Thursday, October 22, 2009

Offense - Big Picture


sorry for the late post. got longer and longer...

Let's talk about the key people around the Eagles offense. Andy Reid created the playbook. Marty Mornhinweg is the playcaller. Donovan McNabb is the QB. Brian Westbrook is the workhorse offensive player. This is a dangerous combo and here's why.

Reid trained in the NFL under Mike Holmgren and knows the WCO inside-out. Andy spent time at BYU as a player and assistant. He was there under Lavelle Edwards and Norm Chow, a couple of great offensive minds. Unfortunately, they ran a pass happy offense. The Cougars had to do that back then. They were the biggest mid-major football power. Their best hope for success was to sling the ball around and create mismatches. That was wise thinking.

Andy brought that mentality to the NFL. It doesn't work as well. The talent here is a lot closer than most people realize. You don't need to out-scheme opponents as much as you need to out-execute them. Obviously you want an edge in gameplanning if possible, but the real key is for the players to block, run, pass, and catch correctly. The best coaches don't have great playbooks. They simply understand how to maximize talent. Dana Bible ran the offense for the first part of 1998 and did an unbelievably bad job. He was replaced by QB coach Bill Musgrave and things got immediately better. Same scheme. Musgrave called a better game and a little bit of success helped to give the guys some confidence. They played better and the offense got less awful. It still never got anywhere near mediocre, let alone good.

Mornhinweg was a QB in HS, college (Montana), and even for an AFL team. He likes to throw the ball. He also has strong ties to Mike Holmgren. Mike was an asst coach on Marty's HS team. Mike eventually brought him to the Packers as an asst in 1995. Marty was there for a couple of years before going to SF to run that offense. He then went to the Lions as head coach and failed miserably. His best year was 1998, when SF was #1 in Total Offense, as well as #1 in rushing and passing. That is a very rare feat.

We all know McNabb pretty well. He is a gifted player who is deadly on good days and highly erratic on bad ones. Consistency and efficiency are not his strengths. McNabb fell in love with big plays in 2004 and has been a changed man ever since. I swear the worst thing that ever happened to him was the fluke against Dallas where he scrambled for 14 seconds and then hit FredEx for a long gain down the field. McNabb to this day holds the ball longer than he should. I don't remember that being a problem prior to that game. Whether that is true or just a convenient spin on things is probably up for debate.

Westbrook is a gifted receiver. He's so good that for a few years he actually seemed like our best RB and WR. He isn't a physical runner, so he doesn't wear down defenses. He also has a tendency to get banged up which affects how Andy/Marty use him. They want Brian to get a lot of touches, but at times are hesitant to feed him running plays.

Let's sum this part up. You have a head coach who loves the passing game. The offensive coordinator is a former QB that loves to throw the ball. You have a QB who is a streaky passer and loves throwing the deep ball. You have a RB that is a gifted receiver. This leads to a pass heavy offense. There is no impetus to run the ball. No coach is a huge proponent of the running game. Because the QB isn't overly efficient the passing attack is hit and miss. When things start slowly the thinking is that the only way to get him and the offense going you must keep throwing the ball. This is like a gambler losing $50 and then betting $50 to make that back up. Or in business you might call that throwing good money after bad.

Things look great when the QB has a good day and the offense clicks. There is enough talent, good coaching, and good execution that the offense works most of the time. The Eagles haven't finished a season out of the Top 10 in yards since 2005. That group finished 19th, but only after TO was sent to Siberia and the best offensive players finished the year on IR (Pinky, Donovan, Westy, Tra). Had those guys stayed healthy I'm sure they would have been Top 10. The 2004 group obviously was highly ranked. The scoring offense is even better. I'm not adjusting for returns and defensive TDs. That makes things too complicated. The Eagles finishes since 2000:

2009 - 6
2008 - 6
2007 - 17
2006 - 6
2005 - 18
2004 - 8
2003 - 11
2002 - 4
2001 - 9
2000 - 12

The average finish of that decade is 9.7. That's pretty impressive when you factor in the lack of top skill players at times, McNabb missing games in multiple years, changeover on the team (players and coaches), and injuries to other key players (Pinky, Buck, LJ, Westy, Shawn, etc.).

