First things first. I like Andy Reid. He is a good coach. I think he’s a nice guy as well and enjoy seeing him have success. That said, there are times when Andy can be absolutely maddening. He can drive you to the point of football insanity. What I’m about to write is an explanation of some things he does and believes. This does not mean that I agree with him or the way he does things.
Andy Reid is from Los Angeles. He played football in junior college and then at BYU. Andy then became an assistant coach at San Francisco State. While he was Offensive Coordinator, SFS led the nation in passing and total offense for 3 straight years. Then Reid headed to Northern Arizona, UTEP, and onto Missouri. The point of this? Reid knows western football. That’s part of his football DNA.
You need to understand the importance of this. Football used to be East vs West. When I was a kid (70′s/80′s), NFL teams were just starting to really embrace the passing game. In 1978 Fran Tarkenton led the league with 3,468 yards passing. Terry Bradshaw led the league with 28 TD passes. Those numbers are nothing today.
The one team that really went passing crazy was the San Diego Chargers. Dan Fouts threw for 4,000 plus yards from 1979-81. He averaged 3,833 yards per season from 1979-1985 despite missing 18 games due to injury or the 1982 strike.
The Chargers offense was run by Don Coryell. He had previously coached the St. Louis Cardinals, but had originally made his name while bringing an explosive passing attack to San Diego State. His star pupil there was a QB named Brian Sipe. In 1979 and 1980, Fouts led the NFL in passing yards with Sipe finishing 2nd. Good job by Coryell.
College was the same way. You had to look out West to find a throwing team. BYU was the biggest passing school in the nation. I grew up watching eastern football. This meant Penn State slugging it out with Syracuse, West Va, Notre Dame, and Pitt. Throwing the ball was looked down on. Real teams ran the ball because that was a sign of physical domination. Throwing the ball made you a finesse team and that’s a label that no one wanted. It was associated with being weak.
Pitt had Dan Marino for 4 years. He threw for 7,904 yards and 74 TDs. That is less than 200 yards and 2 TDs per game. Think about that for a second. One of the great passing talents of all time was not throwing the ball all over the place. Do you remember Dwight Clark, the Niners WR who made The Catch? He played at Clemson. His QB was Steve Fuller, who also played in the NFL. Clark caught 12 passes as a Senior. Football in the South hated the forward pass more than anybody.
I loved reading box scores on Sunday morning. I would look at Oklahoma, Ohio State, Penn State, Alabama, Nebraska, Texas, and Notre Dame for sure. I loved reading the rushing totals. You would see some games where the QB threw a handful of passes. Then you’d see 62 rushes for 427 yards or something like that. And that was old school football.
The one exception was BYU. And that made them fun to follow. In 1980, Jim McMahon was the Cougars QB. He threw for 4,571 yards and 47 TDs. Compare that season to Marino’s career numbers. Crazy.
There was another QB lighting it up in 1980. His name was Neil Lomax and he played for Portland State. Lomax threw for 4,094 yards and 37 TDs. His coach, Mouse Davis, ran this thing called the Run ‘n Shoot.
It wasn’t just BYU and Portland State. UCLA had a pro style passing attack. Stanford was throwing more with a guy named John Elway. The Cardinal had used the passing game for a while, partially due to the one time presence of coach Bill Walsh.
Running the football and playing good defense was eastern football. Andy Reid grew up in the West, where teams threw the ball more. You didn’t have to worry about snow, rain, or wind ruining a gameplan. There were plenty of good athletes around. You could also practice passing year round with the good weather.
An X-factor is that a lot of football innovation comes from the West. I think part of that is the lack of tradition. Coaches in the East got lectured on “this is how so and so did it back in 1932, 1942, 1952, and 1962. Why change?”. San Diego State wanted to win. If that meant Coryell throwing the ball, so be it. BYU wanted to be innovative. That meant throwing the ball. Stanford didn’t have the elite athletes to compete with USC so they had to embrace the passing attack and beating the Trojans with brains instead of brawn.
Andy Reid has a much different football background than most of us. That shaped his beliefs quite a bit. And think about the guys he’s been closest to. Mike Holmgren is a Cali guy. He played at USC and then coached at BYU. Brad Childress coached with Reid at Northern Arizona. Childress had spent a lot of time at Illinois, where the head coach was Mike White, a Cali guy who had coached with Bill Walsh at Stanford. Marty Mornhinweg played QB for a high school in Cali and one of his coaches was none other than Mike Holmgren. Marty then played QB at Montana and in the Arena League. He coached all over the West. You can bet he was exp0sed to a lot of different passing attacks.
All of Reid’s key friends and most of his influences were somehow connected to the passing game. Many were ex-QBs. They all embraced a wide open passing attack. They loved throwing the ball and scoring points.
There is another key point to consider. Andy Reid isn’t a typical coach. Most coaches focus on not making mistakes. That’s just a mindset they have. Marty Schottenheimer might be the closest thing to anti-Andy (but with success). Marty believed in running the ball, playing good defense, and avoiding turnovers. Simply put, Marty coached not to lose. Andy doesn’t understand that mentality at all. He coaches to win. That means being aggressive and taking chances.
Andy wants to attack. He wants to score points. He knows how to design brilliant plays. He understands how to make them work. We’ve seen just how great the Eagles offense can look when things are clicking. It can be a thing of beauty.
Unfortunately things do not always go as Reid wants them to. The obvious move is to adjust and move forward accordingly. Andy adjusts at a glacial pace…if that fast. It is a major weakness for him. Again, we have to try and understand his mentality.
Vic Rowan was the head coach at San Francisco State when Andy was an assistant there. He said that Reid would see good plays on TV and then would call the coach to find out info on how the play worked. Andy loves designing plays and the strategy that goes into the set-up and execution of them.
