Mike Check: Vick Shows Progress Vs. the Blitz

We’ve used up plenty of space here discussing Michael Vick’s two fumbles on Sunday.

But what did the Eagles’ quarterback do on the other 55 plays?

As we wrote about yesterday, the Eagles have gone with a completely different game-plan the last two weeks. They’ve become more balanced, given Vick options against the blitz and tried to disguise issues in pass protection.

The part about giving Vick options against the blitz is important. Take a look below at his numbers Sunday against different types of pressure.

Number of Rushers
Number of Plays
Completions
Attempts
Yards
Sacks
Runs
Throw-Aways
41991552131
5105739201
686884001
TOTAL372030175333

Dick LeBeau and the Steelers blitzed on 18 of Vick’s 37 dropbacks, or 48.6 percent of the time.

And Vick had his way against extra pressure, completing 11 of 15 passes (73.3 percent) for 123 yards (8.2 YPA). For those of you who prefer those numbers converted to a quarterback rating, Vick’s was 136.9 against the blitz. And keep in mind those numbers do not include the 31-yard pass interference penalty Jeremy Maclin drew, which also came against the blitz.

That seems like progress to me.

Protection was far from perfect, but Vick did a really good job of getting rid of the ball quickly and letting his playmakers do the rest. More on how the Eagles performed against the blitz in the All-22 breakdown later this week.

PATIENCE WITH THE DEEP BALL

One thing we’ve seen the last two weeks is that Marty Mornhinweg and Andy Reid are choosing their spots to go downfield. Here’s a breakdown of Vick’s throws by distance:

 
Completions
Attempts
Yards
5 Yards Or Less111355
6 to 15 Yards81096
16 to 25 Yards1124
More Than 25 Yards0 (PI)40

I counted three passes that Vick threw away. Those are not reflected here. On passes that he actually intended to be caught by a receiver, he was 20-for-27 (74.1 percent). As you can see, Vick had a lot of success on the short and intermediate throws, going 19-for-23 (82.6 percent) on passes within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage.

Vick took shots deep too, just not as many. While the offense has changed its style the last two games, the big plays downfield still will be counted on. Vick attempted four passes that traveled more than 25 yards downfield. He didn’t connect on any of them, but Maclin did draw a 31-yard penalty on one.

Through four games, opponents have completed 66.1 percent of their passes against the Lions, but Detroit has allowed just eight pass plays of 20+ yards, second-fewest in the league. Mornhinweg and Reid will have to determine whether they want to stick with the game-plan we’ve seen the past two weeks or switch things up in Week 6.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

OL Review: Eagles Shifting Offensive Philosophy?

When evaluating the state of the Eagles’ offensive line right now, it’s important to manage expectations.

A couple weeks ago, the coaches approached the Cardinals game assuming the offense would be just fine operating as it usually does. They tried little things to help Demetress Bell and Dallas Reynolds, who were making their first starts of the season. But overall, Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg believed this offense could still score points by hitting on big plays down the field in the passing game.

After a 27-6 loss, though, it appears they’ve made some changes. The offense is in a difficult spot. On one hand, the personnel – Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek – should thrive in a big-play offense. One in which safeties can never play deep enough because the Eagles just have too much speed. But such an offense requires pass protection that gives the quarterback time to wait for those routes to develop.

The truth is, the Eagles are not going to get that protection consistently with this line. Three of the five offensive linemen – Bell, Reynolds and Danny Watkins – are question marks.

So before the Giants game, the coaches made some fairly significant adjustments. Use fullback Stanley Havili and try to maximize production in the run game with LeSean McCoy. Choose spots to take shots down the field, and provide extra protection to let those plays develop. Have the wide receivers work the short and intermediate routes. Let them make plays after the catch. Give Vick options to get rid of the ball quickly.

It’s probably not the preferred style of play for Reid and Mornhinweg. But given the injuries to Jason Peters and Jason Kelce, the turnovers by Vick, the effectiveness of McCoy and the play of the defense, it’s the Eagles’ best chance to win games in 2012.

And so that’s what we saw for the second straight game yesterday. Later in the week, I’ll try to show some of what I described above with the All-22 tape. For now, here is a player-by-player breakdown of the offensive line after having re-watched the TV broadcast.

Demetress Bell – I think you can get by with Bell if he plays like he did on Sunday. In some ways, it was a King Dunlap-like performance. He wasn’t great, but he didn’t kill them. Overall, there seemed to be too many plays where general confusion among the offensive linemen led to pressure. For example, the Steelers fooled the Eagles on a third down in the third, showing six at the line of scrimmage, but only rushing four. Brett Keisel went right between Bell and Evan Mathis. Neither guy blocked anyone. Not good. Vick scrambled and threw the ball away. But overall, I thought Bell did pretty well in protection. He got his share of help, but was certainly asked to block people one-on-one at times. The Eagles ran to the left side a fair amount. Bell did a nice job on McCoy’s 10-yard run around the left edge in the first. Often times, a tight end lined up next to Bell to try and gain the edge on those runs. Bell did a poor job with his backside block on McCoy’s 2-yard run in the fourth. He didn’t block anyone on the inside screen to Clay Harbor in the fourth. He didn’t provide much of a block on Vick’s QB draw that lost 1 yard in the second. He offered a poor attempt at a cut block on McCoy’s 4-yard run in the second. And he was called for a false start on the first drive. Like I said, an OK performance. If he stays at left tackle, the Eagles need to continue to help him and see how much he can improve. I think the one thing Bell has over Dunlap is that his ceiling should be higher. In other words, if Mudd is seeing the right signs, significant improvement by the time November rolls around is possible.

