2016 NFL Coaching Changes: Philadelphia Eagles

2016 NFL Coaching Changes: Philadelphia Eagles

Coaching Change

2016 NFL Coaching Changes: Philadelphia Eagles

The Chip Kelly era in Philadelphia flashed briefly with a playoff appearance and back-to-back 10-win seasons, but by the end of last season it was clear a parting of the ways was necessary. Eagles owner Jeffery Lurie wanted a coach who was collaborative with the front office and communicative with the players and media. And Philly wanted a return to the days of Andy Reid.

So even before the Chiefs were eliminated from the playoffs the Eagles decided that Reid’s offensive coordinator in Kansas City, former Eagles quarterback Doug Pederson, would be their next coach. In addition to 12 NFL seasons, mostly as a backup, Pederson also coached under Reid in Philly—first as quality control coach and then as quarterbacks coach. When Reid was ushered out of town and landed in Kansas City, he brought Pederson along as his OC.

Given that lineage it’s no surprise the roots of Pederson’s coaching tree skew West Coast Offense, from Reid to Brad Childress and Pat Shurmur. And Pederson himself referred to his scheme as “West Coast-ish” in his introductory press conference. But three years under Reid in KC, along with the addition of the more vertical-minded Frank Reich as offensive coordinator, suggest this won’t be a simple redux of the WCO Reid operated during his Philly tenure.

Most notably, Reid’s offenses in Kansas City were far more run-oriented than his days in Philadelphia. Under Pederson the Eagles’ ground game will still be predicated on zone reads, so that won’t change from Kelly’s offense. However, while Kelly’s Eagles tended to run horizontally—almost a 60/40 split running outside versus between the tackles—the Chiefs ran the ball up the middle more than any other NFL team—almost two-thirds of the time.

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That’s a fit with Philly’s existing personnel, especially with Pederson retaining offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles boasted the top power run-blocking line in the league last season, converting 84 percent of short-yardage situations. So even if DeMarco Murray flees town, the Eagles will still have a line that knows the system—and has had success with it—and a more than competent back in Ryan Mathews.

“You have to be able to impose your will on teams,” Reich said of the Eagles’ offensive approach. That certainly sounds like a team who will commit to the run, more so than Reid’s Eagle teams ever did.

Expect Pederson to also include the Pistol formation, something the Chiefs added over the past couple of seasons while consulting with Chris Ault—widely regarded as the godfather of the Pistol.

Philly running backs will also be heavily involved in the passing game, a WCO hallmark and a trait found in both the offenses Pederson oversaw in Kansas City and Reich’s charges in San Diego. Both the Chiefs and Chargers found ways to create positive matchups for pass-catching backs like Jamaal Charles and Danny Woodhead, and you can bet Pederson and Reich will do the same for backs in Philly.

Eagles fans can also expect the return of Reid’s beloved screen game, something he developed even further in Kansas City and an aspect Pederson is sure to bring back with him.

Another similarity between what Kelly was doing and what Pederson will do is using tight ends to create matchup problems. Again, this is a WCO trademark and something both Pederson’s Chiefs (Travis Kelce) and Reich’s Chargers (Antonio Gates) have a track record of doing. And again, the Eagles have an existing roster piece—Zach Ertz—in place. The hope is that fantasy owners won’t have the same frustration with the disparity between Ertz’s potential and usage that Kelce owners often found with Reid.

When it comes to the wide receivers, it’s easy to beat up Pederson for a Chiefs’ offense that failed to get a wide receiver into the end zone in 2015. However, the addition of Jeremy Maclin to the roster changed that tune, and Reich’s experience with a more downfield passing attack in San Diego could skew Pederson’s offense away from the dink-and-dunk normally associated with Reid. Both the Chiefs and Chargers drew up plenty of plays designed to get the ball to Maclin and Keenan Allen; could Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor be next?

At his introductory press conference Pederson claimed Sam Bradford was perfect for his offense, and in support of that statement the Eagles inked Bradford to a contract extension. Bradford was better the second half of last season, completing 66 percent of his passes while averaging 270 yards per game, and the offense he’ll run in Philadelphia is similar to the one he operated to Rookie of the Year honors in 2010 under Pat Shurmur in St. Louis.

Pederson has indicated Bradford will have plenty of control of the Eagles’ offense, noting, “We want to give the keys of the offense to the quarterback.” Bradford’s accuracy fits the WCO MO, and the preponderance of three-step drops certainly suits him more than Kelly’s asking him to be a running threat.

While the offensive pieces seem to fit, there is one area where the Eagles will take a definite step backwards under Pederson: number of plays run. With Kelly’s breakneck pace the Eagles ran a play every 22.1 seconds last year; by contrast, the Chiefs ranked 31st in the league at 29.9 seconds. The result was 147 more offensive plays—almost two games worth—for the Eagles.

There are also clock management issues at play, dating back to Reid’s notoriously slow drive in the Super Bowl a decade ago. They resurfaced when the Chiefs—with Pederson calling the plays—took more than five minutes off the clock while driving to cut their deficit to seven in their playoff loss to New England. Pederson was grilled about the drive and noted that the Chiefs “still had timeouts and time to put ourselves in a position to tie the football game,” but it was a flashback Philly fans weren’t entirely comfortable with.

Reid’s play-calling structure—in the first half of games last year he called the play, relayed it to Pederson, who then passed it along to quarterback Alex Smith—also complicated the process, as did the wordy terminology associated with his offense. These are issues Pederson will need to address, but even if he does the Eagles’ offense will operate at a significantly slower rate compared to last season.

Finally, it’s worth noting that this is Peterson’s first opportunity to call plays for a full game. His only head coaching experience came with a high school team almost a decade ago, and he’s only been calling plays on a consistent basis since Reid handed him that task in the second half of the Chiefs’ Week 7 win over Pittsburgh. From that point on Pederson called plays in the second half of every game; Eagles fans have to hope it’s no coincidence that the move also launched KC on an 11-game winning streak that ended at the hands of the Patriots in the postseason.

Because the various situations impacted play-calling—often times Pederson inherited a halftime lead and was more concerned with taking time off the clock than scoring quickly—it’s tough to compare Pederson’s play-calling production to Reid’s. That said, under Pederson’s direction over the final half of the season second-half scoring climbed almost 15 percent—compared to a 3 percent rise in first-half scoring over that same span. Whatever Pederson was doing, it was working.

The easy way out is to peg Pederson as a Reid disciple who will return the WCO to Philly. But evidence suggests that Pederson has a wider variety of influences to draw from—most notably Reich—and that Reid’s continued growth in KC should serve Pederson well as he returns to Philly, with a roster boasting ample talent waiting to pay fantasy dividends.

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