Filmroom Friday: How Reid Is Setting Vick Up to Fail

Filmroom Friday: How Reid Is Setting Vick Up to Fail

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.

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.

No longer feeling like a rookie, Wendell Smallwood more comfortable as lead back

No longer feeling like a rookie, Wendell Smallwood more comfortable as lead back

As the Eagles prepared to face the Green Bay Packers last week, rookie Wendell Smallwood readied himself for a big role.
 
Then he got just nine carries. 
 
It wasn’t that those carries went elsewhere, it was that the Eagles got away from the run game early in the 27-13 loss to the Packers despite being down one score for most of the game. Ultimately, he had half of the team’s carries. 
 
On Friday, head coach Doug Pederson said the disparity in play-calling didn’t have anything to do with having Smallwood as the lead back instead of Ryan Mathews. 
 
“Not really,” Pederson said. “Again, that's something – when I go back ask evaluate after the game – it's something I have to consider more of: Did I run the ball enough or throw the ball enough or not enough or did I do it too much, one way or the other. 
But no, that did not dispel anything, run or pass.”
 
For the second straight week, Mathews is out with an MCL sprain, which means Smallwood is preparing for a bigger role in the offense again. That could also mean his second career start in as many weeks. 
 
Having gone through this process last week has made this week even easier. 
 
“I think I'm very comfortable, more than I was last week,” Smallwood said. “I kind of knew I was going to have a lead role, kind of thinking about a lot, how to play better and take on the load that I was probably going to get. So this week, I think it was kind of natural for me, not really worrying about it.”
 
Smallwood, who was a fifth-round pick out of West Virginia, has 66 carries for 290 yards and one touchdown this season. Smallwood's average of 4.4 yards per attempt is sixth in the league among rookie with at least 60 carries this season. He also has the most rushing yards of any Eagles rookie since Bryce Brown in 2012. 
 
While the Eagles would probably have preferred to use Mathews more this season, the veteran has played just 53 more snaps than Smallwood. 
 
Does Smallwood even feel like a rookie anymore? 
 
“Nah, definitely not, definitely not,” he said with a smile. “Probably after Week 3 I stopped feeling like a rookie. And guys tell me all the time, 'we need you to play, we don't need you to be a rookie right now.' So kind of forced not to be a rookie.”