Evan Mathis – He was OK, but this wasn’t Mathis’ best performance. I mentioned the confusion above. On another play, James Harrison twisted inside, and it looked like Bell was expecting Mathis to pick him up, but he didn’t. Harrison rushed cleanly and got a shot on Vick, forcing an incompletion. Mathis had an issue in pass protection on the throw to Maclin that drew a 31-yard pass interference penalty. Harrison beat him and hit Vick on a fourth-quarter incompletion to Celek. In the run game, Mathis did a good job on McCoy’s 6-yard run in the fourth.

Dallas Reynolds – Hate to repeat myself, but once again, confusion. The Eagles had seven to block four in the fourth, yet Lawrence Timmons ran right between Reynolds and Watkins to hit Vick. Reynolds and Mathis both picked up the linebacker on the play. One guess is Reynolds probably should have blocked Timmons, but Dion Lewis might have been responsible too. On another play, Reynolds had trouble with Casey Hampton, but recovered and took him to the ground as Vick stepped to his left. Overall, I thought Reynolds did a lot of good things. He made a nice block on Havili’s 5-yard run in the first. He did an excellent job of picking up a blitzer on the 10-yard completion to Maclin in the first. He made a nice block on Bryce Brown’s 4-yard run in the second. And he did a good job of switching off his man and picking up a blitzer on the 24-yard completion to Jackson. Again, it’s a matter of expectations. Reynolds is not going to make the Pro Bowl. But he appears to be improving.

Danny Watkins – It looked like he probably missed his assignment in the first. The Steelers rushed four. The Eagles had six in to block, and Timmons rushed Vick unblocked, leading to a sack. I’ll take a look at the All-22, but it seemed like Watkins was probably responsible. On another play, I’m not sure if Watkins was expecting help from Reynolds, but he let Steve McLendon go right past him and sack Vick in the third. Vick fumbled on the play, but Watkins recovered. He also got beat by Jason Worllds on the 2-yard touchdown to Celek. The good? Watkins made a nice block on the Vick QB draw that resulted in a fumble. And it looked like McCoy ran right behind him on the second fourth-and-one carry during the 17-play drive. The inconsistency, specifically in pass protection, remains an issue in Watkins’ second season.

Todd Herremans – Nice bounce-back game after Herremans had issues against the Giants. He was clean in pass protection throughout the game. And he did a nice job on the Vick QB draw that resulted in a fumble.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Vick Over the ‘Blue Moon’

Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.Marty Mornhinweg conceded Monday that the coaching staff, after evaluating the first three games, recognized that they needed to adjust their offensive approach to try and get Michael Vick into a greater comfort zone. Some of it was as simplistic as running the ball more and dialing up shorter passes. And some of it is more complex.

“There’s a lot of things that go into that, certainly,” said Mornhinweg. “There’s all different ways to do it. And you have to design it against the particular defensive structure and talent that you’re playing against as well.”

The design was effective against New York, and undoubtedly helped Vick turn in an efficient, turnover-free performance in the 19-17 win. There is more to it than that, though. Vick was working through more than just an off-kilter run-pass ratio. The offense that he has been studying so hard to master at times appeared foreign to him. He looked caught in between what was right and what was natural. He was strong late, but mercurial the rest of the time.

On Sunday, the situation stabilized. Vick was judicious in his decision-making . It felt like the fog had lifted.

“Mike stepped up to the heat, now. There’s no question that happened [Sunday night],” said Mornhinweg. “I have great confidence in Mike. I’ve got great confidence in every quarterback that’s played for us – you have to. The things that happened to Mike early in the year, in a blue moon will happen to anybody.”

What was the blue moon occurrence? The two preaseason injuries that limited him to just nine snaps? The nine turnovers that followed in the first three regular-season games? The appearance that the wires weren’t always connecting on the field? A cocktail consisting of all those ingredients?

Mornhinweg just referred to it as, “it.”

“It will occasionally happen. You never want it to happen, but you motor through it,” he said. “You get your corrections done, and he makes sure that he’s seeing things clearly, and you make sure that you’re trying to do everything you can to help him from a coaching standpoint. And then normally they’ll come out of it pretty good, and he certainly did.”

Or, as Andy Reid put it: “He found himself tonight.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

We are 20 games into the Nnamdi Asomugha experience, and the jury is still out.  Reid gives his thoughts on the subject.

Meanwhile, DRC talks about the Ooh-Op-Ooh. The what? The Ooh-Op-Ooh.

Here is a look at how the Eagles snaps were distributed. Brandon Graham dipped back down.

NBC is awfully happy about the dramatic game on Sunday night, as it produced huge ratings.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Tom Coughlin is having all sorts of second thoughts about his decision-making in the closing moments of Sunday’s game, and regrets attempting the 54-yard field goal with 15 seconds on the clock instead of taking another shot. From the New York Post:

“What happens if you get a sack there? What happens if you try to fit one in tight and it gets, whether you catch it or not, you get tackled in bounds? Game’s over. Would I be that conservative? Not today. Last night I chose to do that knowing full well that the clock was not in our favor. We had no timeouts. I fully expected the type of coverage that would take the short throw to the sideline away from us. But, I’m not going to know whether or not because we didn’t try it.

“So I take full responsibility for that and as I told the players, I’ll start the meeting off by talking about my sins and that’s one that I’ll confess to.’’

The 19-17 win over New York didn’t move Peter King’s meter very much, it seems. He has the Eagles ranked ninth overall in his rankings. Coming in a spot ahead at No. 8? The 2-2 Giants.

I’m not buying the Eagles being better just yet. These games come down to the slimmest of margins — a field goal being two yards short, in this case — and if the two teams played again this week in New Brunswick, I’d like the Giants.

Mike Vick: Nine turnovers in the first three games, all shaky; no turnovers Sunday night. See how smooth the game can go when you’re not careless?

So, LeSean McCoy used to yell his own name as he juked defenders back in college, apparently. Kyle Scott has the details. Wonder what he says when he runs past Osi?

COMING UP

A day off for the players before they turn the page to the Steelers. Pittsburgh, sitting at 1-2 and coming off a bye, is currently a 3 1/2-point favorite.

Cheat Sheet: Eagles’ Offense Vs. Giants’ Defense

Here are 10 things to know about this weekend’s matchup between the Eagles’ offense and the Giants’ defense. If you missed the first cheat sheet, click here.

1. It’s been an up-and-down start for the Giants’ D. In Week 1, Tony Romo picked New York apart, completing 22-of-29 passes for 307 yards. DeMarco Murray piled up 131 yards, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. The Bucs put up 34 points against the Giants in Week 2, although Tampa’s defense played a role in that one, forcing three turnovers and scoring once. And last week, New York shut down Cam Newton and the Panthers on Thursday night. Overall, the Giants are allowing 21.7 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked 21st overall – 17th against the pass and 22nd against the run. New York has six interceptions in three games, tied for second-most in the NFL.

2. With the Giants, everything starts up front with Jason Pierre-Paul, arguably the most disruptive defensive player in the NFL. In his second season, Pierre-Paul had 16.5 sacks to go along with 14 hits and 25 hurries (all team highs), per Football Outsiders. And he’s not a one-dimensional player. Pierre-Paul consistently makes plays against the run and creates havoc. He rarely comes off the field, having played 88.3 percent of the Giants’ defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Pierre-Paul lines up on both the left and right sides, meaning Demetress Bell (left tackle) and Todd Herremans (right tackle) will get matched up with him. Herremans played well last week against the Cardinals after an inconsistent first two games. Bell had all kinds of issues in his first start of the season, filling in for King Dunlap.

Pierre-Paul and the defensive linemen are able to make up for a lot of the Giants’ issues in coverage. For example, take a look at this first-down play against the Panthers. Newton clearly has tight end Greg Olsen open and wants to get him the ball.

But because of the Giants’ pressure up front, that doesn’t happen.

The Giants get good pressure from their defensive tackles, and look who’s standing in the way of Newton’s pass. Pierre-Paul, at 6-foot-5, with 34 3/4-inch arms, bats the ball down at the line of scrimmage. Keep in mind, Newton is about five inches taller than Michael Vick. The Giants were second in the NFL with 22 passes tipped at the line last year, per Football Outsiders. It’s another way for them to affect the game up front.

3. The Giants use a group of defensive linemen, but it’s not as much of a rotation as the Eagles. Along with Pierre-Paul, expect to see Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora at defensive end. Tuck will rush the passer from the interior as well. Rocky Bernard and Linval Joseph are the primary defensive tackles. Tuck had five sacks and 15.5 hurries last season. Umenyiora had nine sacks and 11 hurries. As a unit, the Giants’ defensive line has 4.5 sacks in three games. Pierre-Paul has 1.5, while Umenyiora, Bernard and Joseph have one apiece. As for the Eagles, Dallas Reynolds will make his second career start at center after committing his share of mistakes against the Cardinals. Evan Mathis has been solid, and Danny Watkins is coming off his best game of the season.

4. At linebacker, the Giants go with Chase Blackburn in the middle, Michael Boley on the weak side and Mathias Kiwanuka on the strong side. Jacquian Williams will see the field plenty as well. Veteran Keith Rivers is out with a hamstring injury. The Panthers went to tight end Greg Olsen all game last week, as he caught seven balls on 14 targets for 98 yards. Brent Celek is off to a strong start, averaging 86.0 yards per game and 18.4 yards per reception. He has seven catches of 20+ yards, second in the NFL to only Calvin Johnson. Last week, Celek was used as a blocker 36.8 percent of the time on passing downs, up from the first two weeks (25.8 percent). The Eagles might be better served using Clay Harbor in that role (more on that below) and allowing Celek to help Vick as a pass-catcher.

5. The Giants have been middle-of-the-pack against the run, allowing 4.1 yards per carry. As you might suspect, LeSean McCoy has been better on runs to the right (including to the right sideline), averaging 5.9 yards per carry on 28 attempts. To the left, he’s averaging 3.8 yards per carry on 20 attempts. In two meetings against the Giants last year, McCoy had 241 yards on 47 carries (5.1 YPC). However, for most of the second game, the Giants kept him in check. McCoy broke a 60-yard run on the Eagles’ final drive, but until that, had averaged just 2.4 yards per carry on 22 attempts. He’ll be looking for more than four first-half carries this week.

