Let me start off by quickly saying that, as an Eagles fan, I completely understand what Jets fans are going through. There may not be two franchises in the NFL more similar than the Eagles and Jets. Both hate the Giants and Giants fans. Both have no idea who their QB will be in 2013. Both were victims of Spygate. Both have experienced brash and entertaining head coaches from the Ryan family. Both have had to suffer through Rich Kotite tenures that set our franchises back ten years. Both have extremely passionate, outspoken fan bases. Both have owners that seemingly don’t know anything about football (Yet have actually done a good job in hiring so far this offseason). Both have had combine monsters turn in to complete busts (Vernon Gholston = Mike Mamula). Both have had years of extreme lows and too many “almost” years. Wherever it has happened on their respective timelines there are quite a few parallels between the two franchises. The BIG difference is we haven’t won a Superbowl. So stop your whining.
Another thing that the Jets and Eagles share is the arrival of new offenses in 2013. The Jets recent hiring of former Eagles OC Marty Mornhinweg will certainly bring some much needed change. Mornhinweg is viewed as a West Coast Offense purist as he served as OC under both Steve Mariucci and Andy Reid. He even broke into the NFL with Holmgren’s Packers. If we were playing the NFL Coaching version of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” we could link him to Bill Walsh in only two degrees.
Perhaps he has gone under the radar, but when looking at the stats, Mornhinweg has been one of the best OC’s in the game over the past 15 years. His offenses ranked in the League’s top ten a whopping 8 times which is pretty good considering the terrible teams he had in Detroit. In San Francisco he made Terrell Owens and Jeff Garcia Pro Bowlers and saw Steve Young have some of his most productive years. In Philadelphia, Mornhinweg’s offenses were consistently at the top of the statistical heap with 5 different “franchise” quarterbacks.
While some form of the WCO is used in almost all offenses across the high school, college, and NFL ranks, to say a coach runs the West Coast Offense is to say that he has a certain philosophy on how to play offense. Mornhinweg’s offense at the core is your typical West Coach Offense. He wants to stretch the field horizontally instead of vertically to start. He wants to use three-step and five-step drops to time up with his slants, outs, ins, and crosses to hit receivers in stride and make the defense cover sideline to sideline. After he has established the short passing game and safeties start to jump certain routes, he wants to open it up with skinny posts and deep shots. If he is playing from behind they will still continue to air the ball out no matter how effective it has been. f he is up, get ready for a heavy dose of an athletic RB running Inside, Mid, and Outside Zone as well as your inside power game to take advantage of a tired defense.
While the basic philosophy rings true for Mornhinweg, he has shown the ability to break away from the more monotonous versions of the WCO. He was actually a nice break from Andy Reid’s often times frustrating dink and dunk aerial assault when he took over the Eagles play calling duties in 2006. Reid’s offenses almost always led the league in Pass to Run ratio, a stat that most Eagles fans weren’t proud of with a stud playmaker in the backfield. When this came to a boiling point with Eagles fans after a 45-21 thumping by the Colts in Week 12, Reid relinquished play calling duties to Mornhinweg. The result: Jeff Garcia was able to save the season at QB as he efficiently led an offense that was made for him and Brian Westbrook’s carries went from 14.6 per game to 19.5 per game and the Eagles rattled off 5 straight wins to surprisingly get into the playoffs.
Mornhinweg and the Run Game
Mornhinweg’s version of the West Coast Offense is a little bit different than that of his contemporaries. While at the core of his offense is the timing aspects of the horizontal passing game, he has been much more willing to involve the running game. In Mornhinweg’s offense, the RB is like a closer in baseball. It was common in Philly for Westbrook or McCoy to go in to halftime with a handful of carries and between 20-40 yards only to explode in the second half and ice the game.