The problem I have with the current configuration is that the offense, while explosive and productive, isn't reliable. You cannot count on big plays. You must be able to count on executing basic plays (slant, dig, out, post, etc.). We are far too up and down. It doesn't have to be that way.

The offense has excelled in a couple of seasons at a relatively balanced, ball control attack. McNabb struggled early in 2003 and then got hurt. Over the last 10 games of that year he was outstanding: 184 - 288 - 63.9% - 2,362 yds - 14 TDs - 5 INTs - 98.5 rating - 27.9 ppg. The team went 9-1. We won some tough games. We beat GB at Lambeau on a rainy MNF game. Donovan led us to victory late in the game. We won at Miami late in the year without Tra at LT. We beat the Panthers in Charlotte. They went to the SB that season. We put up 36 points in a December game with Dallas, who had the #1 defense in the league that year. Unfortunately Westy got hurt in the season finale and the team struggled to score points in the playoffs.

I mentioned us running a balanced attack. The key to the offense was the RBs. We had the 3-headed monster of Westy, Buck, and Duce Staley. They each had more than 96 carries, 463 yards, and 5 TDs. The trio ran for 1,618 yards and 20 TDs. They also were key to the passing attack. They totaled 83 catches, 847 yards, and 7 TDs. That is 4.8 yards per carry and 10.2 yards per reception.

2006 was another year that I very much enjoyed. The offense was explosive early in the year. It struggled around midseason. Against Tampa we lost because of turnovers. The next week vs JAX we played horrible and lost 13-6. That was the worst game of the year. Things picked back up, but then Donovan got hurt. Jeff Garcia took over the last 6 games and that offense was great to watch. The coaches passed less and focused more on Westy. Brian had 97 carries in the first 8 games. He then had 142 in the next 7 games. He sat out the final game vs ATL (meaningless thanks to a Dallas choke job at DET). We were 4-4 the first part of the year and then 5-2 down the stretch when Brian ran more (we also won the finale vs ATL). Offensive production was pretty consistent throughout the year, but the team got on a run as we ran more. That also happened in 2003. Hmmm.

Why would having a more balanced attack be so important? Yards and points were similar all year long. Running more means more of a ball control attack. That leads to sustained drives. That leads to consistency. And that proves important in tight situations. Garcia led us on 4th Quarter comebacks vs CAR and NYG that year. He then led us to a winning FG on the final play of the Wildcard game vs the Giants. Jeff had us on the move in New Orleans late in the game, but a Scott Young penalty undid a huge 4th down conversion and we lost the game. That is more late game success in 3 months than we've had in the 2 1/2 years since then.

Think back over the last few seasons. We've had chance after chance to win a game late. Drives invariably stall at midfield. A few have gone deep only to stall out inside the 10. Notice that in most of these games we needed a TD.

* 2009
OAK 13-9

* 2008
DAL 41-37
CHI 24-20
WAS 23-17
NYG 36-31
CIN 13-13
WAS 10-3

* 2007
GB 16-13
WAS 20-12
NYG 16-13 (McNabb drove us into FG range, but Akers missed a 57-yder)

* 2006
NYG 30-24, OT

The failure on these drives isn't just on McNabb. He's made some big plays in crunch time. The failure is on the offense in general, for not being prepared for these situations. You can't have a downfield, explosive passing style for 56 minutes a game and then expect to become a solid dink and dunk attack when it gets to crunch time.

Donovan is the QB and the leader. He gets the glory and the blame, fair or not. He also has the ball in his hands. With his talent and experience he needs to overcome problems and get us winning points in some game. I can excuse not doing it all the time, but the constant failures are a concern.

There have been some semi-successful late game items to discuss. We drove 74 yards for a TD late in the 2007 Bears game. That put us ahead. They went 3 and out. We got the ball back with about 3 minutes, but couldn't put together a drive to eat up the remaining clock. We pinned them deep with a punt. Then the Bears went 97 yards in less than 2 minutes to win the game. We scored a TD late vs Tampa in 2006 to go ahead. Westy caught a screen pass near midfield and went the distance for a TD. They followed that with a 62-yard FG to win the game. We trailed WAS 25-20 in 2007. McNabb hit Westy with a screen and 57 yards later we had a 26-25 lead. We added another TD to win the game.

