Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A with Inquirer Eagles reporter EJ Smith. This week, they discuss the Eagles’ 41-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Nick Sirianni’s play-calling and offensive scheme, the influence Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman have on coaching decisions, and Andy Reid’s return to the Linc.
EJ: A lot has been made of the Eagles’ lack of running plays against the Cowboys. What’s your take on it?
JB: My kind of half-flippant, half-serious remark, is that I don’t think it had anything to do with the game or the outcome. It could’ve, but stuff like strategy and scheme and run-pass ratios I generally think matter a lot but only when other things are at least reasonably close. You had one team completely dominating another team in every aspect of the game, the play, the aggressiveness, the scheme, the strategy, the coaching, every aspect. To worry about the run-pass ratio, I’m not belittling it, but it meant absolutely nothing in that game.
There’s absolutely nothing the Eagles could’ve done that particular night that would’ve changed the outcome of that game. That’s what happens when you have a quarterback that plays massively better on one team and two lines that play better than the opposition. You’re going to see a gap.
We really need to be talking about more macro issues. Was the scheme right in a broad sense? Was the team ready to play? Was it a glimpse into a lack of talent, or was it just a really ridiculously bad game?
EJ: Based on Sirianni’s and Shane Steichen’s previous stops, there was reason to believe the Eagles would be a team that prioritized establishing the run. Do you think Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman’s influence on the game plan caused their apparent shift in philosophy?
JB: If that’s what’s happening, there’s a point to which you need to respect the line on what the coach is in charge of and how he demands the respect of the team and how he becomes a leader. Howie and Jeffrey have to be respectful of that. Besides that, if they’re the ones that are saying, “We need to be more aggressive, we need to throw the ball, we need to run motion, we need to use play-action,” I’m saying thank you. I’m not going to criticize them for that. It should be happening naturally. It should be stuff they resolved long before they hired him.
We need to be careful, we’re just talking about three games and really we’re talking about one game that was a complete disaster. But if that’s what Howie and Jeff are fighting for, that’s what goes on in buildings. Coaches weigh in on personnel decisions, personnel people weigh in on coaching decisions and owners weigh in on everything if they want. The reality is, if they’re encouraging that strategy, which is the strategy that most winning teams are using and all the math indicates is the right way to go, I think they’re giving the coach the right advice.
EJ: How common are these types of conversations between organizational leaders and coaches addressing scheme?
If that’s what’s happening, I’m not buying into the fact that we know whether that’s happening or not, I’m just giving you the answer to the hypothetical. But that [dialogue] is normal, those people talk all the time and collaborate on every decision. We talk about a macro philosophy about “Who are we? What do we want to be? What do we believe in that generates wins?”
He didn’t use a ton of play-action, he didn’t use any motion. If that’s your philosophical approach to the game, then why wouldn’t you be consistent with that? If that stuff isn’t happening naturally, Jeff and/or Howie could be saying “Here’s the information, here are the studies, here’s what the winning teams are doing. We’re not telling you what to call on second-and-10 or to start the game, but we want to have an organizational-wide agreement on how we approach the game to make it more likely that we can win.”
EJ: I’ve seen it argued and agree with the sentiment that the run-pass ratio was a symptom of a bigger problem, not the main problem. Is that how you view it?
JB: Yeah, you’ve probably seen me talk about this before. Motion allows a quarterback, even an inexperienced one, to have a very educated guess on what defense is being called against a particular play.
The ability to use motion and other such things so that the quarterback knows something like that before the snap is very basic. It’s very obvious. We saw a team that came out and didn’t do that. That’s what worries me. You can get the right run-pass ratio, but if you don’t fix that, you’re still in trouble.
I’m focused on what are the macro issues that are really the foundation of a successful football team that need to be the first thing that we address, whether it’s them actually making decisions or us sitting on the sideline critiquing those decisions.
EJ: What do you think is the reason for the lack of motion? Sirianni had an explanation this week, but what’s the sense you get?
JB: I think Nick told you the truth, that he doesn’t think what I just said about motion, he doesn’t agree with it. He doesn’t view it as having that kind of benefit or a resource. I always feel like I need to say this, I don’t believe there are any absolutes, I’m not trying to imply anything’s the answer 100% of the time. It’s just what gives you the better chance to win, or in this case, build your team.
Watching the games from my perspective, evaluating where we’re at and where we’re headed, this would worry me and his response would worry me. I just think we know things now that we thought we knew before that have been confirmed: Motion matters, it helps the quarterback. We know that. Teams in the league, whether they run the ball well or not, pass the ball better when they use play-action. We know that. If you’re putting together an offense with limited play-action and without a lot of pre-snap motion, if that’s really what you believe, if that’s what your philosophy is and what your offense is going to be going forward, I think that’s worrisome.
If I was just coming out of this game and that’s what I saw, that’s what would be worrying me. The first eight plays where they ran once, if they did what everyone wanted and ran it two or three times that wouldn’t change a damn thing. If they came out with a really good motion package that helped the quarterback and everybody else know what the defense was going to do, or used play-action more effectively, then there was at least a chance we would have had a somewhat more competitive game.
EJ: The team is about to go through a very difficult stretch of games against quality teams. What are you looking to see from Sirianni and the team as a whole over the next four or five weeks if things get off the rails?
JB: I’m looking for some of the things that we’ve talked about. Is there evidence for the offensive scheme that it’s not only going to take advantage of the players’ skill sets, but actually make them better than they would have been? Same thing on defense.
The second thing I’m focused on are the players that I consider core parts for their future. How are they doing and are they developing the way they thought they would? Therefore, as they look forward in how to build the team, where are they OK and where do they have to be aggressive and make moves and focus on upgrading the team. Right now, that looks like so many places, it’s actually a little bit scary and could take some time.
If I were sitting in a decision-making seat, I would be assuming that we’re going to see a significant amount of improvement over the next half dozen weeks and then what I’ll look at is the open needs on the team.
We gotta see them play hard, we gotta see these scheme things change. We gotta see [Jalen] Hurts deliver the ball quickly, consistently, and accurately. I personally would like to see a more aggressive defensive scheme, that includes blitzing but isn’t limited to just blitzing. I think we need to see them play good teams and be competitive, hold their own. That’s a statement about strategy, physicality, it’s all the elements that you build on.
EJ: I wanted to ask you about Andy. What’s it like seeing him still leading one of the league’s best teams?
JB: I’m a huge Andy fan. We had a partnership of 14 years which is probably longer than all but a couple in football ever, where the two people at the top of an organization stay together that long. Although we didn’t win a Super Bowl, we was pretty successful. I care about him deeply, he’s not just a great coach but a great guy. To see him do well when he’s coaching and hopefully bouncing back and dealing with whatever medical issues he has, it’s something I pay attention to closely and care about and I’m glad at the moment he seems to be doing well now.