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Patriots Deja Entendu: Now teams want to ban the Eagles’ cool plays

The Eagles now have to deal with the champagne problem of “If they can’t beat you, they’ll say you’re not playing fair.”

NFL: FEB 12 Super Bowl LVII - Eagles vs Chiefs Photo by Adam Bow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s a tale as old as time; one of the NFL’s elite teams bashes their way through the playoffs with an unorthodox secret weapon of a play, the kind you keep in a case labeled “break glass in case of emergency and/or situation where it’d be really, REALLY cool”, and then the rest of the league watches the film, takes pages and pages of notes, and does their best to study it and get better and devise counters and...

.......Ha ha ha who am I kidding, of course they don’t do that. They’re trying to get the league to change the rules and make said cool play illegal.

We’re referring, of course, to the Philadelphia Eagles and their unique quarterback sneak plays that turned out to be the most automatic play since the Tom Brady 1-yard touchdown dive this season. According to Pro Football Focus, including Philly’s playoff run and the Super Bowl, Jalen Hurts converted 36 of his 40 quarterback sneaks with a play that can best be described as “mash ‘em”. Observe:

(in all its glorious violence)

Pretty awesome, right? It’s exactly the kind of play a smart team would spam the heck out of, in the right situations. One of the great joys of football is watching your team line up and run a play that screams out loud to the opposition “you know what we’re about to do, we know you know, and we do not care. Go out there and stop us. If you can. Which you can’t”.

So while the Eagles came up just barely short of football immortality last weekend, they certainly look like they’ve stumbled upon a Golden Gun of a play. I’m not going to act like I watched every snap of every Philly game this season, because this isn’t Eagles Pulpit dot com, but it certainly seems like the Eagles were extremely comfy more or less being in 4-down territory every possession if they wanted to be. The sneak worked 9 out of 10 times this season. Why wouldn’t they feel great about going for it on fourth and short every time?

There, all caught up. Which brings us to Thursday, when the news broke via Ari Meirov and Paul Domowitch of The 33rd Team that the NFL Competition Committee might be looking to outlaw the Eagles’ signature move.

Ari followed that up with this quote from Saints... er, Broncos head coach Sean Payton, who pulled off the old Parcells-ian trick of talking out of both sides of his mouth with ease:

Here’s more from Paul’s article, with quotes from ex-NFL VP of Officiating Dean Blandino noted where applicable.

Pushing a ball carrier to help move him forward has been legal in the NFL since 2005 and in the college game since 2013. But amazingly, the Eagles really have been the first team to weaponize it. After getting a season-long look at it, the league doesn’t like what it sees.

That seems worth emphasizing. There’s nothing illegal about the play; matter of fact, the NFL specifically made it legal almost 20 years ago. And in contrast to a couple of the New England Patriots’ legendary trick plays that inspired this article in the first place, there’s no trickery involved either. It is exactly what it looks like.

Here’s the full quote referenced above, with Blandino explaining a bit about why he thinks the competition committee will make the move to get rid of it:

“I was talking to (Denver Broncos coach) Sean Payton during Sunday’s game, and he said we’re going to do this every time next season if they don’t take it out,’’ Blandino said.

“It amounts to a rugby scrum. The NFL wants to showcase the athleticism and skill of our athletes. This is just not a skillful play. This is just a tactic that is not an aesthetically pleasing play, and I think the competition committee is going to take a look at it.’’

Blandino compared the Tush Push to a now outlawed tactic teams used on PATs and field goals.

“If you remember on field goals and extra points, they used to be able to push the defensive linemen into the formation,’’ he said. “You would find the weak link on the offensive line. [The offensive line] would have their legs interlocked. And you would get two, and sometimes three, defensive linemen, and two linebackers all pushing into that player. We got rid of that.’’

Ironically enough, like many rules in the NFL, the league decided to allow pushing the ball carrier because... everyone was doing it anyway and nobody cared.

“The officials weren’t being directed to call it, so they stopped calling it,’’ Blandino said. “Unfortunately, the rulebook was changed to accommodate the way the game was being officiated rather than the other way around.’’

The Patriots parallels here are obvious — you’ve probably already guessed that the whole “This play is annoying and we can’t stop it, so let’s ban it” brings to mind a couple Great Moments In Patriots Dynasty History. Jim Harbaugh probably still sees his vaunted Ravens defense trying to figure out the 2014 Patriots’ ineligible offensive linemen formations — codenamed “Baltimore” and “Raven,” of course — in his nightmares.

After John Harbaugh went full Yosemite Sam on the sidelines, Bill Belichick made sure to note in his postgame comments that all the rules were followed, and then went on to elaborate in the Do Your Job documentary that, and I quote, “There’s really no doubt about the rule, it’s just a tough look”.

The NFL banned the play barely eight weeks later.

And then, there was the forever-salty-about-losing-to-the-Patriots-again play that pretty inarguably changed football forever; after New England’s defensive backs took the Indianapolis Colts’ lunch money and gave them a swirlie yet again in the 2003 AFC Championship Game, the NFL decided it was high time to make their pass defense tactics illegal too.

It was soon after the Patriots’ second Super Bowl win on Feb. 1, 2004, that the competition committee, the NFL’s rule-making body, acted to try to help quarterbacks and receivers. Passing yards per game had dipped to an 11-year low in the 2003 season, and the members of the competition committee determined that game officials were not enforcing a longstanding rule prohibiting a defensive player from making contact with a receiver more than five yards downfield. The committee made properly enforcing the “illegal contact” rule a point of officiating emphasis for the 2004 season. The hands of NFL defensive backs were, in effect, tied.

Many observers attributed the competition committee’s action to the Patriots’ defensive play in their 24-14 triumph over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game on Jan. 18, 2004. The Patriots intercepted Colts quarterback Peyton Manning four times that day and Indianapolis’s receivers were upset because they felt that several holding infractions had gone uncalled by officials at key moments. Bill Polian, the Colts’ influential team president, was particularly angry.

Ah, memories.

Pro Football talk also reported years later:

Pereira made it clear that Colts president Bill Polian, a long-time member of the Competition Committee, pushed the issue due to the perception/reality that Patriots defensive backs were manhandling Indianapolis receivers.

Pereira was candid regarding his belief that the change to the application of the rule made little sense. Specifically, he said that the notion that a flag would be thrown and a first down awarded regardless of whether the contact actually generates an advantage for the defensive team “didn’t seem logical.”

So, welcome to the champagne problems club, Eagles. This is what you have to look forward to for as long as you’re on the short list of the capital-E elite. If that sounds exhausting, well, we’re always here if you want to talk.