6. There’s been a lot of talk this week about whether the Eagles might play a little more conservative. Perhaps they’ll try to find a little more balance, but my guess is Marty Mornhinweg has had to stop himself from drooling as he envisions ways the Eagles can exploit the Giants’ secondary. At cornerback, Corey Webster is expected to start, but he’ll be playing with a cast on his right hand. Rookie corner Jayron Hosley is out with a hamstring injury. And 2011 first-round pick Prince Amukamara is scheduled to make his first career start. Meanwhile, safety Antrel Rolle is questionable after suffering a knee laceration last week. In other words, this is a banged-up unit. Opposing quarterbacks are averaging a league-high 9.3 yards per attempt against the Giants. Vick, DeSean Jackson and company will have plenty of chances to get the ball downfield, if (and it’s a big IF) the offensive line can give Vick time.

7. After seeing the Eagles’ issues against the blitz last week, you can be sure that defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will decide the risk is worth the reward on Sunday night. Last year, the Giants rushed five or more 20.8 percent of the time, which ranked in the middle of the pack (17th). The blitzed six or more 9.1 percent of the time (10th). When the Giants do blitz, the Eagles will have opportunities to burn them. But will they be able to take advantage? Take a look at one blitz the Giants used against Newton. Hosley attacks from the slot, and Boley goes after Newton too. Umenyiora drops back into coverage from his spot at right defensive end.


Newton has the tight end open.

But he doesn’t get him the ball, possibly because the blitz is coming from that side. Instead, Newton spins out of the pocket, scrambles to his left and throws incomplete. The Panthers are forced to punt.

Another play below: Boley blitzes and is unblocked, while Pierre-Paul gets good pressure off the edge.


The Panthers have an empty backfield, and the protection does not account for Boley. You can see that the left guard (No. 61) is blocking nobody. Everyone else has a one-on-one matchup, as the Giants send just one extra rusher. Boley and Pierre-Paul meet at Newton and sack him.


But look at how many receivers Newton has open on the play.


There are five receivers in routes. And every single one is open (some more than others). Newton has a shot to hit on a big play at the top of the screen with the receiver (circled in red), who is running free towards the sideline. But protection breaks down, and he never gets rid of the ball.

This happened consistently. On the very next play, the Giants send six. Newton has wide receiver Louis Murphy open on the post, but is late with his pass and throws behind the receiver for an incompletion. Otherwise, the Panthers are looking at a big play.

Newton has a receiver open at the top of the screen too.

This is all to show that Vick is going to have his opportunities downfield. Whether he capitalizes or not could determine the difference between a win and a loss.

8. You probably heard a lot this week about how the Cardinals blitzed the A-Gap, specifically in the second half last week. That simply means the gap on either side between the center and guard. Given that Reynolds was making his first career start, that made sense. Given that the Cardinals had success, it makes sense that the Giants will copy them, especially considering since it’s something they’ve shown on tape already this season. Here’s a look at a play from Week 2.


The Giants show seven at the line of scrimmage. Middle linebacker Chase Blackburn is going to blitz the A-Gap, and Antrel Rolle is coming off the edge. Mathias Kiwanuka drops back, so in all, the Giants are rushing six defenders. As you can see, Blackburn goes untouched.


The result is a sack. Vick was 0-for-7 with two sacks against blitzes of six or more last week. He can expect to see them again on Sunday night.

9. One way to help Vick, Reynolds and Bell is to keep running backs and tight ends in to block. For some reason, Clay Harbor only played 11 snaps last week, his lowest number of the season. In the first meeting against the Giants in 2011, Harbor played 44.3 percent of the snaps, his second-highest percentage of the year. Keeping him on the field in this one makes a lot of sense. Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Celek should be able to get open, even if they’re outnumbered.

Look at how the Bucs blocked the Giants on a deep pass attempt in Week 2.

The Bucs have seven blockers going up against five Giants rushers. They double-team Pierre-Paul (No. 90) with a tight end. The running back cleanly picks up the blitzing linebacker. They double-team one defensive tackle and block the other two rushers one-on-one, giving Freeman time to take a shot deep. This kind of protection makes a lot of sense for the Eagles on Sunday.

10. Leftovers: It’s not just the tackles that will have to block Pierre-Paul. He’ll stunt inside, where Reynolds, Watkins and Mathis will have to pick him up. …Opponents have scored touchdowns on 66.7 percent of their trips inside the red zone against the Giants. …Vick was 10-for-13 for 141 yards in the first meeting last year when the Giants didn’t blitz. …Jackson had six catches for 88 yards in the second meeting last year, but lost a 50-yard reception when he flipped the ball at Fewell and drew a penalty.

Twitter Mailbag: Checking In On Nick Foles

Every Thursday we select a few of your Twitter questions and provide the long-form answers they deserve. For a chance to have your question published on Birds 24/7, send it to @Tim_McManus.

From @Kuhndogg864: Is there really a QB controversy or should we wait til Sun game?

A quarterback controversy only happens if Nick Foles is inserted into the game and performs well. For now, let’s call it a quarterback watch. It is a unique situation for the rookie signal-caller on many levels, though.

Any backup QB has to be ready, but Foles must spend his life on high alert with all the hits Michael Vick takes.

“No, he’s a tough guy. I know he’s going to get up,” said Foles. “If something did happen, I’ll be ready — it’s my job to be ready. He’s a tough player, he’s been a tough player throughout his whole career.”

Foles says that he has successfully “zoned out” any chatter about Vick or the quarterback situation in the media, and is focused solely on supporting No. 7.

“He’s a tough guy, mentally, physically,” said Foles of Vick. “I get to see him first hand. He works his butt off every day. He wants it so bad. And I’m right there with him, trying to help him any way possible. He is the leader of this team and I have the utmost respect for him.

