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.

LSU PG Tim Quarterman on Ben Simmons: 'He's a great teammate'

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LSU PG Tim Quarterman on Ben Simmons: 'He's a great teammate'

By now, Tim Quarterman is used to being asked about Ben Simmons.

The former LSU point guard declared for the NBA draft following his junior season and enter the same draft in which Simmons, the freshman phenom, is projected to be the No. 1 or No. 2 pick.

As Quarterman goes through his own pre-draft process, it's inevitable he'll have to field questions about his former teammate he calls “his little brother” along the way.

“He’s a great passer, he can handle the ball and he’s always there to cheer you on,” Quarterman said Monday following a workout with the Sixers on Monday. “He likes for other people to accomplish great accomplishments. He’s a great teammate.”

Simmons came under criticism during his freshman year for “quitting” on the Tigers. The team went 19-14 and failed to make the NCAA Tournament. They also chose not to participate in any other postseason tournaments. Even though Simmons averaged a team-high 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.0 steals per game, there was question over his effort.

Quarterman said that wasn’t the case.

"Ben is a great person, a great player and he's a great competitor, so I don't think throughout the season he ever quit on us," Quarterman said. “I think he continued to play hard. I think us losing frustrated a lot of  us as competitors because we always wanted to win.”

The Sixers have an edge evaluating Simmons. While he grew up thousands of miles from Philadelphia in Australia, it just so happens Brett Brown coached Simmons' father David during his extensive coaching career in Australia. Not only does Brown know Simmons’ family, he still is closely connected to those involved in his basketball career.

“I know the people that have worked with him all across the board,” Brown said. “That’s just one of the benefits of living in the country and 20 minutes from where he grew up for 17 years, short of my Sydney days where it makes it 12 years.”

Of course Quarterman didn't work out with the Sixers just to speak on Simmons. He is also fighting for a place in the NBA as well.

"Tim did a very good job creating for others," Brandon Williams, Sixers vice president of basketball administration, said. "What I'm impressed by is he's such a nuisance defensively, his length and athleticism. Then he showed his ability to create off the bounce."

Jordan Matthews Q&A: Doug vs. Chip; playing outside; Carson Wentz's savvy

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USA Today Images

Jordan Matthews Q&A: Doug vs. Chip; playing outside; Carson Wentz's savvy

Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews stopped by the Quick Slants set last week and addressed a number of topics with hosts Derrick Gunn and Reuben Frank.

Matthews, entering his third NFL season, has 152 receptions for 1,869 yards and 16 touchdowns in his first two seasons.

That’s the 10th-most catches, 34th-most yards and 15th-most touchdowns in NFL history by a player in his first two seasons.

Now, he has a new receivers coach, a new offensive coordinator, a new head coach and at some point soon a new quarterback.

Matthews spoke about all of the changes the Eagles have made, his disappointment in his early-season drops last year, his expectations for this year and much more during his visit to the Comcast SportsNet studios.

Here are some highlights from that interview:

Quick Slants: What’s it been like these first few months under new head coach Doug Pederson?

Jordan Matthews: “The family atmosphere has definitely been there. Having a coach that’s played here, he understands what it’s like to be in these shoes, play in the city of Philadelphia and have these high expectations. He’s put us in a great environment these first few weeks.”

QS: What’s been your initial reaction to Doug’s offense and how you’ll be used?

Matthews: “It’s definitely very versatile. We have a lot of situations where guys get to move around a lot more in the previous offense I played in, so that’s something that a lot of us have been excited about. Me in particular, I’m really excited to have the opportunity to go outside as much as inside, so now teams won’t be able to game plan for me in just one area. It’s been great learning it. The verbiage is definitely different. It’s not one word or signs or anything like that. We’re going in the huddle and I mean Sam’s spitting out the whole encyclopedia. But guys are getting it down, guys are learning. We’re having fun with it.”

QS: How tough was it to work through the drops early in the 2015 season?

Matthews: “It’s always frustrating because sometimes you think that, OK, just because you’re putting in all these hours that the immediate results are going to come right then, but that’s the thing about work: It’s not just going in and putting in the hours, but you also have to have faith in what you’re actually doing. Sometimes you’re not going to see those immediate results, sometimes you just have to take time and you just have to be patient with it. But I just know the expectations that I have on myself ... outside expectations I know they’re always big here, but I’m always going to be my hardest critic. So whatever people thought I might have been going through, trust me, I was beating myself up more about it than anybody was. I knew that I wasn’t playing up to my expectations but at the same time I knew I had to get through it, so I was glad I was able to finish the season the way I did but also know that type of play isn’t acceptable for me or for my teammates. That’s why going into these OTAs, I’ve been really big on the details for me and the rest of my receiving group. Getting on the JUGS machine, putting in extra time in the film room, making sure that we know everything we have to do on the field. So now that we know all the X's and O's, all we can focus on then is going out there and making plays and playing fast.”

QS: Can you compare Doug Pederson and Chip Kelly?

Matthews: “It’s crazy. Growing up in Alabama, you’re around a bunch of the country, family guys and that’s definitely Doug. But I also spent some time at Vanderbilt with the smart guys and that’s Chip, so I’ve basically had a Doug Pederson and a Chip Kelly in my lifetime just from my years of playing football. I know people like to compare and do all that kind of stuff, but it’s apples and oranges. Chip, when I was playing for him, he was a new head coach, and now it’s the same way with Doug and he’s going to do some things different than maybe what people (have) seen in the past. But I’ve had great experiences with both of them. I feel like I’m extremely lucky I’ve had the opportunity to work with both these guys.

QS: You’re as close to Sam Bradford as anybody on the team. What do you think of the way he handled the offseason?

