The Eagles lost.
The Eagles ran a bunch of Wildcat plays.
Ergo, the Eagles must have lost because of the Wildcat.
At least that's the impression left by this column, in which Phil Sheridan suggests the Wildcat cost the Eagles in three ways:
- Stealing practice time away from other, more important purposes.
- Hurting the offensive "rhythm" -- particularly for Kevin Kolb.
- Failing to gain as many yards as "normal" plays would have done, if called in the same spots.
These are all valid concerns, and they aren't just limited to the Wildcat. Coaches always have to balance gimmicks with bread-and-butter preparation. But it takes more than just assertion to win that argument. Let's look at his points:
1. Distraction Issues -- Sheridan: "While Reid and assistants Marty Mornhinweg, Rube Goldberg and Inspector Gadget were in the lab plotting wacky new alignments, Payton and his staff wasted time on blocking, tackling, running offensive plays without illegal-formation penalties and executing on special teams without penalties or turnovers."
Taking those points in reverse order, I highly doubt the Eagles took time away from special teams practice to work on the Wildcat. I'd be happy to hear otherwise, but I'm guessing this all just comes out of the same offensive practice time.
As for "blocking, tackling, [and] running offensive plays without illegal-formation penalties," if the Eagles really need to work on that stuff by the second week of the season, we've got bigger problems than the Wildcat.
Beyond that, this is a point that cuts both ways. Yes, while you're building the playbook early in the season, maybe you cost yourself some prep time with your bread-and-butter. But once those things are in and ready to go, each week you should see an advantage because opposing teams have to spend their practice time preparing for your distractions. Over the course of 19 games, your opponents as a whole are "wasting" far more time preparing to defend these plays than the Eagles are "wasting" to run them.
This is not a one-time-period game.
2. The rhythm thing -- Sheridan: "It didn't look like the Eagles that we're used to seeing when Donovan [McNabb] is the quarterback," said backup QB Jeff Garcia, who had a pretty good vantage point from the sideline. "The change-ups on the offense with the running backs and the receivers in the backfield, those gave us some decent plays, but that's not what we're used to seeing. For Kevin [Kolb] as a quarterback, it never really allowed him to kind of get in that rhythm we would like to see, and never got [Brian] Westbrook really involved, either, and that's a big weapon for this team."
Again, in reverse order, the Eagles ran nine Wildcat plays. Westbrook ran the ball in four of them (and pitched a fifth and threw a pass on a sixth). How is that not getting Westbrook involved?
As for Kolb's rhythm, I'm sympathetic to this argument overall, but Kolb threw the ball 51 times in this game. In the first half, when the Eagles called seven Wildcat plays, Kolb threw the ball 22 times (versus only 12 runs). Exactly how many passes does a quarterback need to get into a rhythm?
And if the Wildcat plays take a QB out of rhythm, why did Kolb complete four-of-six passes on plays following Wildcats, including the perfectly-thrown 71-yard touchdown to DeSean Jackson?
3. Ineffective output -- Sheridan: "Sure, it looks zany and deceptive when Jackson or Westbrook takes a snap and either runs, hands off or throws the ball. Jackson ran three times out of the Wildcat for 15 yards. That's 5 yards per run. When he lined up at his actual position, he caught four passes for 101 yards. That's more than 25 yards per catch. Mix in the five times Jackson was a target and didn't catch the ball and he still averaged more than twice as many yards as a receiver than a Wildcat runner."
"Westbrook ran out of the Wildcat formation four times for 30 yards. Twice he took the snap and twice he simply took handoffs from Jackson. Those who recall Westbrook's career before the glorious onset of the Wildcat may choose to believe Westbrook would have done just as well taking handoffs from Kolb."
The Eagles ran the Wildcat nine times. Here were the results:
There were three plays it wasn't effective -- the two incomplete passes and the first and 10 run that only gained two yards. (And Weaver really should have caught that ball.)
The Wildcat plays worked fine. They had nothing to do with the Eagles losing today, and everything to do with helping to keep the offense moving behind a young quarterback getting his first start.
The problem wasn't too much creativity on the part of the offense. It was insufficient creativity -- and poor execution -- on the part of the defense.