10 Adjustments the Philadelphia Eagles Need to Make for a Successful 2012 Season
The Philadelphia Eagles might be the worst 2-1 team in the NFL based solely on popular opinion. They started out OK with two one-point wins over the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns, but they followed that up in Week 3 with a stinker in the desert. The Arizona Cardinals thumped the Eagles for four quarters, 27-6. That is the main reason why Eagles fans are worried that this team is reverting back to their early 2011 ways.
The NFL is always dominated by teams riding on momentum. This is a “what have you done for me lately” type of sports league. You don’t learn the most about teams after a win; you learn the most after a loss. How do you attack a team and where is a team weakest at? That is what you expose after a bad game like the Eagles had in Week 3.
This is when a coach makes his money or, in Andy Reid’s position, keeps his job. Coaches have to make key adjustments after tough losses. In football, just as in life, it is OK to make mistakes. What isn’t OK is making those mistakes consistently and not learning from them.
There are plenty of adjustments for the Eagles to make on both sides of the ball and one on special teams as well. Here are the 10 adjustments the Eagles need to make in order to get back to being a NFC contender and how they can successfully make all 10.
1. Better Utilize Michael Vick
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I don’t believe that Michael Vick is a true quarterback, and that’s OK. He is a playmaker. There is a difference and I will break it down. A quarterback’s job is to manage the game and put his team in position to succeed each week.
A playmaker does just that, make plays. He is always trying to make the big play. A playmaker like Vick will hold the ball longer and run around all over the field to try and create that perfect play.
This is why Vick cannot stop turning the ball over, but also why he has 999 total yards through the first three games. He makes plays that no one else can for two reasons. One, he is an athletic freak that does things that most quarterbacks can’t even dream about. Two, he treats every play like it’s a touchdown or die type of situation. Sometimes, that results in a big gain when the play looks dead, or sometimes, it leads to a big sack or turnover. Either way, it almost always leads to a monster hit on Vick.
Most people don’t believe you can win with a player like Vick under center. I disagree, but you do need an offensive coordinator and a head coach that know how to utilize a player like that. Defenses in the NFL aren’t stupid. They aren’t going to sit back while a playmaker like Vick tears up their defense. They are going to attack Vick in some way. Usually, it involves a lot of blitzing, but sometimes, it involves a defense disguising their coverages to try and throw him off.
This is where Marty Mornhinweg and Andy Reid come into play. When the defense is consistently sending five, six or seven players, you have to counter with screens, draws and quick passes. The ball should be out in two seconds or less on all passing plays until the defense starts to blitz less.
When the defense starts to disguise their coverages, the offense has to disguise what they are doing. The offense can run out of the shotgun, pass out of two or three tight end sets and run a lot of quick passing plays before the coverage has a chance to set up.
The key thing for a coaching staff to do when they have a player like Michael Vick is to recognize what the defense is doing to try and contain him, and counter that tactic. When you have a playmaker at quarterback like Vick, your offense game-plan has to be based on the defensive game-plan. That means your offensive game-plan is always changing, and that is OK. Actually, it’s crucial to his success.
2. Balance on Offense
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Some NFL teams can get away with being a pass-happy team that throws the ball 65 to 80 percent of the time.
The Eagles aren’t one of those teams. They have a quarterback who holds the ball too long, doesn’t understand when to throw the football away and is a very fragile quarterback.
Michael Vick can be a top-five quarterback when he has a running game to back him up. He should not be the entire offense. When you don’t give him balance, you are going to see multiple turnovers by Vick alone.
Last week was a perfect example of this. Vick passed the ball 37 times, ran the ball four times (which were all scrambles and not designed runs) and was sacked five times. That means there were 46 designed passing plays against Arizona. LeSean McCoy had 13 carries for 70 yards and Bryce Brown had four carries for 28 yards. That means the Eagles had 17 designed running plays.
That adds up to 46 passing plays called out of 63 offensive snaps. That is a ratio of 73 percent passing plays to just 27 percent running plays being called.
Last season, LeSean McCoy had 17 touchdowns on the ground and finished the year with 1,309 rushing yards. Why not give one of the best players in the NFL more than 13 carries?
The Eagles promoted Bryce Brown as their No. 2 running back. He may be just a rookie, but he has a great combination of power and speed. Why not give him more than four carries a game?
The Eagles also kept Dion Lewis (who was a healthy scratch) and undrafted Chris Polk. Why keep four running backs if you don’t want to run the ball at least a third of the time?
This falls on both Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg. They have to come up with a more balanced game plan on offense. Seventeen running plays are not enough for this offense to be efficient and explosive at the same time. We all know that Reid loves the passing game, but this is getting ridiculous.