Matthews: “Sometimes those situations can be blown up a little bit, especially when it’s the quarterback position because that is looked at as the leader on the field, so Sam understands that responsibility, and Sam understands that when it’s time to ball you’ve got to come out there and you’ve got to be the leader. He took his time that he needed, but at the same time he knew it was time to get back and get to work. Obviously, nobody is going to be thrilled when somebody gets drafted at their position, especially at the No. 2 pick. But it is a business, it is a lot more than just guys going out there and throwing the football around, it is about competition. And I think that’s the best thing that’s going to come out of this: It’s going to really fuel competition. Between Sam, Chase (Daniel) and Carson (Wentz) going out there and taking reps, it’s a good ball coming out there every single time. So if you come to our practices, you’ll see me running with the 1’s, the 2’s and the 3’s and I feel like that’s the best thing about it. Because that competition is really what’s going to help us push forward. Now guys can’t get complacent. You can’t think, ‘Oh, OK, I’ve made it, I’ve arrived.’ No. Every position, we’re bringing in guys that are going to go and compete for your spot. I’m loving it. From quarterback all the way down to long snapper.”

QS: Doug has said all along that Sam is the quarterback going into the season, but offensive coordinator Frank Reich said on WIP that there is open competition everywhere, including the quarterback position. It seems like the coach and offensive coordinator are sending out different messages.

Matthews: “There are different philosophies always going to come from different people. Obviously, Coach Pederson’s the head coach and he’s the captain of the ship, so we’ve got to go with him. I like coach Frank’s attitude, everybody’s got to go out and compete. It’s extremely early, so if anything, I side with both of then. Yes, it’s Sam Bradford’s team. He has to come out and he has to be the leader that we need. He has to run the offense, and we’re all looking at him to make sure he’s the quarterback who can take us where we want to go. But at the same time, you’ve got to come in every single day that somebody’s coming for your spot and you’ve got to go work for it.”

QS: What are your early impressions of Carson Wentz?

Matthews: “When I had my first time watching film with him, the type of shots he was talking about making ... he was like, ‘Hey, if this cornerback turns his head, I might try to throw this one deep,’ and I’m like, ‘Bro, I do not think that’s where the ball’s supposed to be going.’ But ... at the same time, I like it, because you can tell he plays the edge. You can tell he has that chip. You can tell he’s a guy who wants to take risks. I think one of the biggest attributes a quarterback can have that people overlook is savvy. The great ones, the Aaron Rodgerses of the world, the Tom Bradys, the Peyton Mannings, the Brett Favres, those legends, they’re great with the X’s and O’s but they have savvy. They’re not always going to go by the book. Sometimes, they’re just going to go make a play. Sometimes they’re going to say, ‘Hey, you’re my man right here, I’m coming to you, get open, I’m going to find you on the deep ball. And the way Carson was speaking, you can tell he wants to grow into that person and be that kind of quarterback. And then also he’s just a fun guy to be around. He and I were running routes just me and him one afternoon and then he was like, ‘Hey, I want to get some conditioning in.’ And Carson wanted to run routes. He was calling plays, he’s running corners and posts and I’m throwing to him. Everybody sees that serious side to him but he just loves the game. He wants to just be out there on the field, he wants to get to know guys, he also wants to take risks and I feel like he’s going to be really big for us going into the future.”

Rick MacLeish's Flyers teammates react to his passing

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Associated Press

Rick MacLeish's Flyers teammates react to his passing

PITTSBURGH -- Former Flyers captain and Hockey Hall of Famer Bob Clarke was Rick MacLeish’s teammate for 12 years and two Stanley Cups.
 
“Ricky was the most talented player the Flyers had during the 1970s,” said a saddened Clarke on Tuesday, after the announcement of MacLeish’s death at 66 late on Memorial Day (see story).
 
“Life after hockey wasn’t fair to Ricky. He left us far too soon.”
 
The center from Lindsay, Ontario, had been hospitalized in Philadelphia since mid-May while suffering from multiple medical issues, according to his daughter Brianna.
 
Here’s what other teammates had to say:
 
“Ricky was a special player for the Flyers,” said Bill Barber. “He always came up with scoring the big goals and he was instrumental helping us win two Stanley Cups. He will be greatly missed.”
 
Gary Dornhoefer was MacLeish's linemate with Ross Lonsberry for almost six seasons.
 
“I’ll tell you what, he was probably the fastest player on the ice,” Dornhoefer said. “As far as a wrist shot is concerned, there was no one better at getting that shot away and accurate. Ross and I would talk and say ‘let’s just give Ricky the puck and he’ll put it in.’
 
“If you look at the amount of goals he scored [328 as a Flyer], well, that’s why we kept giving him the puck. Ross and I had cement hands, so we’d pass the puck to him. The Flyers could have a mediocre game, but because of his skills as a player and the athlete that he was, he could carry us.
 
“He was that gifted. I always felt that during the years he played, he never got the recognition that he properly deserved. He was that good. It saddens me that he was such a young man and is no longer with us. That really hurts.”
 
Bob “The Hound” Kelly agreed.
 
“Rick was probably the most gifted, natural centerman that the Flyers have ever had,” Kelly said. “He was a tough kid who skated and worked hard.
 
“Although he played in the shadow of Clarkie, he was every bit as good as Clarkie. Clarkie was more of a natural leader where Rick was just quiet and simply went out there and played his heart out. He was a great guy and it is very sad that we had to lose him at such an early age.”
 
Joe Watson made a few comparisons.
 
“I’d put him up there with [Claude] Giroux, [Eric] Lindros and [Peter] Forsberg in terms of natural skill,” Watson said. “He was a great player and we’ll certainly miss him.”