Carson Wentz was sacked four times in Week 4, but as is often the case, that number isn't quite a fair judgment of how Philadelphia's offensive line performed.
Defensive tackles often don't get enough love for their impact on a game (unless their name is Aaron Donald). Sunday provided a great example of how the best can immediately affect an opponent.
Early in Sunday's game, Tennessee's Jurrell Casey was being his usual problem-causing self. Philadelphia was executing each block nearly flawlessly, but Casey remained as the lone person interrupting the Philly flow up front. No surprise there.
What was surprising, though, was how quickly Philadelphia adjusted -- and how it affected the rest of the game.
A focus on giving as much help as possible to blockers facing man-on-man situations against Casey became rather apparent. Take this near-sack, in which center Jason Kelce helps right guard Brandon Brooks for a beat too long, leaving a rushing lane for linebacker Jayon Brown. Wentz is forced to unload the ball while being taken down for an incompletion.
In the second quarter, a stunt leaves a rush lane for Casey, who bounces off left tackle Jason Peters and gets to Wentz as he's getting rid of the ball.
Even on a completion, Casey was wreaking havoc.
Casey rushed from a wider alignment, getting a straight shot on Peters and strong-arming Peters to the ground, at the feet of Wentz just after he released a pass to Alshon Jeffery for 31 yards. It was an incredible display of power and illustrated exactly why Philadelphia was concerned with blocking Casey.
Having said that...
The first sack of the day was purely the result of a well-timed blitz.
The Eagles intended to run a play-action bootleg off one of their standard running plays, a zone split, but Malcolm Butler's blitz off the edge beat the crossing tight end Dallas Goedert, who was knocked off course by teammate Jason Peters. The future Hall of Fame left tackle didn't fully sell the run fake, instead setting to maintain a strong pass block, as he was essentially the front-side tackle in this bootleg. If he blows his assignment, Wentz is getting flattened.
Unfortunately, his early set impedes the progress of the rookie Goedert, hitting the tight end in the hip and ruining his chance of at least getting a piece of the blitzing Butler. But the credit goes to Tennessee for calling this blitz, because the rest of this outcome is negligible if Butler isn't coming off the edge, something he's done just twice this season, per Pro Football Focus.
This wouldn't be the last time we saw this type of play cause problems for the Eagles. Stay tuned for more on that later.
Thanks to a slant by three defenders on the left side of the line, Philadelphia's protection is immediately tested at the center. In what appears to be a slide protection to the left, Kelce finds himself between two rushers with a hand on each and is forced to choose one. Instinctively, he chooses the inside man (correct in traditional blocking rules), but that goes against what his teammates are doing. Left guard Stefen Wisniewski slides out left to help Peters with his rusher, who also slanted inside, and likely expected Kelce to follow suit to take the rusher who was once Wisniewski's. But when Kelce chose the other defender, it left a wide open gap and easy path to Wentz.
The best indicator -- beyond the front five's initial steps after the snap -- is Smallwood's choice. He almost immediately looks to the inside rusher, indicating he too expected Kelce to slide to his left.
This is why football is such a great sport. It requires synchronicity and trust to be successful. Those were lacking on this play.
At the start of the fourth quarter, trouble could be seen on the horizon for the Eagles. The final period (well, it was supposed to be the final period) began with another sack of Wentz on another zone-split bootleg. For reasons that are unclear beyond the depth of backside-turned-frontside tackles, Philadelphia struggles with these plays against the blitz.
First off, it's common knowledge play-action passes have a lower chance of success against increased pressure, due to a lack of time for the play to develop. That's noted. But on each of these sacks, both Peters and Johnson stop selling the run fake earlier than the rest of their teammates.
Perhaps it's because they're quickly turning from backside to frontside tackle and need to maintain their block above all else in order to give Wentz time to throw. That could explain the earlier pass set. But it's hurting the rest of the action (bumping Goedert off course as covered earlier). In this second example, it leaves the usually mobile Johnson with concrete feet, left to attempt to block Brown with only his outside arm.
Wentz slipping didn't help, either. But Brown's outside move froze Johnson, who chose a firm base and an attempt to muscle Brown under control instead of continuing to move his feet. This time around, it resulted in a defeat.
The greatest disaster of the afternoon came just two plays later, with the Eagles clinging to a 17-10 lead.
In a simple, classic case of a speed rusher winning the race around the edge, rookie Harold Landry used his greatest attribute to beat a quickly dropping Johnson to the edge, dipping under Johnson's strike attempt and blasting Wentz. Landry forced a fumble that swung the momentum in what ended up being a thrilling overtime win for the Titans.
Week 4 was Philadelphia's worst in pass protection on the year, earning a team grade of 72.8 from Pro Football Focus. It's close to the norm for opponents facing Tennessee, as Jacksonville has the best mark against the Titans at 79.2.
Additionally, the Eagles entered Week 4 with a pressure rate of 23.1 percent of dropbacks, but gave up pressures on 31 percent of Week 4 dropbacks. Their new total through four weeks rose 2.4 percentage points as a result.
Oddly enough, pressure isn't a problem for Wentz and the Eagles offense. It's more a matter of executing when protected and hauling in catchable passes. Two first-quarter deep attempts in the direction of Nelson Agholor both ended in incompletions, with Wentz leaving the first a little wide and Agholor flat-out dropping the second, a bullet down the seam that should've gone for a considerable gain.
Wentz is remarkably calm in the pocket when under pressure, looking unbothered moments before the rush gets to him. The numbers back up what's visible on tape: Wentz has the second-highest passer rating in the NFL under pressure in 2018, with all three of his touchdown passes coming under pressure, per Next Gen Stats.
Feel like I just did a 180 on you? Good. You should.
This is how difficult it is to block cohesively in the NFL. The Eagles own a top-five line and had enough problems in Week 4. This is also a good indicator of a good defense flying under the radar through the first quarter of the season. PFF is already aware of what Mike Vrabel is building in Nashville, giving the Titans the eighth-best pass rush through four weeks. Tennessee won't be a secret for much longer.
We got a little Minnesota and Dakotas spice Wednesday from the QB:
Minnesota, despite getting thrashed by the Greatest Show on Surf in Week 4, owns the league's 12th-best pass rush (per PFF), not too far off from Tennessee. The difference: They've steadily grown worse with each week.
After the Vikings held Jimmy Garoppolo to a QB rating of 69.3 in Week 1, they've allowed opposing QBs to post ratings of 92.4 (Aaron Rodgers, Week 2), 127.9 (Josh Allen, Week 3) and a perfect 158.3 (Jared Goff, Week 4). The only way to go is up (by bringing the opponent's passer rating down), but that will depend more on the men in coverage than those rushing Wentz -- unless they're getting home.