Ideally, McCoy should get at least 20 carries, Brown should get five to seven carries, the third running back should get at least one carry and the fullback, Stanley Havili, should get a carry or two as well. That adds up to around 30 running plays for this offense.
What a more balanced offense does is slow down the pass rush and takes the pressure of Vick. It also decreases the amount of turnovers and controls the pace of the game. This doesn’t mean the offense has to be boring. You can be still be creative. The offense can run counters, draws, tosses, sweeps, direct snaps and your basic inside runs.
The Eagles will not beat a good defense this season when they don’t run the ball at least a third of the time. Balance is the key for Eagles’ success on offense going forward.
3. Give More Help for the Offensive Line in Pass Protection
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Michael Vick has been sacked nine times this season, but he has been hit the equivalent of a quarterback who has been sacked closer to 20 times. That is just the price you pay when you are Michael Vick.
For one, he doesn’t read blitzes very well. Defenses aren’t going to play passive against a quarterback who doesn’t react well to the blitz. He also holds on to the ball far too long, trying to create the big play. That adds up to a lot of unnecessary and painful shots for Vick.
You have to adjust to that if you are the head coach. The Eagles are already weak at left tackle and center with the losses of Jason Kelce and Jason Peters. Those were Pro Bowl-caliber players who probably won’t be coming back this season. Dallas Reynolds is starting at center for Kelce, while either King Dunlap (or Demetress Bell) is starting at left tackle for Peters.
Being down two starters on your offensive line means you are going to have protection breakdowns, especially when your starting center is gone. That means you have to give them extra help. Preferably with a tight end helping out on Dunlap’s side, as that is where the most of the pressure came from last week against Arizona.
Some might have a problem with this, as it would take the Eagles’ leading receiver, Brent Celek(14 catches, 258 yards), out of the offense too much. It doesn’t have to if the Eagles start to utilize their best blocker (who isn’t an offensive lineman), tight end Clay Harbor.
Harbor’s job wouldn’t be to take on defensive ends by himself. It would be to help in pass protection on the left side and to take on the extra blitzer when it comes from the strong side. This would take away one receiver from the play, but would give Michael Vick more time to find one of his other four receivers down the field.
Vick isn’t a quarterback who needs five receivers running routes on every pass play. He is at his best when he gets good protection. You give him more time in the pocket, and eventually, he will find somebody open down the field.
4. Move the Recivers Around the Offense
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You never want to get complacent with your offense, especially with your receivers. You don’t want the opposing defense to get comfortable with what you are doing. They should be making the extra effort to locate where your receivers are lining up and how to matchup. This is something the Eagles haven’t been terrible at, but it is something they can take to the next level.
The Eagles need to move all their receivers around the line of scrimmage, not just the wideouts before the snap. I want to see the outside receivers playing in the slot at times, and also the slot receivers getting some time on the outside. I also want to see the tight ends lining up wide and DeSean Jackson playing out of the backfield.
What the Eagles want to do in this adjustment is to try and find the best matchups and to make the defense move around and locate the key players. Football nowadays, at least on offense, is all about matchups and confusion. If you can get DeSean Jackson matched up against a linebacker on the inside or Brent Celek matched up with a defensive back on the outside near the goal line, you can do some heavy damage.
The main thing is to not get complacent and boring on offense. When you move your best players around, it makes the defense work that much harder.
5. Utilize Quicker Passing Routes Early in the Game
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It’s hard for a blitz to do its job when the pass is out of the quarterback’s hand in less than two seconds.
This is what the Eagles need to do early in ball games. The defense is going to look to set the tone very early against Michael Vick. They are going to send blitz after blitz until Vick starts to expect it. They are going to try and get their shots early and wear him down before we even get to the second quarter. Quick passes are the best way to take this strategy.
Quick ins, outs, slants and screens are the best routes for this type of attack. It gives the receiver a chance to make something happen after the catch, and it forces the corners to start playing closer to the line. That will set up double moves and deeper routes later in the game. The important thing is for Vick to get the ball out quickly, keep him off the turf and get him in rhythm with his receivers early.
Last week against Arizona, it seemed like every one of Vick’s passing attempts took around three to five seconds. That is ample time for a pass rush to at least get a hit on the quarterback, if not a sack. The quick routes will always be there if the defense is constantly blitzing and the offense is sending all their receivers out. Then, it becomes about the quarterback and the receiver being on the same page and the receiver beating his man to a spot.
6. Disguise Your Blitzes
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The Eagles haven’t been a great blitzing team this season and weren’t really a great blitzing team last season either. Six of their seven sacks this season have come from the defensive line and 46 of their 50 sacks last season came from the front four.
The Eagles do need to become a better blitzing team. It’s not going to happen from the personnel they have. Their best blitzer is also their best coverage linebacker, Mychal Kendricks. The Eagles just need to be smarter in how they blitz.
