ANAHEIM, Calif. – One of the most annoying aspects of college football, at least in my mind, is the check-with-me system of play-calling that many teams use.
Offenses hurry to the line of scrimmage at the conclusion of a play as if they're going to quickly run another play. Then, all 11 players suddenly straighten up and turn toward their bench.
A few seconds later, after the coaches have perused the defense, people on the sideline hold up a bunch of silly signs, one of which happens to be the actual play call.
The offensive players then turn around, get down in their respective stances and run the play the coach called.
Rams coach Sean McVay has been doing something similar to that this season to help out his young quarterback, Jared Goff. Except he doesn't need to use the silly signs. He can communicate with Goff via his radio helmet.
The Rams have been running a lot of no-huddle offense this season. But they've been mixing up the tempo.
Sometimes they'll line up and quickly run another play. And sometimes, they'll hurry up and wait while McVay and his coaches upstairs survey the defense and see if an audible is warranted.
If they want to change the play, they send it to Goff before the communication device in his helmet automatically cuts off with 15 seconds left on the play clock.
"It's just a faze of our offense that we've used,'' the 31-year-old McVay said. "It's been a nice change up for us.
"Whether you're doing it with a young quarterback or a veteran quarterback, I think it's really more about just what's beneficial for our offense and how we feel like is the best way to attack a given defense we're going against.''
Every team, including the Eagles, employs pre-snap reads. But usually, it's the quarterback doing the reading and audibling after he's received the initial play call rather than the coaches on the sideline and up in the booth.
"You see quarterbacks do it themselves,'' Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "Brady, Rodgers, all those guys. They do it on their own after they look at the defense. Most teams don't rely on the coach to do it.''
The key to making this approach work is mixing up the tempo. If the Rams did the hurry-up-and-wait thing every play, defenses would either show a disguise or not even bother to line up.
But the Rams also have been snapping the ball quickly on occasion, which forces defenses to show at least part of their hand or get caught flat-footed.
In their 32-16 win over Arizona last week, the Rams mixed up their tempo. Goff completed 21 of 31 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns against the Cardinals.
"I think it's been real helpful" to Goff, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "Against us, they also went very fast. Because when they just go up there and then don't snap it right away, you say, well, we'll hold our disguise.
"And then they snap it [quickly], and you'd better be able to play defense out of your disguise. I think it's really smart coaching.''
Hard to argue with the results. The Rams are tied for the league lead in scoring with the Eagles. Both are averaging 30.1 points per game.
Goff is ninth in the league in passing (98.4 rating) and third in yards per attempt (8.12). His completion percentage has jumped from 54.6 as a rookie to 62.2 this year. He's been sacked just once every 19.6 pass attempts this season compared to once every 7.9 last year.
"They do a good job with it,'' the Eagles' Jenkins said. "Sometimes they'll hurry up and snap it. Sometimes they'll wait. That's the good thing about tempo for an offense. They dictate the pace.
"If defenses [show] disguise, you go fast, and you catch them in their disguise. If they line up in [what they want to use], then you take your time, and the coach is in the quarterback's helmet changing the play.''
So, what are the Eagles supposed to do?
"We have to be able to change up our looks, our disguises,'' Jenkins said. "We'll have a plan for that. Sometimes they might get the upper hand. But if we keep it simple and execute, we should be OK.''
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz downplayed McVay's check-with-me audibles.
"There's a lot of teams that use pre-snap reads and keys to try to change plays at the last minute,'' he said. "You do have a 15-second cutoff. So you can't take it down too far. Pretty much everybody does it. Defenses do the same thing.''
Figuring the Eagles
— The Eagles defense hasn't given up a touchdown this season on the first or second possession of a game. They have allowed just 18 points on six field goals. Opponents are averaging just 3.5 yards per play on their first two possessions.
— Eagles receivers have just 17 drops through the first 12 games. They had 32 last year. Torrey Smith has a team-high five drops but has just one in the last eight games. He's been targeted 46 times and has 27 receptions.
— The Eagles, who are tied for the league lead in scoring with the Rams (30.1 points per game), are third in points per possession (2.53) behind the Patriots (2.76) and the Saints (2.55). The Rams are fourth (2.46).
— The Eagles rushed for just 98 yards on 26 carries against the Seahawks. It was the first time they had failed to rush for at least 100 yards since Week 1 when the Redskins held them to 58 yards on 24 carries.
— Jay Ajayi has played 29 percent of the Eagles' offensive snaps (83 of 286) in the four games since he was acquired from Miami in late October. He has 29 carries for 229 yards (7.9 yards per carry) in those four games. LeGarrette Blount has played 33.9 percent of the snaps in those four games and has rushed for 217 yards on 45 carries (4.8). Rookie Corey Clement has played 31.5 percent of the snaps and has 135 yards on 25 carries (5.4).
— The Eagles are fourth in average drive start (30.3-yard line) through 12 games. They are 18th in opponent average drive start (27.6).
— Eagles offensive linemen have been flagged for just nine holding penalties this season (they had 15 last year). Left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai has three of them, and right tackle Lane Johnson has two. No one else has more than one. Center Jason Kelce, who had a team-high six holding penalties last season, had one in Week 2 and hasn't picked up another since.
