Obviously, I don't have access to the playbook (not that I'd be able to share it even if I did). Nor will I need to get anywhere close to the level of understanding as any of the players on the team (especially the quarterbacks). I just wanted to get an idea in advance of some of the approaches Mornhinweg takes and how that corresponds to our ideal of a prototypical west coast offense. It will also be interesting to cover some of the main differences between the scheme and those run by the Jets over the last few years. I've also been on the look-out for any quirky patterns or unusual aspects.
To that end, I've been watching footage of the Eagles offense from 2012 and 2011 and after the jump I'll take a look at some of the plays that are staples of Mornhinweg's offense, together with details of some of the things I noticed about his play calling and game planning.
Before I even start, I'll direct you to a piece Mike Nolan did for Turn on the Jets. Although this was written back in January before many of the personnel changes on the offense were undertaken, it still serves as an outstanding primer in terms of how the running game works and what the Eagles were looking to do in the passing game. This saves me having to go over old ground. As ever, exclusive data from PFF has been used in my article.
The first thing worth noting is that Andy Reid always had some level of involvement in the offense, so before we even start to break down what the Eagles did over the last few years, we must consider that there may be elements of that offense that will be enhanced now that Reid is out of the picture and others which might not feature as heavily, if at all. While this is one of those things that is impossible to accurately discern, the fans' perspective seems to be that the Eagles ran a more run-heavy offense when Mornhinweg was running the show, but would tend to pass more when Reid got heavily involved. Reid ceded play-calling duties to Mornhinweg during the 2006 season, but his direct involvement in offensive game planning has apparently been intermittent since then.
In many respects, this creates a similar issue to that of last year, where we were trying to evaluate Tony Sparano's offense without knowing which elements of that offense came from the offensive coordinator and which ones came from the head coach. Of course, this time, the roles are reversed and it's the coordinator that is bringing his offense to the Jets rather than the head coach. Reid and Mornhinweg do have very similar offensive philosophies in terms of scheme, but that doesn't mean they don't have different philosophies in respect of game planning and play calling.
So, we're flying blind to an extent, but just bear in mind that Mornhinweg's scheme will evolve slightly without Reid's influence. Of course, Rex Ryan may have his own offensive beliefs that will impact strategy and the personnel available to Mornhinweg is also going to become a factor in that.
Without getting too deeply into blocking schemes, I think it's safe to say that Mike Devlin's role as offensive line coach will be to implement Mornhinweg's system, so we can expect them to use the same kind of blocking schemes. Devlin - a former NFL offensive lineman who played in multiple systems - was an offensive line coach for two years at Toledo, but they ran a spread offense, so this will be somewhat different. Mornhinweg favors a zone blocking scheme, but it isn't a pure zone scheme as they do run some gap-blocking plays. You might see one or two players pulling to the outside at times.
Zone blocking, when coupled with a lot of stretch runs, dovetailed nicely with what the Eagles would do in the passing game. A lot of their runs involve all (or most) of the linemen moving in unison, so that enables them to run play action looks by creating a moving pocket. As the action flows in one direction, the angle of the handoff usually dictates whether or not the runner will have a cutback option, which is also something which features heavily. If everyone is on the move to the outside and the defense is moving laterally trying to avoid getting caught on the inside, then this can lead to a downhill surge which - if all goes to plan - causes most of the front seven to overrun the play. The runner might need to slip one tackle at the point of attack in order to get into the open field, but it's an effective misdirection play for Mornhinweg's offenses.
This reminds me of a similar misdirection play that was a staple of the Brian Schottenheimer offense, particularly in 2010. That play - termed "the swerve" - operated with similar zone blocking principles upfront. The main difference being that I wouldn't often anticipate the Eagles to have run this type of counter out of a I-formation. Here's an example of the swerve in action.
I wouldn't expect to see the "blast" play too often under Mornhinweg. That was the other staple play of the Bill Callahan running game and Sparano inherited it and made use of it last year. That play involves the left guard pulling to block a defensive end coming off the opposite edge, opening a gap over right guard. Sparano's best running play last year was probably the trap which usually involved Austin Howard pulling in behind the right guard and leading the way up the middle. Again, I didn't see the Eagles run this play.
With the risk of a counter keeping the front seven on their heels and to the inside, that should open up the possibility of runs to the outside. With that action flowing to the outside, if the tackle can get to the outside shoulder of the player with outside contain, then he can drive them to the inside and allow the running back to turn the corner. Usually you end up with a read-and-react situation where someone will maintain contain on the outside, but the blocking motion will enable one of the linemen to drive their guy out of his lane and the runner, having started off running parallel to the line of scrimmage, must anticipate and hit that hole.
One other aspect of the offensive line that the Jets have used in recent years has been an unbalanced line. I would assume that Mornhinweg sees this as unnecessarily complicated because it is not something the Eagles have tended to do. The only adjustment they made to their regular five starters was on the goal line, where they would often go with six linemen. In those situations, they used Todd Herremans - a starter at tackle - as the extra tight end and put the extra lineman in at tackle.
