THE CAMERA/LISTENING device was secreted in Andy Reid's office during his news conference yesterday. The tapes and transcripts of his conversation with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg were available by nightfall.
Andy: We can't do this, can we?
Marty: Look at the numbers.
Andy: But we can't.
Marty: Will you look at how hard it is to run the ball against them? Will you look?
Reid picked up a pile of paper and began to rifle through the stack. A closeup from the camera revealed what Mornhinweg was talking about. The numbers showed that the Minnesota Vikings have the No. 1 run defense in the National Football League. The numbers showed that only the Baltimore Ravens have had to defend fewer running plays this season than the Vikings.
Many teams give up on the run very, very early against the Vikings - that was on another of the sheets that Reid was studying. A couple of teams really didn't even try. And now, with a playoff date against the Vikings coming next on the Eagles' schedule, the angst was writ large on Reid's face.
He shuffled through the papers some more, then looked up.
Andy: But what about the last 5 weeks?
Marty: I know, I know - it's worked out well. A couple of more runs in the first half have made a big difference.
Andy: So we have to keep doing it.
Marty: I agree.
Andy: So what are we arguing about?
Marty: We're arguing about what we should do when the run doesn't work.
Andy: Aren't you the optimist.
Marty: Just a realist.
Reid went back to the paperwork. Again, the camera revealed the numbers. They painted an interesting change in Reid during the course of the season, an evolution of falling expectations for his passing game.
Everything changed on the day the coach benched quarterback Donovan McNabb at halftime in Baltimore. Before that game, the numbers show an offense that tried to function when it called passing plays 69 percent of the time in the first half. It worked great for a long time. The Eagles averaged more than 16 points in the first half of their first nine games.
But then came the disasters against Cincinnati and Baltimore. After that, Reid and Mornhinweg got religion. Their playcalling changed to 57 percent passing plays in the first half in the last five games. That amounts to four more runs in each of those first halves - more than a tweak, not quite a revolution but definitely noticeable. It worked well in four games out of five, the scoring almost returning to the Eagles' pre-Cincinnati level.
The town likes the better balance. The team likes the better balance.
Reid looked up again from the sheets.
Andy: Some of these numbers are pretty lopsided.
Marty: I told you. Look at Arizona.
Andy: I know - 22 passes and four runs in their first half against the Vikings. But they're crazier than we are anyway.
Marty: Look at New Orleans - 32 passes, eight runs. Look at Jacksonville - 29 passes, eight runs. Chicago, 20 to six. Indianapolis, 22 to nine. Even the Giants on Sunday threw it 60 percent of the time in the first half.
Andy: What's the league average?
Marty: It's 67 percent passes in the first half against Minnesota.
Andy: How about the teams that beat them?
Marty: Still high - 63 percent passes.
Andy: But we're supposed to keep running, right?
Earlier, at his news conference, Reid was talking about some of his protégés among NFL coaches, including Baltimore's John Harbaugh and the Vikings' Brad Childress. Both of them run the ball a bunch.
Reid said, "That's what they have chosen to do. That's their little wrinkle to the thing. They have done it more than probably anybody in this [West Coast] system and done it very well. Brad has one of the best, if not the best running back in the National Football League right now [in Adrian Peterson], maybe the MVP of the National Football League. He's given him the ball a lot and I understand that. He's a heck of a player."
But that is not Reid's philosophy. Whatever balance has been added in the last few weeks has only been because of the crises in Cincinnati and Baltimore.
But, well, now what? Will Reid yield to temptation or stay with the recent plan? Will he stick with the run in the first half, even against that No. 1 run defense? Will he stick with it even if it doesn't produce immediate results? Will he stick with it even if the Eagles fall behind? And if he does lean a little more to the pass, will it be only a little more and not what happened in the second half against the Redskins?
These are the questions. Meanwhile, on the video, Reid and Mornhinweg silently pored over the data. *
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