— The Eagles gave up just their third third-down touchdown pass of the season last week – a one-yard, Russell Wilson-to-Tyler Lockett throw on third-and-one in the third quarter, which gave the Seahawks a 17-3 lead. Wilson was 5 for 6 for 74 yards on third down. Forty-seven of those 74 yards came on a completion to Doug Baldwin on a zero blitz. All five of Wilson's third-down completions resulted in first downs. The only other quarterback with five passing first downs on third down against the Eagles this season was the Chargers' Philip Rivers.
— After running the ball just 26 times on 74 plays Sunday, the Eagles have slipped to seventh in run-play percentage (46.5). They also are seventh in first-half run-play percentage (44.8). They are averaging 15.1 rushing attempts in the first half this season.
— The Eagles have held opponents to 3.0 yards per carry on first down this season. That's the fifth-best average in the league, behind only Indianapolis (2.93), Seattle (3.12), Cleveland (3.26) and Dallas (3.33). They are second offensively in first-down rushing, averaging 4.98 yards per carry. Rams running back Todd Gurley is averaging 4.74 yards per carry on first down. One hundred thirty of his 223 rushing attempts this season have been on first down. The only back in the league with more first-down carries is the Steelers' Le'Veon Bell (145).
— Carson Wentz is sixth in the NFL in passing with a 103.0 rating. That rating has been built on his impressive numbers on first and third downs, on which he has a league-best 110.3 passer rating that includes 21 touchdown passes, three interceptions and an 8.2 yards-per-attempt average. Second down, however, has been a struggle for him. He has an 82.9 passer rating on second down, including a 55.4 completion percentage. The only quarterbacks in the league with a lower second-down completion percentage (minimum of 50 attempts) than Wentz are Cleveland's DeShone Kizer (50.0), Green Bay's Brett Hundley (52.3) and Chicago's Mitch Trubisky (53.8).
This and that
— The Eagles have been practicing at Angel Stadium this week, where Wentz's good buddy, Mike Trout, calls home during the baseball season. The Eagles quarterback was asked whether Trout was coming out to show him around L.A. "Nah,'' Wentz said. "He's back home [in South Jersey] hunting it up all over the place. But we stay in touch. I found a couple of places he [recommended].''
— Carson Wentz had five of the Eagles' eight rushing first downs in Sunday night's loss to Seattle and has nine rushing first downs in the last two games. For the season, he has 26, which ties him for the second-most among quarterbacks, with Russell Wilson. The Panthers' Cam Newton is first with 34. The Eagles' running goal for Wentz each game is one third-down first down per game. He has clearly exceeded expectations. "Obviously, that's a lot,'' offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "Nine [rushing first downs] in two weeks is a ton. That's just a credit to him being able to improvise and his physicality and athletic ability. When things break down, he just has a knack.'' Reich isn't expecting Wentz to have four of five rushing first downs every week. "My hunch is, and my experience tells me, that those come in waves a little bit,'' Reich said. "You get a bunch like that, and then you go three games where he's got one or two because things are clicking [with the passing game], and the ball is getting out quick.''
— Eagles defensive end Chris Long spent the first eight years of his career with the Rams before getting released after the 2015 season. He signed with the Patriots and got a Super Bowl ring last season. He said he has zero bitterness toward his former team. "Hey, if I never got cut I wouldn't have a Super Bowl ring,'' he said. "I'm not one of those guys who gets upset about that kind of stuff. I love those dudes I played with. If I didn't play like crap, I wouldn't have gotten cut. If I didn't get hurt, I wouldn't have played like crap and wouldn't have gotten cut. I wasn't 100 percent, and that's what happens in this league. I had eight great years there, and I have great respect for that organization. Not everything happens for a reason. But I feel like maybe [getting released two years ago] did.''
From the lip
"I believe this is the start of something that we've seen in the past. Like I told Russell [Wilson], whatever this is we need to capture it. We need to hold onto it and continue to push forward to get better. Because the truth of the matter is we still have so much left in the tank.'' – Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin after his team beat the Eagles, 24-10, for their eighth win in 12 games.
"I just love it. I love it. I bet you I can be the bologna-eating champion of the world. I bet you I've eaten more bologna than anyone in this world.'' – Jaguars coach Doug Marrone, who celebrates victories with a bologna-and-cheese sandwich.
"We built a billion-dollar house, and we need to throw a billion-dollar housewarming party. I think sometimes we're still using the coasters, and we need to be as loud and fun as all we represent as a city.'' – Falcons coach Dan Quinn encouraging the crowd for Thursday night's game against the Saints to turn up the volume
By the numbers
— In the Chiefs' 38-31 loss to the Jets last week, QB Alex Smith became the first player since at least 1966 to complete a 70-plus-yard pass and also have a 70-plus-yard run.
— The Seahawks are 11-2 in prime-time home games since 2012.
— The Eagles can clinch the NFC East title Sunday with a win over the Rams. If they do, they would become the 22nd team since 2003 to execute a worst-to-first turnaround in their division. It also would be the third time the Eagles have done it since 2006. They did it in 2013 under Chip Kelly and in '06 under Andy Reid.
— The Steelers' Antonio Brown needs just 12 more receptions to become the first player in league history to catch 100 or more passes in five consecutive seasons. Marvin Harrison is the only other player to do it four straight years.
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