Wake-Up Call: Sanchez And the Deep Ball


NFL: Preseason-Philadelphia Eagles at New England Patriots

The long ball has fallen off some since Mark Sanchez has taken over.

When Nick Foles was at the helm, he threw passes of 20-plus yards 19 percent of the time, resulting in nine touchdowns and six interceptions. Sanchez, meanwhile, has gone deep at a 13 percent clip and has one TD and a pair of picks. He started out with a bang, hitting Jeremy Maclin for a 52-yard pick-up down the middle on his first regular-season snap as an Eagle, but hasn’t connected many haymakers since.

There appears to be two key reasons for the shift in approach.

“You cater to what your quarterback can do, and Mark does a great job with what he does” said Maclin.” But also, defenses are playing for [the deep ball]. I want to say for three weeks we were hitting guys over the top, so obviously they’re very aware of that.”

The Eagles led the league by far with 80 pass plays of 20-plus yards last year. Defenses adjusted in the offseason, mixing in more zone coverage  and playing their corners off or using a “press-and-bail” to keep the play in front of them. It was decided that a countermove was in order, regardless of quarterback.

“I guess earlier in the season we were getting primarily zone and maybe we didn’t know how to go about it,” said Riley Cooper. “We had more 20-plus attempts than anyone else in the league and I think we’ve kind of backed down on that. I don’t think it was very successful [this year]. We did hit on a few of them but we had to kind of just take a step back and just play our offense, not try to make plays if they’re not there. Why are you trying to throw an 80-yard bomb if they’re playing 15 yards off you? It just doesn’t work, so we have to get back and play our game.”

After completing 45 percent of his throws of  20-plus with 14 touchdowns and an interception last year, Foles connected on 32 percent of his attempts this season and threw six picks before getting hurt.  Sanchez has a similar completion rate (35 percent) and has turned the ball over twice on the longer throws in his limited number of attempts. Kelly was looking for a way to reduce turnovers so it make sense that he would dial back the longer passes, especially once Sanchez took over.

The play of the respective quarterbacks and the adjustments defenses have made  are two of the reasons for the dip in deep-ball success. Pat Shurmur introduced a couple other possible factors into the conversation when speaking with the press Tuesday:

“Sure, and you know what, we got away with some explosive plays [last year.] If you’ll remember, against Green Bay, we threw that same type of pass to DeSean Jackson, and he went up and got it with two guys around him. Coop was in position to do the same thing. We just didn’t hit on it. I don’t think ‑‑ I understand, again, your line of questioning, but the whole just ‘chuck the ball deep thing’ doesn’t really point to total success on offense.”

This isn’t the first time this week Jackson’s name has been brought up. Do the Eagles miss his big-play ability as Richard Sherman suggested?

“No, not at all because I think Mac can make plays down the field. I think Coop can make plays down the field and we’ve seen Jordan Matthews make some big plays, too. So we don’t feel — no, we don’t. We are really comfortable with the guys we have. They are out there competing and fighting.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

Cooper on criticism and his “very close” relationship with Kelly.

Sheil uses the All-22 to highlight both the good and the bad from the Eagles’ defensive performance Sunday.

Some thoughts on the value of “measuring stick” games. 

“The Eagles still control the NFC East.” National media gives their take on the Eagles.

“We knew what plays were coming and it’s a pretty basic offense.” One prominent member of Seattle’s defense says Eagles are predictable.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Peter King gives his take on the Eagles’ quarterback situation as we approach the end of the regular season.

Mark Sanchez, after some great early moments, has not distinguished himself well enough. And I believe when Nick Foles gets back and is totally healthy, Chip Kelly is probably going to give Nick Foles his job back. The next two weeks, particularly Sunday night against Dallas, are huge for the 2015 fortunes of Mark Sanchez.

Mychal Kendricks is starting to come into his own, Jeff McLane writes.

He doesn’t make the calls or set the front, although he has to process the information and could just as easily step in for Casey Matthews or Emmanuel in the “Mike” linebacker role. But Kendricks said that he has noticed his teammates increasingly looking to him for guidance, as they often did with Ryans.

“Last game, I really felt myself come full circle,” Kendricks said. “It was really weird, because when things go wrong, instead of looking to a guy to pick me up, I’m the one picking up the guys around me.”

After one of the many plays he made against the Seahawks – he had a team-high 16 tackles, a tackle for loss, and a forced fumble – Kendricks said his teammates got caught up in his performance.

“All my teammates on the field turned around [and said],’You’re ballin’, You’re ballin’, Mike.’ And I’m like, ‘Let’s focus on the next play.’ “

COMING UP

Kelly speaks today in front of the team’s 11:05 practice.