Eagles' Offense At Its Best With Short Passing Game

Eagles' Offense At Its Best With Short Passing Game

When Andy Reid came to Philadelphia in 1999, he brought along a version of the West Coast Offense from Green Bay. However, at various times throughout Reid's tenure -- including much of 2011 -- his offense often appeared as though it were running an entirely different scheme altogether, one predicated on challenging opposing defenses vertically.

In recent weeks, the coaches seem to have gotten away from trying to hit a home run on every drive. They shortened Mike Vick's drop, relying instead on a quick release and timing routes, while mixing in a healthy dose of the run. The Eagles are finally executing the West Coast Offense the way it was designed, and it's the single biggest reason for their improved consistency over the last two games.

Let's briefly refresh our memories of what the West Coast Offense actually is, as you may have been trained to think of it simply as chucking the ball a whole lot. Basically, it's a system where the majority of the receivers' routes are closer to the line of scrimmage. The quarterback is supposed to drop back, read the defense, and quickly fire a low risk, high-percentage pass.

If I'm oversimplifying this myself, it's because that's the important part, or at least what's different about the Eagles' attack all of a sudden. Ever since they lessened the focus on the down-field assault and started utilizing more quick hitches, hooks, slants, and screen passes, passing plays are developing faster, and the offense is operating much more efficiently, subtracting all the negative plays and turnovers in the process. Here's why:

Improved protection
The offensive line has looked pretty solid the past two weeks, and while it's partly due to their rookie linemen beginning to settle into a comfort zone, and partly due to guys stepping up no matter when or where they are asked to play, there's another clear-cut difference from now compared to the first five games.

They aren't be asked to protect nearly as long.

Whether it's a base four-man rush or an overload blitz, neither has been as effective because by the time the rush reaches the quarterback, the ball is usually out. Dallas tried like hell to bring the heat on Sunday night, but Vick continuously had the answer, checking down or throwing the ball away or scrambling. When the Eagles were losing all those games a month ago, there were too many times where pressure equated to a backbreaking sack or turnover.

Dominant receivers making plays with the ball
DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are two of the better wide receivers in the NFL, and Jason Avant is very productive in the slot. They also have a pair of athletic tight ends, and LeSean McCoy who can do damage out of the backfield as well.

You're telling me when the other team dials blitz, there isn't somebody almost automatically open immediately after the snap?

The Eagles' receiving corps is built to beat one-on-ones. Yes, they can also burn the defense 90 yards down the field, but that's provided the quarterback has all day in the pocket. Nobody would argue they should eliminate those shots entirely either, but these guys can do damage underneath. Sometimes a short completion will only result in a seven-yard gain, and sometimes they will break loose and turn it into a big play. First thing's first though -- get the ball into the hands of the Pro Bowlers, and let them work.

Celek emerges
Instead of being forced to help in pass protection on many downs, Celek has more freedom to get into the passing game. You can see already how big of a factor he can be in this offense, catching seven passes for 96 yards and a score on Sunday night, and four balls for 42 and another TD two weeks ago.

I can't think of a negative about getting the number one tight end more involved, and it seems when the ball is coming his way, the offense operates so much more smoothly. Celek is only a year and a half removed from a season where he caught 76 passes for 971 yards and eight touchdowns, so it's no secret he can play.

Trust the O-line to give Vick three seconds, and get Celek out into space where he's at his best.

Sustaining drives, killing clock
An efficient passing attack predicated on completing short passes does two things. Number one, it creates manageable down and distance. Number two, the raised completion percentage keeps the clock moving.

A seven-yard pass to Maclin may not be as exciting as an 80-yarder to Jackson, but more often than not the deep ball is going to fall incomplete, giving the offense 2nd and 10, while Maclin's route is a high-percentage play that puts the offense in a friendly 2nd and 3. That sort of down and distance opens up the entire playbook, which keeps the defense guessing, while leaving a minimal gain to convert in order to move the chains.