Many coaches love to just bully their opponent. You move the defense off the line with force and run the ball down their throat. I don’t know if Andy finds this boring or just too limiting. He much prefers the aerial attack. He wants big chunks of yards.
Andy also seems drawn to outsmarting opponents rather than just out-muscling them. Think about his explanation for hiring Jim Johnson. Andy loved JJ’s fire zone concepts. That’s a fancy way of saying he loved his zone blitzing. As Eagles fans we knew about blitzing in the Buddy Ryan, Bud Carson, and Ray Rhodes style. You loaded up the LOS and tried to kill the QB. Jim preferred to play it safe. He wanted to blitz, but also have players dropping into coverage to limit getting burned by big plays. Once you got to about the Eagles 30-yard line all bets were off. That’s when JJ would get risky. Prior to that, he was a bend but don’t break coach.
Andy loves scheming and coming up with great ideas. Lots of coaches can draw up X’s and O’s and have them look good on paper. When things aren’t working as designed, Andy has the bad habit of doubling down. His mentality would seem to be something like this:
“Well, we spent the 1st quarter trying to go deep and that didn’t work out, but the opening is still there. Now isn’t the time to back off. If we keep trying, we’ll hit one of these plays and things will open up after that.”
Again…that is me guessing what goes on in his head. I’m pretty confident that he thinks like that based on watching his offenses for 14 years. Remember the 2007 game vs the Giants? Poor Winston Justice was hung out to dry. Andy knew the Giants secondary was vulnerable. He just needed the blockers to do their job, the receivers to get open, and Donovan McNabb to get the ball to the open guy. The line was terrible, the receivers were up and down, and McNabb didn’t have his best game (very much affected by constant pressure and hits). The offense looked terrible. Andy kept calling downfield pass plays.
At the time I compared it to a scene from the movie Tin Cup. Late in the movie Kevin Costner is faced with the question of going for the green with a long shot or laying up. He goes for it. The ball hits the water. Costner then drops another ball right there and goes for the long shot again. And again. And again. Finally it makes it. His score on the hole is a 12, but he got on the green the way he wanted. He did it his way.
The whole world sees an obvious situation that needs to be handled a certain way, but Reid has tunnel vision on doing things the way he planned them out.
The reason that this issue hasn’t been Reid’s undoing is that his ideas work much, if not most, of the time. Under Reid, the Eagles have broken the team record for points a few times. There have been numerous other offensive records broken. The Eagles have had a slew of offensive stars in the Reid era. And the team wins.
Can Reid win big doing things his way? I think so, but…and this is a big but…I do think he needs the right personnel. I have serious questions about whether the Eagles have those guys right now. The weak OL means extra blockers have to stay in. That limits the number of chess pieces that Andy can move around. Vick has been a turnover machine since the 2011 season started. The turnovers end possessions prematurely and have a way of emotionally draining the team. These are big issues.
I think Andy’s biggest problem is that he sometimes forgets that he’s coaching football and not playing chess. There are times when you need to forget schemes. Forget brilliant plays. Line up and knock the crap out of the guy across from you. Football is a primal, physical game. All the scheming and planning in the world does you no good if you can’t line up and beat the man across from you.
It is utterly frustrating to think about those times that Reid does coach more conventionally. After the Ravens loss in 2008, he dialed back the offense and things clicked. The Eagles beat Arizona the next week by a score of 48-20. The team went all the way to the NFC title game and almost won that.
Since the 2007 Winston Justice debacle, Reid has coached differently against the Giants. He focuses on protection and calls a more balanced offense. Last year the Eagles trailed the Giants 14-0 in the 1st half. Marty/Andy called 8 straight running plays. Down 14. That was one of the wildest things I’ve seen in the Reid era. It helped the offense get back on track and the Eagles led 16-14 in the 4th quarter before collapsing without Vick to run the offense.
Andy’s post-2007 adjustments have worked very well against the Giants. The Eagles have gone 6-2 and averaged 29 points per game in the 8 regular season meetings. There was also a playoff win in that stretch.
Because Andy fears/respects the Giants pass rush so much, he made permanent changes in the way he deals with that team. He plans for them differently than most other teams. The Dallas Cowboys get some of this treatment due to the presence of DeMarcus Ware.
If Andy doesn’t fear the front seven, he’s going to attack and make you stop him. If you do get the best of him, he’ll make some changes at halftime. On Sunday that was too little, too late. Other times the adjustments can work. Unfortunately, those times are few and far between.
Maybe the best metaphor for Andy and the difficulty of his style of doing things is the Red Zone. The Eagles have had offenses that could move up and down the field with ease. Put the team at the 10-yard line and things get very different. You can’t stretch the field vertically anymore and then work underneath routes. You can’t create space like you can at midfield.
In the Red Zone, you can win with size and strength, you win by precise execution, or you can win with great talent. The Eagles offense was good in the Red Zone for part of 2011 due to the use of TEs and feeding the ball to LeSean McCoy. The 2004 team fed the ball to Terrell Owens. Too many other seasons were filled with short field goals due to an offense that screeched to a halt when things got condensed and you couldn’t outsmart your opponent.
Eagles fans love Andy Reid in some ways, but he will never be fully embraced here because of his style of doing things. I think most fans like Big Red for the person he is and the way he conducts himself. His players love him and that isn’t lost on us.
Reid can win the fans over with a Super Bowl title, but aside from that he’ll always be looked at as a guy who was good but fundamentally flawed. If Eagles fans could choose his epitaph it would likely be “We coulda won the Super Bowl…if he woulda just run the damn ball”.