In this week’s Q&A with Inquirer pro football writer Paul Domowitch, former Eagles president Joe Banner discusses the state of the Eagles, the state of their quarterback, Doug Pederson’s and Howie Roseman’s job security, the COVID outbreak in Tennessee, the possibility of putting playoff teams in a bubble and other issues:
Domo: Give me your quick thoughts on the state of the Eagles right now.
Banner: Frankly, it’s been a breakdown at all levels. It’s obviously easy to see the quarterback’s mistakes. But if you look at the tape and the roster, there are mistakes throughout. There are personnel issues. There are coaching issues. And there are players just not getting the job done.
You don’t usually see that all at once, especially with a team that has had the extended period of significant success that they’ve had. I mean, they’ve won over 30 games the last 3 years. There’s not many teams that do that in three-year stretches.
But it’s very broken at the moment, and it’s a little bit hard to see how it’s going to get fixed right now.
Domo: Nothing’s more broken with this team right now than the quarterback, Carson Wentz. He’s last in the league in passing and already has thrown just one fewer interception than he threw all last season. There’s been endless speculation about what’s been responsible for Wentz’s poor play. Here’s another one: could he possibly be looking over his shoulder at Jalen Hurts?
Banner: He obviously isn’t going to sit there and tell us that his head is all messed up because they drafted a young guy. But I would tell you, he’s always been presented in a confident enough way that I would be surprised if that’s the case. But you’re very hesitant to say anything with a lot of conviction right now because you don’t have a better explanation.
Listen, it would help him to have better talent. It would help him if there were some things that Doug could do to make it easier for him. But on his own two feet, he shouldn’t be performing as badly as he is.
I have a very hard time even coming up with something that seems like a good explanation for what’s happening with him. How he went from where he was to where he is. So I don’t want to dismiss anything. But if having Hurts around was affecting him, I would call him mentally fragile. And I’ve never seen anything in him that’s made me think he’s mentally fragile.
Domo: Andy Reid and Doug Pederson coached together for 7 years. But you’d never know it after watching Andy’s offense on Monday night and Doug’s Sunday against Cincinnati. No misdirection. No creativity. Screens that the Bengals defense were easily sniffing out. Doug is not the village idiot. He’s a smart offensive coach. What the heck is going on?
Banner: One of the things that I’ll put on the list of possible explanations, coaches often coach to their expectations for their players. So if Doug has consciously or subconsciously become more nervous about the quality of the players and the talent, he’ll shrink what he does. And that creates a self-fulfilling prophecy because you’ve limited how good you can be, and you’ve actually made it harder for your players to succeed.
I’m not saying that’s happening. I’m saying I’ve seen coaches adjust what they do based on them not being as sure about the players' ability to execute effectively. And then that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So, for me, that’s at least on the list of possible explanations. That, as he sees Carson struggling, he’s trying to give him easier things to do. Because he sees the team execute poorly and is trying to simplify execution. Which would reduce how often you do things like rollouts and misdirection and that kind of stuff.
What we do know is he is not using the full range of things we’ve seen him use in the past, and certainly have seen people he’s coached with or coached underuse. Maybe he just needs to say, “I’m going to call the game as if I think this is the best team in the league and whatever I give them to do, they’re going to execute it great,” and see if that makes a difference. Because if you shrink the playbook and try to simplify things, you’re making it easier for your offense, but you’re also making it easier for the defense you’re playing against.
Domo: Doug reshaped his offensive coaching staff in the offseason. He added some people, including Rich Scangarello and Marty Mornhinweg, both of whom I know you have great respect for. But is it possible that he has too many cooks in the offensive kitchen right now?
Banner: It’s possible. But you should be able to manage through that. It can be a problem if you have too many people weighing in. But it’s also an advantage to have a lot of smart voices in the same room if you can manage the input and communication and maybe even at times the ego. Though, in this case, I know these people. I don’t think of any of them as having big egos. They’re confident in themselves and their ideas. But I don’t see them as people that are driven by ego or getting credit.
The whole thing to me is very baffling. The talent of the team is not in my opinion as strong as it’s been the last few years. But there’s certainly talent on the team. We’ve seen Wentz succeed. We’ve seen Doug and Schwartz lead a team to a Super Bowl and win over 30 games in three years.
But then you look at what’s going on right now and you say, “Boy, this is really broken.” It’s hard to say those things in the same sentence, but they’re both true. And I don’t have an explanation. If I was in the seat to fix it, I’m not sure what I’d do to fix it because it’s so hard to get clarity on what’s causing it.
Domo: If things continue to spiral downward this season, do Doug or Howie have anything to worry about job-wise?
Banner: My expectation is they’re safe. The emotions, if things keep going like this, could change that answer. But we are just three years removed from winning a Super Bowl. We’ve averaged 10-plus wins a year for the last three seasons. There are a variety of explanations for what’s going on this year. I suspect that Howie and Doug, knowing them as I do, are being introspective about what they could maybe do better, and looking at the organization, what it could do better.
It would be hard to make dramatic changes after three years of the significant success they’ve had and one bad year. So, while I certainly wouldn’t take it off the table, I’d be surprised if this year, however it ends up going, resulted in major changes.
Domo: The NFL got its first significant slap in the face from COVID this week when an outbreak in the Tennessee Titans' organization forced the postponement of their game with Pittsburgh. Are there going to be more of these kinds of situations, and how much impact will it have on the NFL’s ability to play its season?
Banner: My view all along was that I was confident they’d start the season. I’ve spoken to enough people there to know that they’re very determined not to get thrown off by a small number of cases and shut things down. They’re going to do their best to keep it alive.
But just listening to the doctors talk about how this thing is likely to get worse as the fall goes on, and the players and their families being in the community and not in a bubble, it’s hard to picture them getting through it without having some challenges.
Hopefully, they’re manageable challenges and they can keep going. Because I know they’re very determined. If it’s at all possible or even a little bit reasonable, their intent is to keep going forward if they possibly can.
Domo: I’m assuming they have a plan for a shortened season if that’s something they have to consider?
Banner: Yeah. Your preference would be to play a shortened season where everybody has played the same number of games, and hopefully approximately the same number of games within their division. To main the ability to do that if they had a shortened season, to have everybody at least approximately keep competitive balance, even if it’s an imperfect competitive balance, I think people see now how hard that’s going to be to do.
Domo: If they make it through the regular season, is the league considering putting the 14 playoff teams in a postseason bubble?
Banner: I promise you they’ve thought of it and looked into it. The need for a facility for an NFL team to practice and dress and everything else will make it challenging. But there are ways to do it if they decide to do it. It would seem like, at that point, you’re asking the teams and the players to make a relatively short-term sacrifice compared to what the NBA and NHL went through.
If the logistics can work, I would encourage them to do that. But people shouldn’t underestimate how much is involved in audio and video and practice space and training space and everything else. Space for meeting rooms is quite significant even if you shave them to their minimum. It won’t be easy to find locations that they can do that in without any real trouble.
Domo: So what you’re saying is you can’t tell 14 teams to head down to DisneyWorld?
Banner: One of the first years I was with the Eagles, we made the playoffs and the weather in Philly was so bad and the fields were snow-covered. We went down to Vero Beach (Fla.) where, at the time, the Dodgers had a very nice training facility. It was self-contained. So I wonder if some of those places that are used by baseball teams for spring training, they won’t be there yet. They’re self-contained. You could easily isolate. And there’s a large enough quantity of them. It seems like one of the first places to call and see how viable that would be.