All-22 Wake-Up Call: The Eagles’ New Offense
If Doug Pederson is successful with the Eagles, and he’s able to turn around Philadelphia’s offense, you can thank Paul Brown and Bill Walsh. That’s the duo widely credited with bringing the West Coast offense to the NFL, a variation of which you’ll see Pederson run.
You can even follow the lineage from Walsh down to Pederson, as Mike Holmgren was a quarterbacks coach under Walsh, Andy Reid was a quarterbacks coach under Homlgren, and Pederson was a quarterbacks coach — and offense coordinator — under Reid.
Still, the Eagles’ new head coach warns against using a blanket label to describe his offense.
“You say West Coast, I think that has kind of gone by the wayside just a touch,” Pederson said on Tuesday. “I’ll tell you this: the core values of the offense, the core principles, some of the core plays are West Coast-ish. We have developed a hybrid-type system.”
While some predict Pederson will be a more aggressive play-caller than his mentor, you’ll likely see many West Coast staples — and even some plays the Eagles turned to under Reid — next season.
To better understand the West Coast offense and what we can expect, we talked to J.T. O’Sullivan, who was an NFL quarterback for nine seasons. He played in the West Coast offense — or a variation thereof — three times, and was Pederson’s teammate in Green Bay in 2004.
“It comes down to: how did the coach learn the game?” O’Sullivan said. “What system brought them into the league? What did they play in? What did they win with? It is rare to see a coach deviate from what got them the job — offensive coordinator or head coach.”
PEDERSON THE PLAY-CALLER
Pederson revealed at his introductory press conference something many people were curious about: when did you call plays in Kansas City?
The Chiefs’ former offensive coordinator said he was at the helm in the second half of every game from Week 7 through the playoffs. The Kansas City Star also reported last month that Pederson was responsible for play-calling in two-minute-drill situations.
“Doug has done a phenomenal job,” Reid said, “and I don’t want that to get slighted in this whole thing (because) sometimes, that happens.”
Before Pederson took over second half play-calling, the Chiefs went 1-5. After, they finished the regular season with 10 consecutive wins. Kansas City averaged eight points in the second half under Reid, and 13 points under Pederson.
When asked what type of quarterback best fits the West Coast offense, O’Sullivan mentioned someone with a quick release, although “arm strength is often less of an issue because so much of the concepts are shorter.” In general, he described the system as timing-based with a quick, rhythm passing game.
“Think: slants, sticks, flats, shallow crosses, and running back swing routes,” he said. “Horizontal versus vertical passing game.”
Pederson seemed to agree with the notion that the West Coast offense is more horizontal, and he touched on how it’s evolved over the years.
“You know, it is a pass-friendly system, but yet it’s not so much of a vertical system than what people think,” Pederson said. “Today’s game has changed offensively. You’re seeing more spread-style offenses in the National Football League. You’re seeing more of the run/pass options that the quarterbacks have at the line of scrimmage. Quarterbacks today have the ability to think with their brain, and I want to tap into that.”
WEST COAST STAPLES
Pederson confirmed on Tuesday that he will call plays for the Eagles, so we asked O’Sullivan to help identify some West Coast staples. One theme that quickly jumped out to him was “basics,” which the Chiefs ran five times in their final drive against New England on Saturday.
It’s a 12-14 yard in route that is usually run by the No. 2 receiver — counting from the outside in on the same side of the field.
But one snap in particular stood out to O’Sullivan in that final Kansas City series. It was the ninth play of the drive when Alex Smith completed a 6-yard pass to Charcandrick West, which O’Sullivan said is a staple two-minute-drill call in the West Coast offense.
“[It’s] often called Dragon/Lion,” he said. “Dragon is the slant-flat to the boundary — or top of screen. And Lion is a double slant to the field — or bottom of screen. The original play was just dragon, run on both sides, but as defenses started to play more cover-2 and quarters [coverages], the play needed better answers.”
Although coverage dictates where you throw the ball, O’Sullivan said the most frequent result is what Smith did on this play: dumping it off to the running back.
“I used to call it a screen play,” he added, “because it always seemed to go to the check down.”
Another West Coast staple the Chiefs ran against the Patriots is something the Eagles used to call frequently (“Reid and [Donovan] McNabb ran this to death,” O’Sullivan said). The concept is called “scissors,” and when Philadelphia used it, McNabb often ran it with play-action.
But in this iteration, Smith was in an empty formation, and he completed a 26-yard pass to Jason Avant.
