Ok, I've gotten a chance to spend a couple of hours staring at today's Rich Hofmann article that I referenced earlier. It's been bothering me all day with that feeling you get when you sit down with the "financing" guy at a car dealership and he spends 30 minutes whipping different numbers back and forth across the desk and at some point you start to lose track of where things are going and you're pretty sure the whole deal sounded a lot better when you were negotiating with the salesman and boy that's a lot of payments and did I really just sign for that?
The whole thing just reeks of bamboozlement from start to finish. So much so that -- even though I haven't done this in awhile -- I think it's time to bring back the old line-by-line treatment. Like so...
Rich Hofmann | It's not the playcalling, it's the QBs
Philadelphia Daily News
IT IS THE quarterbacking, not the playcalling.
So here's the first thing that bothers me about this article. Unless you really, truly believe that the sports editor at the Daily News assigned someone to mine thousands and thousands of playcalls for not just the Eagles, but also every other team in the league, then the data on which this article is based had to come from somewhere.
However, nowhere in the article is the source identified. And while we know the newspaper guys have access to better stat stuff that we can get, generally when they get information from a source like Stats Inc., they cite it in the story. So while we can't say for sure, it's a pretty darn good bet that this information came straight from the Eagles organization.
Think about that for a second. The organization, evidently tired of what it felt was misplaced criticism, planted a story to show that the fault lay with the quarterbacks, not the coaches.
Now re-read that first sentence.
Then imagine you're Donovan McNabb.
Way to "keep things in-house," guys.
You know the argument, the one that flared again after the Eagles' loss on Sunday to Seattle, the one that states that the way and the truth and the light was the playcalling that Jeff Garcia received last season after he took over as quarterback when Donovan McNabb tore up his knee.
You mean like the time Hofmann wrote: "Anybody who watched Garcia work after McNabb was hurt last year knows that. Yes, the team's offensive success was more about Brian Westbrook and balanced playcalling than anything." (2/26/07)
Or if you think that's going too far back, how about this one: "The ones who blame Eagles coach Andy Reid can point to the run-oriented playcalling that he seems to offer to every quarterback who has ever worked for him, except for McNabb." (11/19/07)
Or if you're into more specific indictments: "It is fair to say that the Eagles threw the ball too much against the Redskins, given the uneven quarterback play they are getting from Donovan McNabb." (9/19/07)
Who would ever write something so crazy...
It entirely misses the point. The playcalling has not changed between Garcia and this season. It is the same, and it is the same as the NFL average these days. The Eagles are not pass-happy. Coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg are not harebrained. Their offense is not lopsided by NFL standards.
This is a nice use of rhetorical exaggeration here. "Surely you wouldn't suggest that Marty Mornhinweg is 'hare-brained' now would you? Would you?"
They are not throwing too much. They are not underusing the great Brian Westbrook. This year has been about McNabb being inconsistent all season. Sunday was about A.J. Feeley being, uh, less than inconsistent. That's it.
Wrong, right, right, and definitely right.
Here's the problem with this entire argument and everything that's about to follow. The statistics he's going to cite and the trends he's going to identify all compare the Eagles to the NFL average.
I want to say that again, because it's important. Notice in the statistics below how the Eagles are compared to the league average.
Now, if we try really hard, maybe we can think of a problem with that approach.
Maybe ... um ... could it be because:
THE EAGLES HAVE THE SECOND-BEST RUSHING OFFENSE IN THE LEAGUE.
I'm sorry, I don't mean to shout, but for Pete's sake, look at the numbers:
You know why no one complains about the Patriots throwing too often? Because they have Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker.
You know why everyone wants the Eagles to run more often? Because they're really friggin' good at it.
I've written about this before. Opponents don't have to stop the Eagles' running game, the Eagles will do it for them -- even when the opponent is playing six defensive backs and practically begging them to run more.
Because this is the Garcia offense.
No, it's not. Garcia was excellent at playing the short, controlled passing game. He completed a high percentage of his passes and was therefore able to sustain drives and keep the offense on the field.
Asking McNabb to play that kind of football is like asking a turtle climb trees. It's not what he does. Which means if you want to control the clock, sustain drives and protect the defense, you're going to have to actually run the ball.
What follows is a list of called passing plays in the first half of games, before the score begins to dictate strategy. The categories are pretty self-explanatory.
Here's the next significant problem with this analysis. The score does indeed dictate strategy, but that doesn't mean you should stop running the football if you're down three points in the third quarter. Depending upon how things are working, you might even want to run the ball more there.
But we'll run with the first half thing for awhile and see where it takes us.
We begin with Garcia's starts last season, then move through McNabb's and Feeley's this year, followed by the NFL average playcalling in the last 2 weeks.
And, so, the passing percentage:
Garcia . . . 59.1 percent.
McNabb . . . 61.6 percent.
Feeley . . . 59.7 percent.
