It’s an exciting time to be an Eagles fan. A new Offense, a new Head Coach and a future franchise quarterback have all been major talking points over the last few months but one of the biggest reasons to be excited is something we still know very little about. Much of Doug Pederson’s hybrid West-Coast Offense remains a mystery. There have however been some very subtle hints as to what we can expect to see from the Eagles Offense in 2016.
It sounds strange to say that we should expect something we can’t predict, but it’s true. Nobody quite knows what the main focus of Pederson’s Offense is going to be and that is a huge advantage for the Eagles. They have the capacity to produce an efficient run-heavy unit while at the same time have enough firepower outside to capitalize on any mistakes or mismatches shown by a Defense. It would be crazy for Pederson to overlook this so expect to see a variety of formations, plays and concepts as we head into 2016.
We’ve already seen some pleasant surprises in OTA’s (more on those later) and if there’s one thing we can take from his time with the Chiefs, it’s that Doug Pederson loves keeping Defenses on their toes by running plays with more than just one “hot route” so to speak, a stark contrast to what we saw from Chip Kelly.
Even the screen passes carried more of threat. For instance, this play against the Patriots (a game in which he coached the second half) is a prime example of what Pederson does well. The play is never obvious, nor is it ever predictable. The receivers are able to create plenty of space due to the Offense having so many dimensions and the Defense not wanting to put all their eggs in one basket. This means that even if the intended screen receiver is covered, there is likely going to be another passing lane that has opened up as a consequence.
The Eagles need to establish an Offensive identity in Pederson’s first season as Head Coach..finding that identity is all part of the fun for the Offense and part of the stress for opposing Defenses.
Trust in the Quarterback
Sam Bradford enjoyed an explosive seven game stint to end what was a rollercoaster 2016 season..but just like a rollercoaster, he spent much of it on rails. Chip’s Offense offered very little in the way of Quarterback control or expression. Quick one-man reads, quick throws and quick play meant that Bradford spent most of the season on chains. Sure, we were able to catch glimpses of his trademark deep accuracy and his impressive pocket presence..but we rarely got to see Bradford in his prime..something that will change under Doug Pederson.
Just how much did Pederson trust Alex Smith? In that crucial game against the Patriots last season, 39 of the 83 total plays were out of the Shotgun. 33 of those plays were passes. However, Smith benefitted from a very balanced Offense. The Chiefs ran a total of 473 passing plays in 2015 and 436 rushing. The Eagles however, ran 623 passing plays and 442 rushing..a stark contrast.
Like Alex Smith, Bradford can offer a lot to an Offense if he has the right support around him..something he lacked in 2015 with a run game that failed to establish itself. We know that Pederson is giving a lot more control to the quarterback than Kelly ever allowed, which means audibles at the line of scrimmage and a much bigger influence on how the Offense is run. With a dynamic backfield, an unpredictable Offense that Bradford himself has control over and weapons at every position, we finally get to witness the Sam Bradford the world has been waiting to see since he was drafted by the Rams six years ago.
Firing out of a new formation:
This may not seem like a big development, but it has been noted numerous times that the Eagles have been running some pistol formations during OTA’s. For those unaware, the pistol is essentially a hybrid of the shotgun formation that sees the quarterback take the snap around 3-4 yards from under center with a running back lined up behind him as opposed to the side. It adds much more room for creativity and allows more time for the Offensive Line to open up holes.
With Mathews, Sproles, Barner and Smallwood all potentially splitting snaps in 2016, the possibilities are exciting to say the least. Even if the pistol does not make its way into the playbook that often, the willingness to add yet another element of unpredictability to the Offense can only be applauded.
If Chip Kelly had used the pistol formation with DeMarco Murray in 2015 the chances of success would have been very high. The Eagles ranked first in the NFL when it came to power-run blocking in 2015 and despite a hugely disappointing season, Murray still converted 84% of short yardage attempts.
The Offensive line has since improved and the backfield become more elusive. The Chiefs have found the formation to be incredibly successful after implementing it with the guidance of its innovator, Chris Ault. Pederson has learned the ins and outs from the mastermind behind the formation and with another versatile backfield on his side as well as a very athletic Offensive Line..the backfield will likely look incredibly different to how it did a year ago.
Fullback to the future:
This one seems obvious, but the inclusion of a fullback will make a massive difference to the Eagles Offense. As it stands there are a few candidates who look like they may end up as the teams starting fullback with the newest face being former New York Jet, Chris Pantale. It could be Trey Burton or it could be a new face entirely..but all we know is that deep into OTA workouts, the Eagles are still using formations involving fullbacks. It’s something Doug Pederson has been intent on implementing since his arrival in Philadelphia and if there’s anyone who knows how to build a successful committee backfield, it’s the man who helped the Chiefs rank 6th in the NFL when it came to rushing in 2015.
Tight End triplets:
One of the biggest weapons in Kansas City last year was Travis Kelce. Not only was he dominant in his position..but the Chiefs exploited his versatility, lining him up all over the place. From catching bubble screens to “trips” formations, the Chiefs ensured that every Defense they faced had to keep their eyes pinned on Kelce..which of course opened up other avenues. For the Eagles, they have their dominant Tight End in Zach Ertz who enjoyed a historic end to 2015 so you had better believe that Pederson has learned a few tricks that he can use get the best out of the 25 year old.
Eagles had formation today with three TEs split, 1 RB and 1 WR. In Chip's first offseason, stories were written about getting 3TEs on field.
— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) May 31, 2016
Another minor development from OTA’s saw the birds experiment with formations including 3 tight ends. Having a dominant tight end is one thing..having a dominant tight end who can attack from anywhere and attract attention while the remaining two do the damage. Whether it’s helping to run-block, aiding as a full back or even lining up in a bunch..with Ertz, Celek and as it stands Burton, the Eagles are primed to build a tight end group that could keep even the most renowned Defensive Coordinators on their toes.
Mandatory photo credit: Associated Press/ Matt Rourke