“It is usually called scissors to the two receiver side,” O’Sullivan said. “The outside wide receiver runs a post or go — really a clear most often — based on coverage. The inside guy runs a post-corner or shake with a deep over on the other side.”
Similar to what McNabb often did, Smith hit the slot receiver. Although that may not be the quarterback’s first read on the play, O’Sullivan said that’s where the ball is really designed to go.
“The read is technically a ‘pure progression’ in QB jargon, or right to left, or post to shake to over to check downs, but the reality is the play is called to hit the post-corner,” he said. “It is a good third-and-long, 2-man, (quarters), and bracket beater.”
MOTION AND THE RUN GAME
From the outside looking in, even when Pederson was at the helm, he seemed to have a little less influence over which run plays were called. According to the Kansas City Star, offensive line coach Andy Heck would suggest a set of running plays Reid could call before every series. It seems reasonable to think Heck did the same for Pederson.
Still, there was one run play Kansas City called in their playoff win over the Texans that you may see in Philadelphia. According to O’Sullivan, the play — which Spencer Ware gained 23 yards on — is a one-back power that’s a staple in most offenses, but with a West Coast twist.
“One interesting thing, at least to me, is that many West Coast teams will motion with their run game more than their pass game,” O’Sullivan said. “A few reasons for this, but I always thought it was a big tendency across the league. Maybe something to keep an eye on.”
What are those few reasons?
“One, motion clouds things up for some quarterbacks,” he said. “In a perfect world, motion reveals coverage, but in reality, sometimes the game moves too fast for some guys. Instead of watching the coverage, you have to watch the wide receiver get to his landmark. Plus, it is easier to just line up and throw it if it is a pure progression read in the West Coast system. Then, coverage doesn’t matter. You know who 1, 2, 3, check down [reads are] regardless of the coverage.
“Two, motion can sometimes initiate specific checks in a defense, including coverage, blitzes, but also fronts and force/contain responsibilities. Much of a run game is based on what formations/motions translate into defensive fronts and force responsibility checks. [Like] when you see a tight end motion and see an inside linebacker tap defensive tackles on the hip to shift or move a gap, or when you see safeties rotate coverage.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
The Eagles agreed to terms with 15 assistant coaches Wednesday night, including Duce Staley.
Chip Kelly is “very comfortable” with his relationship with his former players.
The Eagles hired Frank Reich as the team’s new offensive coordinator on Wednesday.
“The honeymoon in Philadelphia is short, man.” On Jim Schwartz and a contrast in styles.
Former Browns offensive coordinator John DeFilippo is expected to be the Eagles’ next quarterbacks coach.
Leftovers from Doug Pederson’s introduction, including his emphasis on relationships.
He spoke publicly Tuesday, but Howie Roseman’s role in the organization remains unclear.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Will the Eagles’ front office finally collaborate? Jeff McLane thinks with Howie Roseman around, it’s unlikely.
Ever since Roseman moved to the football side of operations in 2007, the front office has had little stability. Jason Licht, Tom Heckert, Lou Riddick, Joe Banner, Reid, Ryan Grigson, Gamble, Ed Marynowitz, and Kelly are all gone. Only Roseman remains.
Unless Roseman has changed, why would anyone on the GM track (like the Chiefs’ Chris Ballard) want to place his neck into that possible guillotine? There may be former GMs like Mark Dominik, Chris Polian, or Jeff Ireland who are interested, but only Dominik is currently out of the league.
More than likely, the Eagles will have to settle for a Marynowitz-type – someone unproven who would have to work under Roseman.
Tommy Lawlor gives Doug Pederson’s introductory press conference mixed reviews, with highlights and missteps aplenty.
I hated the answer Pederson gave when he talked about not having specific schemes, but rather shaping things around his players. No, no, no. You absolutely need base schemes that you believe in. You tailor and adjust components of those schemes to fit the current players, but you must have schemes that guide your personnel decisions and are based on your philosophy. Trying to adjust every season to the players you have is not the way to go unless your name is Bill Belichick and you are a coaching freak. Mortal coaches need schemes. I hope Pederson simply meant that he’ll adjust his playbook to the personnel at hand. He better have some core beliefs and plays that he will build around.
I did like Pederson talking about creatively using the players on offense. He talked about lining up guys in different roles and different spots. He talked about not being static, as in RCB vs LCB or Riley Cooper almost always being on the left side and Jordan Matthews mostly being in the slot. Move players around. Mix things up so you don’t become static and predictable. Chip was very disappointing in this aspect.
We’ll have more on the future of the Eagles.