Mornhinweg will utilize several different types of running schemes. His favorite is the zone scheme. In the zone scheme, the offensive line is ultimately responsible for their play side gap and utilizes combo blocks to get to the second level. On inside zone with the entire line stepping play side, linebackers often time over flow so an athletic back like LeSean McCoy can make one cut backside and gain big yardage. hey run it from under center and in the gun, with a lot more success coming from the gun for McCoy. Most of Brian Westbrook’s carries on inside zone came from under center, so he is flexible depending on personnel. They will also run a mid-zone or stretch play that has proven to be very successful for them. Here the line steps play side with the intention of creating even greater flow to the outside. The back can either take the outside if it is there or stretch the LOS horizontally and make a cut up field. To a lesser extent, they will utilize a gap running scheme. Here the play side linemen are responsible for whatever shows in their backside gap, while the backside guard pulls play side. The Eagles generally run their gap scheme out of a two back set. One of McCoy’s most successful running plays was the counter play. Mornhinweg does a nice job of setting up the counter play by hitting a defense with inside zone or mid-zone a few times.
He has also shown the ability to get creative in the run game, finding new ways to get his athletes in space. His favorite run play over the past few seasons was a sprint draw, especially with Michael Vick under center. After running sprint action a few times in the pass game, this play would have Vick sprint out to his left only to drop the ball into McCoy’s stomach. his was a big play for the Eagles especially with Jason Peters at tackle. Peters would invite the pass rushing end up field after the quarterback and then get down field and block the next player to show outside. He would essentially block two players as McCoy would sprint downfield, often times untouched for the first ten or fifteen yards. Mornhinweg loves misdirection run plays out of a split set including quick pitches and fake toss belly where the QB fakes toss to McCoy to hand the ball to another back up the middle.
There are a few negatives about Mornhinweg’s ground game however. Even though he runs the ball more than most WCO coordinators, he won’t run the ball nearly as much as Jets fans are used to. Might be a positive, but it could get frustrating if the run game is clicking. His goal line offense has also left a lot to be desired often times sticking to his more creative run plays instead of just plowing behind the big guys. These are some of the give and takes you get with a finesse running game.
What does this mean for the Jets?
The Jets were actually most productive in their “Ground-and-Pound” offense when they were running a zone-scheme under Brian Schottenheimer and Bill Callahan. Although Mornhinweg utilizes both Zone-Scheme and Gap-Scheme run plays, he leans heavily toward the Zone. In his Zone running scheme RBs like Westbrook, LeSean McCoy, Charlie Garner, Garrison Hearst, and James Stewart were able to put together 1,000 seasons. With the possible exception of Stewart, his RBs have always been athletic, quick guys. This could be good for Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight who should be given a chance to eat in to or completely take over Shonn Greene’s carries in 2013. Powell and McKnight have the body types and skill sets that have been successful in Mornhinweg’s offense and if McKnight can learn to find the hole in the zone-scheme he could have a breakout season.
This scheme can also help the Jets offensive line get back to where they were in 2009. The Jets have one of the more athletic offensive lines in the NFL. The inside three of Slauson-Mangold-Moore are somewhat undersized and developed their run blocking pedigree, not because they are big bruisers, but because they have good feet that allow them to gain leverage and finish blocks. If that inside three is kept intact, they could develop into one of the premier zone run lines in the league.
The only concerning thing in the zone scheme is the length of the starting OTs. Generally, your more successful zone lineman is a little shorter than the 6’6” – 6’7” range because of the leverage and quick feet you need to have to perform a combo block. Ferguson and Howard should be athletic enough to be successful in the scheme. Another thing you could see since they are athletic tackles is the appearance of the Sprint Draw. No matter the QB, I can guarantee a sprint/boot package will be developed for them. It has been a big part of the WCO in the past and the Sprint Draw is the perfect “keep the defense honest” play out of that package. Don’t forget that Howard actually played in this offense in 2010 with Philly.
