Doug Pederson hopes his script has a happy ending
The Eagles coach, who scripts the first 15 plays of games, has been doing a terrific job with it this year. The Eagles lead the league in first-quarter scoring.
When the Eagles offense gathers at their Seattle hotel Saturday night with head coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich for their final film session before Sunday's game against the Seahawks, they'll be spending more time watching themselves than the Legion of Boom.
The Eagles, like most teams in the league these days, script their first 15 offensive plays. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean they're going to run those 15 plays come hell or high water.
Variables such as down-and-distance, field position, unexpected defensive fronts or coverage may force them to make a play adjustment. But those plays also are in the script as well.
The Eagles will have spent a sizable portion of their practice time this week running the plays on the script. And that's what they'll be watching Saturday night.
"On Saturday night, the old-school preparation was you'd watch one last reel of the opposing team's defense,'' Reich said. "Well now, what teams do, rather than watch their defense the night before, we watch our practice plays of those first 15 plays that we're going to run.
"It's the process of visualization, of seeing yourself doing it and executing it. It's about what we do. We know, or at least have a pretty good idea, what they're going to do. But there's so much emphasis on the technique and getting things just right, and knowing what adjustments there could be. So, Saturday night, instead of watching another half of Seattle's defense, we're going to watch us doing what we do.''
What they've been doing with those first 15 scripted plays has been moving the football, scoring points and forcing their opponents to abandon their own offensive game plans because they've been eating the Eagles' dust.
The Eagles lead the league in first-quarter points with 78. Fifty-one of them have come on their first two possessions. They're averaging an impressive 5.4 yards per play on their first two possessions.
Pederson and Reich sit down early in the week after studying film of the upcoming opponent and put together the offensive game plan and script the first 15 plays.
"You're trying to get, whether it's a pattern or something that you can sort of trust and rely on, knowing that by (using) a certain personnel group of formation, you can get a defense in a certain (favorable) front or coverage,'' Pederson said.
Scripting the plays early in the week allows them to focus in on those plays during practice and get them right.
"It's a big benefit because coach (Pederson) does a great job of scripting those plays and we do a great job as a team of preparing for those,'' Reich said. "He has a knack and a feel for (scripting).
"But then, it's also, the earlier you know how the plays are going to come down, there's a little extra coaching that goes into those first 15 plays. There's a lot of coaching that goes into all of it, but you certainly emphasize those first 15.
"You talk through a few more things. You get to practice those (plays), even on Saturdays sometime, one last time. You get an additional rep on them. I think all of those things contribute to better execution.''
Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh is credited with introducing play-scripting. "Scripting is planning,'' Walsh told the New York Times' Thomas George in 1996. "The fewer decisions to be made during the game the better. You don't want to live by your instincts.''
"If you can be preemptive and make as many decisions as you can on the front end, you can just play faster,'' he said. "The quarterback can process (faster). What are the coverages? You have to do that every play. But what if I could just increase (the speed) five percent? Is it worth it? Yeah, it's worth it.
"There's 100 or 150 plays to look at. I know we're going to run these 15. So I'm going to spend a little more time (on them). And I think it's just going to make us a little bit better.''
Reich said they usually get through most of the 15 scripted plays without needing to make too many in-game changes.
"There's typically some revisions,'' he said. "Particularly in the run game. If all of a sudden they're playing a different front or making an adjustment in their run (defense), we might reorder some plays.
"They might be playing more middle-field-open (split safeties) than we anticipated. So we might move these passes up and move these back.''
Figuring the Eagles
— Carson Wentz's Year 2 passing numbers have soared in almost every category, except one. His completion percentage has dropped from 62.4 as a rookie to 60.2 this season. Twenty-eight quarterbacks in the league have a higher completion percentage. An examination of his throws explains the drop. He has attempted more lower-percentage, down-the-field throws this season and is doing less dinking and dunking. As a rookie, just 28.6 percent of his attempts traveled 11 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage. This year, that percentage has increased to 36.9. Last year, 16.6 percent of his attempts were behind-the-line-of-scrimmage throws — screens, flairs, hitches, et al. This year that figure has dropped to 12.9 percent. His throws in the 0-to-10-yard range have dropped from 54.8 percent a year ago to 50.1 this year.
