dominated the Broncos’ front seven.
Less than a week after being acquired in a trade with the Dolphins, Ajayi played 17 snaps and had 77 yards on eight carries, including a 46-yard second-quarter touchdown run. It was one of three rushing touchdowns by the Eagles, just one fewer than they had in their first eight games.
Doug Pederson rotated Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and rookie Corey Clement. Clement played 28 snaps, had 12 touches (for 66 yards) and scored three touchdowns, two on the ground and another on a brilliantly blocked, 15-yard screen pass. Blount played 16 snaps and ran the ball nine times for 37 yards.
The Eagles, who had averaged just 3.7 yards per carry on first down in their previous four games, averaged an astounding 9.4 against the Broncos. One hundred seventy of their 197 rushing yards came on first down. That’s just 102 fewer yards than the Broncos had given up on first down in their first seven games.
No Ertz? No problem
Tight end Zach Ertz was a last-minute scratch with a hamstring injury. You would think not having your most productive receiver against a defense as good as the Broncos’ would put a major crimp in your passing game. But it didn’t.
Carson Wentz threw four touchdown passes for the third time in the last five games and didn’t have an interception in 27 attempts. He continued to excel on third down, completing five of six third-down passes for 52 yards and two touchdowns, including the third-and-10 screen to Clement and a 4-yard scoring pass to Alshon Jeffery on third-and-3.
Right tackle Lane Johnson did an excellent job of neutralizing the Broncos’ All-Pro edge rusher, Von Miller. Wentz was sacked just once before being relieved by Nick Foles in the fourth quarter.
Ertz has been Wentz’s top third-down weapon. Had a team-high 12 third-down receptions, 10 for first downs. On Sunday, others picked up the slack. Jeffery had three third-down catches, including the TD. Backup tight end Trey Burton had a 14-yard catch on third-and-9 on the Eagles’ first possession that kept alive their first touchdown drive.
Not having Ertz didn’t hinder what the Eagles wanted to do formationally. With Burton and solid-as-a-rock veteran Brent Celek, they have exceptional depth at tight end.
Burton and Celek combined for five catches for 80 yards and one touchdown. Celek’s three catches were vintage Brent. Running over people. Refusing to go down. Had a 15-yard reception that set up Jake Elliott’s first-quarter field goal. In the second quarter, he had another 15-yard reception, including 12 yards he picked up after the catch, on a second-and-11 play two plays before Wentz’s touchdown pass to Burton.
Twenty-eight of the Eagles’ 67 offensive plays were run with 12 personnel (1RB, 2TEs, 2WRs) and another four were run with 13 personnel (1RB, 3TEs, 1WR). Offensive lineman Isaac Seumalo was the third tight end in 13 personnel.
Five of the Eagles’ seven touchdowns came out of multiple-tight-end sets, including all three of Clement’s touchdowns, Wentz’s 27-yard touchdown pass to Burton, and his 4-yard scoring pass to Jeffery.
Jeffery, who had been targeted 24 times the previous three games and had just eight catches, was targeted 11 times Sunday and had six catches for 84 yards and two touchdowns. It was just the third multiple-TD game of his career and first since November 2014. He already has five touchdown catches, including three in the red zone.
Yet again, out of the blocks fast
The Eagles scored on their first three possessions, and on five of their first six. They outscored the Broncos by 17-3 in the first quarter. For the season, the Eagles have outscored opponents in the first quarter, 64-12. They lead the league in first-quarter scoring and in first-quarter points allowed.
The Eagles have scored 50 points and are averaging 5.1 yards per play on their first two possessions. Opponents have scored just 12 points (four field goals) on their first two possessions and are averaging 3.4 yards per play.
Their fast starts have pretty much forced opponents to tear up offensive game plans. It’s why opponents are averaging a league-low 18.4 rushing attempts per game against them.
As was the case with the Broncos, teams find themselves being forced to abandon a balanced attack and throw on nearly every down, which is a huge benefit to the Eagles’ defense, particularly the front four.
This is very different from last year when the Eagles were outscored by 78-56 in the first quarter and often were the ones forced to play catch-up. Wentz has a 131.5 first-quarter passer rating this season. He is averaging 9.8 yards per attempt and has thrown seven TD passes and just one interception in the first quarter.
Last season, he had a 74.3 first-quarter passer rating. He threw just one first-quarter TD pass all season.
Walk, don’t run
The early lopsidedness of the game didn’t allow the Broncos to run the ball nearly as much as they had hoped. The Broncos, who had been averaging more than 28 rushing attempts per game, had just 19 carries for 35 yards against the Eagles. Ten of their 19 carries gained 1 yard or less. Five resulted in losses.
They had just one run longer than 4 yards and just one rushing first down. The Eagles have allowed a league-best 66.4 rushing yards per game this season and have given up just 29 rushing first downs in nine games.
The Eagles defense set the tone early. On a first-and-5 play on the Broncos’ second possession, Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry both slipped their blocks and met at C.J. Anderson, dropping the Broncos running back for a 2-yard loss. On the very next play, Brandon Graham beat his man with an inside move and stopped Jamaal Charles for a 1-yard loss.
Later in the first quarter, the Broncos tried to run a toss play to the left with Devontae Booker. Rookie defensive end Derek Barnett shed tight end Virgil Green and got into the backfield, where he and safety Malcolm Jenkins stopped Booker for a 1-yard loss on a second-and-1 play.
The Eagles were perfect in the red zone, converting all four of their trips inside the 20 into touchdowns.
This is an offense that finished 24th in red-zone production last season. Through nine games this season, they are second, with a 72.4 touchdown percent. In their last four games, they have converted 11 of 12 red-zone trips into TDs.
Wentz was 3 for 4 with two more red-zone TD passes Sunday (to Jeffery and Clement). That gives him 15 this season. He is one of just two quarterbacks – the Titans’ Marcus Mariota is the other — without an interception or sack in the red zone.
Wentz has spread the ball around in the red zone. Eight receivers have catches. Six have at least one red-zone TD catch, including four – Ertz (6), Jeffery (3), Clement (2) and Nelson Agholor (2) – with at least two.