Eagles notebook

Eagles notebook: The lack of explosive plays on offense

In the latest Eagles notebook: Lacking explosive plays, faith in Michael Clay and more.

NBC Universal, Inc. Jalen Hurts spoke to the media on Thursday afternoon and was asked about his quote about the Eagles not being “committed enough” following a Week 15 loss to the Seahawks.

As Eagles offensive coordinator Brian Johnson spoke this week about how to improve the offense, he talked about a few different areas of concern.

But he mentioned one first.

“For us, essentially, I think what we have to do is we have to create some more explosive plays,” Johnson said. “We have to.”

Nick Sirianni has his own way of defining explosive plays. He lumps together runs of 10+ yards and passes of 16+ yards. Based on those parameters, the Eagles are tied for 19th in the NFL with 101 explosive plays. They have 61 explosive passing plays and 40 explosive runs.

Here’s a complete look at explosive plays in the NFL leading into Week 16, passes + runs.

SFO: 88 + 61 = 149
MIA: 86 + 53 = 139
HOU: 92 + 44 = 136
BAL: 64 + 62 = 126
DET: 74 + 50 = 124
DAL: 80 + 41 = 121
BUF: 66 + 52 = 118
MIN: 81 + 35 = 116
WAS: 74 + 39 = 113
CHI: 53 + 60 = 113
ATL: 63 + 49 = 112
SEA: 71 + 37 = 108
LAR: 72 + 34 = 106
JAX: 69 + 34 = 103
KAN: 67 + 39 = 103
ARI: 51 + 52 = 103
TAM: 71 + 31 = 102
CLE: 58 + 44 = 102
NOR: 66 + 35 = 101
PHI: 61 + 40 = 101
DEN: 55 + 46 = 101
GNB: 71 + 29 = 100
LAC: 70 + 28 = 98
TEN: 64 + 33 = 97
IND: 57 + 37 = 94
PIT: 43 + 45 = 88
CIN: 56 + 32 = 88
NYG: 43 + 38 = 81
CAR: 41 + 40 = 81
LVR: 60 + 18 = 78
NYJ: 46 + 27 = 73
NWE: 48 + 24 = 72

Sometimes the Eagles have to simply take what a defensive gives them, though, instead of hunting for those big plays. Against the Seahawks, the Eagles started that game with back-to-back scoring drives of 15 and 16 plays.

“Yeah, that's a line you definitely have to walk, right?” Johnson said. “I think the biggest thing is you want to try to create as many explosives as possible. And I think you definitely have to balance that because when you have to go on 12, 13, 14, 15 play drives to score, it just magnifies everything.

“The easiest way to score is to create big plays, so we’ve got to do a great job — I have to do a great job putting us in situations to create some more chunks and not have to take so many plays to go score.”

There’s no doubt the Eagles are missing these chunk plays from their offense this season. In 2022, the Eagles led the NFL with 169 explosive plays, averaging 9.9 per game. This year, they’re averaging 7.2 per game.

But it’s not like these big plays come out of nowhere. The Eagles need to do a better job of setting them up too.

“I think that's what the whole deal is, is being able to have that feel and being able to mix and match so you can try to create some chunks based off of a couple things, right?” Johnson said. “Based off pass, based off other runs, based off of play-action. Just trying to create those chunks and give yourself an opportunity to get down in the red zone a little quicker.”

Faith in Michael Clay

There were plenty of Eagles fans that wanted Michael Clay to get the boot after a shaky 2022 season on special teams. But after the Eagles lost their offensive and defensive coordinators from the Super Bowl season, Clay returned. And he’s been rewarding Sirianni’s faith in him all season.

The Eagles’ special teams units have made a miraculous turnaround in 2023. The third phase of the game has been the most consistent for this team all year.

“Nick does an unbelievable job instilling trust and confidence in whoever is in this building,” Clay said. “I can't say enough about the head coach and this whole building. Just like anything in life, there will be times you'll get beat up. It won't be the last time; probably not the first time I'll have to pick myself up and get a good group of guys going.

They've done an unbelievable job this year. Nick has been awesome. Like I said, I can't say enough good things about him in terms of his encouragement and the confidence going from last year to this year. Just like I do in anything in life, try to pay everybody back for what they've done for me, and hopefully it comes back forward when I'm a little bit older in age.”

