Don’t expect the Philadelphia Eagles to change their game plan for tonight’s playoff game against Atlanta simply because quarterback Donovan McNabb has returned to the lineup.
That’s not Coach Andy Reid’s style.
As a disciple of the West Coast offense, Reid is a true believer in taking what the defense gives you and doesn’t try to adapt his offense to fit personnel. Reid will script the same first 15 plays for mobile McNabb as he would have for more stationary third-stringer A.J. Feeley if he were still filling in at quarterback.
“Nothing changed when I was in there,” said Feeley, who led the Eagles to a 5-1 record when he was moved into the lineup after McNabb and Koy Detmer were sidelined because of injuries.
“With the West Coast offense, everything is basically run the same. We script plays based on the team that we’re playing and what we think is going to work, based on what’s been successful in that week’s practice.... Nothing is scripted differently because one guy is playing over the other guy.”
Why do most West Coast offenses script plays? This all goes back to Bill Walsh, who began scripting plays as a top offensive assistant to Paul Brown with the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1970s.
Walsh put together a series of plays in advance for a variety of reasons. With preset plays, Walsh could link early breakdowns of defensive adjustments to particular formations. He always had a pass-run balance with particular runs designed to set up play-action passes. Walsh also included trick plays and an overall approach to move the ball in small chunks to set up a deep throw.
When Walsh coached San Francisco to its first three Super Bowl championships during the 1980s, his offense was ahead of its time, and his scripted plays helped give the 49ers their edge. His first championship team, in 1981, outscored its three playoff opponents during the first half, 58-27. His second championship team piled up almost identical first-half numbers, 55-26, during the 1984 playoffs.
Of course, now every team seems to have its own version of Walsh’s West Coast offense with scripted plays. But there’s definitely an art to it.
“Everything is already figured out, from the spot of the ball to down and distance,” Feeley said about the Eagles’ first 15 scripted plays. “They’re not really in any order.... For example, if we run the ball to the right side with a play on first down, the next play, if it’s a pass, already is slated to have the ball on the right hash [marks]. So our formations need to go to the left. Things of that sort are always taken into consideration for our first 15 plays.”
What is the biggest advantage of scripting plays? It gives offensive players more time to study plays that definitely will be used in the game, as opposed to studying an entire game plan that invariably would include plays that aren’t going to be called.
Reid, an offensive lineman in college, has a reputation for being crafty when it comes to scripting plays, which made things easier for Feeley this season.
“Basically, it gets us to spend special time on those plays,” said Feeley, who ran a similar offense in college, playing for Oregon. “The West Coast offense is what it is. There’s not too many other ways to go about it. Obviously, you have different protection schemes. There are some protections where we can keep everyone in and then there are some where we’re only blocking with five guys and it’s the quarterback’s responsibility to get the ball off in time.... So it really depends on the situation.”
What happens when scripted plays fail to work? It happens often, but that’s part of the beauty of scripted plays. Experienced coaches in the West Coast system make adjustments and Reid is one of the best at this.
In an early-season game against Dallas, the blitzing Cowboys blew up a lot of Reid’s scripted plays before the Eagles were able to adjust their blocking schemes. Once Reid did some fine-tuning, Philadelphia rolled, with McNabb completing passes to eight receivers while accounting for 354 yards and four touchdowns in an easy Eagle victory.
“You try and stay with the first 15, but that’s hard because you don’t know what’s going to happen in the game,” Feeley said. “There are times when you may go three [downs] and out. But because the scripted plays are put together to exploit a particular defense, adjustments are already incorporated.”
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Who Starts? Who Cares?
*--* The Philadelphia Eagles finished the regular season with a 12-4 record, the best in the NFC, despite losing starting quarterback Donovan McNabb for six games because of an ankle injury. Backups Koy Detmer and A.J. Feeley proved more than capable of running the offense as the two combined to win five of six games. A look: Donovan McNabb Koy Detmer A.J. Feeley STARTS 10 1 5 AVG PASS YDS 228.9 227.0 198.8 AVG YDS PER PASS 6.3 8.7 6.6 COMP PCT 58.4 69.2 55.0 QB RATING 86.0 121.8 72.6 TEAM AVG SCORE 27.2 38.0 21.0 RECORD 7-3 1-0 4-1