Delay blitzes and plays where the Eagles show blitz and back off after the snap are the best ways to improve their blitz. They need to show blitz more, but back off more as well. The offense should have no idea if they are actually blitzing or not.
This should become the defense that cried wolf (or blitz, in this case). That way, you force the defense to adjust to the blitz you are showing, which slows down the routes or a running back or tight end.
7. Use Phillip Hunt as a Blitzing Linebacker
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Another way the Eagles could improve their blitz is with using their fastest player off the edge as a blitzing linebacker. That player is Phillip Hunt. This week, he was demoted to the third string defensive end on the Eagles depth chart. That means the coaches should be looking at finding other ways of getting him on the football field. You don’t sit a player with that raw speed off the edge for all but nine plays a game.
The Eagles should line up Hunt as the weak side linebacker right on the line of scrimmage and blitz him right off the edge. Hunt is still a pretty raw player, but his athleticism and strength combination make him similar to that of a 3-4 edge-rusher. If the Eagles can find a way to utilize that in their 4-3 defense, he will be a scary pass-rusher coming off the edge.
Eventually, teams will pick up on this, probably sooner than later. That is why the coaches need to work on Hunt’s coverage skills as well. They will want to drop him in coverage after a while so that when he is on the field, it isn’t a dead giveaway that he will blitz.
8. Find the Best Matchups for the Cornerbacks
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The Eagles did a masterful job of matching their corners with the right receivers in their Week 2 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens. For the majority of the game, Nnamdi Asomugha was locked up with Anquan Boldin and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was covering Torrey Smith. The more physical corner was on the more physical wide receiver and the faster wideout was covered by the speed freak corner.
This is something the Eagles never did under the previous defensive coordinators during the Andy Reid regime. Under Jim Johnson and Sean McDermott, the Eagles corners would stick to a side all game long. That would make it really easy for the offense to pick and choose their matchups. Now, the defense gets to pick and choose their matchups.
The adjustment the Eagles need to make with this is at the slot corner spot. Brandon Boykin got stuck covering Larry Fitzgerald far too often last week. You can’t ask a 5’9" rookie slot corner to cover Fitzgerald. It lead to several big plays over the middle in the first half.
The Eagles need to recognize when an offense is putting their best receiver in the slot and use either a safety or outside linebacker to help double-team that receiver. I love that the Eagles are matching up their outside corners, but they need to keep an eye on who the smaller slot corner, Brandon Boykin, is covering. That is the one matchup in the Eagles secondary that can be exposed.
The Eagles just gave up 85 yards total to the wide receivers in both Week 1 and 2, but gave up 114 yards just to Fitzgerald last Sunday at Arizona.
9. Keep Nate Allen over the Top of Nnamdi Asomugha
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There was one play last week where the defense looked like they didn’t know their assignments. This is something we saw on a weekly basis last season, but haven’t seen any of through the first two games this season. The miscommunication came on a 37-yard touchdown strike to Larry Fitzgerald.
Nnamdi Asomugha was pressing Fitzgerald in man coverage, but lost a step to Fitzgerald in the process. Nnamdi acted like there was supposed to be a safety over the top of him. Strong safety Nate Allen was helping cover an underneath receiver, but Nnamdi was talking to free safety Kurt Coleman on the sidelines right after that play.
I believe there was confusion as to which safety was supposed to be staying over the top of Nnamdi. I believe it should be Nate Allen who is staying over the top of Nnamdi. Allen is more natural as the deep safety than Coleman is.
This will allow Nnamdi to really press his man without being afraid of giving up the big play if the receiver is able to get past him.
Allen is faster and taller than Coleman is. He is more adept to being the deep safety and has the ability to stay with wide receivers down the field should Nnamdi really get burnt on a play.
10. 2 Return Deep on Kickoffs and Punts
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I suggested the Eagles keep Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson deep on punt returns last season, and they did it in the first game, but never did it again the rest of the season. I would like the Eagles to do this more in 2012 but also utilize two return men deep on kickoffs as well.
I want to see Bryce Brown and Brandon Boykin deep on kickoffs together and, at times, DeSean Jackson and Damaris Johnson deep on punts as well. What this does is allow for the Eagles to either run a reverse or fake reverse on kickoffs and punt returns.
They can also have each returner back deep, but on opposite sides of the field, while both returners act like they are fielding the ball. The Bears did this least season with Johnny Knox and Devin Hester and it went for a touchdown, but the play was called back due to a holding penalty away from the return.
The Eagles need something to jump-start their return game, because right now, it is pretty dull. Boykin is averaging just 22.9 yards on kickoffs while Johnson is averaging 5.3 yards on punts. The Eagles have the talent to be a dangerous return team; they just haven’t executed properly yet. Sometimes you just need something extra to get your return game going.