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The Eagles Can Beat You in Every Which Way

The team used a combination of option concepts to embarrass the Broncos’ vaunted defense on Sunday

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

This tweet sums up the Eagles’ 51-23 blowout win over the Broncos on Sunday:

With a relentless pass rush, more quality play on special teams, and another explosive offensive performance, Philly jumped out to a huge early lead, posting 31 first-half points on one of the NFL’s best defenses before coasting to a 50-burger and an easy victory. The Eagles have scored a league-best 283 points and just won their league-best seventh straight game to push their record to a league-best 8-1; Philadelphia is the league’s best team and looks primed to not only make a run at the playoffs—that’s basically a lock at this point—but contend for its first Super Bowl title.

The Eagles have separated themselves from the pack this year with balance in all three phases, and that showed up against the Broncos. The defense stifled Denver’s run game, allowing just 35 yards on 19 totes, and they got after quarterback Brock Osweiler, picking him off two times and racking up three sacks and 10 quarterback hits. The special teams unit continued its stellar play, too: Kicker Jake Elliott has had a few hiccups on extra point tries (he’s missed three times in the past two weeks), but he has hit 16 straight field goals—including a franchise record five from 50-plus yards—and connected on a 45-yarder on Sunday. But while the team’s defense and special teams units have more than carried their own weight, it’s the offense under sophomore quarterback Carson Wentz that’s turned the Eagles into what looks like an unstoppable juggernaut.

Even without All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters (who is done for the year with a torn ACL and MCL) and top pass-catching target Zach Ertz (who missed this game with a hamstring injury), the Philly offense produced 419 yards and seven touchdowns on the day, scoring 50-plus points for just the ninth time in franchise history—their highest total since December 2013. And they did it all against a defense that came into the week second in Football Outsiders DVOA, scoring more points against the Broncos than any team in the past seven years. The Eagles posted 197 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 37 carries against a Denver squad that had yet to give up a score on the ground this year, and Wentz connected on 15 of 27 passes for 199 yards and four touchdowns before leaving the game late in the third quarter.

Wentz has quickly jumped to superstar status in his second year, and his NFL-best 23 touchdown passes and just five picks puts him at the front of the MVP race. He’s manning a creative and diverse offensive attack designed by head coach Doug Pederson, a scheme which Denver cornerback Chris Harris described as a “college offense” after the game. That might sound like a slight, but Harris was effusive in his praise and compared Philly’s system to that of the Chiefs.

“They have options to run, options to pass, they run read-option, they run real option,” Harris said, adding, “It's the best offense we've seen.”

The Eagles’ “college offense” under Pederson peppers in read-option run plays, run-pass options, and a handful of quarterback keepers with plenty of “pro” concepts that ask Wentz to drop back and make throws from the pocket. It’s the marriage of these two styles that fits the young quarterback’s skill set perfectly, much like we’ve seen in Kansas City and saw in Houston before Deshaun Watson tore his ACL.

On one play, we’ll see Wentz run a perfectly executed “RPO,” confusing the defense with the threat of a run before lofting a pass downfield, as he did midway through the first quarter. On that touchdown pass, Wentz had several options: He could hand the ball to his running back, run with it himself, or throw downfield. When he pulled the ball back from Jay Ajayi’s belly, it looked like a standard read-option run play; except, when the safety over the top bit on the fake, and when cornerback Aqib Talib left receiver Alshon Jeffery briefly to come up in run support (a moment’s hesitation was enough), Wentz lobbed it with perfect touch down the sideline for the score. Jeffery sold the play well, too, pretending to be a screen-pass option at the line of scrimmage before making what looked almost like a backdoor cut downfield.

Wentz can deliver a pass from the pocket like a so-called pro-style passer, too—and he’s done so with much better accuracy and consistency this year. Take this beautiful back-shoulder touchdown pass to tight end Trey Burton in the second quarter:

Add in the legitimate threat Wentz adds as a runner, and he frequently presents defenders with impossible decisions—which is the concept behind option football. On this touchdown run in the third quarter, Von Miller has to respect Wentz’s ability to keep it himself, and when Miller commits, Wentz pitches it to running back Corey Clement, who waltzes in for the touchdown.

It’s not only Wentz that makes the Eagles’ offense run, though. Through the draft, free agency, and trades, general manager Howie Roseman has given his quarterback a surplus of talented playmakers to throw to. Jeffery’s developed into the team’s no. 1 option on the outside, with 34 catches for 500 yards and five touchdowns this season. Third-year pro Nelson Agholor’s finally carved out a role for himself in the slot, with 29 catches for 428 yards and five scores of his own. Big-play specialists like Torrey Smith (15 catches, 221 yards, one touchdown) and rookie Mack Hollins (nine catches, 172 yards, one score) can make defenses pay if they’re too focused on Jeffery and Agholor. And it didn’t seem to matter much that Ertz (who leads all tight ends in touchdowns) missed this game; Wentz just threw it to backups Burton and Brent Celek instead, and that duo combined for five catches, 80 yards, and a touchdown against the tough Broncos’ pass defense on Sunday.

Add in a talented backfield that now includes former Dolphin Ajayi, and this team has a hell of a lot of ways to beat you all of a sudden. Ajayi, whose old team got rid of him in part because he was trying to turn too many plays into home runs, took his fifth carry for the Eagles and, well, turned it into a home run.

Ajayi wasn’t even the star of the day in the backfield, either. Corey Clement looked Brian Westbrook–esque in turning his 13 touches into 66 all-purpose yards and three scores, two touchdowns coming on the ground and a third on this screen pass in the first quarter.

Without getting too hyperbolic—and yes, there’s still a lot of season left—the Eagles seem to be doing what the Patriots have done for so long, changing the focus of their passing attack week-to-week to best exploit opposing defenses, while relying on a plethora of skill-position players to do their jobs and make plays. That’s annoying as hell for NFL fans with any Eagles on their fantasy team, but it also makes Philly almost impossible to game plan for. Let’s say you work all week to take Agholor out of the game (he had just two catches for 36 yards in this one), and instead, Jeffery comes away as the star (six catches on 11 targets for 84 yards and two touchdowns). In the team’s next game, instead of seeing Clement score three times, we could see the team get Ajayi more involved, or LeGarrette Blount, or Wendell Smallwood.

The Eagles can deploy such a diverse offensive attack because of the consistency in which the blockers up front, the team’s pass catchers, and the running backs out of the backfield have executed the offense week in and week out. But Wentz is the linchpin to the Eagles’ breakout on offense—displaying poise, versatility, and the ability to distribute the ball and make the players around him better. His developmental leap from his rookie year to this season has been the biggest reason the Eagles look like the clear favorites in the NFC playoff field, and if he keeps playing like he has in the first nine weeks, Philly’s going to be hard to stop down the stretch.