Eagles receivers free to alter their routes

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Jason Avant: 'This offense is a little bit more receiver-friendly.'
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Jason Avant: 'This offense is a little bit more receiver-friendly.'
Posted: August 20, 2013

THROUGH TWO preseason games, Michael Vick and Nick Foles have completed a combined 82.8 percent of their pass attempts.

That's not a typo.

Eighty-two point eight.

Competition clearly has brought out the best in both of them, and so has Chip Kelly's offense, which among other things offers Eagles receivers route-option freedom they never had in Andy Reid's West Coast offense.

The difference between being a receiver in the West Coast and being a receiver in Kelly's offense is the difference between having to strictly adhere to driving directions regardless of traffic congestion and being able to use an alternate route.

"The West Coast offense, while extensive, is a concept offense," said tight-ends coach Ted Williams, who spent 14 years coaching the team's running backs under Reid. "It's really based upon the pieces fitting the concept. If you don't fit in the correct position in the concept, the concept is lost.

"It's more necessary to conform [in the West Coast]. Chip's offense isn't like that. There are some principles as far as how you do what you do. But there's also some flexibility. If you see this [from the defense], here are what your options are. If you see that, here are what your options are.

"The West Coast offense wasn't designed for that. [West Coast offense co-creators] Paul Brown, Bill Walsh, they knew what they wanted, and they wanted it [done] a certain way."

This doesn't mean the Eagles' receivers are free to do whatever they want after the ball is snapped. Not at all. This isn't sandlot football. The quarterback has to be on the same page as his receivers.

But the receivers have route options depending on the coverage the defense is playing.

"You always have some West Coast plays in your concepts, and we have all those," wide-receivers coach Bob Bicknell said. "But there's also more chances for guys to kind of read coverage, read how they're getting covered and make plays off of the leverage of the defender or whether they're playing man or zone.

"I think that's what's a little bit different in this offense. We have option routes where guys have an ability to understand what we're trying to get, where other people are, and where they have a chance to win and get open."

The first thing an Eagles receiver is looking at when he lines up is whether the middle of the field is open or closed, meaning is there a single safety in the middle of the field, or two safeties.

The second thing he needs to determine is whether the defense is playing man or zone, or some combination. It is playing man underneath but zone over the top?

"Once they've determined that, that pretty much tells them every concept they have and how they can read it and where the leverage is on a defender and why the leverage is that way," Bicknell said. "We have some guys who have a good feel for that naturally, which helps."

Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who spent 10 years as an assistant under Reid, including seven as the quarterbacks coach, said every offense has option routes, including the West Coast. While that may be true, there weren't nearly as many option routes in Reid's offense as there are in Kelly's. Receivers pretty much went where the play called for them to go, even if it was directly into coverage.

"This offense is a little bit more receiver-friendly," wide receiver Jason Avant said. "Some of the things we could only think about doing [in Reid's offense], like if a guy overplays you, having the option to snap out or go in or whatever, we can do that now.

"It's those football things they told you you couldn't do. [Now] it's, 'OK, why not?' Because it's football. It's about making a play. As long as you can do it within the quarterback's time [to throw], and you do it with enough depth so the quarterback can read you, you'll be fine."

Avant and the rest of the receivers are getting open and Vick and Foles have been finding them. Vick has just two incompletions in 15 attempts, and one of them was that end-of-the-half interception against Carolina on a Hail Mary pass.

Granted, it's a small sample size. But Vick is a guy with a .563 career completion percentage. Just once in 10 previous preseasons did he even have a completion percentage over .600. Now, suddenly, at 33, he's knocking on the door of 90 percent.

Foles has just three incompletions (in 14 attempts) this preseason for a .786 completion percentage. His completion percentage last preseason: .635.

Through two preseason games, the Eagles' five quarterbacks - Vick, Foles, rookie Matt Barkley, Dennis Dixon and G.J. Kinne - have a .663 completion percentage. That's a higher completion percentage than the Eagles had in 14 preseasons under Reid.

Is it strictly because the Eagles' receivers no longer are route robots? No. But it's clearly a contributing factor. And they are enjoying the hell out of their new-found freedom.

"To have option routes as a receiver, I definitely feel it's a huge addition to have, depending on the defense or the cornerback that's covering you," said DeSean Jackson, who used one of those options on his 47-yard touchdown catch from Vick in the first preseason game against New England.

"At any given time, you're able to switch a route up and have the option to stop or go. With the capabilities in the wide receivers we have on this team, I think it'll definitely be a plus for us."

Ditto, said tight end/wide receiver Clay Harbor.

"Almost every route is an option route these days," he said. "It's huge. If you see something as a player, you can just let it flow. Whatever opening you see, whatever coverage you see, you can work off of that."

Free at last, free at last.

Click here for complete coverage of Philadelphia Eagles training camp.


On Twitter: @Pdomo

Blog: eagletarian.com

 

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