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101116_Eagles-Wentz_AP Duane Burleson/AP

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz looks downfield.

October 11, 2016

Film breakdown: Did Wentz make the right throw on game-ending interception vs. Lions?

I was eagerly anticipating the All-22 film from Sunday's game between the Eagles and Lions, largely because I wanted to try to see what Carson Wentz saw on that ill-timed interception that sealed their 24-23 loss in Detroit. 

Was that really the best throw he could have made? Surely there was another receiver open, right? Maybe the possiblity of a safer throw? And if no one else was open, why try to force it to Nelson Agholor when they only needed to gain about 35 or 40 yards to give Caleb Sturgis a chance to win the game? Why not just throw it away?

“It was something that we had seen from them out of the first half at the end from their two-minute drives, one of the coverages, so it was kind of an alert I had breaking the huddle," Wentz said after the game. "You always want to get the drive started on the right foot, especially in those situations, but the coverage kind of dictated that and we didn’t’ make the play. They made a great play and that’s how it worked.”

At first, I thought he meant that he saw something in the first half, when the Eagles drove down and kicked a late field goal just before halftime -- perhaps they ran the same play and saw that the Lions left a later progression open. But after watching the film, it seems that Wentz was talking more about something he'd seen on film during the weeks leading up to the game.

Agholor was not supposed to be the first option on that play. Far from it. Here's how Doug Pederson explained the decision on Monday.

It's a shallow, basic post combination, and it's really an alerted post. Really the primary is the shallow to the basic on the play to the back. Again, that's kind of the design of the play. They ran a thief coverage, which means they robbed the free safety, played cover one, and [Wentz] ended up having to -- he moved a little bit in the pocket, saw the guy cut, and really took Ertz away, and at that point, by the time he hitched back up into the pocket, his eyes went to Nelson [Agholor] on the post and he decided to throw it at that time. When in fact, Jordan [Matthews] on the shallow could have been the throw at that time. But you know, hey, give our guys an opportunity to make plays down the field and hope for either a catch or a PI.
Now that we have the film to break down just what Pederson is saying, let's take a look at how the play unfolded and whether or not Wentz should have gambled on the first play of the drive.

THE PLAY

"It's a shallow, basic post combination, and it's really an alerted post. Really the primary is the shallow to the basic on the play to the back. Again, that's kind of the design of the play."

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THE COVERAGE

"They ran a thief coverage, which means they robbed the free safety, played cover one..."

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THE READS

"[Wentz] ended up having to -- he moved a little bit in the pocket, saw the guy cut, and really took Ertz away..."

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THE DECISION

"...at that point, by the time he hitched back up into the pocket, his eyes went to Nelson [Agholor] on the post and he decided to throw it at that time."

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THE 'MISTAKE'

"When in fact, [WR] Jordan [Matthews] on the shallow could have been the throw at that time."

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But was that really the wrong decision? 

If Wentz was going to go to Matthews, he would have needed to make the throw earlier than he did when he opted to air it out. By that point, Matthews was pretty much at the sideline and the linebacker had caught up to him. And when you see it from Wentz's point of view, well, it's easy to see why he made the decision he did.

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"I mean, the next time or had he seen the rotation of the safeties and what not, yeah, I would suggest that he teach off the film and find Jordan," Pederson added.

This is the one place I think you can put some blame on Wentz. Matthews is open, with a linebacker in pursuit, and is headed towards the sidelines. Maybe he was in such a rush to get to Agholor because of whatever "alert" the rookie saw from their coverage. Or, perhaps, he wanted to make sure he at least gave Agholor a look, and by the time he got back to Matthews, he was no longer open.

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At least he didn't decide to go to Ertz here.

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And with the safety creeping up, and Agholor seemingly in front of the defender with no one helping in coverage, why not take a shot down the field?

Oh, right... 

Eagles film guru Fran Duffy, who is way better at illustrating this stuff on video, did a great breakdown to show how the free safety stepped up when Wentz looked at Ertz and left Agholor one-on-one with Darius Slay Jr. on his back side.

When you see it from this angle, it becomes less about the decision and more about the placement of the throw, in my opinion. Had Wentz kept the ball more towards the middle of the field (to the inside of Agholor), since the safety had already jumped forward, Slay likely wouldn't have been able to get to the ball.

In isolation, Wentz made the right throw here, one that I hope to see him make again in the future (#AirYards). But this game isn't played in a vacuum and given when that play happened, it probably would've been best to just hit Matthews on the first read. If you're going to air it out like that, you have to make sure, at the very least, that it's not intercepted. 

"Listen, this is a teachable moment for him," Pederson said, adding that he has no plans to "rein him in" going forward. "Next time in that situation, he'll definitely understand what's going on, I think, and not make those decisions."

I wonder if Pederson would've felt the same way had Agholor come down with that ball?


Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin