Note – This was written by former TOJ employee Steve Bateman
What do we know about newly appointed New York Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg? Well, he’s going to bring the West Coast Offense eastwards to New York, we know that much for certain, right? And he also favors a zone-blocking run scheme – we know that much because everybody says he does and therefore it must be correct, yeah?
By making these assumptions, not only are we unwittingly limiting our understanding of what Mornhinweg brings to the table, but we are also underestimating his ability to adapt, change, and design entirely new offensive systems according to need. We are also deluding ourselves into believing that Mark Sanchez (or whoever the starting quarterback might be) will be asked to operate a traditional West Coast Offense in 2013.
When the Philadelphia Eagles’ regular starting quarterback Michael Vick went down injured during the middle of last season, Mornhinweg was tasked with the responsibility of installing an offensive system that could be operated by rookie back-up Nick Foles. But the challenge wasn’t so simple as to dream up a scheme that suited inexperience; no, he also had to think up a way of remodelling his offensive unit around a pocket-passer in Foles as opposed to a scrambler in Vick.
So, what did he do? Well, in a nutshell, he borrowed entire chapters from the New England Patriots’ offensive playbook and glued them together with a few from his own.
When Foles made his debut against the Washington Redskins in Week 11, the first play that he ran from scrimmage was classic Mornhinweg, and classic West Coast Offense. The Eagles came out in 12 personnel and lined up in a Single Ace Twins formation (Picture 1 – apologies for the unintentionally ‘artistic’ rendering of this picture.). Tight end Clay Harbor (red) comes in motion to the right and fades out into the flat, while Foles fakes the hand-off and rolls right in a basic PA Boot play.
Unfortunately for the Eagles though, this play is doomed to failure from the outset as Foles has failed to recognise during his pre-snap read that instead of moving out to cover one of the wide receivers, Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall (yellow) is effectively playing as an auxiliary outside linebacker.
The presence of the fleet-footed Hall combined with Foles’s weak attempt at selling the play-action leaves Harbor with little option other than to abort his route in an effort to try and prevent an instant sack (Picture 2).
The ultimate result is a broken play where an under pressure Foles is lucky to get away with an incompletion after forcing the ball to DeSean Jackson in double coverage. The important point to note, however, is that this play came straight from the West Coast playbook, and its failure was due to execution rather than design.
On their next possession the Eagles came out in 21 grouping and lined up in Weak-I Right (only for the fullback to motion over to the strong side – Picture 3). Once again, we are about to see a staple play from the Marty Mornhinweg offensive playbook: In a variation on the play depicted earlier, TE Brent Celek feints inside and throws a chip-block before pivoting and rolling out into the flat while Foles operates the play-action and again bootlegs to his right.
This time Foles is more effective in selling the handoff, and as Celek breaks from the line to release into the flat it seems as if a very healthy completion is on the cards (Picture 4) although in the end the play only results in a six-yard pick-up thanks entirely to the awareness of Redskins free safety Brandon Meriweather (yellow).
At this point it’s reasonable to expect that, much in the same way that many Jets fans and writers are assuming that Mornhinweg is a one-trick pony, the Redskins thought that they might be in for a straightforward afternoon of damping down the West Coast Offense.
But suddenly, things changed…
After churning out the first handful of plays (which were generally scripted beforehand by Mornhinweg and former Eagles head coach Andy Reid), a completely new playbook emerged – and this one bore a much closer resemblance to Bill Belichick’s east coast offense than it did to Bill Walsh’s west coast variety. Out went the I-Formation and Singleback packages, and in came the shotgun and Spread Offense. (In the final analysis, a staggering 70% of Eagles plays would be run from the Spread during this game).
Facing a 1st & 10 the Eagles rocked up with four wide receivers (Picture 5) and handed the ball off to running back Bryce Brown for a neat five yard pick-up from a sweep off the left tackle.
The bootlegs and three-step drops also vanished without a trace, and instead Foles was asked to play to his strengths by sitting in the pocket, going through his reads and finding the open man.
In the second quarter, the Eagles took to the field in a spread formation (Picture 6) and picked up a 20-yard chunk of land by exploiting the Redskins’ single-high safety coverage.
Foles simply has to step up in the pocket and fire over the middle to Damaris Johnson (Picture 6).
This pretty much sums up how the game proceeded. Rather than trying to force Foles into a role whereby he would effectively be trying to play to the strengths of Vick, Mornhinweg tailored his playbook to suit the rookie QB instead, only to see his efforts thwarted by Foles’s inability to execute on a regular basis.
So while it may be reasonable to assume that Mornhinweg might implement aspects of the West Coast Offense in New York, it would most likely be a huge mistake to suppose that the entire playbook will be predicated upon it. A much more likely scenario is that the new offensive guru will spend time assessing Sanchez and the remnants of his QB stable before designing a playbook around them rather than trying to force square pegs into round holes.
What does seem likely, however, is that the Jets’ 2013 signal-caller will be helped by a playbook built around play-action passes, draw plays, and bootlegs whereas last year under Tony Sparano he was shackled to a system that insisted on adhering to principles based around the straightforward and undisguised.
Coach Rex Ryan has already spoken of his desire to implement an unpredictable offense during the 2013 season, and the suggestion that Mornhinweg could be set to introduce a hybrid West Coast/Spread offense would certainly seem to tally with that wish.
So when you draw up your list of potential draft targets and free agents that might ‘fit’ into Mornhinweg’s scheme, don’t be too blinded by the mainstream media’s preconceived idea that, like Sparano, he is a man bound to a single system. The reality is that, unlike Sparano, his flexibility will more likely play into the Jets’ good fortunes as he allows the players’ strengths and weaknesses to dictate and formulate his own offensive philosophy.