Mornhinweg and the Pass Game
Before the Air Coryell and WCO offenses hit the NFL, teams would often times pass out of necessity as opposed to strategy. Teams who started running the WCO could substitute short pass plays for running plays on first down, thus creating a more unpredictable offense. Defenses could no longer stack the box on first down and offenses were able to find more creative ways to stay on schedule. While his offense has shown more of a running tendency than most WCOs, at the base of Mornhinweg’s offense is the quick timing short routes that can open up the entire playbook.
The Mornhinweg offense relies on high percentage throws and timing. His favorite types of pass plays can be put into two groups. The first is horizontal routes run by athletic receivers who can make a play after catching the ball in space. These routes are often open because of route combinations whether it is with high-low concepts that put linebackers in a bind in zone coverage or through clearing routes that can take a safety out of the equation. These are the type of routes receivers like Terrell Owens and DeSean Jackson made a living on in Mornhinweg’s offense. The second is pure timing routes that excel against man to man. Receivers are required to run perfectly timed slants, outs, and hitches. These are the routes that receivers like Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant have thrived at.
Once both of these types of routes have proven successful, it is time to take some shots. This is something Mornhinweg has proven to be very adept at in his Eagles tenure as he will usually take about 4 or 5 deep shots a game. Most times he sets up his deep shots. When both the horizontal routes and the timing routes start hitting, safeties start jumping underneath routes and corners start playing tighter on the outside. This is when Mornhinweg takes some chances. Other times, he just does it with no set up at all. Remember the first play on Monday Night Football where Vick hit DeSean Jackson on a deep post for 88 yards against current Jet LaRon Landry after Landry said he was going to put Jackson to sleep: One of the best “FU moments” in recent memory. An offensive coordinator who is willing to change up the game plan right before taking the field to go after a player who won’t stop chirping is right up Rex Ryan’s alley.
Another important part of Mornhinweg’s pass scheme is the option route. Most of his passing plays, especially on 1st and 3rd downs, will have option routes. This means that the receiver has to decide what route to run based on whether it is man or zone and based on where the defense’s leverage is in coverage. Receivers also need to be smart enough to recognize blitzes and make sight adjustments for the QB to throw “hot”. This is something the Eagles always struggled with in both the McNabb and Vick eras.
The other part of the pass game that is often overlooked is the screen game. Mornhinweg’s Eagles were perennially considered one of the best screen teams in the NFL. He has always used the screen as another way to keep the defense off balance and will literally run a screen on any down on any part of the field. I have seen him use screens both on the goal line and backed up into his own end zone.
What this means for the Jets
This all sounds well and good looking at his past teams, but Mornhinweg’s been most successful when he has had a veteran Quarterback who had run the WCO prior to playing for him (Favre as QB Coach, Young, McNabb, Garcia). His other successes were short lived: Vick for about a season and a half, Kevin Kolb for about 2 games and Nick Foles for a few games. With the exception of Vick’s best passing seasons in 2010 and 2011, Mornhinweg has never taken a non-WCO QB and developed them into an NFL success (See Charlie Batch and Joey Harrington).
This is where the greatest challenge lies for Marty Mornhinweg. If the Jets don’t address the QB situation via the draft (not a whole lot of talent out there) or Free Agency, they are looking at Mark Sanchez or Greg McElroy. If they don’t make a play at Matt Flynn or Matt Moore who both played in the Green Bay version of the WCO or Tavaris Jackson who played in Reid disciple Brad Childress’s version, then Sanchez is probably they’re best option for the short term. He did use the WCO to an extent at USC.
The WCO requires a quarterback to have extremely good relationships with their WRs. WRs need to be getting out of their break as the QB is releasing the football. The QB has to have great feet and an ability to make a quick decision and get rid of the football. Two things Sanchez has struggled at recently. From watching an early morning episode of NFL Matchup you can see that Sanchez’s footwork and inability to read and react has been his downfall over the past year. Maybe Mornhinweg will be able to change this.
