Football Philosophy: Picking Andy Reid's Brain

It's business as usual in Philadelphia, with an entire fan base collapsing into frantic desperation after their football team won on Sunday. The win was ugly, yes, and there was a lot of blame to throw around. Nobody can entirely defend Michael Vick's performance (although Eliot did crunch some interesting numbers with the offensive line).

But then there are the complaints about Andy Reid and his playcalling. The quotable stat so far has been, "At one point, the play selection was 19 rush, 56 pass." People have gone on to blame Reid's love affair with the passing game, especially since the Browns have an excellent pass defense but are horrible against the run. This isn't helped by the fact that LeSean McCoy is arguably the best running back in football.

I'm not here to defend Andy Reid and his game management (I'll get to that later), but I do think there may be cause to take a deep breath and look at this situation in a different light. We may have hit the panic button a little too early, which is easy to do when the only thing you have to go on is sixty minutes of real football. But this sport extends both beyond and before a Sunday afternoon, and that's what I think we may have forgotten. After the jump we'll break down the big picture and try to bring this "emergency" back down to Earth.

A football team, in today's day and age, comes down to three elements: the quarterback, the defense, and the coach. You can get picky and put the offensive line and the pass rush in there, but as the Browns showed us yesterday, you can have one of the better offensive lines in football and it won't matter if Brandon Weeden is your quarterback. As for the Eagles, one of those elements (the defense) was excellent. It's the other two people have been worried about. And with the way Andy runs his team, the coach and quarterback are essentially joined at the hip. For that reason, I'll focus on Big Red.

This is partially in response to everyone who mentioned the overall lack of running against a terrible run defense. Yes, that strategy probably would have led to a big win, but one win does not a season make. Remember, Andy Reid has been an NFL Head Coach for fifteen years. To insinuate that he did not know the Browns were weak against the run is absolutely ridiculous. To me, it's clear that he had a greater agenda than simply to win, which is something all good coaches do. There are a lot of things to consider - how much you put on tape for your next opponent, the health of your best players, and opportunities to try new schemes or plays.

So, if there was another agenda, what was it? This is what Reid had going into the game on Sunday:

  1. Knowledge of the Browns' defense from 2011. This should be obvious; I have no idea why anyone would think that just because Reid passed almost sixty times that he forgot about the Browns' run defense.
  2. Actual film from a few weeks ago of the Eagles' reserves on defense playing against the Browns' offensive starters during the preseason.
  3. Michael Vick's preseason play, which was a whopping twelve snaps.
  4. The Browns were starting rookies all over the place on offense, and their next opponent is a much, much better team.

From there, I think Reid logically reasoned that the Eagles' starters on defense would be more than enough to handle Cleveland's pathetic offense. After all, he had tape showing the backups doing a decent job; there was no reason to think the starters would come up short. This proved to be a correct assumption, as Cleveland managed only nine offensive points and 185 "real" yards despite getting good field position most of the day.

Then there's Michael Vick, coming off yet another injury. He's had literally no live-action game preparation coming into the start today. Think about it: twelve snaps. On an extended drive, that's pretty much one series. Every other starting quarterback got about six quarters worth of playing time in. There's not a doubt in my mind that Reid essentially viewed this game versus a much inferior opponent as a fifth preseason game, one where he could let Vick get a little more settled playing again before the real test versus Baltimore the following week. We've all heard the "rust" comments from Andy himself, but I don't think they're given as much validity as they should.

Additionally, I think Reid adopted a "good enough to win" mentality here, considering their next opponent. It almost turned into a trap game, but this year's iteration of the Eagles proved to be better than that. I have no doubt that Andy could have exploited all of the Browns' weaknesses and ran up the score had he so desired (it's McCoy versus the Browns, for Christ's sake).

But then there's the tape, which would have not been unlike all of the tape the Ravens gift-wrapped for the Eagles' coaches this week. After all, what is more useful to an opposing coach: a clinic of an offense firing on all cylinders, or tape of a potentially dangerous offense having an unusually bad game? I would go with the former, which is exactly what the Ravens did. On the other side of the coin, how much useful tape does the Ravens' defensive coaching staff have on the Eagles? Sure, they could try and mimic Cleveland's coverages, but that's not a sure-fire guarantee of success, especially if Vick is as committed to improvement as he says he is. What are they going to say, "Well if they have 120 penalty yards and the quarterback attempts to throw across his body five times, we'll be golden?" The Ravens have actually very little by way of research to prepare with. And they can use a Vick "stand-in" all they want; the last time to reportedly try this (the first Cowboys game last year) got so wrapped up with Mike that LeSean ran all over them en route to a 34-7 blowout. I don't think the Eagles will repeat those results against Baltimore, but trying to replicate Vick's playing style in practice has not always yielded results.

Where I disagree with Reid's game plan is not the "why," but the "how." I would have exploited the run early and often, especially with three active running backs and a fullback on my roster. At the risk of sounding presumptuous, that tactic most likely would have been enough to achieve a comfortable lead over the hapless Cleveland offense by halftime. From there, I would start calling more pass plays to get Vick back into the swing of things. If it started to turn into Turnover Central, the running game would always be available to kill some clock and protect the lead if need be.

In all fairness to Andy, though, we have no idea how much of his game plan was improvised. McCoy's early fumble probably unnerved Big Red (remember, this was before Vick's interceptions), and then all of the holding penalties really killed the running game on several plays. I still can't excuse the severity in which Andy ignored the pass, especially when Mike threw his third interception. Once they lost the lead, a pass-oriented drive became necessary, which is never a situation you want your team in when your quarterback is having a bad game. It's like trying to get yourself out of a hole with nothing but the shovel you dug it with.

So where does this leave the Eagles? Well, after Week 1, they are 1-0, and that is by far the most important statistic. And while their performance last week will be nowhere near good enough to defeat a talented Baltimore team, I don't think it's fair to assume that we, the fans, know everything about what went into the game preparation and management in that ugly win. A season is sixteen games, something coaches are always thinking about, and I have a feeling we'll see a very different Philadelphia Eagles team on Sunday.

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