“There’s not many people that could take the hits that he did and keep delivering. The guy’s a warrior. He keeps getting back up and he will keep getting back up, because that’s Michael Vick.”

From @lakeshowfan247:  T-Mac Honest Question: Do you think Jeff Lurie is starting 2 get tired of the Andy act, Better job, players in right position etc?

This seems to be a good time to remind everybody that the Eagles are 2-1. I know it doesn’t feel like it, but a win Sunday night and Reid’s team is sitting pretty. Lurie has demonstrated a ton of patience when it comes to his head coach, and I believe he will reserve final judgment until this season has played out.

Is he tired of the act? I think it’s more accurate to say that he is tired of not winning championships, and has decided that he needs to see evidence that his team is heading in that direction or else he’s going to make a coaching change. Ultimately, any refrain will begin to sound hollow if the desired results are not obtained.

From @KOOT302: Will Andy Reid and Marty use the running game? and adjust when adjustments need to be made?

As Marty Mornhinweg confirmed at his Thursday press conference, this offense will continue to attack primarily through the air. There is evidence to suggest that the Eagles will deploy their ground game Sunday night, however. In the first meeting between the Eagles and Giants last season, Mornhinweg ran the ball 40 times for 177 yards. The Eagles threw it just 30 times. This is particularly impressive considering they got down 14-0 early and actually lost the game, 29-16. A similar pattern emerged in their 17-10 win in New York later that season, as the Eagles ran it 33 times and passed it 36. Granted, that was with Vince Young under center. But it’s obvious they like to run the ball against the Giants.

From @Shyne29: My question is what’s wrong with Andy taking a chance on #Plaxico ? He took a chance on a broke #SteveSmith last year?

Smith would actually be an argument against bringing in a former Giants receiver. Plenty of people ask about Burress, and I totally understand why: He is a big red zone target and the Eagles struggle in the red zone. The consensus around the league is that Burress is not worth a roster spot and the Eagles — who like No. 4 and 5 receivers to contribute on special teams — seem to agree.

I do think there’s a decent chance you will see Riley Cooper against the Giants, though. He said his visit with the surgeon Monday to look at his injured collarbone went well, and he continues to practice. Maybe he can give them the jolt inside the 20 that they need.

 

Mornhinweg To Stay In Attack Mode

Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.In the midst of defending the Eagles offensive approach, Marty Mornhinweg paused for a second after one of his explanations, then said: “I’m not trying to get sensitive or anything. I try not to.”

The offensive coordinator’s decision-making has come under heavy fire following a 27-6 loss in Arizona, in which he called 25 passes to five runs in the first half. Mornhinweg conceded that he would have approached the game a little differently if he could do it over again. But he also took up for himself, and believes the heavy imbalance in the run-pass ratio was somewhat  justified.

“It’s not out of whack for us,” said Mornhinweg. “It was kind of a different game there and you kind of get into those if you don’t have many plays. And many of your plays were in a two-minute situation, so the numbers get out of whack a little bit. I believe we’re right where I kind of like to be overall — 62 percent pass overall [on the season]. I think we’re somewhere around 50-52 percent on first down run or pass. Overall it’s pretty good. I know on paper — because that’s the first thing I did, ‘Holy smokes!’ — it looks really odd. But if you go through the situational part of it, it balances out just a little bit.”

Those looking for a humbled Mornhinweg vowing to change his ways are out of luck. This is an offense that is going to attack, and attack primarily with the passing game.

“We are going to be aggressive. And I want them to be aggressive. And I want them to play without fear of a mistake. And if you make a mistake, we find a solution, we correct it and we move on fast,” said Mornhinweg. “And once you get that thing motoring pretty good — and I think we’re closer than it appears — then you’re in pretty good shape, both run and pass.”

Michael Vick, playing behind a patchwork offensive line, dropped back 46 times against Arizona, while LeSean McCoy received just 13 carries. As Mornhinweg correctly noted, part of that is a result of trying to play catch-up in the second half. (The other side of that, of course, is they were playing catch-up partly because of the imbalance.) This offensive approach is to get the lead through the air and protect it on the ground. No lead, then likely no heavy dose of McCoy. The numbers aren’t going to balance out a lot of the time in this offense. It is not something Mornhinweg appears to lose sleep over.

“Normally, many of your runs come in the second half when you are close, or even or you’re up with us. Most of the time, not all the time. Philosophically, I don’t care as much about balance in any particular game,” he said. “If we have to run the ball 50 times in a game that’s what we’ll do. If we need to pass the ball 50 times in any particular game, that’s what we’ll do. Now, if you take the whole season then you’d rather be somewhere around 60-40. It’s usually a little bit higher, it’s usually 60-65 percent passing.”

 

All 22: What We Learned About the Eagles’ Offense

Here’s what I saw from the Eagles’ offense after reviewing the All-22 footage from this week.

Before we get started, some overall themes. Number one, the coaches have to take a hit for the game-plan, which was built around the following ideas:

* That DeSean Jackson could get behind the Cardinals’ secondary for big plays.
* That an offensive line with two new guys (Dallas Reynolds and Demetress Bell) would be able to protect Michael Vick well enough to give him time to find receivers way downfield.
* That Vick would hit on the big plays when they were available.

Obviously, not all of those things happened, and hopefully below, you can see why.

