Ten leftover thoughts from the Colts’ hiring Frank Reich to be their new head coach, and from Wristband 145—the play that beat the Patriots, and the play coaches Doug Pederson, Reich and Mike Groh dissected for me over the weekend in Philadelphia, about which I wrote for this week’s Monday Morning Quarterback:
1. What do I keep thinking about with Reich? Twenty-five years ago, Reich, then the Bills’ backup quarterback, led the biggest comeback in NFL history—from 35–3 points down in the third quarter against the Oilers in the playoffs—and Buffalo beat Houston 41–38. I covered the game, and I remember asking him what in the world he was thinking as he watched fans leave the stadium in Buffalo in droves as he was getting embarrassed in a rare start for the injured Jim Kelly.
“One play at a time,” he said. “I said to myself over and over, ‘One play at a time.’”
Bills special-teamer Steve Tasker told me Reich looked precisely the same—on the sidelines and in the huddle—when he was down by 32 as he did on the first snap of the day. “Cerebral. Flat-liner. Nothing bothers him. When the quarterback’s like that, the team follows,” Tasker said. Final score: Bills 41, Oilers 38. That’s how Reich was as a player, and that’s what he is as a coach.
2. I’ve compared Reich to Tony Dungy in temperament and in knowledge and imagination on his side of the ball. Like all good coaches, he understands the chess match of the game, and in the Super Bowl, he knew that the plays he brought to head coach Doug Pederson—Reich was in charge of the gameplan, Pederson could veto any plays that Reich had in the gameplan and then Pederson called the game—had to be original. “Every idea is open,” Reich said to me on Saturday.
They both knew the Patriots were incredible researchers, so the plays they’d run in the Super Bowl had to have some piece of newness to them. The Eagles had a unique motion that they’d used only 12 times all season before calling it in the fourth quarter of the game. With this motion, the back sprints at full speed behind the quarterback, almost like he’s running out of bounds. It has to be a very fast back, like Darren Sproles or Corey Clement—they wouldn’t use LeGarrette Blount, for instance. The back doesn’t stop or turn upfield until after the ball is snapped. (Many motions are used with players running half-speed or something less than full speed, simply to learn how they’d be defended, or to flood an area.)
“We only want to pull this motion out at certain times, very seldom, so team can’t get a handle on what we’ll do with it.” Also on the play, for the first time all season, they had tight end Zach Ertz isolated out wide to go along with the “Star” motion.
“So,” said Reich, “the sample size would be too small for anyone to figure out what we’d be doing.” That imagination and originality helped confound New England, obviously, and win the Super Bowl.
3. On the 2018 schedule: Reich at Pederson. Indianapolis at Philadelphia.
4. On the 2018 schedule: Reich at Josh McDaniels. Opportunist at Jilter. Indianapolis at New England.
5. Reich as the play-caller in Indianapolis? That’s my strong hunch. As a former NFL quarterback, he’s passionate about the importance of feeling a game and calling a game. “I mean this with every fiber of my being,” Reich said. “There is still the art, the knack and the sense of timing of when to call plays. Sometimes, I think this particular down and distance is the perfect time to call a certain play on the play sheet, but Doug won’t call it. He pulls his foot off the gas on it, and waits. I love that about play-calling. It’s an art.” How do you not want that guy calling your plays?
6. In Philadelphia, I won’t be surprised if Pederson does not name an offensive coordinator and instead uses a gameplan-by-committee. He likes having line coach Jeff Stoutland and backs coach Duce Staley orchestrating the run game, and tight ends coach Justin Peelle doing short-yardage, and receiver coach Mike Groh (who could be the de facto coordinator) doing third down. He could name Staley or Groh as the next OC, but whatever he does, Pederson will continue to play-call. No sense fixing something that just played a huge role in the Eagles’ winning the Super Bowl.
7. The Eagles fear they could lose backup tight end Trey Burton to free-agency. They think someone will pay the versatile and heady Burton good money that they likely won’t match.
8. The Eagles seem—and I say “seem,” because no one’s talking about it, at all, but it’s a sense that’s lingered since Super Sunday—to be cautiously optimistic that Carson Wentz will be ready to play opening night, Sept. 6. Wentz had surgery to repair two knee ligaments Dec. 13, and the timetable is roughly nine to 12 months for his return. The opener is exactly one week shy of nine months from the surgery date. We’ll see, but if the Eagles were betting men, I think they’d bet Wentz plays opening night.
9. I don’t think Philly trades quarterback Nick Foles, unless some team makes an offer that start with two first-round picks. Even then, I’m skeptical they’d pull the trigger. This is why they got Foles in the first place—because GM Howie Roseman and Pederson think the backup quarterback is one of the 10 or 12 most important players on the team.
10. The Eagles coaches are deservedly off this week—they need the break. They had staff and player-evaluation meetings last week in the middle of all the celebratory mayhem. Even though they’re way behind the other teams, the coaches and front office guys need to disappear for a few days so when they head to the combine in two weeks they won’t be zombies.