Paul Domowitch: No need for rewrites on Eagles' early scripted plays

Marty Mornhinweg and Andy Reid are looking for early leads.
Marty Mornhinweg and Andy Reid are looking for early leads.
Posted: November 19, 2010

ANDY REID, like many of the league's head coaches, scripts the first 15 plays of the game. Sometimes the script is another "Citizen Kane." Sometimes it's another "Gigli."

"You're scripting for success, obviously," said Reid, who actually has been out-sourcing the Eagles' scripting and play-calling to offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg the last couple of years.

"You want positive plays early. Then you want to see how they're going to play [against] different formations and personnel groups. If you can get all that accomplished, that's a good thing.

"What Marty has done is design plays to take advantage of weaknesses in the secondary or the linebackers or whatever [he's trying to exploit]. He's done a phenomenal job with the first 15 [plays] and putting everything together. And the players have done a great job of executing it."

If Mornhinweg continues to turn out blockbuster scripts like the beauty he wrote Monday night against the Redskins - when the Eagles scored touchdowns on their first five possessions - he might be going to the Academy Awards and his team might be going to the Super Bowl.

Mornhinweg and Reid like to throw a lot of different stuff at opposing defenses early. On their first 12 plays Monday, they used four different formations, threw a bomb to DeSean Jackson on the first play of the game off a play-action bootleg that went for an 88-yard touchdown, ran a double reverse to Jeremy Maclin that picked up 11 yards, a direct snap to Jackson that gained 5 yards, a screen pass to LeSean McCoy for 27 yards and an 11-yard shovel pass to McCoy for a touchdown. The only thing missing was the Statue of Liberty play and the fumblerooski.

"Sometimes things snowball," Reid said. "It doesn't happen very often like that, but sometimes things snowball. They're never as good as you think and never as bad as you think.

"There are things [in those first four scores] where the fan might look at it and say, 'Man, that was perfect.' But there were things within each one of those plays, even though we were able to score, that we can get better at. Those are the things, as a coach, that you want to take care of."

After a wobbly 2-2 start, the Eagles have won four of their last five games. In those five games, they've outscored their opponents in the first quarter, 62-7.

They've scored touchdowns on their first possession in four of those five games. The only game in which they came up empty out of the gate was at Tennessee, which also is the only game they've lost during that period.

Their first-possession numbers in the last five games are impressive: 24 plays, 326 yards (13.6 yards per play), 12 first downs and four touchdowns. That's considerably better than the first four games when they averaged just 6.1 yards per play on their first possession and scored just once.

And it hasn't been just the first possession. The Eagles have scored eight times - six touchdowns and two field goals - on the first two possessions of the last five games. They've averaged 10.1 yards per play on those 10 possessions.

"That's what you want if possible," Reid said. "Listen, there are going to be certain games that everything doesn't click and you still have to work through it. But if you can get that lead early, every coach wants that. Then you can go from there."

Reid's won-loss numbers in his 12 seasons in Philadelphia show why every coach wants that. The Eagles are 51-13 in the Reid era when they've scored on their opening drive, including 5-0 this season. They're a nearly unbeatable 91-15 when they've led at the half. Reid wants to grab the lead and dictate the style of play the other team has to play.

In their six wins this season, the Eagles have scored 76 first-quarter points. In their three losses, they've scored three first-quarter points.

AROUND THE NFC EAST

* Because of his accuracy issues, Donovan McNabb never has been a particularly good third-down quarterback. He's got a 79.7 career third-down passer rating, has finished in the top 10 in third-down passing just three times and has had a 60-plus third-down completion percentage just once (64.1 in '04). But he's never been as unproductive on third down as he's been this year. He's currently 30th in the league in third-down passing with a career-low 44.5 passer rating. He's completed just 42.4 percent of his third-down pass attempts. In Monday night's loss to the Eagles, McNabb completed just one of seven third-down pass attempts. All three of his interceptions came on third down. So did one of his two sacks.