Play 1: The Eagles face a 3rd-and-7 from their own 27. They go with an empty backfield as both LeSean McCoy and Brent Celek are split out wide. The Cardinals initially rush three defenders. In the first photo, you can see that the Eagles appear to be set up well to protect Vick here.

Todd Herremans and Danny Watkins are double-teaming Darnell Dockett. Reynolds and Evan Mathis are doing the same on Calais Campbell. And Bell is one-on-one with Sam Acho.

But things change. Campbell (No. 93 in the middle) takes his rush to the right of Reynolds. And Bell gets beat, causing Mathis to shift over to help.


All of a sudden, Reynolds, who is making his first career start, is going one-on-one against Campbell. That didn’t turn out so well.


Vick actually gets rid of the ball here and completes a 20-yard pass, but he also gets crushed by Campbell. Keep in mind, this all takes place in just over two seconds. In other words, there’s nothing Vick can do here to avoid the hit. Troubling, considering the Cardinals do not even bring extra pressure on the play.

Play 2: This one reminded me of what Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said about the Eagles’ run game after Week 1.

“That’s not their identity. They’re a team that likes to pass the ball and occasional screens and draws, but that’s not who they are. We knew that coming into it.”

In other words, even though the Eagles have one of the best running backs in the league in LeSean McCoy, opposing defenses don’t feel the need to game-plan against their rushing attack. Instead, they focus on limiting downfield plays by Jackson and the passing game. They don’t believe the offense can methodically move the ball without turning it over. And they bank on Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg getting greedy. Often times, they’re right.

Take a look at the blocking on the play below.


Keep in mind, this is 1st-and-15. It’s not like we’re looking at an obvious passing situation. It’s clear that a run up the middle is the last thing the Cardinals are expecting. Reynolds and Stanley Havili deliver good blocks, and the Eagles pick up 7 yards.

Play 3: Another good run – this one later in the game. Watkins and Herremans both do nice jobs, and McCoy has a huge lane to run through for 14 yards.

Granted, this is in the fourth quarter with the game out of hand. But again, defenses are going to guard against the Eagles’ vertical passing game all game long until they’re given a reason not to. These run plays will continue to be available if the Eagles are willing to take them.

Play 4: It’s important to remember that when the Eagles have pass protection issues, it’s not always just the offensive line. The tight ends and running backs have to do a better job too, especially when Vick is getting blitzed. On this specific play, the Eagles are at their own 9. Linebacker Daryl Washington is going to blitz the A-Gap between Reynolds and Mathis. It’s on McCoy to pick him up.


But he gets there late, and Washington beats him. Vick spins out of the sack initially and avoids a potential safety. But eventually, he’s taken down for a loss of 3.


Play 5: Sometimes, it’s just on the quarterback. Maybe Vick is a bit gun-shy, given his turnover issues, but on this play, he has Jackson and Damaris Johnson open. Rather than getting them the football, he chooses to take off.

A completion probably would have picked up 13 or 14 yards. But Vick holds on to the ball and takes off for a 5-yard gain, absorbing a hit in the process. We should point out that Bell is called for holding on the play, but you get the point.

Play 6: When the Eagles did have opportunities deep, they didn’t capitalize. Here, Jackson clearly has a step and is waving for the ball. But Vick holds on to it and scrambles.

Granted, he picks up 20 yards, but he also takes a hit. Had he delivered on time, the Eagles would have had a good chance for a 35-yard touchdown.

Play 7: On the 1-yard-line, before the game-changing fumble at the end of the first half, here’s what Vick has to work with on first down.

The red circle is Havili. It sure looks like the Eagles have what they want there. He has a defender behind him, and Havili’s route takes him towards the pylon for what could be a touchdown. Would a throw to Havili have carried some risk? Sure. There’s a chance he gets tackled short of the end zone and time runs out in the half. But if the play is designed to have him run that route, shouldn’t he at least be an option? The blue circle is Johnson. While it appears he has some space, that’s probably a more dangerous throw. Vick ended up throwing the ball away.

Play 8: On the very next play, Vick has Clay Harbor wide open in the end zone.

The blue box shows all the space he has to work with. The only person in the rectangle is an official. In other words, Vick would not have had to make a perfect throw. He would have just had to get it somewhere in the vicinity of Harbor, and it’s a touchdown. At worst, it’s an incompletion. But he threw it away again. To be fair, he was pressured on the play, and was likely thinking, Don’t hold on to the ball too long and take a sack. But again, points were left on the field.

Play 9: Another one where it looks like Vick has a receiver open. This time, it’s Johnson over the middle.

This is 3rd-and-9 in the third. Vick has all day, but he doesn’t let it rip, instead opting to take off and run, ending up with a 4-yard gain. The Eagles settle for the field goal.

Play 10: In Week 2, the Patriots had success against the Cardinals with play-action passes. I’m sure the Eagles saw that and felt they could do the same. But they were wrong. Check out the first photo. This play counts on Washington (No. 58), who is unblocked, falling for the play-fake.

He does not. By the time Vick turns around, not only is Washington all over him, but Acho, the outside linebacker is closing in too.

The result is a sack and a loss of 12 yards. Vick had no shot here.

Play 11: One more example of play-action gone wrong. Before Vick has even turned around, Bell is getting beaten.

Vick has to escape the pocket immediately, tries to throw the ball away and is called for intentional grounding.

Play 13: Vick had Avant wide open deep for a potential touchdown in the fourth. But he checked it down to Celek, who got hit, resulting in an incompletion.

Protection is fine, the receiver is open, but Vick doesn’t get him the ball.

