Surprisingly enough, Shane Steichen wasn’t exactly willing to share screenshots of his playbook during his first news conference as the Eagles’ offensive coordinator.
The 36-year-old coach is in the early days of installing a new offensive system as the team starts a three-week stretch of offseason training, and he didn’t seem eager to divulge the finer details of his scheme on Thursday. Steichen mostly highlighted his willingness to tailor his system to the strengths of his players and pointed out the limited time he’s had to identify those strengths when asked what his offenses will look like.
“When you go into a new situation, new team, you’ve got to find out about your players,” Steichen said. “You go through that process through virtual [meetings], but then when you really get them on the grass like we have been the last couple days and see their movements and their skills and see what these guys do well, you want to put them in position to make plays. Through time, through these next couple weeks and into training camp, that offense is going to be molded, and we’re going to tailor that to these players.”
That’s not to say we didn’t learn anything about what the Eagles’ offense will look like with head coach Nick Sirianni and Steichen formulating things. Running back Miles Sanders, right tackle Lane Johnson, and Steichen all agreed the screen game will be prevalent, as will play-action passes.
Johnson noted there’s been some carryover in what Sirianni and Steichen are installing and what former coach Doug Pederson ran, but the verbiage has changed.
“A lot of different terminologies, kind of the same schemes, but with a few new wrinkles in,” Johnson said on the new offense. “Maybe a little more emphasis on the screen game than the past offense. ... We like to start it off with a strong run game and feed off the play-action and screens. You see successful teams, those guys are doing that, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Neither development should come as a huge surprise. During Sirianni’s time with the Colts, Indianapolis heavily incorporated running backs in the passing game, both through screens and routes out of the backfield. As far as an emphasis on play-action, most teams around the league are chasing the play-action success some other teams have had.
Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen led the league in play-action passes last year and made a run at the MVP award. Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes had the second-most play-action attempts. Teams like the San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams, and Tennessee Titans have even propped up middling quarterbacks with systems that lean heavily on run fakes as well.
“[Screens] are definitely important. Anytime you can get the ball to the quarterback’s hands quickly and create explosive plays in the screen game, that’s big,” Steichen said. “And obviously the play-action game is big, too. When you go into games, things are going to be different week in and week out. It’s your opponent. Who are you playing? What do they do on defense? What are the coverage techniques? What’s the fronts they are playing? So your scheme each week can be multiple by who you’re playing.”
Sanders will have some ground to make up as a receiving back if he plans on remaining the Eagles’ featured back under the new regime. The 24-year-old led the NFL in drop rate last season, according to Pro Football Focus. He dropped 22.2% of his catchable targets, the most frequent rate among wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs.
He dropped eight passes, which tied for the most among running backs, a stark departure from his promising rookie season in 2019 when he caught 50 passes and averaged 10.2 yards per reception. Last season, he caught 28 passes and averaged 7.0 yards.
“I know me catching the ball wasn’t as good as it was my rookie year,” Sanders said. " ... The screens will definitely allow the backs and the slots to get more opportunities with the ball in our hands. They’re emphasizing that a lot, too.”