Which brings us to part two, dominating the time of possession. This comes with a number of its own benefits, such as keeping your own defense fresh, and forcing the opponent's offense to stand helplessly on the sidelines. As we saw with Dallas, it was almost impossible for the Cowboys to implement their game plan, as they only had the ball for about 18 minutes. Couple that with falling behind early, and the Eagles were able to control the flow of the game by controlling the clock.

Vick's improved decision making
All of this has resulted in smarter decisions by Vick. His 75% completion percentage on Sunday night was his best of the season, as he found open receivers quickly and got rid of the ball. The clock in his head also seemed to be working faster -- if he hadn't dumped the ball after his first couple of reads, he started looking to escape the pocket, usually before the pass rush was already on top of him.

The most critical result has been fewer turnovers, which of course equates to fewer drives ending without points, and fewer giveaways that put the defense in the difficult position of defending a short field.

The offense was supposed to be the strength of this team, and while the defense will continue to be the bigger question mark for the time being and quite possibly the remainder of the season, the onus is on Mike Vick and his mates to put the other unit in a better position to succeed, and it's on Reid and Marty Mornhinweg to design a game plan that plays to their strengths.

They've finally done that the last two weeks. It wasn't just the emergence of LeSean McCoy, or the absence of turnovers -- it was a change in philosophy, and one they should stick with because it works.

Instant Replay: Knicks 110, Sixers 109

Instant Replay: Knicks 110, Sixers 109

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- A 17-point game came down to the final possessions. 

The Knicks squeaked out a 110-109 victory, holding on to this one after suffering a buzzer-beating loss to the Sixers on Jan. 11. 

The Knicks squandered a double-digit lead in the fourth as the Sixers slowly chipped away at their lead at the line. The Sixers got within one, 106-105, when T.J. McConnell drained a three after a series of Sixers’ free throws. 

Jahlil Okafor scored a go-ahead basket during a hustling Sixers possession with nine seconds remaining to give the Sixers a 109-108 lead. 

In the end, it was Carmelo Anthony, who had been running up the scoreboard all night (37 points), that nailed the game-winning jumper over Robert Covington. Kyle O’Quinn picked off the Sixers' final inbound attempt. 

Inside the box score
• Okafor finished with a season-high 28 points and 10 rebounds. He had eight rebounds in first half, including a coast-to-coast fast break.

• Dario Saric continues his strong Rookie of the Year push. He finished with 19 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. 

• Robert Covington struggled from the field overall (7 of 19, 2 of 11 from three) but filled up the stat sheet with 20 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

• Anthony did what Anthony does. He scored 37 points on 15 of 25 from the field, including the game-winner.

Anderson debuts
Justin Anderson made his Sixers debut in the first quarter. Anderson is a multi-positional player and the lineup reflected that. He first played with Rodriguez, Stauskas, Covington and Holmes. Anderson played 3:47 and went 0 for 1 from three with a rebound and a foul. 

While Anderson said he had learned about the Sixers by watching his first game from the bench, he will get more on-the-court experience on Sunday when he plans to spend time at the training complex on the team’s off day. 

Bigs Convene
Joel Embiid was with the Sixers in New York. After the second quarter ended, he stayed on the court to talk with Kristaps Porzingis and Joakim Noah. Both Knicks big men also were sidelined on Saturday.

Trust It
T.J. McConnell isn’t the only one to #trustthefriendship with Saric. Check out this no-look pass to Robert Covington. 

Up next
The Sixers have a day to bounce back from this loss. The 48-9 Warriors come to town on Monday. 

Villanova pushes past Creighton despite exhaustion before off week

Villanova pushes past Creighton despite exhaustion before off week

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, PA. – Jay Wright finally admitted what we could all see.

The Wildcats are gassed.

No. 2 Villanova beat No. 23 Creighton, 79-63, Saturday at the Pavilion to clinch the Big East Conference regular-season title outright (see Instant Replay).

The Wildcats are 27-3 and 14-3 in the conference, but the last couple weeks their lack of depth has shown.