As I’ve said in the past, these players are expected to make split-second decisions. It’s easy for me to slow everything down and guess what went wrong. Overall, though, the game-plan relied quite a bit on protection that didn’t always hold up – whether that was the offensive line, the running backs or the tight ends. And when Vick did have time, he didn’t take advantage of opportunities that were available.

Those issues resulted in an offensive disaster for a team that is currently averaging 15.7 points per game, tied for dead-last with the Dallas Cowboys.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

RB, WR, TE Review: Examining McCoy’s Role

Philadelphia Eagles RB LeSean McCoy.Here is a player-by-player look at how the Eagles running backs, wide receivers and tight ends performed against the Cardinals, after having re-watched the game. Click here for other game reviews.

LeSean McCoy – Let’s start with the gameplan. Consider the following:

* In Week 2, the Cardinals’ defense allowed one touchdown drive against Tom Brady and the Patriots. And that came late in the fourth quarter.

* The Eagles were starting a left tackle in Demetress Bell, whom they didn’t think was good enough to dress two weeks ago.

* They had a center in Dallas Reynolds who was making his first NFL start after spending three seasons on the practice squad.

* They were without Jeremy Maclin at wide receiver.

Throw in that Michael Vick had six interceptions and three fumbles in the first three games, along with the fact that the Cardinals had a shut-down corner in Patrick Peterson, and it’s virtually impossible to figure out why Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg decided the gameplan would focus on big plays downfield.

McCoy had just four first-half carries for 15 yards. Overall, he finished with 13 for 70, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Those are encouraging numbers, considering the Eagles have lost Jason Peters and Jason Kelce, two of their key cogs in the run game. The Eagles tried to get the ball downfield off play-action passes, something the Patriots had success with the week before. But in this one, Cardinals defenders weren’t fooled at all, and Vick would often have guys in his face as soon as he turned around on those slow-developing plays.

McCoy also had three catches for 8 yards. The Eagles have gotten nothing from their screen game.

And he had ups and downs as a blocker. On pass plays, McCoy was asked to stay in and block 56.8 percent of the time, per Pro Football Focus. In the first two games, that number was just 25.6 percent. Vick clearly expected him to block Kerry Rhodes on the fumble at the end of the first half.

Bryce Brown – With Dion Lewis once again inactive, it’s clear that Brown is this team’s backup running back. And he had his best showing Sunday, carrying four times for 28 yards, including a nice 17-yard pickup, his longest of the season. Brown was targeted twice, dropping one and making an 8-yard grab on the other. I’m not sure why he was on the field at the end of the half on second down near the goal line. Clearly, the Eagles were going to ask their back to block in that situation. McCoy, Chris Polk and Stanley Havili all have a leg up on Brown in that aspect. Overall, he played 10 snaps.

Stanley Havili – He played 12 snaps. No touches for Havili, but he had a solid lead block on McCoy’s 7-yard run in the second.

Brent Celek – He finished with two catches for 36 yards on six targets. Celek picked up yards after the catch on the 34-yard grab in the first. He got laid out by Rhodes on a deep ball over the middle in the second. As I explained in yesterday’s post, Celek had some issues in pass protection that led to Vick getting hit. Overall, he was asked to block more than usual. On pass plays, Celek stayed in 36.8 percent of the time, compared to 25.8 percent the first two weeks. Good block by Celek on Brown’s 17-yard run in the third. Only Calvin Johnson (9) has more catches of 20+ yards than Celek (7).

Clay Harbor – I have a difficult time figuring out why he played fewer snaps Sunday than the first two games. Considering the questions on the Eagles’ offensive line and the likelihood of the Cardinals blitzing, I figured Harbor would be used quite a bit to help keep Vick clean. But I was wrong. He only played 11 snaps. Harbor couldn’t finish his trap block on Sam Acho on Brown’s 3-yard run in the first. He was not targeted. I’ll have to take a look at the All-22 tomorrow, but it sure looked like Harbor was open in the end zone on second down before the game-changing fumble at the end of the first half.

DeSean Jackson – He finished with three catches for 43 yards on 10 targets. The Eagles wanted to get him the ball deep in the first half, but were unsuccessful. Jackson’s longest reception was 16 yards. The offense has had success all season long having him run intermediate routes outside the numbers. If defenses are going to play their safeties deep, I think the Eagles need to take advantage of these more. T-Mac wrote about a couple specific plays yesterday – one where Jackson complained to the ref and another where he got stopped short of a touchdown at the 1. My take? Maybe I’m nuts, but I really feel like he could have caught the deep ball had he finished his route and not complained to the official. If he comes down with that, it has a chance to be a 94-yard touchdown. I have no problem with the other play. Jackson is small, and he’s had two concussions. I don’t think he would have dragged Rhodes into the end zone. I’m fine with him getting down and protecting himself on catches over the middle. Jackson has not had a drop in three games.

Damaris Johnson – Up-and-down game. He obviously had the costly fumble on the punt return, setting up a Cardinals touchdown. He’s been unimpressive on special teams. Johnson had some good moments as a receiver, specifically on the crossing pattern where he spun away from a defender and picked up 26 yards. Overall, Johnson finished with five catches for 84 yards on 11 targets. Also, great hustle on the Vick fumble that was returned for a touchdown. Johnson sprinted downfield and nearly drew a block in the back penalty before James Sanders scored.

