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.

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

The Sixers (4-15) continue their homestand against the Boston Celtics (11-8) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night (7:30 p.m./CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup.

1. A green giant-sized challenge
Just crumple it up and move on.

That's about the only thing the Sixers can do after getting ran out of the gym by the Orlando Magic on Friday. Instead of looking like a team that hadn't played since Monday, the Sixers appeared flat in a 105-88 loss.

Outside of Joel Embiid's first 20-point, 10-rebound game (he had 25 points and 10 boards) and a strong effort from Jahlil Okafor (16 points and 13 rebounds), not much else went right for the Sixers.

Now Embiid will sit the second game of a back-to-back set and Okafor will be thrust into the starting lineup, as the Sixers try to deal with Boston big man Al Horford. 

Horford, the Celtics' prized free-agent acquisition, is coming off his best game so far for his new team. He recorded 26 points, eight rebounds and six blocks in the Celtics' 97-92 win over the Kings on Friday.

2. Little big man
Even with Horford coming off a productive performance, the Sixers' game plan against the Celtics has to focus on slowing down Isaiah Thomas.

The 5-foot-9 guard continues to put up big numbers in the scoring department. Despite his shooting percentages taking a dip this season, Thomas still ranks ninth in the NBA with a career-high 25.7 points per game. 

And even though he is a willing passer (averaging a career-high-tying 6.3 assists), expect Thomas to try and score early and often against the Sixers. After all, the reserve-turned-All-Star has put up 21.5 points per game against the Sixers during his career, his highest mark against any opponent.

3. Dial up the long-distance defense
The Sixers need to be aware of Thomas and just about all of his teammates when they toe that three-point line.

The Celtics rank fifth in the league in three-pointers attempted (31.1), three-pointers made (11.3) and eighth in three-point percentage (36.3) per game.

The C's have four players shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc, and perhaps a bit surprising, three of them are big men. Jonas Jerebko (46.4 percent), Horford (42.4 percent) and Amir Johnson (40.0 percent) have all been on target from long range.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (knee) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are both questionable. Embiid (rest), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

The Celtics have no players listed on the injury report.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost five games in a row overall and eight straight to the Celtics.

• The Celtics rank 25th in rebounding with 42.2 a night.

• Dario Saric had two points Friday against the Magic and has failed to reach double digits in scoring five of his last six games.

Worst loss of the year for excuse-less Sixers against Magic

Worst loss of the year for excuse-less Sixers against Magic

Another new feeling for the rebuilding Sixers: The bad loss with no excuse. For at least one and possibly multiple seasons, there was no real such thing as an inexcusable L, because they were so never the favorite going into any game that their excuse could almost always be "the other team was better." But four wins and one transcendent player into this season, the Ballers actually do need an excuse for dropping a home game against a subpar team by double digits. And if they had one last night in their 105-88 loss to the Orlando Magic, they weren't telling the rest of us.

Really, this game couldn't have been teed up much better for Philly: We were home, well-rested after Wednesday's weird-ass cancellation, against a 7-12 team we nearly beat early in the season, who were on the second night of a back-to-back after ceding a tough one to the Grizzlies -- and we had Joel Embiid for up to 28 minutes. If this one was to be a laugher by early in the fourth quarter, you'd almost have to assume that it'd been the Sixers who put it to bed early. 

Instead, the Sixers slumped horribly from the field in the first quarter, missing bunny after bunny and plenty of open jumpers, as they dug themselves a hole they were never quite able to climb out of. Philly kept it manageable and D.J. Augustin and Nik Vucevic caught fire for Orlando in the third quarter, and the game was suddenly in Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot territory before we could even process what was happening. 

Of course, you can't blame Embiid for this one. Though JoJo was a little out of sorts defensively on this one -- and personally, I really wish he'd stop trapping five feet outside the arc, it may cause panic in the Magic's ball-handlers but it really seems to compromise our own half-court D -- he still finished with a resounding 25-10-4 with three triples, and for the first time in his young career, 0 turnovers. (I coulda swore I saw at least one, but so says the box score, anyway.) Just another game for the Process, though the Sixers (for some reason) needed him to be immaculate last night, and he was merely phenomenal. 

Less phenomenal were the rest of the Sixers' shooters. Our bench in particular was absolutely putrid, going a combined 0-12 from three, with Nik Stauskas's streak of consecutive games with a three snapped at 15 after his scoreless, 0-6 performance. (Five assists for Sauce, at least.) Jahlil posted a dominant stat line of 16 and 13 (on 8-10 shooting) but was again hapless on defense, ending a team-worst -19 for the night. And Dario Saric's slumping continued with a 1-5 shooting outing with no rebounds or assists, likely his worst game of the season. 

It was a surprisingly listless effort from a team that should have looked much sharper, and the most positive non-Joel-related thing to be said about it is that it's (sort of) nice to finally have expectations high enough to have them let down. It'll be a lot harder for Philly to let down tonight against the Celtics, without JoJo, against a pretty good and mostly healthy Boston team. But that's five losses in a row already for the improving Sixers, and it'd be nice to cut off that streak soon, before it starts threatening double digits -- we could certainly do with being done with those for the forseeable future.