— Wentz has a much better passer rating at home than on the road this season. He has a 113.2 rating at the Linc, completing 63.5 percent of his attempts, averaging 7.6 yards per attempt and throwing 18 TD passes and three interceptions. His passer rating on the road is 94.4. He has a 56.6 completion percentage, a 7.3 yards-per-attempt average, 10 TDs and two interceptions away from the Linc.
— Wentz's 28 touchdown passes are the third-highest total by a first- or second-year quarterback through the first 11 games of a season in NFL history. The only two with more: Dan Marino, who threw 30 with the Dolphins in 1984, and Kurt Warner, who had 29 with the Rams in '99.
— The Eagles ran a season-high 80.8 percent of their plays against the Bears with "11'' personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WRs). They've used it 62.7 percent of the time in the first 11 games, far and away the most of any personnel grouping. They've used "12" personnel (1RB, 2TEs, 2WRs) on 23.4 percent of their plays.
— The Eagles have run the ball on 53.8 percent of their first-down plays this season. On second down, they've run it 117 times and passed it 117. Their 50.0 second-down run percentage is the fifth highest in the league, behind only Carolina (52.7), Tennessee (52.0), Buffalo (51.3) and Jacksonville (50.4).
— So far, the presence of Jay Ajayi has had zero impact on LeGarrette Blount's playing time. In fact, Blount actually has played more in the three games since the Eagles traded for Ajayi than he did in the first eight. He played 34.5 percent of the snaps in the first eight games and has played 39.3 percent of them in the last three. His carries have pretty much stayed the same: 12.5 per game before Ajayi arrived, 12.3 since he got here.
— The Eagles are third in the league in third-down efficiency despite the fact that they have been in more third-and-longs than all but five other teams. The Eagles have faced 72 third-and-8-or-more situations, which puts them on a pace to exceed last year's NFL-high of 103. The difference, of course, is they're converting a lot more of them this season. They have a 31.9 conversion rate on third-and-8-plus. Only the Saints (32.7) and Patriots (32.8) are better. Last year, the Eagles converted just 21.3 percent of their third-and-8-pluses. Wentz, who leads the league in third-down passing, has a 110.5 passer rating on third-and-8-plus. Last year, it was 63.6.
Breaking down Baker
Baker Mayfield is the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy next week. But where will he go in the 2018 NFL draft?
UCLA's Josh Rosen and USC's Sam Darnold still are regarded as the draft's top two quarterback prospects. Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph's stock is rising, and scouts still like Wyoming's 6-5, 233-pound Josh Allen despite very pedestrian stats.
But Mayfield, who has thrown 37 TD passes and just five interceptions and has a 71.4 completion percentage, is an intriguing player.
"I think he's going to go in the first round,'' said NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger, who also is an analyst for Big 12 games on Fox Sports. "Guys get pushed up. Teams need quarterbacks. There's going to be a half-dozen teams that need quarterbacks.''
Baldinger thinks Mayfield has the right stuff to be a productive NFL starter.
"He's a bigger, stronger Johnny Manziel,'' he said. "He plays the game at warp speed. I don't know how he sees what he sees.
"He's frenetic and you have to reel him in a little bit. But he's got a whip. He's as competitive a football player as there is in the country at any position.
"He sees the field incredibly well. He tries to keep every single play alive.''
The Manziel comparison might make some people cringe. But keep in mind, the kid still was taken in the first round. And it was his personal issues that derailed his career, not a lack of talent.
"He reminds you of Johnny because he's that frenetic and can throw it from any position or angle,'' Baldinger said. "But he's bigger and stronger than Johnny, and he's not a knucklehead like Johnny was.
"Baker's not 6-2, but he's probably 6-1. And he's thick. He's not small or frail. He can keep plays alive for 7-8-9 seconds on any given Saturday.
"All that stuff they said about (Patrick) Mahomes last year — no mechanics and stuff — they're going to say the same thing about Mayfield. And then somebody like Sean Payton is going to fall in love with him, and you'd better figure out how to move up in front of him to get him if you want him.''
This and that
— To return or not to return; that is the question. Unlike many other teams in the league this season, the Eagles have been playing it safe on kickoffs. They have returned just 10 this season, which is the fewest in the league. Has their conservative approach hurt them? Not at all. They're still 10th in average drive start on kickoffs (25.1). Special teams coordinator Dave Fipp feels that, with an offense as explosive as the one the Eagles have, the 25-yard line isn't a bad place to start a drive. The Eagles lead the league in scoring. They have 37 offensive touchdowns. Nineteen of them have come on drives of 75 yards or more. "Just being smart and making the right decisions and knowing the type of offense we have, the chances of us scoring from the 25 are pretty high,'' said Kenjon Barner, who, along with Corey Clement, are the Eagles' two kick returners.
— Seattle has not been kind to Eagles defensive end Chris Long. He had to go there every year during his eight seasons with the Rams. Didn't leave there a winner until his final trip with the Rams in 2015. Signed with the Patriots last year. They went 14-2 during the regular season and won the Super Bowl. Guess where one of those two losses occurred? That's right. Seattle. "When I was in St. Louis, it seemed like every year we got scheduled in Seattle in Week 17,'' Long said. "And it was always 34 (degrees) and light rain. They have great fans. The atmosphere is awesome. And they've had a really good football team for a long time. They've got a reputation they've earned, and it's a tough place to play.''
— Lane Johnson is going for the trifecta Sunday. The Eagles right tackle already has shut down the Broncos' Von Miller and the Cowboys' DeMarcus Lawrence. If he can do the same Sunday to the Seahawks' Michael Bennett, it's difficult to believe he won't be a Pro Bowl shoo-in, and even earn some All-Pro consideration. Bennett leads the Seahawks in sacks with 7 ½. "He's really good with his hands,'' Johnson said. "Savvy guy. He can pick up on different stances if you give it away. He's smart.''
From the lip
— "These guys know that there's not a whole lot of people out there that believe in them, and that's OK. We've got a bunch of guys in that locker room that have been told that they're not good enough or haven't been good enough. We'll use that. We'll use it to our advantage and that's what they did yesterday.'' — Bills coach Sean McDermott, who told his team before the win over the Chiefs that 17 of 19 analysts had picked Buffalo to lose
— "People don't understand what we go through as football players and what our bodies go through. He's laying down on the ground and people are cheering.'' — 49ers safety Eric Reid after some fans started cheering as Jimmy Garoppolo loosened up while struggling starting QB C.J. Beathard lay on the ground with a knee injury
— "I'm always excited for an opportunity to play, but there's no major reaction. I didn't throw a party or anything.'' — Geno Smith, who will start for the Giants on Sunday in place of the benched Eli Manning
By the numbers
— Carson Wentz, who has 28 touchdown passes and five interceptions, is just the third QB in league history to have at least 25 TD passes and five or fewer interceptions in his team's first 11 games. The other two: Tom Brady, who's done it three times, and Aaron Rodgers, who's done it twice.
— Seahawks QB Russell Wilson is 23-4 (.852) in his career in games following a loss. That's the best record by a starting QB since the '70 merger.
— Atlanta's Julio Jones notched the third 250-yard receiving game of his career last week against the Bucs. He had 12 catches for 253 yards and 2 TDs. He is the only player in NFL history with multiple 250-plus-yard receiving games. – Paul Domowitch