Throughout the first four weeks of the season, it has become very clear that the RPO game is a big part of the Eagles’ offense.
But something has to give.
Because those plays have forced the Eagles to commit several ineligible downfield pass penalties this season.
And on Sunday, Andre Dillard was called for one that took points off the board.
“Well, they're calling it. The referees, they're calling that pretty hard this year,” Nick Sirianni said on Sunday evening. “Probably a little bit harder than they have in the past. So, we have to adjust.
“That starts with me. We have to adjust how we're blocking it, how we're teaching the blocking schemes to not allow the guy and how we're reading it, or just don't call it. That's what we're going to have to do because you obviously can't shoot yourselves in the foot. That's my fault. I have to get better at that with that. It's not Andre’s fault he was downfield on that one because the timing was pretty good. The referees I thought did a good job of refereeing it.”
The basic problem here is that on RPOs, the offensive line is run blocking for a play that sometimes turns into a pass. So in the process of of run blocking, the linemen get to the second level to spring a running back only to find out the QB kept the ball and is passing it. All of a sudden, they’re illegally downfield on a passing play.
Sometimes the blame can go to the offensive lineman. But more times than not, in general, the blame on these plays goes to the quarterback for holding the ball too long. RPOs are all about timing.
The refs have been calling it this year. And now that the Eagles have earned their reputation on those plays, the refs aren’t going to stop.
There have been 21 “ineligible downfield pass” penalties called in the NFL so far this year and the Eagles lead the league — by far — with five. No other team has more than two.
“We just got to continue to work it and talk through it,” offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said. “I mean, that's the biggest thing, right? We just got to keep that space between not going all the way down the field. You know what I mean?
“You got to keep that one yard in between those guys. That's the biggest thing. We got to keep working it.”
The play in question on Sunday in the loss to the Chiefs came in the second quarter in the red zone when a Dallas Goedert touchdown was negated because Dillard was downfield. Instead of scoring a touchdown on that drive, the Eagles had to settle for a field goal.
That was the first of two ineligible downfield pass penalties called on Dillard Sunday, but the second was superseded by an unnecessary roughness call from the Chiefs’ defense. Dillard has been called for three this season; Landon Dickerson and Lane Johnson have been called once each.
It puts the Eagles in quite a pickle.
Because Sirianni has designed this offense to fit Jalen Hurts’ strengths, which means they are utilizing these run-pass option plays. Whether or not you agree with their usage of those RPOs, the Eagles spent months designing this offense and a lot of it centers around these plays.
So they either have to figure out a way to eliminate — at least minimize — those penalties. Or they have to stop calling them.
The second option seems a tad extreme, but Sirianni brought it up himself after the game Sunday, perhaps out of exasperation.
“I think we're working through it,” Steichen said. “Like I said, there's some close calls. And I get it, the officials got to make the calls when they got to make them.
“So, we got to continue to work through those. But, obviously, we just got to do a really good job of, like I said, not going downfield. That's the biggest thing. We got to do a good job. If we want to keep that in our offense, we got to do that.”
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