KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Andy Reid, in his role as the venerable mentor for the little teacher-student passion play that took place in Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, studied his team’s offensive game plan at halftime and came to the very reasonable conclusion that it was going to get his quarterback killed unless he changed something.
The Eagles, despite losing two more players from the secondary, and rolling forward with guys like Rasul Douglas and Corey Graham on the field all the time, were giving Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith a very hard time.
They sacked him three times in the first half, hit and harassed him constantly, blitzed him from all angles, and limited Kansas City to just two field goals, one of which was directly due to a fumbled punt. Reid didn’t do Smith any favors by getting away from a balanced offense and calling 18 passes and just seven runs in that first half, a tendency that made the Eagles’ defense increasingly bold.
So, guess what the teacher did? He adjusted. Imagine that. Not exactly the king of the in-game change of direction, Reid went to play calls that got the ball out of Smith’s hands. Quick screens and slants, draw plays, short pitches. It wasn’t necessarily a guarantee that the Chiefs would win – and the game was tied until less than seven minutes remained – but it made it likely Smith would continue to operate and be able to walk off after the game.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the field, it was becoming apparent the student might have missed a few lessons along the way. Doug Pederson said afterward that he wasn’t happy about it, but the Eagles’ pass-run balance did get a little bit away from him as he tried to win the game. Well, yeah, and the result was six sacks taken by Carson Wentz, 10 more quarterback hits recorded, and, after all that exposure and imbalance – perhaps even because of it – a loss, not a win.
On the afternoon, Pederson called 56 pass plays and 13 runs. Wentz attempted 46 passes, took those six sacks, and ran for his life four more times. That’s not a little imbalance. That’s an unsustainable mixture that allows the opposing defense to ignore the run and apply the kind of pressure that led Wentz to throw the fourth-quarter carom interception that put Kansas City ahead to stay.
In fairness, which is certainly a last resort, it isn’t as if Pederson is ignoring Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor in his backfield. He used Darren Sproles for 10 carries on Sunday – which is just about the limit for how he should be handled – and Wendell Smallwood for three carries that yielded just 4 yards. LeGarrette Blount was not credited with a single carry, although he did run the ball on one play that was wiped out by a penalty. (Gained a yard.)
Blount, you probably recall, was signed by the front office to be a feature back in the offense. Pederson has essentially benched him now, which isn’t a ringing endorsement of the player personnel department. (It wasn’t a good day to applaud the decision to promote Isaac Seumalo at left guard and dismiss Allen Barbre, either.)
The fact, however, is that coaches have to coach what they have, and Pederson couldn’t figure out a way to use Blount or to get a better semblance of a running game. He could have given the ball to Corey Clement. He could have moved Blount around enough so that the defense had to account for him. He could have done a lot, but he chose to keep doing the same things and letting the future of the franchise get pummeled. Pederson has to learn to adjust, or Wentz will not last the season.
For his part, Smith enjoyed a quieter second half. He was 11 for 13 with just one sack, and Reid called a modestly improved balance of 16 passes and 10 runs. Smith had time to throw a touchdown pass to Travis Kelce for the go-ahead score and connected with Chris Conley for a 35-yard completion to help provide what would be the insurance score the Chiefs needed.
“They changed their game plan,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “We were getting pressure … so they just went on quick snap count and got the ball out of his hands quick. So we got less pressure, less devastating plays. It was a good adjustment by them, and it gave them more control of the game.”
The Eagles did a lot of good things on Sunday. They hung in against a pretty decent team under adverse conditions on the road. Remove the two turnovers and give them the chip shot field goal that stand-in kicker Jake Elliott missed, and they win by six points, and the Super Bowl express is rolling. Of course, it doesn’t exactly work that way.
The turnovers happened, the field goal was missed, the opportunities slipped through their hands and fell to the turf, which is what Carson Wentz had to do a lot, too. That can’t continue. In the meeting on Sunday between teacher and student, it was obvious that class was still in session, even if Reid and Pederson were separated by the width of a football field.
Put it this way: When you get out-adjusted during a game by Andy Reid, it was you who got schooled.