Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Eagles coach Nick Sirianni’s scheme doesn’t use much pre-snap motion, but why?

Well-regarded offensive play-callers have utilized motion more in recent years, but Sirianni says it is a situational tool for the offense but not a constant.

Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni.
Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

The Eagles’ first touchdown of the Nick Sirianni era was tipped off by pre-snap motion.

When an Atlanta Falcons safety followed Zach Ertz as he closed the distance between him and rookie wide receiver DeVonta Smith, the Eagles knew they were facing man coverage and responded accordingly with a rub route that freed up the rookie receiver.

Three weeks into the season, that play doesn’t seem like a sign of things to come.

Since the opener, the Eagles have used motion sparingly in two losing efforts. The team ran 53 plays in a 41-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Monday and just three featured some form of pre-snap motion, and nothing at the snap.

Nick Sirianni said the lack of motion is a situational tool for the offense, but not a constant.

“We motion for a very distinct reason,” Sirianni said. “We’re going to motion if we can create an advantage, if we can figure out what defense they’re in, [or] if we can get a guy in position to do his job better. We’re not a team that’s just going to motion [just] to motion. We’re going to do it for those three main reasons.”

Several of the best offensive teams, particularly the San Francisco 49ers under Kyle Shanahan, have used plenty of pre-snap motion or motion at the snap for various reasons and found success in recent years. The Eagles offense under Sirianni doesn’t seem to feature much of either.

Sirianni drew criticism from fans and analysts alike for calling just three traditional runs to running backs in the prime-time loss to the Cowboys, but former team president Joe Banner said the first-year coach’s not using motion was the bigger cause for concern than the lopsided run-pass ratio.

“Motion allows a quarterback, even an inexperienced one, to have a very educated guess on what defense is being called against a particular play,” Banner told The Inquirer. “The ability to use motion and other such things so that the quarterback knows something like that before the snap is very basic. It’s very obvious. We saw a team that came out and didn’t do that, that’s what worries me. You can get the right run-pass ratio, but if you don’t fix that, you’re still in trouble.”

Both Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen come from offensive systems that didn’t feature heavy motion like Shanahan does. Still, several coaches around the league, including John Harbaugh, Sean McVay, and Andy Reid, run different schemes but have all successfully incorporated motion into their offenses as it becomes more prevalent in the league.

The Eagles also haven’t used a significant amount of play-action passes to assist Hurts. According to Pro Football Focus, 24% of Hurts’ passes have come from play-action this season, which ranks 29th among the NFL’s starting quarterbacks.

“Motion matters; it helps the quarterback,” Banner said. “We know that. Teams in the league, whether they run the ball well or not, pass the ball better when they use play-action. We know that. If you’re putting together an offense with limited play action and without a lot of pre-snap motion, if that’s really what you believe, if that’s what your philosophy is and what your offense is going to be going forward, I think that’s worrisome.”

Sirianni said Hurts can identify what defenses are doing through other reads, noting that defensive coordinators are getting better at disguising looks even when an offense changes its formation before the snap.

“We find different ways to give [Hurts] the coverage indicators,” Sirianni said. “We’re fighting like crazy to get that many different ways, and there’s different ways to get it. In fact, I think defenses have gotten a lot better, in general, taking away some of the motion. ... I’m not saying that’s why we’re not doing it, but they have gotten better at disguising it.”

The Eagles offense hasn’t been able to recapture the success it had in the season opener against Atlanta, when Hurts led an efficient underneath passing attack that put up 32 points. Hurts completed 77% of his passes and threw for three touchdowns. Since then, he has completed just 59.7% of his throws and has two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Steichen said one of the main drawbacks the coaching staff has identified when using pre-snap motion is not knowing what a defense’s response means.

“Sometimes, if you just motion to motion, you don’t know how they’re going to adjust,” Steichen said. “That’s the biggest thing. It’s like, ‘If we motion over here and we haven’t seen how they are going to adjust, it might screw us up offensively.’ So, if we know what they’re going to be in with the motion, that’s going to help us as an offense.”

Shady’s send-off

The Eagles announced LeSean McCoy will officially retire on Friday as an Eagle.

McCoy played six seasons with the Eagles after the team took him in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft. He quickly became one of the league’s best running backs and is still the team’s all-time leading rusher even though he was traded to the Buffalo Bills in 2015 with several productive years ahead of him.

In a letter McCoy wrote that was published on the team website, the Harrisburg native said he always considered himself a part of the team.

“After 12 years in the NFL, I’ve decided to retire an Eagle because this is home to me,” McCoy wrote. “I still have that green inside my heart. There are times when I’d see the Eagles on TV, and it just felt weird not wearing that uniform. I instantly think back to all of those big games and the roar of the fans; I’ve just always seen myself as an Eagle. It’s only right to come back home and retire an Eagle.”