While there won't be many changes for the Eagles in 2009, as far as their playbook goes, there will be some worth noting.
The list of new faces is extremely impressive and rather exciting. Leonard Weaver, Jason Peters, Stacy Andrews, Sean Jones, and Ellis Hobbs while also adding some young talent through the draft such as Jeremy Maclin, LeSean "Shady" McCoy, and Cornelius Ingram.
All of these guys will make an impact in one way or another. They all have their own unique talents to offer and could force the rather thick-headed Andy Reid to take a look at revamping that laminated sheet he's always waving around.
The coaching staff, on the other hand, remains largely intact. Some guys have left for other jobs or have retired but new guys are stepping in and shouldn't miss a beat. All of the coordinators are the same, so there will be no sweeping changes on that front.
So, how will each player help in changing the playbook and philosophy of the Andy Reid's Philadelphia Eagles V11.0?
- Running the "Screen" More Often
It seems as though the screen was not run nearly as often in 2008 as it was in 2007 or any other prior year. I don't have the numbers right in front of me, but it was fairly obvious just from watching.
The reason could be that Westbrook was a bit more banged up in 2008 than he has been in years prior. Regardless of the reason, the Eagles need to find their way back to the screen.
Westbrook has made his highlight reel off of the screen. Think back to the Redskins game in '07, or the Lions game in the same year. Even in '08 the screen put the nail in the coffin for the Minnesota Vikings in the Wild Card round of last year's playoffs.
But for whatever reason, the screen was simply forgotten for most of the year. And in Reid's pass-first offense, the screen must be an important part of the gameplan to make up for the amount of running plays called.
Westbrook had perhaps the most ineffective year of his career last year. He had a career low in yards-per-reception (7.4), the second-lowest in receiving yards (402), and his lowest reception total (54) since 2003.
Peters and Andrews are both athletic enough to pick up right where Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan left off in the execution of the screen.
Also let's not forget that the rookie McCoy can run that screen with the best of them. So whether it's McCoy, Westbrook, or even Leonard Weaver, it's time to get back to the bread-and-butter play.
- More Timing Patterns (Slants, Drags, Hitches, Comebacks, etc.)
Reid calls himself a west-coast style guy, but his playcalling would indicate otherwise. Reid loves throwing the deep ball. He'll send his guys straight down the field and tell McNabb to heave it up and see what comes down.
This, folks, is not the west-coast offense. This is more of a vertical passing attack similar to the '98 Vikings, or the '99 and '01 Rams under Mike Martz.
This season, I believe Reid gets back to his west-coast offense routes (like that play on words?).
Over the past few years, Reid has gone out and gotten the speed that he wants at receiver. In 2007, he went out and got Curtis as a free agent, 08 he drafted D-Jack, and now this year traded up two spots to snag Jeremy Maclin.
All of these guys are sub-4.3 runners who can get away from almost any corner in the league. The only hurdle here is teaching Maclin how to run an intermediate route, considering he never, or rarely, ran one at Mizzou in the spread.
Regardless, with the speed the Eagles now have, short timing patterns can turn into big plays for the offense.
Any one of these three guys have the speed to take a five-yard slant, hitch, comeback, drag, etc. and turn it into a touchdown simply by finding a crease and running away from defenders.
Look for a lot more timing patterns this year, and a lot of frustrated defenses.
- Throwing to the Tight End in the Middle of the Field
Reid wants his tight ends to catch more than he wants them to block, that's obvious. It's the reason why he passed on Brandon Pettigrew and waited until the fifth round to grab Ingram.
Ingram will back up Brent Celek, but no matter who is playing the tight end spot, they will see a lot more passes to them in the middle of the field.
Whether it's a simple in-pattern, a slant, or a seam, look for the Eagles to use their tight ends to manipulate the safeties. Then what happens is once the safeties have been burnt by the tight ends in the middle, they will begin pressing the middle and paying attention to the tight end. That, in turn, will lead to one-on-one matchups on the outside.
This will also take place in the red zone.
If the tight ends can learn to use their bodies to shield off linebackers in the middle of the field, they could see a lot of looks in the red zone. Both guys are over 6'4" and can catch the football. This, again, will also lead to that fade pattern to the corner working a whole lot better than it did in '08.