* The Giants' Eli Manning also hasn't been very good on third down this season. He's 11th in the league in overall passing with a 92.1 rating, but is 27th in third-down passing with a 59.1 rating. Ten of his 13 interceptions this season have come on third down. That could be a problem for Manning and the Giants on Sunday night because the Eagles' third-down pass defense has been very good, particularly in the last month. In their last four games, the Eagles' opponents have a collective 32.3 third-down passer rating, completing just 13 of 33 passes and throwing two touchdowns and six interceptions. The Eagles' third-down opponent passer rating for the season is 50.7. Ten of their league-best 16 interceptions have come on third down.

Just as Michael Vick has been a godsend to DeSean Jackson, Jon Kitna is having a similar positive effect on rookie wide receiver Dez Bryant's pass-catching numbers since replacing injured Tony Romo as the Cowboys' quarterback. In 15 quarters with Kitna at quarterback, Bryant has 23 catches for 328 yards and four touchdowns. In 21 quarters with Romo behind center, he had 18 catches for 211 yards and one TD. Bryant notched the first 100-yard receiving game of his young career Sunday with 104 yards on three catches in the Cowboys' win over the Giants. "He trusts me," said Bryant. "Basically, I feel like if he puts it there, I'm going to get it.'' Bryant is tied with Roy Williams for the team lead in touchdown receptions and is second to Miles Austin in catches for first downs. Cowboys quarterbacks have a 118.1 passer rating when they throw it to Bryant.

"I feel like I'm doing a good job," the rookie said. "Everything they want me to learn, I'm learning. Whatever they throw at me, I'm going to continue to try to learn it."

OTHER STUFF

* One of the reasons the NFL has been pumping out release after release bragging about their glowing television ratings is to take attention away from all of those empty seats in their stadiums. Through the first 10 weeks, 15 of the league's 144 games, or 10.4 percent, were blacked out because they failed to sell out. Through 144 games last year, there were just 10 blackouts. The year before, only three. Notice a trend? That blackout number figures to swell in the second half of the season as teams fall out of the playoff hunt. The Tampa Bay Bucs have had a league-high five blackouts already. The Oakland Raiders are second with four, followed by the San Diego Chargers (three), Buffalo Bills (two) and Detroits Lions (one). The 2-7 Bengals will join the Blackout Club this week. Their home game against the Bills failed to sell out. The Chargers' Monday night game against the Broncos also is likely to be blacked out. And the Jacksonville Jaguars, who somehow sold out their first five home games after failing to sell out a single home game last season, have asked for an extension to avoid a blackout of their game against the Browns.

* Since it wouldn't have sent a very good message to his troops, Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell didn't bring along a white flag to his weekly chat with the media yesterday to discuss his team's game against white-hot Michael Vick and the Eagles. "I like our chances," Fewell said when asked about the challenge of stopping Vick and the Eagles' offense. Fewell knows the Giants have their work cut out for them. He coached against Vick a few times when Vick played for the Falcons. But this Vick is much, much better than that Vick. This Vick has learned how to play the quarterback position. "He goes through his read progression much more than he used to, he throws the ball much more accurately than he used to. He just looks like he's a more polished quarterback than he used to be," Fewell said. "He's pinpointing the football from 30 and 40 yards deep." Fewell acknowledged the folly in trying to assign a "spy" to Vick. "Sometimes it's necessary, but can the spy catch him?" he said. "I've seen people spy the guy and they haven't been able to touch him. No matter what you do structurally [to defend him], he can break down that structure."

2-MINUTE DRILL

From the lip:

* "Is this your first day here? They have demonstrated great ability to score and move the ball and all of those kinds of things. It is always a concern. They are talented." - a testy Tom Coughlin when asked how concerned he was about playing against Michael Vick and the Eagles' hitting-on-all-cylinders offense

* "I am arrogant. I am egotistical. You know a coach who isn't? What some people call arrogance, I call conviction. What some call ego, I call passion. Within a certain context, I don't know a coach who isn't arrogant. You better believe you have the answer, or at least know the question." - former NFL head coach and current Fox Sports analyst Brian Billick

* "He's unlike anything we've seen at the position." - Giants defensive tackle Barry Cofield talking about you know who

By the numbers:

* While everyone's been drooling over the Eagles' offense, it should be noted that, in their last three games, the Giants have gained 497, 487 and 480 yards. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it's the first time the Giants have ever gained at least 480 yards in three straight games.

