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August 03, 2020

John McMullen: Eagles planning subtle changes to make offense more efficient

Opinion Eagles

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57_01052020_EaglesvsSeahawks_Doug_Pederson_KateFrese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Doug Pederson calls a play during the Philadelphia Eagles wild-card loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

For those expecting wholesale changes on the Eagles' offense, you're going to be disappointed.

That's the bad news. The better news is most fans can talk about innovation, adding diversity to the scheme, or modifications to the play-calling but what they are looking for is results and that remains possible.

Whether you were listening or not this offseason Doug Pederson has already told you that his offense isn't undergoing any kind of overhaul. It can be Frank Reich, Mike Groh, or an amalgamation of Rich Scangarello, Press Taylor, and Marty Mornhinweg, the final stamp when it comes to all things offensive in Philly remains the Super Bowl-winning head coach.

"I don't think from the naked eye you're going to see a ton of different concepts, different ideas, different things," Pederson admitted back in the spring. "What you're going to see from our standpoint is subtleties within what we do as an offense: protections, the play-action game, screens, even the run game."

The typically egoless Pederson then flexed a bit to make his point.

"Keep in mind, this offense won a world championship a couple seasons ago."

Speaking via Zoom in our COVID-19 restricted world, Taylor echoed the sentiment last week when explaining Pederson's collaborative game-planning setup.

"You know honestly I don't think it's gonna look a whole lot different," Taylor, the quarterbacks coach who has now added passing-game coordinator to his job title after Groh was fired. "Our environment here as an offensive staff has always been very collaborative."

Assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley also mentioned and ratified the approach.

"I said about two years ago, I said how it’s a little different here with the Eagles and what I mean by that is that we all get a chance to game plan, so that’s what’s unique about our staff," Staley said. "We’re able to go into a room, we all have input of course and we all game plan together. We’re not about titles, we’re about getting the job done and that’s what we’ve been doing for a while."

Using the 2019 coaching staff as an example Groh essentially served as passing game coordinator with Jeff Stoutland as the run game coordinator. Where Groh garnered more power was as the filter between Pederson and the rest of his offensive assistants.

Taylor was in charge of the red-zone package last season, now-deposed WR coach Carson Walch put his stamp on third-down plays, tight ends coach Justin Peelle was responsible for drawing up short-yardage and goal-line ideas, and Staley was given domain over Carson Wentz's designed movement plays and the screen game.

With Groh in Indy with Reich and the Colts, Taylor was promoted to PGC to go along with his day-to-day QB duties with Wentz and Co. while Andrew Breiner was added as an extra sounding board there. You have Aaron Moorehead taking over for Walch and two new positions with Scangarello and Mornhinweg.

Scangarello, the former Denver OC, was tabbed as a senior offensive assistant and given Groh's filter duties while Mornhinweg was brought back as a consultant to be sort of an overseer and also offer some Baltimore-inspired ideas when it comes to getting Jalen Hurts involved.

In many ways, the current titles are a more clearly defined definition of what was going on in that Pederson is the real OC of the Eagles, something he admitted to the team's website.

“Bottom line, I’m the one calling plays on game day," Pederson said. "So in some facets, you could consider me the offensive coordinator as well."

The biggest influence when it comes to change on the offense is likely going to be the play-action concepts that Scangarello learned under Kyle Shanahan, the current San Francisco 49ers coach who is considered the best in the league when it comes to marrying that particular aspect of things with the run game, something that dates back to Shanahan's father with the Broncos.

"We feel like [Scangarello] can add to what we already do around here," Taylor said. "Rich may have some different details for some of the things they've done or some different ideas of how to attack a certain defense, how to get guys in certain situations. And that's really what we're trying to do we're trying to add different experiences that we feel like can take our 2020 Eagle offense to the next level."

Play-action is the staple of the Shanahan offense and its offshoots like the Gary Kubiak-branded version in Minnesota that got Kirk Cousins so many clean looks that devastated the Eagles' secondary last season. Under Pederson, however, Philadelphia already used a ton of play-action, 31 percent last season, good for seventh in the league, according to FootballOutsiders.com. As a comparison, Minnesota was ninth at 30 percent and the 49ers were No. 4 at 32 percent.

So the Eagles were smack dab in the middle of the two standards meaning this is about efficacy, not simply Wentz running the mechanism.

"There may be some things with Rich that to the naked eye doesn't look like a ton but there are some things that he's gonna have his hand on as we go and evolve and learn some of the things that Rich's familiarity and success with, and that can really fit our system and take our offense to the next level," Taylor surmised. "That's what we're looking to do with Rich."

Any major change you think you might see with that naked eye will be tied to personnel.

Last year the Eagles played so much 12 personnel (two tight ends) and lacked explosion because the receiving corps imploded. Philadelphia was forced to play 12 more than any other team in football and No. 2., the Vikings, weren't close.

As good as Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert are, they can't run like an average NFL receiver, never mind a DeSean Jackson-like field stretcher.

"There have been games where we're able to hit those 12-, 13-, 14- 15-play drives and score," Taylor said. "That's a grind, that's hard to do over and over and over. We want to be the offense that we can get you one-, two-, three- play drives at times. And part of that's making sure we have a complementary scheme, that everything fits together, everything looks the same, understanding again what we're trying to do, how we're trying to attack."

Then came the key point.

"But we're always going to build this thing around the strengths of our players," Taylor explained. "So you always have to adapt to the personnel you have."

What that means is if Jackson can't stay healthy, Alshon Jeffery can't get healthy, and young receivers like J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Greg Ward, along with rookies Jalen Reagor, John Hightower and Quez Watkins, can't form the nucleus of a competent WR corps, the Eagles will again default back to proven players like Ertz and Goedert more often than not.

From there the offense will try to find different ways to add explosion perhaps with backfield mates Miles Sanders and Boston Scott becoming more effective with Scangarello's play-action tweaks.

If defensive backs are biting on the run game, receivers, even lesser ones and slower tight ends will have more opportunities down the field.

"Because you are playing with two tight ends doesn't mean you can't push the ball down the field," Taylor expressed. "We're going to continue to find those ways that fit within our offense and our system, and as well as fit our personnel. We're always going to try to find ways to push the ball down the field and attack the defense.

“We want to be known as that kind of offense."


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John McMullen is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media and also contributes Eagles and NFL coverage for PhillyVoice and SI.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com

Follow John on Twitter: @JFMcMullen

You can listen to John during the week on @SIRIUSXM’s Tony Bruno Show with Harry Mayes, every Tuesday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on @SportsMapRadio 

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