You’d logically think that Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg would attempt to limit the turnover possibilities for Michael Vick and the Eagles by calling a more conservative game in the first half against the Cardinals defense on Sunday.
Not necessarily going to be the case…
On Thursday, in response to a valid question a reporter had about possibly playing more conservatively against the Arizona Cardinals this week because of two new starters on the Eagles offensive line, the huge crowd noise expected at the University of Phoenix Stadium and how difficult it might be to pick up zone-blitz schemes and such, here was Marty:
“Now why would you ever do that?” he shot back. “No, really, you have to score points in this league, typically, to win. We’re playing just the way that I expect us to play with the exception of the turnovers— and so, you get that fixed. I think we can be pretty good now if we get the turnover thing fixed.”
That one response pretty much said it all about the state of the Eagles’ offense with all the weapons they’ve accumulated over the years. Although still technically a West Coast offense, it now resembles the vertical attack of the 1999 St. Louis Rams way more than the 1999 offense head coach Andy Reid installed in his first year on the job with the Eagles.
Vick dialing it back against the Cardinals? Not a chance, says (between the lines) Marty Mornhinweg, OC of the Eagles… Let the vertical emphasis continue on play calls, turnovers be damned— full speed ahead!
The Eagles are 2-0 despite nine turnovers. They’re just going to keep taking deep shots, keep looking to score quickly and keep running their offense the way they designed it, no matter what. That they seem to have a better defense now has only served to embolden them more on offense.
“The defense and special teams certainly have allowed us an opportunity to win games,” Mornhinweg said. “There’s no question about that. It’s just philosophically, some teams go about it differently. But look, if your defense is really good, you can take more calculated risks because they’re going to cover it up. That’s the way that I think. Certainly when you turn over the football three times down down in or near the red zone, you’ve got to fight that conservative approach.”
“You’ve got to trust the players. It’s just that simple. You can’t get anywhere if you’re concerned about not doing the right thing or not being able to do this or that, or turnovers, these types of things. You’ve got to trust the players and expect them to execute the plays…Your expectation is that they’ll get it done and that they’ll correct any mistake that they’ve made in the past. It’s just that simple.”
Somewhere Queen Woody is weeping…somewhere a king has no wife…
Mike Vick just added fuel to Marty’s “damn the torpedoes” fire in a presser on Thursday—
“We kind of made up our minds [at halftime in the Ravens game] on what type of offense we wanted to be,” he explained. “Not to say that we’re not going to turn the ball over in a game, but that’s the most important thing we have to limit. Just be able to benefit from everything that we’re doing on offense and not move the ball all the way down the field and turn the ball over. It’s just things we have to work on more.”
In other words, don’t expect “Woody ball” to be coming to your hometown team anytime soon.
Obviously the natural reaction to several near-suicidal red-zone turnovers on offense in the first two games of a season would be to call more conservative run or screen plays down low. Marty and Vick tipped their hands on that notion— ain’t gonna happen.
Vick has every reason to be confident despite the nine turnovers, including six interceptions, the Eagles have had through the first two games. Despite two more interceptions against the Ravens, they survived, even flourished at times. In the end, they had 486 yards and Vick had thrown for more than 300 yards for a second straight week.
“That last ballgame, I’m proud of the fellas,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “Certainly wasn’t a clean game, but [we] overcame many obstacles during the football game and so I was proud of them for that. Certainly have to clean some things up. You saw the game. Our players are proud and they understand the difficulty of overcoming a negative turnover ratio and so I know that we’ll get that cleaned up.”
Mornhinweg was especially proud of how his offense performed against the blitz, even pointed out how they burned Baltimore for three big plays. But Arizona’s pass rush has been much more effective than Baltimore’s, at least through two games. Its zone-blitz schemes are designed to confuse, which they did enough Sunday to pull off an upset at New England.
So it might seem that the Cardinals have the Eagles just where they want them: at home, indoors, and with the Eagles going through some transition on their line, where new center Dallas Reynolds will be in charge of making all the protection calls the rest of the way.
“The Arizona defense is good and they pose a lot of different challenges,” Vick said. “They have a great scheme and they do some different things that can create penetration on the offensive line. They have a great group of guys over there on the defensive side of the ball. We just have to make sure that we take care of that and hopefully everything else will take care of itself…. It’s important to be good in the blitz game and it can really hurt them when they blitz and we pick it up. You just have to know where they’re coming from and identify, and you’ll have a greater chance for success.”
Vick has a fearlessness about him, despite the uneven way he’s played. That’s possibly due to the fourth-quarter comebacks he’s engineered in each of the last two weeks. But it’s also just a part of the confidence that is DNA-engineered inside a world-class athlete’s brain.
Of course, we all know what Woody is thinking— better to be kneeling in a victory formation with a minute to go with a 14-10 lead than driving for your life against a 6-point deficit with 450 yards of offense already under your belt. Yes, I get that…
I guess it boils down to this: great teams trust their offense as much as they do their defense. And at some point in the beginning of a season, a great team must make a choice—to trust its offense and let it loose to make big winning plays…or go another way.
The alternative is to play close to the vest offensively—limit turnover possibilities—run and screen more—rely on your punter and kicking game more—and turn the game plan over to the defense.
That’s Woody ball. And historically it can work—see Baltimore Ravens circa 2000-01 Super Bowl Champs…
But it’s apparent (at least going into the Cardinals game in Arizona in Week 3) that the Eagles feel their best chance at winning big is to strike often in the air for vertical gold, and to involve every possible receiving position in the aerial attack.
If nothing else, you have to applaud Marty and Vick and Andy Reid for their consistency in this modern approach to the game. At least Philly fans have been given fair warning about what to expect. And that kind of honesty is admirable in itself—it is a rare thing indeed.