We can execute in the 4th quarter, but not in the last couple of minutes. We can move the ball, but we can't sustain drives. On the few occasions when we have moved the ball we tend to stall out near the goal line. This is why I don't blame McNabb totally. He put us in position to score vs CHI last year. Poor blocking stopped Buck at the 1. Twice.

It didn't used to be this way. We used to be a very dangerous team late in games. McNabb had good success with comebacks:

2000 - we got late drives vs PIT, DAL to win
2001 - STL (down 17-3 in 4th, tied, lost in OT), NYG (pass to JT on MNF), NYG (scored last 10 pts in 4th Qtr to win)
2003 - NYJ (outscored them 10-0 in 4th to win 24-17), GB (GW drive on MNF 17-14), SF (pass to Pinky tied game, lost in OT), GB playoffs (came from down 17-7 in 4th, won in OT)
2004 - CLE (won in OT), DAL (TD with 1:57 left helped us win 12-7)
2005 - OAK (late FG)

As McNabb became more of a pocket passer and got away from running, he became less effective late in games. I can't stress enough now much the presence of TO and the downfield attack of 2004 changed things. Reid, Marty, and Donovan all fell in love with the big play. From 1999-2003 McNabb had 27 passes of 40 or more yards. He had 20 in 2004. That should illustrate just what a different season that was. Things haven't been the same since, both good and bad. I also have to mention that the NFL made a rule adjustment that year that opened up the passing game by getting officials to focus on DB/WR contact. Receivers were suddenly able to get a cleaner release than in the past. Big difference.

I guess the simple way to sum this up is that Andy and Marty bring out the worst in McNabb and that he brings out the worst in them. We have seen McNabb be an efficient QB. He had that great stretch in 2003. Just think back to the end of last year. We won 4 of 5 games late in the season. McNabb was efficient. He completed 64.3% of his passes. He threw 9 TDs and only 1 pick. Westy had 96 carries in that stretch. He only had 137 carries the rest of the entire season. Those results also show you that the coaches can adjust the offense.

Does the Reid/McNabb/Marty trio learn from that? Apparently not. The coaches go right back to a pass heavy attack, built on throwing deep. McNabb forgets about moving the chains and thinks about big plays. The offense is great when it works, but stalls out when a good secondary comes along and shuts down the big plays.

Last year it took the disasters vs Cincinnati and Baltimore to wake up/shake up our beloved trio and get them to adjust. Last week we had the humiliating loss at Oakland. Will that get their attention and lead to a change early in the season? We can only hope so.

We have as much offensive firepower as New Orleans. The difference is that their coach and QB understand that the running attack and short passes will help lead to the big plays. They build inside-out. Our trio wants the big stuff. Go score a bunch of points, then run the ball and throw the checkdowns. We're an outside-in offense.

I have concerns about whether the current offensive configuration can win a SB. We're good enough to win a lot of games, to even have postseason success. However, teams that win the Super Bowl must be able to win tight games. They must be able to play in a back and forth affair. We can hold a lead in a tight game, but comebacks are a major hurdle. The last two Super Bowls were won by late game TDs. We couldn't even come from behind to get to the SB.

Would things be different with Kevin Kolb at QB? Who knows. We have way too small a sample to make an accurate judgment. There is hope still for the current group. This is the most overall offensive talent we've ever had. If the offense can get into a good rhythm it could be absolutely deadly. We really need to see a close game where the offense is clicking to find out if the 2009 Eagles are going to be any different or just more of the same.

As my friend Shrub likes to say, all we can do now is "hide 'n watch".


Fuertisimodos said...

You know the old pavlov psychological experiment? with the bell and the dog and the drooling? And how that experiment is somewhat adapted to the whole mouse push one button you get shocked push the other button you get food and sooner rather than later the mouse is going to remember which one is which?

Watching Andy Reid sometimes is like watching a mouse in the cage with 2 buttons, and Andy keeps picking the shock button, over and over and over and over, until eventually he's too singed to continue and finally pushes the food button, but then goes back to pushing the shock button again.

If I was Andy at this point my clock management and timeout issues would be so well documented, and I would be so aware that I sucked so bad at clock management and timeouts, that I would actually hire an entire other coach and simply call him the clock management coach. I'd have him on the sidelines next to me and his only job would be to tell me when to put the offense into the 2 minute drill, when to spike the ball and when to call timeouts. That would be his only function. I would pay him well too, because clearly thats the kind of thing that could be the difference between a number of wins and losses over the years here.