Sometimes players get better and sometimes coaches grow into their roles too.

That’s an important thing to remember when we talk about Johnson this season. Johnson is a first-year NFL offensive coordinator at the age of 36. There’s a reason he’s getting some head coaching buzz despite an imperfect season as the Eagles’ play-caller.

This week, Clay was asked why he thinks Sirianni never lost faith in him.

“I think he understands in terms of work ethic we all have in this building special teams-wise,” Clay said. “The end product at times last year wasn't what we wanted. Call a spade a spade. Wasn't good enough in the NFL. It's a production-based business.

“He understands how hard we work to try and help this time any way we possibly can. Seeing what the guys will do for us in terms of just understanding that we always have their back and just trying to look out for them to get the best they possibly can. I think back to Nick just being unbelievable in terms of that, is he keeps seeing it, I got to keep repaying it back to him to put this team in the best possible spot.”

Sean Desai shows professionalism

It had to be tough last week for Sean Desai to get demoted during the season. But he has seemingly handled it as well as possible.

Heck, the Eagles even made him do his press conference last week for the sake of competitive advantage. In hindsight, that isn’t a great look for the organization but it was a heck of an acting job from Desai and it speaks to the professionalism he’s shown during this demotion.

Even in Seattle, he wasn’t afraid to show his face on the field as he said hello to his former coworkers who are still with the Seahawks.

“I think I've been really blessed with Sean to have a relationship and build a friendship,” Matt Patricia said. “We've had mutual friends we worked with and have that connection to each other. He's been great. Really helped me transition here in a situation where my family is not here. I'm kind of here by myself and he's looked out for me from that aspect of it.

“In those situations, the first thing for me whether it's — whatever it is, you pack all the rest of it away and talk as friends. Most important thing is that everybody is okay. That's the most important thing.”

It’s unclear what the future holds for Desai and it seems very possible he won’t be with the Eagles past this year. But he was in the booth last week against the Seahawks and the plan is for him to continue with that role the rest of 2023.

“[Patricia] and Sean continue to work really well together,” Sirianni said. “I walk by their offices quite a bit. They're talking and chatting, very similar to how it was when the roles were reversed.

“Excited with the dynamic right there and so appreciative of the defensive staff that they're working like crazy to get things going in the right direction on defense.”

A.J. Brown on social media interaction

Last week, A.J. Brown clapped back at a fan on social media, taking offense to the assertion that the Eagles are playing “buddy ball” where Jalen Hurts wants to get the ball to his buddy Brown.

Brown was asked about his response and gave a thoughtful answer about it and his thoughts on frustration when things aren’t going well. It’s worth reading the whole thing:

“Me personally, I didn’t handle that correctly. I’m man enough to say that. I pride myself on being the best. When the game is on the line, throw me the ball. So when things don’t go my way, it’s OK. Sure, put it on me. You should put the blame on me. I accept that. Much is given, much is required. And so I had to sit down and really think to myself, like, yeah, if they do put the blame on me, sure. I asked for that. I asked to be in that chair, you know? Who cares, so what? That don’t define me. None of that stuff define me. 

“But I know for a fact, bro we working our tail off. Like, me personally, I know I’m working my tail off. Trying to do whatever I can do to help this team win. And so that’s why you see the little frustration comes in and stuff like that. Because I know I dedicate my life to this. I sacrifice spending time with my own family for this game, to be with my teammates, to win games. It means a lot to me. It means the world to me. I told [receivers coach Aaron Moorehead] on the way home, when we got home 7 in the morning, I’m damn near crying on the way home. It means a lot to me. We feel the frustration from this city. We feel that. We want to do it for y’all. Most of all, we want to do it for our teammates, our brothers we’re going to war with. 

“We’re working hard. We giving blood, sweat and tears to this game. Fans, I don’t want them to think we don’t care or we’re not trying our best. We got a standard and we’re trying to uphold the standard. We don’t want no excuses either. We 10 times harder on ourselves than anybody. Because we’re the ones going into work, we’re doing this. Not to preach and stuff like that.”

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