Jason Avant – The Eagles used three receivers or more all game long. Avant, Johnson and Jackson all played at least 88 percent of the snaps. Again, I’m surprised they didn’t use more two tight-end sets in this one. Avant had three catches for 38 yards on four targets. He made a nice 13-yard grab with a defender all over him in the second. And another nice 17-yard grab in the third.

Mardy Gilyard - He played six snaps as the fourth receiver. No targets.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

Light Workload Leaves McCoy Shaking His Head

Philadelphia Eagles RB LeSean McCoy.LeSean McCoy shook his head as the question came his way, undoubtedly frustrated by his light workload in Arizona Sunday.

You are considered by many to be a top three back in this league. Only five running plays were called in the first half. What gives?

“Um,” said McCoy, getting his politically-correct response in order. “Sometimes it goes like that. Who knows? If we got more carries or…I don’t live like that. I just go with the plays that are drawn up for us. We just got to do better, man. Simple as that.”

With the Cardinals’ ears pinned back and Michael Vick under siege, McCoy received just four carries in the first two quarters for 15 yards. In all, Marty Mornhinweg dialed up 25 pass plays and only five runs in the first half as the Eagles fell into a 24-0 hole.

“Obviously, we thought we could throw the ball and do a better job in that area, but we didn’t,” said Andy Reid, setting up a familiar refrain. “In hindsight, it would have been okay to run the ball a little more.”

McCoy ended with 13 carries for 70 yards, four of which came in the fourth quarter when the Eagles arguably least needed them.

The statistics don’t scream of a running back starved for carries. When the final gun went off Sunday, he was third in the league in totes with 45 behind just Arian Foster (54) and Marshawn Lynch (47). That does not take into accound the overall imbalance in play selection in two of the Eagles’ first three games, though. McCoy’s 20 carries against the Browns, for instance, don’t look quite as impressive when you factor in that the Eagles had 88 offensive snaps overall in that game. Or on this night, when Vick dropped back 46 times.

Officially, the Cardinals were credited with 13 quarterback hits — a very high number by any standard. The television broadcast had the overall hits on Vick north of 20 for the afternoon. Some of that is on the offensive line; much of it is on Vick holding onto the ball for too long. Regardless, the bottom line is that the number of hits are piling up at an alarming rate. And all McCoy can do is shake his head.

Vick was asked if something has to dramatically change with the game plan.

“I think we are going to have to make a lot of adjustments,” said Vick, “and I think our coaches do a great job of doing that.”

Will Eagles’ Offense Use More No-Huddle?

Philadelphia Eagles QB Michael Vick.After Michael Vick hit tight end Brent Celek for a 23-yard completion against the Ravens, the Eagles’ offense showed its first wrinkle of the day: the no-huddle.

All week, reporters had questioned Juan Castillo and the team’s defensive players about the challenge of going up against Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ no-huddle offense. But Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg decided it was something they could try with Vick.

“The number one thing is I know Mike is very good at that,” Mornhinweg said. “He’s good at a fast tempo. I do think that some of our other players are excellent at it. So, just simply playing to their strengths, that’s all. That’s all it was. Now, there was a game plan. There were certain things that we certainly wanted to do and that enabled us to do some of those things well.”

Later, when talking about the offense’s execution at the end of games, Mornhinweg added, “The other thing that we mentioned here, our team may very well be built for that type of atmosphere. We’ve got some pretty good skill guys. Our line likes that mode. And I know that our quarterback is very good at it.”

The Eagles didn’t go no-huddle all game, but they used it on their first possession, again in the third quarter and on the game-winning drive in the fourth.

Back in April, Chris Brown of SmartFootball.com wrote about the advantages of running the no-huddle. The obvious is the offense can limit defensive substitutions. From the Eagles’ perspective, that could really help. For example, they could create mismatches with LeSean McCoy or Brent Celek against linebackers who are better suited to play the run.

It can also tire out a defense. For an offense like the Eagles that relies on speed and is young and athletic at the skill positions, that would also seem to be an advantage. The no-huddle limits some of what defenses can do pre-snap, as Brown explains:

Modern defenses want to match offenses in terms of strength and speed via personnel substitutions. They also want to confuse offenses with movement and disguise. The up-tempo no-huddle stymies those defensive options. The defense doesn’t have time to substitute, and it’s also forced to show its hand: It can’t disguise or shift because the quarterback can snap the ball and take advantage of some obvious, structural weakness.

When discussing the Ravens’ no-huddle, here’s what Greg Cosell of NFL Films had to say to Yahoo Sports:

“You get the defensive personnel on the field you want, and you stay with that. Defenses can’t really substitute in a speed no-huddle. So, they’re looking at this as, ‘We have some pretty good weapons now, and we have some advantages here.’”

In terms of putting offensive players in positions to succeed, the no-huddle seems to make sense for the Eagles. They can get more reps in practice. They can keep the defense off-balance, while limiting substitutions. And they can take advantage of their speed. Perhaps most importantly, the quarterback seems to like it.

“It’s fun. It’s great to go no huddle. It just pushes the pace,” Vick said after last week’s game. “Everybody saw how sometimes they couldn’t even get lined up. Nobody has ever seen us do it before. It’s something that we added into our arsenal. I don’t know how much we’re going to use it. That’s up to the coaches but it paid dividends for us today.”

We’ll find out if Reid and Mornhinweg had the no-huddle pegged as a one-week wrinkle – showing it early in the season so that defenses will have to be prepared for it the rest of the way, or whether the Eagles are going to be one of a growing number of teams who use it regularly.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

 

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