The blame for the 2020 Eagles and their offensive failings manifested itself this week when the team chose not to renew the contracts of offensive assistants Rich Scangarello and Marty Mornhinweg, both of whom came to the franchise last off-season as part of changes mandated to head coach Doug Pederson by the front office.
Reports indicate the Eagles will pursue a true offensive coordinator this off-season. It is no coincidence the offense fell into a black hole of despair and Carson Wentz’ performance plummeted during the only season of Pederson’s tenure without one.
The Birds finished the season 27th in offensive points per game and tied for 28th in yards per play. In a league in which it’s never been easier to pass the football, Eagles QBs combined to throw for 3,327 yards, 5th-fewest in the NFL. Wentz did not play in the team’s final four games, but in the 12 games he did play, compiled a passer rating of 72.8. Only one QB in the league had a lower rating, Sam Darnold of the Jets, at 72.7. Only one-tenth of a point kept Wentz from being the worst-rated passer in the NFL this season. The Eagles did not score 30 or more points in a single game this season, and they managed to break the 20-point barrier just twice in their last eight games.
So yes, for the second straight off-season, changes will be made to the offensive coaching staff, but the man at the top, Pederson will remain in charge.
And while it may seem counterintuitive, this year’s failures point to the need for Pederson to be given total control of who his new assistants will be, what their duties will be, and who his quarterback should be heading into the 2021 season.
WHAT IS DOUG’S OFFENSE?
Since 2017, Pederson’s offense has shape-shifted depending on the personnel at his disposal. With a fully healthy Wentz in ‘17, the Eagles used play-action and designed roll-outs, ran the ball a bunch and looked to take deep shots down the field. This is likely the closest iteration of what Doug wants to do. However, when Wentz went down with three weeks left in the season, the offense was reformatted into an RPO scheme to benefit Nick Foles.
Both worked spectacularly, and Doug was rightly praised for his malleability. He won a Super Bowl as a result.
In 2018, he started the season with Foles, who continued to run the RPO game that worked so well in the playoffs and Super Bowl. When Wentz returned, the QB did not possess the mobility he did prior to the injury, dealt with a bad back, and the offense floundered as Pederson attempted to return to the play designs that were so successful the season before. Eventually, the offense once again became Foles’ for the last three weeks as well as a shortened playoff run. By the end of that season, sensing a mismatch opportunity with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, the Eagles ran a ton of two tight-end sets that transformed the offense into a slower, but still somewhat effective, version of its previous self.
In 2019, with Wentz ensconced as the starter, the Eagles continued to utilize two tight ends, but hoped the addition of DeSean Jackson would re-energize the vertical game. But Jackson suffered injuries throughout the season, Alshon Jeffrey failed to stay healthy, Nelson Agholor failed to regularly catch the football and second round pick JJ Arcega-Whiteside, well, he just failed. By the end of the season, with no wide receivers available, Pederson and Wentz fully embraced 12 personnel and the running back screen game, which was enough to conquer four games against lackluster NFC East opponents to earn another division title.
CHANGES FORCED UPON PEDERSON
Following the ‘19 campaign, despite his stated intention to keep offensive coordinator Mike Groh and wide receivers coach Carson Walch, Pederson was forced to fire those lieutenants and bring aboard Scangarello, who studied under Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco but lasted just one season as Denver’s offensive coordinator. Scangarello and Shanahan believed in the zone running game with lots of play action passing, which didn’t mesh with whatever it was Pederson wanted to accomplish.
Perhaps Pederson was overwhelmed having to be both the head coach and his own offensive coordinator. There were too many voices and too little structure, and an amalgamation of offenses created by Shanahan and Pederson, with Wentz and a dearth of talent at QB, utterly failed.
Given the way the way the offense ran in 2018 and ’19, changes needed to be made. Fresh ideas from the outside were needed, but Scangarello’s voice and background didn’t mesh with Pederson or the team’s personnel. And so here we are again, only this time, the Eagles need to do a better job finding assistants and an offensive coordinator who will align with Pederson’s offensive philosophy.
LACK OF CONTROL
For a head coach that won the Super Bowl three seasons ago, Pederson’s lack of control over the most fundamental aspects of his staff is shocking. He must be the north star of the Eagles offense. Not Carson Wentz, who may not be here at all in 2021, not another offensive coach, not the general manager, and not the owner. Pederson has to be the one to own the offense and, as such, should be the one to decide who his coaches and quarterback should be.
If Wentz insists on a trade, that decision will be made for him, but at the very least, Pederson should take this opportunity to reset and decide what kind of offense he wants to run. If Pederson believes Carson Wentz remains the best quarterback to do what he wants to do, he should be allowed to pursue that. If Pederson wants to be an RPO coach, he should implore the front office to trade Wentz and make Hurts the starting QB. If doesn’t like either QB and wants a completely fresh start, he should push Howie Roseman to draft a QB in the first round.
Too many chefs can spoil the broth and it’s clear that’s what happened to the Eagles in 2020. Pederson’s task will be difficult moving forward amidst an impending rebuild that could foster growing pains along the way. Pederson may have just one more season in Philadelphia before his time runs out, anyway.
Regardless, Pederson deserves to put together a coaching staff of his choosing this off-season. That way, if it fails, we will know upon whose shoulders to foist the blame.