There has been much curiosity and debate as to who is calling the offensive plays for the opening drives for the Philadelphia Eagles, Head Coach Nick Sirianni, or Offensive Coordinator Brian Johnson.
Is Brian good at scripting plays, yet struggling with the flow during the game? Or is Nick the founder of the opening drives?
One insight into answering this could be to see what history suggests.
What does the data reveal?
Inside the Numbers
The Eagle’s opening drives have been methodical and more effective than almost every other team in the league over the past two seasons.
In 2022, over the regular season and the playoffs, the Eagles scored on 63.2% of their opening drives, which was good for the 2nd highest in the NFL.
So far in 2023, they are scoring on 64.3% of their opening drives, which is currently the 5th highest in the NFL. But that stat is heavily weighted due to their hot start.
The Eagles scored on the opening drive in 6 of their first 7 games, and they have only scored on 3 opening drives over their last 7 games.
Game Planning vs In-Game Play Calls
Opening drives have always seemed more like Nick. The team has all week to script the first 15 plays and while all of the coaches contribute to the weekly game plan, and it is a collaborative effort, it is also highly influenced by Sirianni. The offense installed is his and it has been highly effective. Many want to change the offense, but the real problem, and difference, has been in-game play-calling.
Former Eagles Offensive Coordinator, Shane Steichen, has stated that he took over in-game playcalling sometime around mid-2021. And the time frame that Shane clarified matters.
During the second half of the season in 2021, the Eagle’s offense went from a primarily ineffective pass-heavy offense to becoming one of the NFL’s best-rushing teams in the league. This assisted first-year starter Jalen Hurts, who was experiencing growing pains in the passing game. Once the threat of the run was there, and how successful it had become, the passing game opened up. Which led to a surprising finish and a playoff berth.
A season later, that same offensive run-to-pass ratio was being called by Shane every week, and coupled with the addition of receiver, A.J. Brown, the Birds, and their offense were soaring!
Jalen Hurts was no longer being asked to shoulder all of the offense, and more importantly, he did not have to hunt for the big play. The long, methodical drives allowed Jalen and the offense to stay on the field longer and get into a rhythm. Once the run game was established, it allowed for the deep shots down the field. It almost led to another Super Bowl title.
But with success, comes change. At season’s end, the Eagles lost Shane Steichen to the Indianapolis Colts who named their Head Coach.
The Eagles countered by promoting Jalen Hurts family friend, and in-house QB coach, Brian Johnson to Offensive Coordinator.
Brian Johnson took over the job with much fanfare, and confidence, due to his relationship with Jalen.
Growing pains were expected for a first-time OC, but the regression that has taken place throughout the season was not.
The offense over the last few weeks is more reminiscent of the one that struggled in 2021, which was reliant on the big plays, instead of using the run game to set them up.
But how do you fix it with the playoffs looming in just a few short weeks?
For the “Eagles should fire Brian Johnson crowd” when Nick gave up in-game play-calling to Shane in 2021 the Eagles offense improved. So, Sirianni taking over play-calling may not be the answer. Shane was great at getting Jalen in a rhythm and knowing when to take the shot plays.
I am not sure they have someone on the sideline who can step in and magically fix this for them. From the outside looking in, it would appear they should utilize a lot of the same principles they do in their opening drives as opposed to changing that throughout the game.
The hopes for Philadelphia to win another Super Bowl will likely be determined if they figure this out over the next few weeks.
As to who is calling the plays, you decide.
As always, thank you for reading.
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Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire