Russ thinks the departure of coordinator Frank Reich and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo is part of the reason why the Eagles’ offense is struggling this season. Reich left in the spring to take the Colts’ head coaching job while Flip is now the Vikings’ offensive coordinator.

Other people also believe this, and it may very well be true, but I’ve never been a huge fan of the “Reich and DeFilippo” argument because I don’t know how we can accurately pinpoint their contributions to the offense.

We know, for instance, that Doug Pederson calls the plays. We know that he makes the decisions when to run, when to pass, when to go for two, and when to attempt an analytics-driven 4th and 8 play.

Unless we’re sitting in the film room with that group of coaches or wire-tapping their headset communication, we just don’t have a true understanding of what’s being said and how much influence Reich had in designing the game plan and helping Pederson execute it from the sidelines.

There’s just a lack of empirical evidence to work with here.

What we can do is look at how each guy is doing this year, and Reich has the Colts’ offense playing pretty damn well. They’re sixth in the league with 28.9 points per game. They’re putting up 380 yards per game, which ranks 9th overall. They lead the league with a phenomenal 52% conversion rate on third down.

How much of that is due to Andrew Luck coming back healthy and starting to look like himself again? How much of that is due to Reich’s fingerprints on the offense and inside the locker room in general? What does first year coordinator Nick Sirianni contribute to the game plan and offensive output?

The easiest argument is to say, “well the Colts look good with Frank Reich and the Eagles look bad without Frank Reich.”

The other side of that coin is this:

Reich and Flip were in their respective positions in 2016, when the Eagles struggled offensively after starting the season 3-0. The obvious explanation for that is the team featured a first-year head coach and a new staff working with a rookie quarterback. If Reich was uber-important during the Super Bowl-winning season, then is he also responsible for the previous year’s struggles?

It’s hard to say.

Certainly it’s true that Doug Pederson’s play-calling has been somewhat suspect this year. He ran Josh Adams behind Big V, Zach Ertz, and Nelson Agholor during a 4th and 2 attempt on Sunday night. He continues to run Adams on sweeps and pitches and went empty set during a 4th and 1 in the Minnesota loss instead of just letting Carson Wentz sneak the ball.

Was Frank Reich in Doug’s ear last season? Was he saying, “hey, let’s run LeGarrette Blount up the middle on this next play instead of going with an outside zone”?

I don’t know. You don’t know. Only Doug Pederson and Frank Reich know.

The best we can do is mine through old articles and try to look for nuggets, quotes that clue us in to the extent of Reich’s involvement with the offense.

On Tuesday, new offensive coordinator Mike Groh declined to answer a question about his role in scripting the first 15 plays of each game:

Q. What is your role in the first 15 scripted plays? What is your role in planning those leading into games? (Dave Uram) 

MIKE GROH: I’m not going to get into the specifics of how we go about our game planning.


Doug Pederson is putting the opening script together, which we already knew, but he confirmed that this week:

Q. The first 15 plays are scripted; right, so you’re practicing them during the week. So, why is the execution not being carried over into the game? Or do you think maybe you have to reevaluate the calls? (Jeff McLane)

DOUG PEDERSON: Well, that’s something I do each week. I do evaluate the calls because I put those together. That’s solely on me. And I base it based on the film. I go back and look at all their games and I see how they start that first series, that first drive, and try to put plays accordingly. Then I have to go back and look at how we started games by play call, play design, so that I’m not repeating and having any indicators there. In the case of some of our struggles, it has just been, just our execution. Just sustaining a block or the read by the quarterback or – and to me, that’s kind of where if there’s an urgency moment how we start games, that’s where the urgency, I think, coaches, players, everybody involved really needs to sort of heighten so that we can stay on the field and go down and score points.

“…I put those together. That’s solely on me.”

Last year, veteran beat writer Paul Domowitch over at the Inquirer wrote an interesting story about the scripting of plays featuring quotes from Reich.

This was before the Seattle game, and at the time Philly was leading the league with 78 first quarter points. They had scored 51 of those on their first two possessions while averaging 5.4 yards per play. And this was pre-Carson injury, before the offense was tweaked a bit to fit Nick Foles.

From the story:

Pederson and Reich sit down early in the week after studying film of the upcoming opponent and put together the offensive game plan and script the first 15 plays.

Scripting the plays early in the week allows them to focus in on those plays during practice and get them right.

“It’s a big benefit because coach (Pederson) does a great job of scripting those plays and we do a great job as a team of preparing for those,” Reich said. “He has a knack and a feel for (scripting).

“There’s 100 or 150 plays to look at. I know we’re going to run these 15. So I’m going to spend a little more time (on them). And I think it’s just going to make us a little bit better.”

Reich helped with the scripting, but it was still Doug’s call. I’d assume it’s the same exact thing with Groh this season.

Dave Zangaro wrote more in a February story titled “What Exactly are Eagles Losing in Frank Reich?”

At first glance, Reich’s influence with the Eagles‘ offense might be pretty hard to pick up. After all, he’s an offensive coordinator on a team with an offensive head coach who also calls the plays. But Reich did have a pretty important role with the team. When Pederson first hired Reich, he cited Reich’s knowledge of the downfield passing game as a reason why. While both men said they shared a pretty similar offensive philosophy, Pederson thought Reich’s knowledge of downfield passing would be a great complement to his base in the West Coast offense.

“He did an outstanding job there of really taking advantage of what our players did best, I think in the passing game especially,” former Chargers head coach Mike McCoy said about Reich in 2016 after Reich was fired in San Diego as the Chargers tried to find more offensive balance.

Alright, so we know he was valued for his downfield passing prowess. The Eagles had 43 pass completions of 20+ yards last season, which averages out to about 2.68 per game. This year they have 30 of those through 9 games, which is 3.33.

Nothing really conclusive there based on just one statistic I was able to pull. Maybe they just hit on some plays and missed on others. It’s hard to pin one thing on one guy when there are a million variables out there, specifically the quarterback play you’re getting in each game.

Also from the Zangaro article:

Just a few weeks ago, Reich was asked about his role in weekly game-planning and offered this:

“You know what, Coach has literally put together the best staff that you can possibly imagine and that’s how we work. We work as a staff together,” Reich said. “It’s fun to do it that way. It’s fun when it’s ‘we.’ It’s fun when we’ve got a head coach who shares that responsibility and who is — and as the role of offensive coordinator that’s what you do: you coordinate. You take all the great resources that you have as far as the staff and our head coach, and you pile your ideas together and then you’ve got to narrow them down and that’s what we do. And we get a lot of good input from a lot of different ways, and that’s fun. I mean, it’s fun to work with the guys we work with and have the players that run those plays.”

Again, nothing to really draw any conclusions from there.

One more article, this one from Zach Berman:

Although Reich did not call plays for the Eagles, he had a big role in the offense. He helped create and install the system when Pederson arrived and was a key sounding board for Pederson. The two would meet for more than an hour on the night before games and go over the play sheet.

He also helped in the decision to draft Carson Wentz and in the development of the quarterbacks on the roster as part of the quarterback-focused coaching staff that the Eagles assembled in 2016. His job included funneling information from Pederson to the position coaches and back to Pederson.

So we don’t know. We can’t know. Reich didn’t call the plays. We weren’t sitting in the room with Doug and Frank while they were going over the play sheet.

You can definitely point to the fact that the pair were in their second year of working together, for sure. Maybe they just “clicked.” Maybe it was just a natural fit and they really “got on,” as the British would say. Reich had previously worked as an NFL offensive coordinator while Groh only had that experience working with his father at UVA in the college ranks, so that’s something else you could point to.

Or – maybe other teams just studied the Eagles and know what to expect. They know how to defend the RPO better. They’ve got more film on Carson Wentz and Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz.

Or – maybe the injuries are just killing the Birds. Wentz, Lane Johnson, Mike Wallace, etc. Perhaps the loss of LeGarrette Blount and Torrey Smith was more significant than most people realized.

Or – maybe it’s just on the players to get over the Super Bowl hangover and start executing on the field. Doug’s 3rd and 2 play call looks incredible instead of shitty if Leighton Vander Esch doesn’t skirt two elite offensive linemen to make a tackle for loss on Corey Clement.

Point being, it’s just impossible to parse Frank Reich and John DeFilippo’s contributions to the team. If Reich had been calling the plays, this would be easy. But we’re just sort of spitballing here, and we’re never going to have any kind of hard evidence to suggest that the Eagles were better off with Reich vs. what they have now.

That’s not to say that that the argument is wrong, it’s just really hard to prove.