The question offended Marty Mornhinweg, kind of. We were in his wide-windowed office in Florham Park, N.J., in August 2013, before his first season as the offensive coordinator of the New York Jets. Behind his desk were binders, nothing but shelves of red and green and black binders that made the wall as technicolored as stained glass.
He had spent the previous 10 years with the Eagles, the final six of those years as offensive coordinator. He had worked under Andy Reid and with Doug Pederson, who hired him last week to rejoin the Eagles as a consultant, and now here he was working under Rex Ryan. It seemed an ill-fitted pairing. Ryan, when he thought about offense, thought ground-and-pound was the way to go. Mornhinweg … did not. In fact, his departure from the Eagles had come with criticism that he practically ignored the possibility that they might run the ball, so enamored was he with having Michael Vick – or whatever quarterback happened to be under center – chuck the ball all over the yard. Was his play calling too pass-heavy?
“All right … damn it,” he said. The anger was facetious. Seated at the desk, he swiveled around in his chair and grabbed one of the binders. Each was full of numbers and statistics that he himself had tracked and recorded over each season of his coaching career: Green Bay, San Francisco, Detroit, on and on. He relied on them to spot trends, refresh his memory. He flipped through the one he’d taken off the shelf. He didn’t cite any of the statistics. He just set to defending himself.
“Depends upon the players you have,” he said. “Brett Favre, you give him enough opportunities. Donovan McNabb, give the man enough opportunities, and he’s going to get it done for you. Now, a couple of them might not look real pretty, though. Favre looked just beautiful for about five years there, man alive. It depends on the guy you have. But I have coached a couple of quarterbacks where the mentality for me was, ‘Make sure when we came out of this game that we gave him enough opportunities.’ Favre and McNabb, they were built that way, absolutely built that way. Steve Young, I wanted the ball in his hands.”
So how is Carson Wentz built? He would seem to fit the same criteria that Mornhinweg established for Favre and McNabb: He’s a quarterback who is already great or might yet become great, so you keep the ball in his hands as much as possible. You give him as many opportunities to be great as possible. That’s why you’re paying him. That’s how you score lots of touchdowns. And that’s how you end up having him drop back three out of every four snaps. But Mornhinweg, of course, will have only so much input on that question. He won’t be calling plays, and he’s one of seven coaches in the Eagles’ crowded office of offensive minds: Mornhinweg, Pederson, assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley, passing game coordinator Press Taylor, running game coordinator Jeff Stoutland, consultant Rich Scangarello, passing game analyst Andrew Breiner.
Of those seven, Mornhinweg might be the most interesting. No one else in that room has gone to the philosophical extremes that he has. For all the years he spent as a fool for the pass, remember: He was the Baltimore Ravens’ offensive coordinator in 2018 when they benched Joe Flacco for Lamar Jackson and, in doing so, unleashed a zone-rushing system that turned their offense into one of the NFL’s most dynamic and productive units. Yes, the Ravens were even better last season under Greg Roman and with a more-experienced Jackson, but the turnaround began under Mornhinweg, and it was obvious and stark. Once Jackson became their starting quarterback, the Ravens, who were 4-5 at the time, won six of their final seven regular-season games, averaging 45 rushing attempts, 230 rushing yards, and 25.1 points a game.
None of this means that Mornhinweg changed his philosophies and burned his binders and metamorphosed into the coach Rex Ryan always wanted him to be, though it would be understandable if he had. (Mornhinweg lasted just two seasons as the Jets’ offensive coordinator. The quarterback who started the most games for the team over that period was Geno Smith, and if those circumstances don’t persuade a play-caller to run the ball more, nothing will.) It does mean that he remains creative, even a little … out there … at times. You’re definitely a little out there if you have Andy Reid, of all people, wondering if you throw the ball too much.
But that’s the point of having someone such as Mornhinweg on an offensive coaching staff – or on a committee or governing board. It’s important and valuable to have someone who thinks freely and pushes others to break out of their boxes of convention, especially since, when it came to tailoring the offense to Wentz’s strengths, the Eagles’ previous coordinator, Mike Groh, was accused of being too conventional and likely lost his job because of it. If there’s some mad scientist in Marty Mornhinweg – and there is – and if Doug Pederson allows him to bring some of those ideas to bear, that’s OK. Sometimes it’s good to be just crazy enough. Sometimes you have to be.