Perhaps Mornhinweg’s greatest accomplishment was turning Michael Vick from a career 53% passer in to a 61% passer with the Eagles. It will be interesting to see if Mornhinweg will be able to develop Sanchez or another QB from Free Agency in the same way. Where both Vick and Sanchez get into trouble is their propensity to turn the ball over. When Vick got stuck behind one of the worst offensive lines in football in 2012, he was either getting hurt or turning the ball over. Sanchez will be behind a much better OLine in New York. If he can limit turnovers and play smart by making quick reads and then hitting his check down he could develop into an efficient QB in this offense. Mornhinweg will need to dial it down for Sanchez just as he did with Vick in his first two years. Give Sanchez two reads and a check down. Don’t allow him to have the whole field to scan because that is when he hesitates. This is where he will also need to get Sanchez back into the Sprint or Rollout game. Cut the field in half for Sanchez and make his reads easier.
The Michael Vick Eagles had skilled players like Jackson, Maclin, Celek, and McCoy. Although I don’t think the Jets have this level of skill players right now, they might have the personnel on the edge to make this offense work if everyone is healthy. If Holmes can regain his focus, this can be the perfect offense for him at the flanker position. Mornhinweg will put him all over the field in the DeSean Jackson role where he can stretch the field both horizontally and vertically. I can see Kerley filling this role as well and playing an important role in 3 and 4 wide sets. Braylon Edwards has the experience to fit the role of the split end who is more of a possession receiver running the slants, outs, hitches and fitting into windows on third down a la Jason Avant. Stephen Hill could also fill this role, but needs to greatly develop his route running ability and getting off press coverage. If Dustin Keller is back, he can flourish in this offense because he is the exact same player as Brent Celek. (If a big goof like Chad Lewis can be a pro bowler in this offense, then Keller could have one of his best years.)
RBs will also play an important role in the pass game. What Mornhinweg will bring to the Jets that they have never had is a great screen game. The screen game will utilize an athletic offensive line and allow backs like Powell and McKnight to get into open space. They will also have to be check down backs. Mornhinweg’s backs have always been excellent chip blockers (especially Westbrook) before they get out into their check downs. Fullbacks also play a key role in the check down game and off play action. Corey Schlesinger was the Lions second leading receiver under Mornhinweg.
Warning: If things are clicking in the Mornhinweg offense, it can be one of the most explosive and exciting offenses in the NFL. If things are not clicking and everyone hasn’t bought in like the Eagles of 2012, it can be one of the more frustrating offenses to watch. I blame most of this on the offensive line being one of the NFL’s worst. (We drafted a 26 year old fireman from Canada who played football for a total of two years in the 1st round). I don’t think this will happen for the Jets because they have a solid line. In the past, his offense could get stagnant at times as he could break away from what made them successful. However, it was tough to tell whether it was Mornhinweg or Reid’s influence that led to this. In New York, we will find out because he will have full control of the offense.
There will definitely be some growing pains as Mornhinweg revamps the Jets’ offense. He will need to develop some of the younger receivers to fit his system of short precise route running with options routes and sight adjustments. He will need to get Holmes and Edwards to buy in. He will need to determine whether he can find his next breakout do-it-all Running Back on the current roster or through the draft or free agency. And he will have to develop Sanchez beyond the efficient QB he was in the beginning of his career or find someone in free agency to run the offense. It’s a tall order, but if Mornhinweg either develops Sanchez or is given a better situation at QB, this offense will be one that Jets fans will come to enjoy. It is a welcome change to the “three yards and a cloud of dust” offense that Sparano wanted to run, but it isn’t too drastic a change since Mornhinweg is one of the more run heavy WCOers. If the Jets can address the player personnel the same way they addressed their front office and coaching staff this offseason, they can develop into an explosive offense more like the 2010 Eagles. If Mornhinweg doesn’t get the things he needs then they could end up looking like the 2001 Detroit Lions.
Since he will probably be an Assistant Head Coach, just don’t let him handle the coin toss in overtime and the Jets should be fine.