Mr_Boomy said...

I agree with you Tommy.
After I became an Eagles' fan in 2002, I rarely see a comeback win from Donovan, and even less after 2004.

I love Andy Reid, he's the reason I follow the Eagles. But sometime I wanna kill him with those play calling and time management stuff.

T_S_O_P said...

We fell in love with the long passing game in 2004. When did MM arrive? Maybe he completed the fire triangle.

When your offense is outside in as you state, it seems a fundamental flaw, I not only doubt whether we can win a SB, it seems to me that a PO spot is not always clear, regardless the obvious amount of talent.

Would Kolb make a difference? Why would we more balanced with him? He certainly not a QB that is going to give you anything by leaving the pocket an picking up yards using his legs. The flaw is fundamental. Maybe we would have more success in certain aspects, but equally less in others. Why would they call plays any different.I don't know, how he would he have stopped Vick coming on to the field late in the 2nd?

I don't want to besmirch what MM did in '98, but he had an All-Decade QB and All-Universe WR with an up and coming All-Pro opposite and a 1st round 1000 yard runner at the start of that season. If that is what he needs, to be successful, then we are in the do do. One stat I found from that team that I did like was that they were 5th in passing attempts and 7th in rushing attempts, however that hides the fact that Young (the teams second leading rusher) ran 70 times. I wonder how many of those were by design?

Tommy Lawlor said...

For those who read this prior to 845am on Thursday...I added a short paragraph this morning that I forgot to paste in last night.

"Donovan is the QB and the leader. He gets the glory and the blame, fair or not. He also has the ball in his hands. With his talent and experience he needs to overcome problems and get us winning points in some game. I can excuse not doing it all the time, but the constant failures are a concern."

izzylangfan said...

The reason Kolb might make a difference is if he can be more accurate and efficient in the short passing game.

T_S_O_P said...


Against the lacklustre Buccaneers we created no rhythm and didn't run the ball. We comfortably lost TOP in that game and gave the other team far to much time to find a rythym on O. 5 was plenty accurate enough in that game, as would Kolb of been. The flaw remains. We let the Buccs have far to many chances even thought the QB's rating was 158 odd.

Similarly, when we lost in OT to the Giants a few years back, we created a lead on big plays and couldn't hold on to it as much as we tried then to establish a run game in the 2nd half. Outside in as Tommy stated. Its flawed.

T_S_O_P said...

As an add on, the wrath I have for MM does not mean I hold McNabb blameless. I just hold Marty more accountable. It is a shame we can't bench him for a game or two and see what happens.

izzylangfan said...


I do not see the Buccaneers game as a problem in itself. McNabb was so efficient that we had three two play touchdown drives. That sort of thing will always distort the TOP. If you want to say that the offense is too good, too efficient or too good at the long pass, I won't buy it.

The problem comes because McNabb has two flaws. He is inconsistent with too many clunker games, and he is not accurate on his short passes. Being better on long passes than short passes for McNabb has perhaps distorted the play calling balance with too much long passing. In addition as Tommy has pointed out when McNabb is not on the play calling does not adjust and still features the long pass.

That was particularly evident in last week's game against the Raiders. McNabb was not on from the outset. But instead of finding a way to win like a pitcher who doesn't have his best stuff, McNabb and the Eagles play callers made few adjustments and thus had little chance to find a way to win.

In my view a West Coast Offense play mix should include:

Short Passes that are like runs
Regular passes

Short passes that are like runs are screens, dumps to the running back, and some quick outs and slant type plays that should have an extremely high completion rate and offer good RAC potential. In other words passes where the yardage is attained by running.

Regular passes can be both long, medium, and even short passes that might take longer to develop and by their nature are mostly riskier in terms of expecting a high completion rate.

If an offense is using the short pass like a run efficiently I have no problem with the running mix dropping below 50% or even 40% (but probably not 30%).

There is one caveat, however. The running must be efficient and the team must be proficient. In other words, they must run often enough so that the team is good at running.

The Eagles have not met this last test. But then they do not use the short pass as run enough either, because they over stress long passes and other lower expected completion rate passing plays.

shlynch said...

