What exactly are Eagles losing in Frank Reich?

What exactly are Eagles losing in Frank Reich?

On Saturday night before Super Bowl LII, Doug Pederson and Frank Reich presumably met in the team hotel, the Radisson Blu, for about an hour and a half for a last game-planning meeting. 

This had become the ritual for the head coach and offensive coordinator during their two years together in Philadelphia. 

The duo would sit in a room together with a call sheet and the first 15 scripted plays. "How good are the first 15?" became a little running joke between them. 

Reich explained the ritual in late January: "Those are the little side meetings that if you don't enjoy working with each other and going through the ups and downs of a season — we'll sit in there and talk about the first 15, and he'll say, like he said to me the other night, 'Here's the 15, but I might insert this here or this there.'"

In the specific meeting Reich talked about, Pederson told him his whole philosophy was to be aggressive. Then the two talked about the importance of being aggressive without being reckless. 

For the last two years, Reich, one of the most genuine people in the NFL, kept Pederson grounded. He was a sounding board and a trusted confidant to a budding offensive mad scientist. For two years, that relationship worked. But now it's gone. 

Reich, 56, is the new head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Pederson is happy for him, but it's also a loss. This is an examination of what made their relationship so special and the importance of replacing it. 

What would you say you do here? 

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. 

Together, Pederson and Reich formed the Eagles' offensive scheme and over the next two years the two men fine-tuned it, obviously, with Pederson taking the reins.

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."

Reich is a nice guy, genuine. That might not seem like a requirement to be an NFL coach — and it isn't — but that quality allowed him to coordinate ideas while with the Eagles. Plenty of coaches in the NFL have egos that don't fit in stadiums, but Reich doesn't. That's a helpful quality, especially for a coach around other smart and opinionated coaches. 

Reich's mild-mannered personality served him well in his role as offensive coordinator and made his players love playing for him. Jeff Lurie made the term "emotional intelligence" and Reich, like Pederson, certainly has it. It's not a surprise these two grew so close and were able to work together. 

Now, it's about finding that type of relationship again. Pederson might need to have that Reich-like voice to keep him grounded and he might need that type of sounding board. Can that be Duce Staley? Maybe. Can it be Mike Groh? Maybe. But that has to be a key. 

Because what we learned about Reich's role over the last two years was that it became an incredibly important piece, not just to the offense, but specifically to the head coach, who grew into one of the best in the NFL.

Michael Bennett thinks Eagles' DL can be among 'best ever'

AP Images

Michael Bennett thinks Eagles' DL can be among 'best ever'

As Michael Bennett watched the Eagles face the Patriots in Super Bowl LII, he couldn’t help but think about how he would fit with the Birds’ defensive line.

And how he could make an already impressive unit even better.

“Then a month later, it happens,” Bennett said at his introductory press conference in Philly on Monday afternoon. “Things always happen for a reason. This is just another great opportunity.”

Bennett is 32 now, but is coming off his third consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl. He clearly thinks he has plenty left in the tank and the Eagles obviously agree. They traded with the Seahawks to get him and then released a more expensive Vinny Curry.

The Birds then brought in Haloti Ngata and let Beau Allen walk in free agency. So the Eagles’ defensive line now includes Bennett, Ngata, Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan, Brandon Graham, Chris Long and Derek Barnett. The group includes five former first-round picks and has a combined 11 Pro Bowls between them.

On Monday afternoon, Bennett put the quarterbacks of the NFC East on notice (see story) and then didn’t mince words about how great this defensive line can be in 2018.

“I think it can be one of the greatest,” he said. “I think we can have one of the greatest defensive lines to ever play the game if we approach the game every single way. Just go out there and just keep doing what they’re doing and just finding a way to add and just keep showing how many great players.

“I think a great defensive line is about the rotation. It’s kind of like Golden State. You want to be able to have those guys who can come in and shoot and shoot and score every time.”

This isn’t the first time an Eagles defensive lineman has compared the unit to the Golden State Warriors. In fact, it was Curry who said it last October after the Eagles tortured San Francisco's C.J. Beathard for an afternoon at the Linc (see story). Curry’s out and Bennett is in, but the rotation is still going strong.

Bennett played 934 defensive snaps for the Seahawks in 2017. That was the third-most of any defensive lineman in the NFL. For comparison’s sake, Brandon Graham led the Eagles’ defensive linemen in snaps with 666 in the regular season; that ranked 43rd in the NFL among defensive linemen.

So maybe that means that the disruptive numbers Bennett put up in Seattle were because he played so much. Or, on the flip side, staying fresh might actually help increase his productivity and lead to more longevity. The Eagles are hoping for the latter.

“I’m comfortable with taking less plays, man,” Bennett said. “But, like I said, I came here to be an All-Star, just like I’ve been, to continuously play at a Pro Bowl level and I don’t think that’s no different. Just taking snaps off, being able to have a [longer] career, it’s something that every player wishes and dreams about. And this organization, when you think about play snaps and counts and keeping guys fresh for the moments that count.

“Because at the end of the day, it’s not about September or October or November; it’s about January and February. To be able to keep guys fresh and to have those opportunities where you have guys to be able to keep rushing the quarterback as savage as we can. You gotta go out there and play savage every single play and I think less snaps can give me the opportunity to do that.”

Michael Bennett's strong message to NFC East QBs

USA Today Images

Michael Bennett's strong message to NFC East QBs

It wasn't quite a WWE throwdown message, but Michael Bennett definitely put NFC East quarterbacks on notice during his introductory press conference at the NovaCare Complex on Monday afternoon.

He's coming for them.

And so are the rest of his defensive line teammates.

"I know Eli Manning is probably watching this and thinking, like, yes I'm coming," said Bennett, whom the Eagles acquired in a trade with the Seahawks. "I know Dak (Prescott) is watching this like, 'Yeah, he's coming.' Yeah, I am.

"And Alex Smith, he knows he can't run from me. I told him at the Pro Bowl. So it's definitely going to be a great season and it's going to be fun to chase quarterbacks. I just know third down it's just going to be ... and second down and first down, it's just going to be fun."

When Bennett, 32, named all three of the starting quarterbacks from the NFC East, he was actually answering a question about comparing the defensive schemes from Seattle and Philadelphia. Bennett began by saying that he played with some great players in Seattle, before saying he doesn't think there's a tight end in the NFL that can block him.

From there, he started to name the QBs.

Manning in New York. Prescott in Dallas. And recently-acquired Smith in Washington. They'll all be seeing Bennett twice this season.

Bennett is basically replacing Vinny Curry on the Eagles' defensive line, and Haloti Ngata is basically replacing Beau Allen. While Curry and Allen are younger, many think Bennett and Ngata are improvements in the short-term, which means the strength of the Eagles' defense from 2017 is even stronger in 2018.

While Curry had just three sacks in 2017 and has gone over the four-sack mark just once in his six-year career, Bennett has had at least five sacks in all of those last six seasons. Bennett has 48 sacks since 2012 and has been a Pro Bowler in each of his last three seasons.

While there was a report that surfaced saying Seattle was trying to part ways with socially active players, Bennett said he didn't give it much credence. His relationship with Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll goes beyond football and he knows Seattle was just trying to unload him to get something back in return; it's part of the business.

It seems likely that in Philly, Bennett will get a chance to play both inside and outside. His versatility was used in a similar fashion in Seattle, but he also played a ton of snaps, which he won't have to do in the Eagles' rotation. It should keep him fresh.

And it will probably keep opposing quarterbacks up at night.