One man covering the receiver is a whole lot better than having to worry about the safety as well.
- More Power Football being Played in the Red Zone and on the Goal Line
The Eagles now boast the biggest line in the NFL, at an average weight of 333 pounds per guy. That beef is gonna be used to push the pile when it matters most.
This does not only pertain to the red zone and goal line, but also on third and fourth and one situations. The Eagles had a difficult time moving the pile last year, but with this huge offensive line that should no longer become an issue.
Last season Reid was forced to call passing plays in short-yardage situations because of inconsistencies on the offensive line and at the tight end position. This year, he'll be able to hand the ball to Weaver right up the gut and push the pile for the necessary yardage.
That kind of power football will be tough to stop with the size that the Eagles now boast. Also, let's not forget that Weaver is 240 pounds, and McNabb is 250. That kind of momentum behind a 333-pound average and short-yardage is no longer an issue.
- More Blitzing and Man Coverage
With the linebackers a year more experienced, look for Jim Johnson to set them loose off the edge and up the middle and any other way he can think of.
Sean Jones is a big guy who can play in the box and take over for a vacating linebacker, so look for him to be that eighth man in the box fairly often.
Also, with the emergence of Joselio Hanson and the trade for Ellis Hobbs, the cornerback position looks much strong than it did last year.
Because of the new talent in the secondary, Johnson won't have to worry so much about rolling coverage to compensate for one guy's shortcomings as he may have had to do with Hanson last year.
I also look for even the corners to get in on the blitzing. Sheldon Brown and Hobbs are very good blitzers off the corner and can lay a hit on a quarterback who's not paying attention. Actually, they can even if he is.
A new faith in the young linebackers will allow Johnson to really get creative and go nuts with the blitz this year. Also, the re-emergence of a guy like Darren Howard gives the defensive line a bit more credibility in Johnson's eyes to hold their own should the blitz fail.
- Heavier Rotation in Places Other than the Defensive Line
Johnson has always used a rotation on his defensive line, and that's not going to change. However, what could change is the emergence of rotations occurring elsewhere.
Linebacker and the secondary are fairly stacked as far as depth goes. This could lead JJ to mix and match different players at those two areas a lot more often than he ever has.
For example, perhaps Akeem Jordan and Omar Gaither work in more of a rotation. Or Gaither can come in for Gocong while Gocong puts his hand on the end as a defensive end. Sean Jones may see time on first and second down, while Quintin Demps replaces him on third and other obvious passing downs.
As far as that goes, we could even see Jones at strong safety and Demps at free, or Jones at strong and Quintin Mikell at free. Hobbs could play with Brown, or Hanson could be on the field with Icky and Samuel. Macho Harris may get some time in at safety and corner.
You get the point. The possibilities are endless as to what JJ could do with this defense.
Something I've been suggesting is the 3-4. Not permanently, but simply for different situations. How confused would a quarterback be to come out and see the Eagles in the 3-4?
Put Patterson, Bunkley, and Abiamiri on the line and have Gaither, Jordan, Bradley and Gocong all on the field together. Or perhaps put Gocong at an end position and bring in Joe Mays to play the other middle linebacker spot with Gaither playing the SAM.
It's a work in progress.
- Trickery is the Name of the Game
There's not a whole lot you can do with special teams. However, with the amount of talent that the Eagles have at returner, they can do a whole lot.
What would a kickoff team do if they saw Demps, Jackson, and Maclin on the field at the same time? There's no way you could ignore one of them if there were to be some kind of trick play in order.
For the first time, you would see a kickoff team actually worrying about covering someone as they run down the field. This would distract them from the ball carrier, which really is as good as a block as far as that is concerned.
Like I said, there's not much you can do with special teams, but you do whatever you can in order to confuse and win some games with it.
Overall I think the Eagles need to become more aggressive. Blitz more on defense, go for it on offense, pull out all the stops and special teams and just see what falls into place.
The great thing about having a good team already is the fact that there does not need to be a sweeping change across the board. Rather than starting from scratch and creating your playbook because you're a new team or just because it's not working, they can instead just tweak it and fix the problems.
The Eagles have that benefit. I look for them to use it to their full advantage.