NFL Week 12 . . . 61.2 percent.
NFL Week 13 . . . 60.5 percent.
See what I mean about the comparisons? You're talking about one of the league's best rushing attacks, but then you justify going away from it by comparing it to all the other crap out there. Oh, and how many of those other teams have quarterbacks incompletely healed from devastating knee injuries?
I don't want to belabor this point, since it's remarkably obvious, but if the Eagles' run game didn't work so well, we wouldn't be bitching about not using it.
The numbers are plain. Reid has had some wacky playcalling seasons in the past, but this is not one of them.
The wacky part is certainly true. Hey, since the Eagles organization has so much time available these days to clean up statistical questions, maybe someone could roll back on that old post I just linked to and figure out what the heck Reid was talking about back then.
(And yes, I love Reid. And McNabb. So if you're a new reader, please don't email to tell me I'm a hater who doesn't appreciate these guys. I do. I just wish coach would run the damn ball more often.)
The Eagles were historically unbalanced in the first half of 2005 and very unbalanced at the beginning of last year.
Hey, don't stop there. Even in the Super Bowl season of 2004, the Eagles passed the ball 64.5 percent of the time. This for a team that went 13-3 and spent most of the season playing with big leads.
But after a hot start in 2006, McNabb faded badly. At midseason, during the bye week, Reid fired himself as the playcaller and gave the job to Mornhinweg. Since then this has been a typical NFL offense in the new millennium. McNabb got this typical NFL playcalling, and then Garcia got it after McNabb went down, and then McNabb got it again this season, and then Feeley got it.
Typical. Average. That is what the Eagles are. Why people cannot see it is baffling. The town seems stuck on its first impression of Reid's offense, and it just is not true anymore.
See above in re: to "typical, average" vs. "really friggin' good."
But it was a lousy day, and Westbrook is such a good player, and they're not using him enough, and . . .
If you want to question individual play calls here and there, knock yourself out. Everybody does it. It is what makes the game fun.
And the post-game teeth-gnashing tiresome...
But this had nothing to do with weather. It was raining and windy in Pittsburgh on Sunday night and the Steelers - yes, the Steelers - called 73 percent passing plays in the first half against Cincinnati. The Chicago Bears, in tropical Soldier Field, called 72 percent passing plays in the first half against the Giants. The Eagles didn't come close to that.
Cincinnati -- League's fourth-worst passing defense.
Chicago Bears -- Lost starting running back Cedric Benson early in the second quarter to an awful leg injury.
And, no, the Eagles are not ignoring Westbrook. He leads the league in touches per game with 26. Repeat, underlined: leads the league. He had 29 touches on Sunday, and only two players in the NFL had more - Willis McGahee from the Ravens and Justin Fargas from the Raiders (whose real claim to fame is that his father played Huggy Bear on "Starsky and Hutch").
If he stays healthy and stays on this pace - and, remember, Westbrook has missed one game because of injury and barely practices these days, such is the pounding he takes - he will finish the season with about 70 more touches than last season. They can lean on him a bit more, maybe, but only a bit.
He is hardly being ignored.
This part is entirely true. Westbrook is the man.
It's just too bad we don't have another running back on the roster who could be relied upon to take up some of the burden in the running game. Like maybe a guy with a 5.3 yard-per-carry average Or perhaps a high-round draft choice.
But back to this first-half stuff. Why fixate on that? The game is 60 minutes, and the Eagles ran more for Garcia in the second half than they're doing now, right?
Yes, right. But the reason has been the score, as it has been in the NFL forever. In case you haven't noticed, the Eagles are perpetually behind this season.
Garcia started eight games. In the last six, the Eagles held the lead at halftime. In those six games, the Eagles held the second-half lead for an average of 26 out of 30 minutes. That's why they could run more at the end of those games.
This year? Forget it. In 12 games, the Eagles have held the halftime lead in only four - and not since the Minnesota game on Oct. 28. For the last 5 weeks, they have been behind at the half in every game. And when you are behind at the half, you throw more.
Unless your running offense is so good that you can actually use it to help score points.
Look at every NFL team that was trailing at halftime last week, and how it called plays in the third quarter. It went like this:
Eagles . . . 71 percent passes.
NFL Week 13 . . . 68 percent passes.
Every trailing team throws more after halftime. And if the Eagles had turned one of their third-quarter passes into a run, they would have been below the league average for passes. One play. Does that really suggest playcallers who have lost their minds?
Again, no, perfectly sane. We're just asking for some marginal improvement.
Why people cannot see this is inexplicable, but Mornhinweg acts just like the average offensive coordinator in the first half, and just like the average offensive coordinator when his team is behind.
Even though he's calling plays for a decidedly un-average running back and rushing attack.
And why are the Eagles always behind?
All together now: Because of the quarterbacking, not the playcalling.
How's that knife feel, guys?