Former Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo was fired as the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive coordinator Tuesday, as breathtaking a fall from grace as the NFL has seen in years.
Might Flip land back in Philadelphia? Could his return invigorate a stale offense? Can he salvage Carson Wentz’s season?
Don’t be too sure. First, some background.
Just before the Vikings played the Eagles in the fifth game of the season, an old source from the NFC Central, unprovoked, told a fascinating tale about DeFilippo’s departure.
Back in early February, after the Eagles had finished their epic parade up Broad Street, DeFilippo was at the NovaCare Complex, prepared to officially accept an offer to become the Vikings offensive coordinator. But he was waffling. Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich was interviewing for the Colts' head coach job that Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel had accepted, then rejected.
DeFilippo’s quandary: Should he approach Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and offer to stay as offensive coordinator? Sure, he wouldn’t get to call plays — Doug Pederson would retain that responsibility — but that didn’t hinder Pederson’s own candidacy in 2016, when he went from lame-duck OC in Kansas City to Eagles head coach. And, heh-heh, perhaps Lurie could, you know, throw a little extra cash DeFilippo’s way to keep him in the nest?
The meeting never happened. DeFilippo’s allies warned him that Lurie would see Flip’s maneuver as dishonest and extortionary, and, besides, Lurie maybe wasn’t all that sad to see him go.
That story sounded fantastic, but, as the months progressed and DeFilippo’s job in Minnesota became ever more imperiled, it seemed wise to verify it.
Another league source corroborated the tale Sunday when the Eagles visited Dallas.
If nothing else, the story paints an interesting picture of Philly’s perceived offensive messiah.
By the end of his second season, DeFilippo’s talent had been well-documented, but his act had worn thin. Yes, he was a workaholic taskmaster. Yes, he’d helped Pederson and Reich transform Carson Wentz from an FCS star into an MVP favorite in less than two seasons. Yes, he’d helped resurrect Nick Foles, who went from injured training-camp backup to Super Bowl MVP, and he’d transformed Nate Sudfeld from practice-squad nobody into a viable playoff backup.
But Flip didn’t exactly fit in with Pederson’s “emotionally intelligent” team model. He was a self-promoting ladder-climber as focused on becoming an NFL head coach as coaching quarterbacks. This didn’t make DeFilippo unique in the NFL, or even in the building — the defensive coordinator’s no shrinking violet — but the departure of John DeFilippo from Philadelphia was not universally bemoaned at the NovaCare Complex.
So, don’t bank on Flip’s return. Especially not after what happened in Minnesota. Head coach Mike Zimmer, who wanted to see more runs and less flash, apparently got tired of seeing DeFilippo call plays that did more to enhance DeFilippo’s head-coaching resume than to enhance the Vikings' chances of winning football games. Monday night’s head-scratchers, particularly on third-and-short, seem to have finally spelled Flip’s demise.
The Vikings made it to the NFC championship game with Pat Shurmur as offensive coordinator and Case Keenum as quarterback. Now they have a middling offense on a 6-6-1 team living week-to-week on the playoff bubble despite adding DeFilippo and $84 million Pro Bowl quarterback Kirk Cousins. They also have 100-catch receiver Adam Thielen and sticky-handed Stefon Diggs at their disposal, though that pair’s scant inclusion in Monday night’s loss at Seattle was remarkable.
This goes deeper than the misuse of assets in Minneapolis. There is the issue of spoiling whatever good chemistry exists on an Eagles team that, despite its 6-7 record, remains in the playoff hunt. The Eagles had won two in a row before they lost Sunday, but they did take the hottest team in football to overtime, on the road.
Would DeFilippo’s return rock the boat? Certainly; even though the boat might be sinking.
For one thing, rehiring DeFilippo, even as a consultant, would be an admission by Pederson that he never should have promoted wide receivers coach Mike Groh to offensive coordinator — a flawed promotion, amplified on a weekly basis.
For another thing, it would be an acknowledgement that Wentz has somehow regressed. Empirically, it might look that way, but many of the statistics refute that contention, and even imply the opposite.
Wentz’s passer rating (102.2) and his yards per attempt (7.7) both are both slightly higher than they were in 2017, and his 69.6 percent completion rate is a whopping 9.4 percent better. However, Wentz’s QBR — ESPN’s proprietary quarterback rating — dropped from 77.2 to 64.9 on a 0-100 scale. That’s also pretty whopping; 12 percent.
Notably, QBR includes runs and scrambles. Wentz was unhindered through 13 games last season before he blew out his knee. That knee has severely limited Wentz’s his mobility in 2018, a key component in his decreased effectiveness on third-and-long situations.
Wentz has a wonderful arm and a knack for improvisation, but much of his brilliance and much of his potency always lay in his legs. Through 13 games last year he ran for 299 yards on 64 attempts, an average of 4.7 yards per carry and 23.0 yards per game. Through 11 games in 2018 he has 93 rushing yards on 34 attempts, an average of 2.7 yards per carry and 8.5 yards per game. Teams ignore the threat of him running. In fact, they invite it.
Even with the repaired knee, early this season, Wentz displayed improved mechanics under the tutelage of quarterbacks coach Press Taylor, who was DeFilippo’s mild-mannered assistant. If Wentz can’t run anymore, it isn’t Taylor’s fault.
Don’t cry for Flip. If he doesn’t resurface in Philly, he’ll rise again. He is charming, well-spoken, smart, and accomplished.
That doesn’t mean he’s coming back any time soon.