With Omari Spellman ruled ineligible before the season by the NCAA, Phil Booth out since November with lingering knee pain and Darryl Reynolds out the last five games with a rib injury, Wright has essentially been limited to five starters, freshman Dante DiVincenzo off the bench and a few minutes a night from freshman Dylan Painter.

It's taken a significant toll on the six guys in the rotation. 

Big late leads have dwindled or, in the case of Wednesday’s game against Butler, disappeared. Three-pointers have front-rimmed. Defensive assignments have been missed.

Through it all, Wright refused to admit fatigue was an issue.

Now, with the Wildcats securely the top seed in next month’s conference tournament, Wright is being honest about his team.

They’re exhausted.

“I know you guys have asked a lot, 'Do I think we’re getting worn down with seven guys, 6 1/2 guys,' and I said I don’t think so, I think we can do it,” Wright said Saturday after the Senior Day win over Creighton.

“I gotta answer your question, but it just doesn’t do us any good saying we’re worn out. It’s not an excuse. Other teams have things to deal with. I get we weren’t pretty, we haven’t been pretty, today wasn’t pretty. But I think it just speaks to the leadership of these seniors and I think it speaks to the character of these seniors (that they got through it).

“Are they tired? Yeah. Are they worn down some? Yeah. But it doesn’t matter. Other teams got stuff too. It’s not the reason you lose. It can’t be the reason you lose. Maybe you were tired and you didn’t concentrate or we didn’t defend or we didn’t rebound. That’s what happened and that’s the way we look at it.

“I wasn’t trying to BS you, I was just saying that whether you’re tired or not doesn’t matter, you’ve got to get it done, and we got it done. I’m so proud of them and it’s senior leadership. It’s talented players and senior leadership.”

Villanova now has a week off before an essentially meaningless game next Saturday at Georgetown.

It’ll be the Wildcats’ first extended break since the season began.

“They haven’t had an off week because they played Virginia (two weeks ago in a non-conference game), and now they get it and a chance to get their legs back,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.

“It’s a long season and when you don’t really have a chance to catch your breath, especially because he’s riding six or seven guys pretty hard right now? I’m sure this week off will do them some good.”

Sophomore transfer Eric Paschall had a career day Saturday, with 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting to go with six rebounds. Josh Hart added 16 points and eight boards, Kris Jenkins overcame another off shooting night from three (1 for 7) to record 15 points, four boards and three assists, and Mikal Bridges had 11 points and eight rebounds. DiVincenzo and Jalen Brunson each scored nine points. 

The next meaningful game Villanova plays will be March 9 in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament in New York.

Now it’s time to rest. And heal.

“It’s going to be good for us,” Jenkins said. “We get a couple days off. We’ll still watch film, still learn, still get better, but physically we need a couple days to regroup and get ready for Georgetown and then the Big East tournament.

“Georgetown is first, but we really do need this break.”

On Saturday, Villanova built an 11-point lead, gave it all away, fell behind, traded off seven second-half lead changes, then went on a 16-4 run midway through the second half to finally put away the Bluejays.

With the threes not falling, the Wildcats focused on attacking the rim and scoring in the post in the second half.

Jenkins in particular had an unusual game. He stopped shooting treys and made 5 of 8 shots from inside the arc. That’s the second-most two-pointers he’s ever made and the most he’s ever attempted.

“Just playing off my teammates and adjusting to how teams play me,” said Jenkins, shooting just 30 percent from three the last 10 games.

“They really take away threes and try not to let me get any clean catches so always being aggressive and trying to make the right play.”

For a tired team, backing off the threes was huge.

Villanova outscored Creighton 36-18 over the last 14 minutes after Creighton took its biggest lead – two points at 43-41.

Now comes rest.

“It’s big for these guys,” Wright said. “In my mind, we just had to get to today. We just gotta get through it without getting somebody else hurt and without just being dead.

“Because we’re going to get time off. We’re going to take Sunday off, we’re going to have a light day Monday, and then we’re going to take Tuesday off, because these guys really need the rest. So this is perfect timing for us.”