You nailed it today, Tommy. Between this and Derek at Igglesblog's Game Rewind, I think we have a pretty comprehensive thesis for what the frickin problem with the offense was on Sunday -- and why it isn't always a problem.

Edward said...

Fantastic post Tommy, its so hard to believe that Andy and Marty haven't learned from the endless number of past games where we were completely out of balance and lost. I bet there's some stat somewhere about the number of games with a high pass to run ratio compared with the number of wins. Obviously skewed slightly by playing from behind in some cases. Still probably quite the stat.

This is totally reactionary to the Oakland loss but its happened so many times in the past that it really makes you wonder about a different offensive co-ordinator. Someone who is a great gameday coach to compliment Andy's fantastic monday-saturday coaching.

Dollar Brand said...

Good read and very informative as always. One thing that always puzzled me about Andy/MM was how an offense so varied can become so predictable to the opponent.
I absolutely agree that 2004 was the tipping point. Great highlight reels do not an offense make.
One thing I am curious about. There have been points in the latter part of 2008 and 2007 I believe where MM was calling the plays and there was a some evidence to that effect.
Does that still happen?

The Old Buffoon said...

I think all the criticisms of Reid/Marty/McNabb are fair.

But they account for more of our mid-season stalls than anything. The same trio has shown consistent ability to come up with excellent play in December and January.

There are, of course, a few notable exceptions. The NFCC against Carolina in 2003 was typical throw/throw/throw, despite Buck's early success running, McNabb's broken sternum, and the receivers getting physically dominated all game long. Also, last year's important game @ WAS comes to mind as a late-season blip.

But, aside from those 2 games, you have to give credit to the trio for great gameplanning and execution in Dec/Jan. Last year's game against AZ was a mediocre game by the O, and a failing grade for the D.

What I want to know is what we're saving for the NFC East this year. I sure hope we'll see more running off LT, assuming Peters returns to health. Also, how bout some more creative plays to Weaver?

spencerfamily5 said...

"What I want to know is what we're saving for the NFC East this year."

My thoughts exactly, but given the lack of O-line continuity do you really think AR/MM will change things up?

I think we *may* see some twists on the spread eagle/wild cat but truthfully, I'm hoping we don't break it out much.

Just go with our straight up offense: ss/pass/pass/run/pass/pass

Prem Prakash said...

Great analysis. For Christmas I want Santa to sit Reid down in front of me so I can read this to him... slowly.

Alexander said...

Interesting article. This is a pretty big topic to try to conquer in one blog post, so I credit your effort

I think you could even point to last season as evidence of the effectiveness of a ball control attack when they decide to throttle it down.

The first two playoff games the problems running the football structurally (OL, RBs) were there, but they were still able to run a largely ball control passing attack--with a huge screen pass mixed in vs MIN--in two tough road environments against good defenses for victory

Even if they aren't going to pound the ball (it is debatable whether or not that would be effective given the personnel), they do need to have diversity in the passing game....execute those shorter plays like they did in the winds @ NYG last year. Don't just kick it into overdrive all the time (another team that is a culprit with that- 07 Cowboys under Garrett)

All that being said, Igglesblog had a good post showing that even with the playcalling, McNabb missed some wide open guys in key spots in the 2nd half. Blame can still go on the coaches for not adjusting the gameplan but if he hadn't played a D- game they may well have been able to get away with it. Still that probably would have just been delaying the exposure of this big-play over-reliance

Fuertisimodos said...

The biggest issue is that you need to be able to adjust when Mcnabb isn't on his game or isn't getting the protection he needs. You can't just simply rely on him to be all pro all the time, because Mcnabb does go into funks and does get rattled by the pressure. A halfway decent running game would the most ideal because you could take the ball out of his hands entirely, no need to worry about offtarget 50 yard passes or wormburners to recievers 15 yards away when Westbrook or Mccoy has the ball in their hands. Maybe if Mcnabb didn't feel the pressure to carry the team all the time he'd settle down and start making all the throws again.

phillyfan_1978 said...

"When things start slowly the thinking is that the only way to get him and the offense going you must keep throwing the ball. This is like a gambler losing $50 and then betting $50 to make that back up. Or in business you might call that throwing good money after bad."

All I can think of is this Albert Einstein quote:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.