Jets fans should be familiar with a west coast offense, having watched Paul Hackett's version of one from 2001 to 2004. This was considered a dink-and-dunk offense, especially with Chad Pennington running it. However, whether Pennington adapted his game to fit that conservative style or the offense just operated better with him playing that way is unknown. No doubt Pennington's shoulder injuries - although the first of those came in Hackett's final season - and Herm Edwards' conservative nature were factors too.
Mornhinweg's west coast scheme has typically been more expansive. In fact that's another area where he apparently differs from Reid, who is thought to favor a dink and dunk approach. However, the concepts remain pretty much the same. Short, high-percentage throws spread the defense out and give the receivers a chance to make plays in the open field, with a lot of throws down the seam and deep shots down the sideline mixed in to stretch the defense vertically. Quick passing can alleviate the pressure on the quarterback, help him to get into a rhythm and make the offense slightly less predictable. However, it does require the quarterback to make decisive reads and accurate throws, two areas where Mark Sanchez lost confidence last year.
As has been widely noted, Mornhinweg's offenses have thrown a lot of screen passes. (Note: A screen pass is defined as any pass caught behind the line of scrimmage for these purposes). My previous studies on screen passes here and here revealed that the Jets don't throw the screen pass as much as most other teams and that they weren't too successful when they did. However, in 2011, they threw more and dramatically improved on how effectively they ran them for most of the season, only to then overuse the screen pass over the last few games with disappointing results, as defenses were well prepared to stop it.
To update the research for 2012, the amount of times that Sanchez threw a screen pass went back down again under Sparano, to 7% of the time - even less than in 2010. He also had miserable numbers of 65% completions and five yards per attempt. Three of Tim Tebow's seven passes were screen passes, but netted just two yards and Greg McElroy threw five screens in 31 attempts - for 58 yards. As you'd expect, the Eagles ran screen passes much more - 17% of the time in total. The Eagles completed over 90% and gained 5.7 yards per attempt.
Another key staple for the Eagles is the throw down the seam to the tight end, usually Brent Celek. I mention this mainly because I watched a lot of Kellen Winslow Jr. highlights last night and that seems to be his bread and butter. If Winslow can earn himself a contract in mini camp, then he could fit well into that stretch-the-field tight end role. If not, it's also a route Jeff Cumberland has seen plenty of success with.
As noted above, the Eagles would use a moving pocket and the fact that they get rid of a lot of quick passes to alleviate some of the pressure on their young quarterbacks. It's also worth looking into whether there was any difference between how they protected the experienced and mobile Mike Vick in contrast with the younger, more inexperienced Nick Foles.
There was one major difference - they left tight ends in to block a lot less with Foles in the game. In Vick's 10 starts, the Eagles left a tight end to block approximately once every five plays and a back in to block about the same. However, in Foles' six starts, while they again left a back in once every five plays on average, they only left a tight end in 31 times - less than once every 15 plays. In fact, in week 14 against the Bucs, backs stayed in to block 23 times and a tight end never stayed in to block. Having said that, there is a possibility that DeSean Jackon's absence was a factor in this and the Eagles wanted Brent Celek running more routes. For comparison's sake the Jets left tight ends and backs in to block about 25% less than the Eagles did last year.
Play calling tendencies
One thing I noticed about Mornhinweg - ignoring the fact that run/pass ratios might have been warped by how closely Reid had been involved with the offense in any given week - was that he seems to have a meticulous approach towards developing tendencies. The Eagles offense provides for many staple plays which can involve misdirection and the Eagles aren't afraid to run a play several times, perhaps with limited levels of success, to set something else up. For example, if the offensive line all starts moving to the right in unison, that could be a stretch run to the right side, but there's also the possibility of the quarterback faking and throwing the ball while on the move in front of a moving pocket. Also, there's the cutback option. If a runner goes to the outside three times in a row, then that's where you might get the offense anticipating a given play and the possibility of exploiting that with a tendency breaker.
Under Brian Schottenheimer, the Jets set a lot of things like this up, but there was a Wile E. Coyote-esque quality to Schottenheimer, who seemed reluctant to revisit a well-thought out plan that had previously failed. Often, it would seem like this was a play which caught out the defense and would have worked but for one person making a mistake they ordinarily wouldn't or some other example of poor execution. As for Tony Sparano, I criticized him last year for running misdirection plays impatiently - without having set them up well enough with a developed tendency first.
What I saw from Mornhinweg was a willingness to make a play (or even just a formation or some other kind of wrinkle) a key feature of an offensive game plan one week and then you might not see it again for three weeks.
Let's look in detail at such a play. An ideal tendency-breaker and referred to as Mornhinweg's favorite running play in Nolan's article linked above, the sprint draw is a perfect example, because they ran it four times in the opening game, then hid it for a few weeks, before re-visiting it later in the season to great success. Here's how they lined up:
The first key is that the two tackles, rather than moving forward, or laterally, immediate drop back into a pass protection stance, such as you might expect to find on most running plays.
