When the Eagles started the season 3-0, there was a unified belief that this was an Offense more than capable of thriving in Doug Pederson’s West-Coast system. The rookie Head Coach had successfully decimated the Pittsburgh Steelers with the help of a red hot Carson Wentz, and even as the losses began to mount, his team remained competitive until the dying moments.
But as we head into the back end of the year, something has changed. The Eagles have lost five of their last six games and they simply cannot find a balance on Offense. Against the Bengals, they attempted 60 total passes and rushed for just 53 yards against a team that gave up an average of 120 rushing yards per game. The Offensive spark has faded…but it’s not the only thing.
It feels as if Doug Pederson finds himself under the microscope each and every week. Whether it be throwing the challenge flag for a difference of two yards, choosing to punt when in field goal range, or running eight yard plays on 3rd &10, the play-calling of Doug Pederson this season has been questionable at best.
This shouldn’t be surprising. As a rookie Head Coach, Pederson had only taken on play-calling responsibilities in Kansas City during the second half of games toward the end of last season..with the most notable being the playoff loss to New England.
Kansas City were blasted by the media for being so conservative, but the thought process from Pederson was simple. Keep Tom Brady off of the field and allow his Offense one more chance to win. But like with anything in life, you only grow from experience..and Pederson now has plenty under his belt.
The problem is that in a similar way to Chip Kelly, Pederson is refusing to adapt. The Eagles were very much an unknown coming into this season with such drastic last minute changes..but as the year has drawn on, teams have learned how to contain an Offense where the talent pool runs thin. With seven of the eleven players on the Eagles Offense having two year’s NFL experience or less, the game-by-game ceiling has slowly began to come down on Doug Pederson.
So just how much parity is there between how the Eagles started and where they are currently?
The difference is staggering. But the West-Coast Offense being ran by a rookie Head Coach is limited. With the majority of plays being slants, crossing routes and curls, it’s becoming far easier for Defenses to plan around..especially if Pederson is so insistent on ignoring one of the most explosive parts of his Offense, the running backs.
This was clear in Sunday’s loss to the Bengals. Wentz walked away with 3 interceptions, but that number could have and should have been much higher. The Bengals pass rush was constantly able to bat down passes and the Defense read the eyes of the quarterback like a children’s book. To put it bluntly, the Eagles Offense has become far too predictable..resulting in many of the issues we’re seeing today.
But in terms of job security, the addition of Doug Pederson was always designed for the long-haul. This was never going to be a one season experiment, nor was it “playoffs or bust” for the Eagles. Pederson signed a five-year deal in Philadelphia with the intention from the board of helping develop the future of the franchise. It’s clear however, that there is a problem and the Eagles are at a crossroads. There is one more option they can take however…designating the playcalling to Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich.
Best known as a former Buffalo Bills backup quarterback, 54 year old Reich most recently spent two years calling plays in San Diego. Despite a tenure cut short, the bottom line is this. Phillip Rivers posted staggering numbers last season before eventually faltering in the business end of the season due to a lack of weaponry and a less than competent O-Line…sound familiar?
Without a reliable run game, San Diego were forced to rely on Rivers, just as the Eagles are on Wentz. Rivers threw nearly 65% of the time in his final games last year. But even with such a resonant problem, Rivers was able to emerge as one of the most impressive quarterbacks in the league. Why? Because Frank Reich wasn’t afraid to try different vertical concepts and take the chains off of his veteran QB.
In the two years spent playing under Frank Reich, Rivers combined for 9,078 yards, 61 TD’s and 31 interceptions. A career high in single season yards was set in 2014 as Rivers elevated the Chargers Offense through playing a major role in game-planning.
But, like Pederson, Reich was often criticized for being too conservative. There were times in 2014 where Reich would run the ball in the dying moments of the game, just as he did in the final drive against the Chiefs. Or at the goal-line, Reich would call a series of passes as opposed to punching it up the gut. Ladarius Green was near invisible and Keenan Allen became a foreshadowing of Tavon Austin during Reich’s time in San Diego.
On the flip side, there were times where the Offensive Line would be simply overwhelmed. Rivers would struggle to get the ball out on 5 step drops because of the sheer pressure flooding in his direction, practically eradicating the deep pass.
If there’s one thing that Reich was, it was consistent. Without Ryan Mathews in 2014, an injury to Woodhead and a complete lack of Offensive Line starters, there were times where the ground game would still be a pivotal part of the Chargers Offense. They still rushed for over 1,300 yards with the intent of keeping Rivers as healthy as possible by avoiding big sacks on third and long. One year later, they rushed for 1,358 yards..nearing a 50/50 run/pass ratio.
If there’s one thing that the Eagles need to establish, it’s a balance..and it’s clear that without one, the Offense is stagnating. If there’s one thing that the Chargers were under Reich in 2014, it’s disciplined. Ranking 24th in offensive penalties (a stark contrast to the shambles that shadowed 2015 as a consequence of no depth), the Chargers were able to win by learning how not to lose.
Maybe the pressure is getting to Doug Pederson, or maybe the “vanilla” Offense is falling into the same traps as Frank Reich did in San Diego. But with a locker room lacking effort that has now been pointed out by a Coach, messy play-calling and ridiculous penalties plaguing the team each and every week..a change is needed.
Relieving Doug Pederson of play-calling duties would not only take a weight off of his shoulders, but give a man who has worked with both Peyton Manning and Phillip Rivers a chance to add some different vertical concepts and see what happens. The Eagles threw 60 times on Sunday..and averaged a lowly 5 yards per attempt.
Having the players answer to Reich and look to him for the decisions on Game Day may spark a new fire in this Eagles Offense..or it might not. But unless they try, we’ll never know..and with the season likely over in a metaphorical sense, there’s no harm in broadening the horizons and further developing the Offense.
It’s way too sign to fire a Head Coach..but you can try and save what’s left of a burning building by extinguishing the flames and renovating, as opposed to watching it burn hopelessly to the ground.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports