After two seasons of general disappointment in the Eagles’ offensive performances, you might not want to hear this: Mike Groh might be the main reason the Eagles made it back to the playoffs.
Not Carson Wentz, the quarterback who set Eagles records. Not Doug Pederson, the coach who took a legion of fringe talent and just won four games in a row and the NFC East title to boot.
Not them. Mike Groh. Of all people, Mike Groh?
It was Groh who, as injuries stripped the roster of accomplished players, has redesigned the offense week-to-week to maximize the talents of the less talented: little running back Boston Scott, quarterback-turned-receiver Greg Ward, hybrid receiver/tight end Josh Perkins, and undrafted, unemployed receiver Deontay Burnett. All four spent time on the Eagles’ practice squad this season. They were cut a combined six times in 2019, but they combined for six touchdowns in the last four games.
It was Groh who transformed rookie Miles Sanders into Barry Sanders in the last six games of the season, when he averaged 106.5 yards from scrimmage and scored four touchdowns. It was Groh who made second-year tight end Dallas Goedert one of the league’s 10 best on the strength of those same six games, in which Goedert averaged 5.7 catches and 58.3 yards, a 16-game pace of 91 catches and 933 yards. They combined for five TDs in the last six games.
It’s hard to say it, but the Eagles wouldn’t be hosting the Seahawks in a wild-card game Sunday if Groh hadn’t gotten the most from the players we knew the least.
“That’s why I give so much credit to Mike. He doesn’t get enough credit right now for what he’s done with our offense,” Pederson told me this week.
I nearly choked on my hot dog and Diet Coke.
"It’s easy to come up with the plays. We can go, ‘We can run this and this and this,’ " Pederson continued, pointing to an imaginary play sheet. “But who’s going to run that? Where are we going to put them? We have to come up with formations where guys can line up, and play fast. And if that guy goes down, how can we run the same play and still be successful? Mike’s figured that out."
Mike Groh figured that out?
Who is this guy?
Mike Groh is the former receivers coach who couldn’t integrate veteran receiver Golden Tate after the trade deadline last season.
Mike Groh is the silver-spooned, former University of Virginia star quarterback who got fired from his alma mater in 2008 by his own father, Al, after Mike’s offenses finished in the bottom 10% in the nation all three seasons he was coordinator.
Mike Groh is the guy best known in Philly as Not Frank Reich.
He’s the coach everyone loves to hate, but you gotta just love him now.
This is an alarming conclusion for anyone who watched the inefficiency of last season turn into the erratic-a of 2019. Groh seemed like a figurehead, Pederson’s pliant yes-man, an obvious mistake made by a franchise unwilling to promote running backs coach Duce Staley to offensive coordinator in 2018 despite Staley’s superior credentials.
If Pederson had touted Staley to me this week, it would have made perfect sense. Staley has been brilliant since joining the Eagles as a coach in 2011, from LeSean McCoy’s prime to Miles Sanders’ emergence.
If Pederson had touted Jeff Stoutland, it would have made perfect sense, since Stoutland, who arrived as offensive line coach in 2013, has turned Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Lane Johnson into Pro Bowl players; has made Isaac Seumalo, Halapoulavaati Vaitai, and Matt Pryor competent NFL linemen; and, for the last five seasons, has kept 37-year-old Jason Peters relatively functional with the use of duct tape, string, and Texas barbecue.
Pederson has, in fact, credited both Staley, who also is the assistant head coach, and Stoutland, who also is the run-game coordinator. However, Pederson saves his highest praise for Albert Michael Groh III, and it somehow makes sense.
This didn’t seem possible before December descended, but maybe Groh has grown into the job.
Or maybe the job has grown into him.
Free at last
Maybe now that Groh isn’t dealing with entitled wide receivers with championship rings, he can scheme the sorts of routes that best suit his receivers’ skills rather than their egos.
And maybe after the $128 million franchise quarterback has been humbled by his abysmal play in Games 11 and 12, the $128 million quarterback is following Groh’s scripts more closely. You know, the way Nick Foles used to.
Diplomatically, Groh credited Pederson’s game-planning guidance and his game-day genius as the chief reasons the Eagles ran off four regular-season wins for the first time in more than two years.
“This isn’t just paint-by-numbers every week in terms of putting these plans together to get the guys in the right spots,” Groh said. “How we’re getting them lined up, the formations that are called, the plays, being able to adjust on the fly in the middle of a game when a guy goes out, is very underrated and just shows how good of a play-caller that he really is.”
Maybe it does, at that. But Pederson told me that the plays he calls on game day are only as good as the mind that conceives them.
“It’s a mental gymnastic by him during the week to get all of these pieces together," Pederson said. "So when I look on my sheet, or as I study during the week, I can insert them — boom, boom, boom.”
There you have it. Mike Groh, offensive savant.
Boom, boom, boom, indeed.