The Eagles had a slow, plodding offense last year that had to approach every drive like a marathon instead of a sprint.
While they finished a respectable 12th in the league in scoring, nothing came easy, especially after DeSean Jackson got hurt in Week 2.
An inordinately high 24 of their 43 offensive touchdown drives (55.8%) required eight plays or more. They had just six that consisted of four or fewer plays (13.9%).
By comparison, only 40.4% of their touchdown drives during their 2017 Super Bowl season were of eight plays or more (19 of 47), and 23.4% of them took four or fewer plays (11 of 47).
Last year, the Eagles finished 28th in pass plays of 30 yards or more. They had just 15. That was down from 25 the previous season. And five of those 15 were by rookie running back Miles Sanders.
General manager Howie Roseman had made no secret of the plan to make the Eagles faster, particularly at wide receiver.
“We wanted to get more explosive, we wanted to get faster,’’ Roseman told reporters Saturday night after the Eagles made the last of their 10 draft selections. “I told that to you guys after the season. It was important we stuck to that.
“We kind of went over the top to make sure we have explosive athletes for our quarterback, for our play-caller. But we’re really excited with what we did over the last couple of days.’’
For the first time since 1990, the Eagles drafted three wide receivers: Jalen Reagor of TCU in the first round, John Hightower of Boise State in the fifth round, and Quez Watkins of Southern Mississippi in the sixth round.
They also acquired another wideout, Marquise Goodwin, in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers that involved an exchange of sixth-round picks.
While only time will tell how productive any of those four receivers will be, this much is true: They all are very fast.
This year’s wide receiver class was historically deep and had more flavors than Baskin-Robbins. The flavor that interested Roseman and the Eagles the most, though, was speed.
Reagor ran a 4.47-second 40 at the combine, but plays much faster than that and put up a sub-4.3 time in his virtual pro day.
Hightower ran a 4.43 in Indy and had 12 catches of 40-plus yards the last two seasons at Boise. He averaged 18.5 yards per catch this season.
Watkins ran a 4.35 at the combine, which was the third-fastest time at the event this year. He averaged 18.4 yards per catch last year at Southern Miss.
And then there’s Goodwin. He ran a 4.27 at the 2013 combine, which is tied for the fifth-fastest combine time ever.
Oh, and Jackson ran a 4.35 at the 2008 combine.
“We don’t want to sacrifice going for speed by giving up talent,’’ Roseman said on Friday. “But at the same time, this is a speed league. You need people who can make game-breaking plays. It’s so hard to play station-to-station football.’’
Goodwin is one of the fastest players in the league. But he’s caught more than 29 passes only once in seven seasons since being picked in the third round of the 2013 draft by Buffalo. That was in 2017, his first season with the Niners, when he had 56 receptions, including a career-high seven of 30 or more yards. He’s had just 10 catches of 30-plus yards in his other six seasons in the league.
Goodwin was recommended to Roseman and Pederson by the team’s new senior offensive assistant coach, Rich Scangarello, who was the 49ers’ quarterbacks coach in 2017-18.
“Rich had the opportunity to be with him in San Francisco and he recommended him to [vice president of player personnel Andy] Weidl, coach [Doug Pederson] and I,’’ Roseman said. “Marquise is one of the fastest men in the world. And I mean that when I say it. He literally is one of the fastest men in the world.
“And then we got some young players that can really run, but they can also play the game. They understand how to run routes. They’re not just track guys. They’re guys that we really felt passionate about.’’
Roseman said they discussed both Hightower and Watkins before taking Hightower in the fifth round with the 168th overall pick.
“And then when we moved back and picked up a bunch of picks [in the sixth round], we had the opportunity to also get Watkins [with pick No. 200]. We sat there and we said, ‘Let’s get both of these guys. These are guys that we feel passionately about. Let’s add them to the team and let competition dictate what’s best for our football team.’’’
Last year, because of injuries and lack of productivity at the wide receiver position, Pederson relied heavily on his two tight ends, Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert.
The Eagles played 12- (two tight ends) or 13- (three tight ends) personnel 55.7% of the time. That was up from 45.9% in 2018 and 31.3% in 2017 when they won the Super Bowl.
The Eagles used 11-personnel (three wide receivers) just 40.9% of the time last year, far and away the lowest rate since Doug Pederson was hired as head coach in 2016.
While Pederson likes using 12-personnel with Ertz and Goedert because of the matchup problems it causes for a defense, he also would like to use a lot more three-wide receivers sets than he did last year.
“I think what we’ve done as a staff in the offseason with our scheme evaluation and the staff hires we’ve made to bring in new thoughts and new ideas and ways to enhance our offense, I think [the offense] is going to look a little bit different this year,’’ Pederson said.
“And then, of course, adding the speed element obviously factors in. Look, we’ve played a ton of teams the last couple of seasons where it was hard to push the ball down the field, whether it was [because of] injury or whatever it was.
“This [infusion of speed] just allows us to, I think, open some things up. We have to do a great job as coaches, however, to coach our players and have them detailed and ready to go.’’
That last part is going to be a major challenge for Pederson and his staff in the next few months. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, it still is uncertain if/when NFL teams will be able to hold OTAs or when training camps might even open. In fact, at this point there’s no certainty there’s even going to be a season, though the league’s 32 owners probably would put on helmets and shoulder pads themselves and play before they’ll lose the hundreds of millions of dollars in television revenue.
Even under ideal circumstances, it often takes rookies a while to make a successful transition to the pro game. These are anything but ideal circumstances.
Bottom line: If you’re expecting the Eagles’ new receivers to have a big impact this season, you’re probably going to be disappointed.