Philadelphia Eagles: The case against Graham Harrell

(Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
(Photo by NFL via Getty Images) /

Graham Harrell seems like a bright offensive mind, but his air-raid pedigree may only enable Doug Pederson and the Philadelphia Eagles’ bad habits.

At long last, the Philadelphia Eagles have scheduled an interview for their vacant offensive coordinator position, their first since Mike Groh (and Carson Welch) were kicked to the curb following a disappointing 2019 season.

After attempting to interview a pair of Ravens assistants, Bobby Engram and James Urban, for the position earlier in the week, a pair of requests that were approved by the team, but curiously declined by the players, Graham Harrell took his first step towards making the leap from the college ranks to the NFL.

And despite being a full six-years younger than the Birds’ 2019 backup quarterback last season, there’s a lot to like about the 34-year-old offensive assistant.

More from Philadelphia Eagles

A full-on disciple of Mike Leach as both a player and as a coach. Harrell spent four years as Texas Tech‘s quarterback from 2005-08, finishing out his senior season fourth in the Heisman Trophy race. From there, Harrell tried his luck at playing QB in the NFL before returning to college for stints at Oklahoma State, Washington State, North Texas, and most recently USC, where he served as Clay Helton‘s offensive coordinator.

In 2019, his Trojans squad had the 20th best offense in the nation off the strength of Harrell’s superb passing game and led the way to a bit of a resurgence in University Park after a down 2018 season.

In summation, it wouldn’t surprise me if Harrell becomes a pretty great offensive coordinator at the game’s highest level, but I firmly believe that should not be in Philly.

First, let’s get this out of the way: I’m a huge fan of the air-raid offensive scheme.

Built on simple concepts expertly executed from a variety of different sets, the system is simple to comprehend, but, to quote our friends from Boston, wicked hard to defend when utilized correctly.

After watching their depth chart swap in and out names like some sick (literally) game of musical chairs throughout the 2019 season, it’s understandable that the Philadelphia Eagles would show some interest in incorporating elements from a scheme that doesn’t require elite receivers, a power run game, or a ton of overly complicated trickery into their hybrid west coast offense, but committing wholly to any scheme in the NFL, especially the league’s most in-vogue, is a fool’s errand.

In the NFL, schemes don’t win games, execution does.

It doesn’t matter how innovative an offense may be, eventually, other teams will figure it out, and more importantly figure out how to beat it. Need proof? Just ask our old friend Chip Kelly, who took the league by storm in 2013 and may be out of his UCLA job before 2023.

But scheme alone isn’t why the Eagles should be wary about hiring Harrell – not even close.

You see, in 2019, USC ran the ball 375 times versus 514 passing attempts, good for a 42:58 run-pass ratio. While that doesn’t seem like a huge discrepancy, its remarkably similar to the Eagles’ 43:57 run-pass ratio.

Now I know, I know, some of that has to do with the Eagles’ late-season propensity for getting their utility backs like Miles Sanders and Boston Scott involved in the passing game, but the duo combined for 74 catches on the season, or about 4.5 catches a game, so that assumption is mostly a misconception.

The Eagles have an elite offensive line, two good-to-great young running backs, and the NFL’s best one-two punch at tight end. They should try to cultivate a scheme that caters to their inherent strengths, not a flashy pass-heavy scheme that often deploys four receivers and no tight ends.

Furthermore, it’s not like Harrell is even the one calling the plays, so it’s questionable how much his presence would even be felt on the Eagles’ 2020 offensive identity. Sure, he can draw up plays, but anyone with a DVR filled with Washington State tape can easily identify air-raid concepts and sketch them out for a playbook.

Next. Jon Runyan’s explanation on Wentz hit was a joke. dark

No, what the Philadelphia Eagles desperately need is another grown up in the room who will hold Doug Pederson accountable and actually make him run the ball because when this team runs the ball, they tend to win more often than not. Graham Harrell is a lot of things, an offensive guru, a young upstart, a future head coach in the making, but he’s far from a stabilizing force.