Vick sprints back to hand the ball off to LeSean McCoy. That's important, because he's getting the ball further away from the line, so he has more time to make his reads than on a conventional draw play, where he'd already be on the move and it might be harder to change direction. The center, Jason Kelce, folds behind the right guard as each guard blocks a defensive tackle. Kelce's season ended after week two, which might be another reason they stopped running this play for a while.
A lot of the sprint draws the Eagles ran were designed to go right up the middle, as the ends hopefully rush the outside and get too far upfield. This enables the tackles to peel off and block someone else at the second level. However, in this case, Jabaal Sheard (#97) has inside leverage, so he gets pushed to the inside and McCoy, by virtue of the depth of the hand-off has time to make that read and take the outside lane instead. This could be a built-in read in case the end tries to shoot the gap into the backfield or by design if he is prone to doing that.
You can see Kelce emerging from behind the right guard to get into position to prevent D'Qwell Jackson (#52) from getting across to blow up the play. Had Sheard rushed outside then the run could have gone up the middle instead with Kelce getting onto Jackson earlier. As it happens, Athyba Rubin (#71) drove his man back and stretched the play out well, but not quite well enough to prevent Kelce from still being able to get to Jackson in time.
McCoy heads into the open field where he is one on one with Eric Hagg (#27). That's a mismatch and the play goes for 22.
This play creates a lot of other options. Since Vick is on the move as he makes the hand-off, he can fake the hand off and roll out effectively. In fact, the Eagles typically use a lot of these rollouts to set up the sprint draw rather than the other way around. Finally, here's an example of where they set up in a similar manner (albeit from the shotgun), but passed the ball to McCoy instead for a touchdown.
The death of the wildcat?
Something I haven't seen speculated upon is whether the Jets are still going to run a wildcat-style package this year. There was some discussion that they'd been working with some direct snap plays at OTA's and even though Tony Sparano and Tim Tebow are gone, Ryan has long been a proponent of these packages. Also, the Jets hired David Lee to be the quarterback coach and he was the offensive coordinator when Arkansas re-introduced the wildcat on a national scale and made it popular again.
First of all, when I say "Wildcat" I don't really mean the "Wildcat" per se. "Wildcat" has become a generic term to represent any formation where someone other than the quarterback takes the snap, so I'm going to look into whether Mornhinweg uses such formations, not just the classic wildcat with the second back lined up out wide and running a jet sweep.
The short answer is not very much. At least not over the last two years. However, when you have an athlete like Vick at the quarterback position, you can run designed quarterback runs and option type plays, which is something the Eagles did a lot in the red zone. So perhaps they would have used more "wildcat" if they didn't have a guy like Vick as their starter.
It's not something they've abandoned altogether though. In 2011, they signed Ronnie Brown, who was one of the main guys involved in Miami popularizing the wildcat at the NFL level. Sure enough, they went with Brown at quarterback and Vick at receiver on one early season play:
Brown went straight up the middle and the Rams were all over it, with two guys stuffing him for a two yard loss. That would be the last such play they ran with Brown receiving the snap, although he only played one more game that year anyway, so they may have planned to use it more.
The following week, they went with an actual wildcat play:
This time it was Jeremy Maclin taking the snap and LeSean McCoy did come across on a jet sweep.
However, rather than turning the corner, he pitched the ball back to Vick who was able to look downfield.
On this occasion, Vick couldn't find an open receiver and ended up scrambling for seven yards. They ran exactly the same play in 2010 and got 37 yards out of it. See that play here.
In week three they ran another gadget play with Vick at wide receiver. This time, Bryce Brown was effectively the quarterback and McCoy lined up just beside and in front of him.
However, at the snap, McCoy stepped in front of it to "intercept" it and run over the right side. The play went for a short gain and that was basically it for wildcat-style plays in 2011.
In 2012, they avoided them until Foles' second start. They then ran a similar play to the one above. This time Foles was in the shotgun and Brown "intercepted" the snap and ran outside. The Eagles ran this play four times in that game, but it was the only time all season they used it, so that's a good example of Mornhinweg working a "feature" play into his offense for a particular opponent. The first three times they ran it all gained more than five yards (32 in total), but the last one went for a loss.
It does look like Mornhinweg has experimented with some of these packages and will be amenable to working them into his game plan at times.
This isn't supposed to be a comprehensive look at the Mornhinweg offense, but hopefully gives some insight into certain elements and I'll leave it to you to discuss how well certain players on the Jets' new-look offense will fare in the comments.
Mornhinweg has had some good statistical success over the years, but his offenses haven't always worked as well as hoped. Last year, the Eagles beat the Ravens 24-23 early in the season, but only scored more points than that one other time. Much like Sparano last year, the main challenge for Mornhinweg is going to be to overcome weaknesses in personnel and find a way to ensure execution is better than over the past few seasons. He has a good pedigree and this could be a chance to turn his career around because he's still associated with his disastrous stint as Lions' head coach.
It may be time for Mornhinweg to empty the playbook and throw the kitchen sink at this challenge. If so, that's going to be fun to watch. As to how much success he's going to have, that remains to be seen.