NFL Films/ESPN legend — and one of the best talent evaluators in the business — Greg Cosell has gone through a metric ton of 2020 tape to provide insights on some interesting players headed into the 2021 NFL season. Here, he brings you his raw notes and observations from those tape sessions.
It’s a chance to get inside the mind of one of the greats of the industry.
Today’s focus will be on the Eagles’ offense and three key players for their new coaching staff — QB Jalen Hurts, TE Dallas Goedert, and RB Miles Sanders.
JALEN HURTS’ 4 STARTS
Hurts showed a tendency to break down and leave the pocket prematurely, resulting in throws left on the field. The positive of that was, at times, improvisational scrambles for first downs – what’s the balance to be struck?
The Designed QB run game was a featured part of the Eagles offense with Hurts: QB power, naked sweeps opposite outside zone run action, zone read, QB draw, QB sweep.
In his first start versus the Saints, Hurts struggled at times to see things clearly. He did not process the relationship between the route concept and the coverage with needed recognition.
The RPO game was part of Eagles offense with Hurts. It’s a tactic Hurts is very comfortable with going back to college: basic defined reads and easy throws.
It was evident that the Eagles coaching staff kept the pass game concepts basic in Hurts first start versus the Saints: screens (both WR and conventional), designed boot, RPO, some shot plays.
What stood out watching Hurts’ four starts was that, at this point, he lacks a natural feel in the pocket. He consistently showed a tendency to perceive pressure and break down both leaving defined throws on the field and creating his own pressure with unnecessary movement.
What could well be a concern is Hurts did not show good field vision from the pocket. At this point, he did not show the needed feel for route concepts/progressions as it relates to coverage. Hurts must improve elimination and isolation traits from the pocket.
Hurts struggled on third downs, lacking the pocket feel and patience to make late-in-the-down throws that demanded vision/higher level elimination and isolation and precise ball location.
However, Hurts also showed flashes of quality pocket QB play, especially on throws where the timing was predetermined by the route concept, such as out routes and fades — those are spot throws more than pure anticipation throws.
Empty sets were a featured part of Eagles pass game with Hurts. What you normally have out of empty is man routes to one side of the formation (often the twins side) and a zone concept to the other side (the trips side).
Hurts greatest strength in his four starts as a rookie was obviously his second-reaction ability — the ability to make plays with his legs both running and throwing.
There were times the Eagles’ coaching staff did an excellent job defining the reads and throws for Hurts through the use of personnel and formation, knowing what they would get from the defense. TE Zach Ertz 27 yards to start the third quarter versus Cards was a great example of this.
With his movement and athleticism, Hurts at times compensated for the pass protection issues the Eagles OL had all season. At other times his instincts to move led to throws left on the field and/or created his own pressure.
Due to the Eagles OL issues with pass protection, there were too many snaps in which the back and TE had to be part of the pass protection either with chips or full service blockers. That limits route concepts and makes your pass game easier to defend.
Dagger and flood were two intermediate-vertical route concepts the Eagles featured in 2020. Both concepts present defined reads versus zone coverage.
A 4th-and-15 play from the Dallas 33-yard line early in the fourth quarter trailing 30-17 in Week 16 said so much about how the Eagles’ pass protection limited their offense — they chose to keep Ertz in to pass protect with RB Boston Scott looking to chip on the other side. It was a three-man route concept versus a loose seven-man zone coverage.
The goal in 2021 will be that Hurts can use his legs both by design and second reaction as he learns the details of NFL QB and develops a better feel for playing from the pocket and consistently executing the pass game.
DALLAS GOEDERT – ALL PASS TARGETS
Goedert is one of the more athletic TEs in the NFL. He is smooth and fluid as a route runner given his size, and he showed both some elusiveness and power run-after-catch.
Goedert has the athleticism,speed, and receiving traits to line up in multiple locations in the formation — he has the capability to run a full route tree.
When detached from the formation, Goedert is too athletic and vertically fast for LBs to match up man-to-man — he can simply run by them.
There were snaps in which Goedert was the boundary X on the back side of trips – Goedert got on top of Jalen Ramsey on a vertical route from reduced split boundary X against the rams.
Goedert has the speed to run the vertical seam and to run intermediate crossers. He transitions effortlessly from catch to run-after-catch – From the inside slot to trips, Goedert gained vertical separation from LB Bobby Wagner on a deep over route against the Seahawks (Carson Wentz left the ball too short).
My sense is Goedert can be much more of a vertical dimension in Nick Sirianni’s offense than he was in Doug Pederson’s offense. He has the speed to do that.
It will be intriguing to see how Goedert is used in Sirianni’s offense. Goedert has higher-level TE talent and he can be a weapon at all three levels of the defense. He is a complete receiving TE who can line up in multiple locations, can be a vertical dimension, and has excellent run-after-catch ability.
MILES SANDERS – ALL 5+ YARD RUNS/ALL RECEPTIONS
Shotgun runs on which Sanders was featured: inside zone, duo, outside zone, gap scheme, wham, misdirection opposite pulling OL, delay draw, G/C pull, trap, toss sweep. I-back runs: inside zone, outside zone, wham/trap, gap scheme.
Sanders was especially effective in the trap and wham/trap game. The Eagles ran that scheme versus four-down fronts that featured 3/4i techniques and 1/2i techniques.
Sanders showed good patience and vision in the zone run game, especially inside zone. The trait that stood out was his short-area burst through the hole.
Sanders showed the desirable mix of patience and decisiveness in both the zone and gap-scheme run games. He also has natural quickness with reacceleration burst and explosiveness.
Sanders consistently got hard yards inside — he ran with physical toughness and competitiveness. He has become an NFL runner with the needed traits to work effectively between the tackles.
One area in which Sanders improved in 2020 was his finishing traits. He ran with better contact balance and more natural power than he did as a rookie.
Sanders showed the balance and body control to get skinny to slide through small creases at the point of attack, without losing velocity and burst.
Sanders has quick feet and loose hips which allow him to make quick decisive cuts, with a darting and slashing feel to his running.
Despite drop issues Sanders is an excellent receiver who can be detached from the formation in addition to his backfield alignments — he can be a matchup player split outside running vertical routes versus LBs.
•Sanders was featured in the screen game with multiple concepts getting blockers out in front, and he ran angle and option routes from his offset alignment in the backfield.
The question with Sanders is durability over the course of the expanded 17-game season, which obviously directly impacts volume and production.
(What consistently stood out in Eagles’ run game was C Jason Kelce still showed the athleticism and mobility to climb to the second level and track and strike LBs with good balance and body control. He also got to the perimeter with speed as a puller and showed the same balance and body control.)