The timing could not have been worse for Mike Groh, but really, even that fit the pattern established for Groh’s first season in charge of the Eagles’ offense.
The Eagles’ coordinators answer questions from reporters only once a week. Just before defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz led off at the NovaCare lectern Tuesday, news broke that the Minnesota Vikings had fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, who joined them during the offseason after winning the Super Bowl as the Eagles’ quarterbacks coach.
Immediately, fans and reporters began speculating on social media about the possibility of DeFilippo returning to the Eagles, either as a “consultant,” or as Groh’s outright replacement, with the 6-7 Birds averaging 21.6 points per game, vs. last season’s 28.56.
This had little to do with Schwartz, other than that DeFilippo is a former colleague, not one he worked with closely, and his answer reflected as much.
“I didn't know that. I mean, it's a bummer for me any time coaches get let go,” Schwartz said.
The break between Schwartz’s session and Groh’s was longer than usual – a team spokeswoman said an offensive meeting ran long – leaving plenty of time for the kind of dark humor in which reporters are known to indulge.
Maybe the delay was because Doug Pederson was going to step to the lectern to announce a change. Or, they have to fetch DeFilippo from the airport, so he can do the press conference. And so on.
But no, a side door opened and Groh entered the room.
Many of the questions and answers could have been taken verbatim from other sessions, other weeks. Why wasn’t Golden Tate more of a factor in Sunday’s loss? Why didn’t you run the ball more? Why doesn’t Dallas Goedert get targets every week? Why did it take so long in Sunday’s game to get the offense and Carson Wentz going smoothly?
But there were two new questions.
“I just heard that before I walked down here,” Groh said, when asked about the DeFilippo news. Groh was the Eagles’ wide receivers coach last season. “John is a really good friend. Obviously feel for him today. Unfortunately, that's part of this business. He's a good friend. I wish him all the best.”
Asked about his job security, and how he handles being the subject of speculation, Groh said: “I just come to work. I don't really get involved with any of that stuff. We’re just trying to put a great plan together and try to win one game this week.”
DeFilippo coming back to the Eagles is a long shot. He seems to remain well-regarded around the league, and should have other options, even though the Vikings’ average of 21.7 points per game this season ranks one whole tenth of a point above the struggling Eagles’ output. Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer has something of a history with offensive coordinators, Norv Turner having left the Vikings during the 2016 season, replaced by former Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who now is head coach of the Giants.
DeFilippo was eager to move on last offseason so he could call plays, something Pederson still does here. And nobody really knows the extent to which Groh is or isn’t responsible for the offense’s current struggles, or what Pederson and Howie Roseman think about that. These are Pederson’s play calls, that never seem to work consistently against good defenses until very late in games.
Groh is an easy target because he seems guarded, sometimes dour. His answers often provide no insight. Asked Tuesday where he would like to see Carson Wentz improve, Groh said: “That would be between Carson and the coaching staff, on what we want to get done. I don’t think we’re going to discuss that in this forum.”
Groh famously said he was finding it “a challenge” to integrate Tate into the offense. The Eagles have an array of weapons, but only tight end Zach Ertz and wideout Alshon Jeffery can count on seeing the ball much every week.
Groh has a pat answer there, which he employed again Tuesday, two days after the Eagles finished the first half at Dallas down 6-0, with 70 total yards.
This time he was answering a question about Goedert. The rookie tight end caught four passes for 44 yards and a touchdown, his best output since September, and he had a tremendous 75-yard touchdown catch-and-run called back for offensive pass interference, which Fox analyst and former NFL officiating chief Mike Pereira said was a bad call.
“We have a lot of guys we’re trying to get involved. … I mean, there is only one ball,” Groh said.
There is indeed only one ball. This is true in baseball and basketball as well. In hockey, there is only one puck. However, some offenses, in every team sport, utilize talent better than others do. They find ways to make a number of players productive.
In football, offenses that stay on the field provide more opportunities. The Los Angeles Rams, who host the Eagles this week, have 317 first downs. The Eagles have 279. Consequently, the Rams have 44 offensive touchdowns. The Eagles have 32.
In the first half against Dallas, the Eagles ran 17 plays. You could blame Schwartz’s makeshift secondary for that; the defense did have a lot of trouble getting to fourth down. But the Eagles' offense, after gaining two first downs on its first possession, went three-and-out twice. Then a missed field-goal attempt by Dallas gave Groh’s unit the ball at the Eagles' 35, the Cowboys ahead only 3-0, a minute and 48 seconds remaining before halftime.
On the fourth snap of the Eagles’ possession, Wentz was hit as he drew his arm back and he fumbled the ball away. Dallas tacked on a field goal before the half.
The left side of the offensive line was fooled by a stunt, something that has happened more than a little this season. Asked if he faulted Wentz, Groh indicated he did not.