This isn't another story about play-calling balance, which has been rightly questioned, although perhaps blown out a bit out of proportion as well. The NFL is a passing league, so the Eagles do need to be able to throw the ball -- maybe not to the tune of 25 to five in the first half, but as Marty Mornhinweg explains, that number is probably skewed against Arizona. A two-minute drill, multiple long down and distances... they were in a number of situations that dictated pass.
That said, everybody would like to see a bit more Shady in the offense, but that isn't what really concerned me when I watched last week's coaches' film. In the first half, the Eagles were doing the same types of things in the passing game that weren't working two weeks ago in Cleveland: attacking the defense vertically, and giving Michael Vick few other options.
That includes running.
One of the things I've been hearing and reading a lot is the Eagles are not using Vick correctly. The premise goes that Andy Reid is trying to turn Vick into a pocket passer, thus taking away from what made him a star in the first place, his running ability.
I don't believe that's really the case at all. It's not that Reid doesn't want Vick to run, he simply doesn't want him to run as the first or second option, and for good reason. That didn't really work in Atlanta, and it's never really worked anywhere. But this idea they don't want him running is absurd, and debunked rather easily when you look at the amount of called runs and rollouts that get him out of the pocket -- almost run/pass options in Vick's case.
To some extent, the problem is the passing attack is not making it easy for him to run. Let's look at Vick's first fumble against Arizona. This is going to be a two-man route by the receivers at the top, with the quarterback rolling the pocket to their side.
Uh oh. Five guys are covering two, and wouldn't you know it, those receivers are not open! Guess Vick will have to take off running in the opposite direction. (A reader points out Celek was probably supposed to release into the flat here, and it appears he begins to do so right at the end. That likely would have drawn the LB inside the circle on the left to the sidelines, which it appears would have opened the WR curling back to the QB. Obviously, that doesn't happen.)
It looks like he has blockers, but this play is going nowhere fast since there were two linebackers on the right side whose only responsibility was peering into the backfield. Why were they essentially standing there, twiddling their thumbs? At least in part because there are no receivers running routes anywhere near them.
Clay Harbor is finally going to release as a safety valve here, but Vick's in trouble. He's going to pull it down rather than make the risky throw. Unfortunately, the pursuit from the backside is going to catch up to him, and the ball winds up on the carpet anyway.
I'm not sure I've seen a single one of these two-man routes work for the Eagles yet, and mostly I've noticed it working to their detriment. Remember D'Qwell Jackson in Week 1? He diagnosed the play, ran toward the only receiver in his time zone, and had himself a pick-six.
Let's look at another example similar to one that occurred in Cleveland, only this time it's not how many receivers, but where they are all at. Here we have the Eagles passing in a three-wide, two-back set. Stanley Havili is going to run a route, leaving McCoy to block.
McCoy basically whifs on his man, linebacker Daryl Washington. At this time, I'd like to point out McCoy is no Brian Westbrook in protection. He's willing and usually capable, but he's missed quite a few blocks already this year. Anyway, Vick is going to spin and avoid a sure sack, buying himself precious little time to get rid of the ball.
But what's this? The only guy within a country mile of Vick is Havili, who has a defender draped all over him. Everybody else is manned up 20 yards down the field with safeties over the top, and even if one of them was open, how is Vick going to set his feet and make a throw while a linebacker is hunting him down from behind? Meanwhile, look at all that open field in the short and intermediate ranges -- it's a shame nobody, not one guy, is running a route there.
No chance for Vick to take off, either. He's not going far to his left with that spy over there, and with bodies in front, he has to cut to get out of the backfield. That split second is enough time for Washington to chase Vick down from behind.
This type of play design is one out of probably a couple dozen similar examples from this season alone, and it's not just the fact that defenses aren't giving up the deepest part of the field, though that is part of the problem, too. Say there's a breakdown in protection -- and no matter how good or bad the offensive line is, there will be a breakdown on occasion -- what is the quarterback supposed to do when the token checkdown is covered, and everybody else still has their back turned to the line of scrimmage?
Vick is suffering from the lack of options. The coaches understandably want to leave guys at home to help block, but that's making it harder to find an open receiver. When they are sending multiple routes deep and the defense predictably takes that away, the play is shot. Nobody is just going to let Vick run wild, either.
In my opinion, the Eagles need greater variance in their route combinations, with receivers working every level of the field, and more of them, too. It makes Vick susceptible to pressure, especially via the blitz, but his decision making has to be allowed to sink or swim. Give him two or three targets at different levels in the same window, and let him get the ball out. If teams want to come after him, and the Eagles are utilizing every blade of grass, somebody is going to be open. If not, more defenders are going to be busy actually chasing somebody instead of standing around with their hands in their pockets -- which that could theoretically open up more space for Vick to scramble as well.
Whether Vick can execute that type of offense, who knows. The one thing that is certain is these all-or-nothing passing plays have not been the answer.