Some in the NFL subscribe to the philosophy that if your defense is dominant, your offensive approach should be more on the conservative side. Marty Mornhinweg is decidedly not among them.
“Now why would you ever do that?” an animated Mornhinweg asked.
“No, really. You have to score points in this league to win. We’re playing just the way I expect us to play with the exception of the turnovers. I think we’d be pretty good if we’d get the turnover thing fixed.”
No one will dispute that. But should the play-calling be adjusted to help in that effort?
The 49ers are the model right now for the approach described above. Jim Harbaugh‘s club was tops in the NFL with a plus-28 turnover ratio in 2011. They were third overall in rushing attempts, quarterback Alex Smith threw just five interceptions, the offense yielded 10 turnovers overall and San Francisco rode their defense and ground attack to a 13-3 mark. The Eagles were a minus-14 in that category last year and ended 8-8.
This season, the Eagles are minus-three and Michael Vick has six interceptions through two games. Smith has zero picks and the 49ers are a plus-1. Smith has 57 pass attempts so far. Vick (88) nearly matched that output in one week.
Both teams are undefeated through two games, but it’s a matter of which model is more sustainable.
There are all sorts of variables in play, granted, not the least of which is the styles of the respective quarterbacks. Vick is a gunslinger, Smith more a game-manager. But it’s not all about the cards that you are dealt. It’s also about mindset.
“It’s just philosophical — some teams go about it different,” said Mornhinweg. “But look, if your defense is really good you can take more calculated risks because they are going to cover it up. That’s the way I think.
“Certainly when you turn the ball over three times down in or near the red zone, you’ve got to fight that conservative approach. You’ve got to trust the players. It’s just that simple. You can’t get anywhere if you’re concerned about doing the right thing, or not being able to do this, or turnovers, these types of things. You’ve got to trust the players, and your expectation is they will get it done and that they will correct any mistakes they have made in the past.”
Mornhinweg put that trust in Vick 32 times a game last season, and the QB has dropped back an average of 44 times per outing this year through two games. (Smith averaged 27 attempts a game in 2011.) Last year the Eagles’ defense was leaky and the team needed Vick and the offense to carry them. Not this time around. They have the running game, they appear to have the defense. But the offensive approach will stay the same, unless it gets even bolder.