* The Eagles are fifth in the NFL in third-down offense. They've converted 44.4 percent of their third-down opportunities, highest in the Andy Reid era. Their best full-season third-down efficiency rate was in 2007 (42.4). And yes, you're right. They went 8-8 and missed the playoffs that year.

* The Giants haven't scored a first-possession TD in their last 11 games. That's the NFL's second- longest streak. Buffalo is first with 16 straight games.

* The Giants are 6-0 when they hold their opponent under 100 rushing yards, 0-3 when they don't.

* The Eagles have given up just eight runs of 10 yards or more in the last five games.

* Take heart, Cowboys. Since the current playoff format began in '90, 15 teams with a .500 or worse record after nine games recovered to make the playoffs. Last season, the Jets were 4-5 and not only made the playoffs, but advanced to the AFC Championship Game.

* Pats QB Tom Brady has won 24 straight home games. With a win vs. Indy this week, he'll tie Brett Favre for the most consecutive regular- season home wins as a starting QB.

* With 308 passing yards this week vs. the Broncos, the Chargers' Philip Rivers would break Drew Brees' league record for most passing yards through 10 games.

THUMB THINGS TO PONDER

THUMBS UP:

To, gulp, Bengals wide receiver Terrell Owens. Yes, he's obnoxious and egotistical and always has put himself above whatever team happened to be employing him . But he still deserves kudos for his age-defying performance this season. The 36-year-old wideout is third in the league in catches (59) and receiving yards (834). He's on pace to finish with 1,482 receiving yards, which would be 300 more than the previous high by a 36-year-old wideout. Some guy named Rice. Jerry Rice. Only three players ever have had 1,000-plus receiving yards this late in life - Rice, who did it three times, Jimmy Smith (1,023 at 36) and Joey Galloway (1,014 at 36). Asked if he was getting close to hitting an "age wall," Owens said, "Trust me, if there's any walls in front of me, I'm going to find a way to go through it, around it or over it. There's just no hitting the wall."

THUMBS DOWN:

To Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth for his pathetic "no mas" in the third quarter of Monday night's 59-28 loss to the Eagles when he got knocked down and elected to play dead on the ground rather than get up and pursue quarterback Michael Vick. ESPN ran the humiliating replay of him quitting about a hundred times and it also made its way to YouTube for millions more to see and laugh at. Haynesworth first went with a lame dog-ate-my-homework type of excuse, saying he had "like a charley horse in my thigh or whatever," Then he claimed he thought he heard a whistle blow, "so I kind of like stayed there for a second and gathered myself and looked up and . . . he still had the ball. I looked and he threw the ball for a touchdown."

DOMO'S RANKINGS

(Last Week's Rankings in Parentheses)

1. Packers 6-3 (4)

2. Colts 6-3 (5)

3. Ravens 6-3 (3)

4. Jets 7-2 (6)

5. Patriots 7-2 (8)

6. Giants 6-3 (2)

7. Saints 6-3 (7)

8. Eagles 6-3 (9)

9. Steelers 6-3 (1)

10. Falcons 7-2 (10)

11. *Bears 6-3 (12)

12. Raiders 5-4 (13)

13. *Dolphins 5-4 (16)

14. Titans 5-4 (11)

15. Bucs 6-3 (18)

16. Chiefs 5-4 (14)

17. 49ers 3-6 (24)

18. Texans 4-5 (15)

19. Browns 3-6 (22)

20. Rams 4-5 (17)

21. Chargers 4-5 (23)

22. Redskins 4-5 (19)

23. Jaguars 5-4 (27)

24. Cowboys 2-7 (29)

25. Seahawks 5-4 (28)

26. Broncos 3-6 (31)

27. Vikings 3-6 (20)

28. Bengals 2-7 (25)

29. Lions 2-7 (21)

30. Cardinals 3-6 (26)

31. Bills 1-8 (32)

32. Panthers 1-8 (30)

*Last Night's Game Not Included.

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