Sunday night, necessity was the mother of a couple of points the Eagles would not normally have scored.
Forced to go for two following every touchdown after kicker Jake Elliott left with a concussion in the first quarter, Doug Pederson saw his offense convert three of four attempts. Would have been four of four if Zach Ertz hadn’t fumbled at the goal line.
That’s six points-after in a 37-9 victory at Dallas. Kicking after each touchdown, and converting each attempt, would have produced only four points, sources with knowledge of mathematics said.
So. Given that the Eagles are the NFL’s best red-zone team, at 73.53 percent, didn’t Pederson and his staff have something to ponder as they flew home from routing the Cowboys? Couldn’t this, on a smaller scale, be kinda like the way the NBA eventually figured out that three-point shots were more than just an extra-credit novelty?
“Yeah, I have,” Pederson said Monday, when asked if he’d ever considered just going for two as a matter of routine, even with a healthy kicker. Pederson’s Eagles are 10 of 13 in two-point attempts during his 26-game tenure, which is 76.9 percent. That’s also a lot of two-point tries; Pederson clearly likes the idea.
“Of course, you always go into a game with a few [special two-point plays] in your pocket. You never expect that situation again like we had last night,” he said. “But, yeah, and if you look at the numbers, if you’re around 94, 95 percent on the extra point from the 15-yard line, your conversion rate [would need to be] in that 47, 48, 49 percent on a two-point conversion. So we look at all of that.
“We keep a couple of extra plus-five red-zone plays in our pocket for that situation. It just worked out … three-for-four last night, and probably could have been four-for-four. It’s something we’ll look at going forward.”
The first time the Eagles tried it Sunday night, in lieu of letting special-teams linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill attempt the first extra point of his life, Corey Clement split out wide right behind Mack Hollins, Ertz and Nelson Agholor. Carson Wentz threw a screen to Clement, who caught it at the 5, and Hollins, Ertz, and Agholor held their blocks perfectly as Clement lunged into the end zone.
The second conversion was a spectacular play by Wentz. (It’s a bit unfair that two-point passes don’t count as pass attempts or completions, that two-point catches don’t count as catches, and runs don’t count as runs, by the way.) LeGarrette Blount went in motion to the left, taking middle linebacker Anthony Hitchens with him. Wentz shucked defensive end David Irving, rolling right, then faked into the air Irving’s fellow DE, DeMarcus Lawrence, before throwing back across his body to Alshon Jeffery in the end zone.
The play on which Ertz fumbled, after catching a pass from Wentz, looked like an easy conversion, until Jaylon Smith’s hit knocked the ball loose, a fraction of an inch from the goal line.
Finally, Wentz tossed what turned out to be an actual easy one to tight end Trey Burton, who motioned right and wasn’t picked up right away by corner Orlando Scandrick. Scandrick’s attempts to make up ground were impeded by Hollins, who just happened to be standing between Burton and Scandrick, with the setting of a pick surely the last thing he intended.
There are potential downsides to going for it regularly. Your playbook has only so many potential fourth-and-2 plays, which is what a two-point conversion really is. If you went for it every time, teams would study those plays and your success rate might drop. Pederson said he wants to have a couple of plays every game in which he feels very confident there, in case he really needs a two-pointer.
Also, there is the fact that nobody in the NFL is doing this, always a tricky position to be in. The first time you lost a game by a point, and the math on the conversions indicates you would have won if you’d kicked, the fallout/ridicule would be substantial.
Maybe you wouldn’t try it on teams that really excel in red-zone defense. Maybe you’d want to mix in a few kicked points regardless, to keep opponents guessing.
Two years ago, the league moved the line of scrimmage for the extra-point kick back to the 15-yard line from the 2. The Chip Kelly-led Eagles wanted the two-point try moved up from the 2 to the 1. The rest of the league didn’t go for that, and coaches decided the incentive to go for two wasn’t that strong. But it remains an interesting gamble.
*Opponents are focusing on Zach Ertz. Two catches for 8 yards on five targets Sunday night, with a drop. Ertz’s ailing hammy might have been a factor.
*Jason Witten’s only catch and only target of the evening came on the game’s first snap.
*There were 11 punts, but neither the Eagles nor the Cowboys finished with a single punt-return yard.
*Dez Bryant managed eight catches on 14 targets, but his total of 63 yards was 4 yards fewer than Alshon Jeffery gained on four catches. Dak Prescott threw 31 passes, so nearly half the time, he was trying to find Bryant, against a very sharp Ronald Darby. Dallas’s average gain per pass play was 3.1 yards.
*With Wendell Smallwood inactive, LeGarrette Blount got 30 snaps, Corey Clement 19, Jay Ajayi 13, and Kenjon Barner two. Barner was a model of efficiency, making a highlight-reel catch for 22 yards at the sideline, then punching the ball in from the 4, his two snaps coming back-to-back, on the Eagles’ first drive.
*Darby played 60 of a possible 63 snaps, which was a mild surprise given that he was returning from a dislocated ankle suffered in the opener. He intercepted a pass, was credited with eight tackles, and was one of the best players on the field. Darby broke up an end zone fade to Bryant, making Dallas settle for a first-quarter field goal.
*The Eagles didn’t convert on third down until the third play of the third quarter, but when they did, it was glorious. Carson Wentz rolled one way, then threw back across to Brent Celek, whose only catch of the game went for 28 yards.
*Odd game, in that you’d never know from the final score that the Eagles didn’t take the lead for good until four minutes and four seconds into the third quarter. Dallas drove into Eagles territory, down just 15-9, midway through the third.
That a wideout could finish a game with fewer yards than he came in with?
Such was the plight of Nelson Agholor, who caught one pass for minus-2 yards, on the play in which he originally was credited with a 15-yard touchdown. Replay showed Agholor touched a knee down while trying to avoid a tackle, before dancing through the defense to the end zone. So Nelly had 29 catches for 428 yards before the game, 30 for 426 after. If this were to happen 213 more times in a row, he’d have 243 catches for no yards.
The Eagles are the only NFL team to score 20 or more points in every game this season .
The Eagles’ best pass rusher Sunday night was first-round rookie defensive end Derek Barnett, who sacked Dak Prescott twice and forced a Prescott fumble that Nigel Bradham ran in from 37 yards for the first touchdown of Bradham’s six-year, 83-game NFL career.
Granted, Barnett was going against Byron Bell, the replacement for injured Dallas All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith, but Bell gave a reasonable effort and had chip help from a tight end or a back quite a bit of the time. Barnett still set up shop in the Cowboys’ backfield.
“This guy is disruptive, explosive, and again, he’s another one of those unselfish guys,” Doug Pederson said Monday. Pederson noted that Barnett’s role has grown to where he’s getting about half the snaps over the last five games, and he’s still willing and eager on special teams.
“D.B. knocked it loose. … I saw [the ball] sitting there, waitin’ on me,” Bradham said. “I had nothing but space. My dog Mike Kendricks got a good block for me, set me up to get in the end zone.”
Bradham, by the way, spiked his touchdown ball and walked away, forgetting to claim it as a souvenir. But as he was lamenting this in the locker room afterward, an equipment manager hauling out bags overheard, and told Bradham he’d retrieved the ball.