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Nick Sirianni explains more of play-calling dynamic with Brian Johnson

Nick Sirianni explains more of play-calling dynamic with Brian Johnson originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

For much of the season, Eagles offensive coordinator Brian Johnson has drawn the ire of many fans.

In Johnson’s first year as an NFL offensive coordinator, the Eagles’ offense has definitely taken a step back. And one of the biggest (and only) changes on that side of the ball from 2022 is a new offensive coordinator. Johnson took over for Shane Steichen, who left for the head coaching job in Indy.

But it’s really hard to figure out who to blame sometimes because while Johnson is calling the plays, this is still Nick Sirianni’s offense. It’s tough to divorce the two to divvy up that blame.

During his weekly appearance on 94WIP, Sirianni was asked about the play-calling dynamic and how often he actually calls the plays. He gave some interesting insight.

“Brian’s doing a big, big chunk of it because I’m obviously managing the game,” Sirianni said to 94WIP. “When you’re starting to think about going for it on 4th down, there’s got to be a lot of communication that goes on. And so that communication doesn’t start on third down. That communication starts at the beginning of the new 1st-and-10. ‘Hey if we get this on third down, whatever, let’s think about that.’ And that communication also goes from me to Brian, talking to him about what I’m thinking there. …

“Obviously, we talk on the sideline in between series and what you’re doing there. And you can kind of go into a series and say ‘This is what we’re thinking.’ And obviously we’re talking through that just like we’re talking through everything when we game plan and all those different things.”

Sirianni also mentioned that he has to be in constant communication with special teams coordinator Michael Clay during these situations too. He has to coordinate with Clay to make sure either the punt or field goal units are ready to take the field if that ends up being the decision.

But one comment from Sirianni about the dynamic between him and Johnson really stood out:

“But what’s really hard, I think, and I’ve seen this plenty of times in this league is if Brian would call a play and I go, ‘Nooo!!’ I try not to do that to him,” Sirianni said. “I’m not going to do that because that really puts the play-caller and the offense in a bind.

“So, again, all my talks with Brian, we talk about everything on the sideline. Myself, Brian, Kevin Patullo, Coach (Jeff Stoutland), Jason Michael, the players. We’re in discussions between and sometimes that’s even hard for me because I’m managing the game on the defensive side of the field.”

The Eagles had one of the top offenses in the NFL last season. And while they’re still top 10 in 2023, they clearly haven’t lived up to expectations. The Eagles returned 9 of 11 starters on offense and haven’t been nearly as good this season.

The biggest problem with that letdown is that the margin for error is so slim these days. The Eagles’ defense has taken a major tumble, so the team is relying on the offense to be elite and it hasn’t been for much of the season.

On one hand, the offensive coordinator role in Philly is an attractive position. Because there are so many teams in the NFL with an offensive head coach who calls plays. Sirianni gave up play-calling halfway through his first season as head coach in 2021 and likes the dynamic on game day with the OC calling plays. That’s the part that makes it a coveted position.

But the downside is that the OC is somewhat handcuffed by an offensive scheme that isn’t his own and a head coach who might have a differing philosophy. He is calling plays for Sirianni’s offense and with Sirianni’s oversight, to which we’ll never know the full extent.

“And so I just believe that we’re doing all our work and communication in the week,” Sirianni said. “You put a ton of the work in now and then adjust to the things that happen in the game. That’s why we’re busting our butts now so we have a lot of those conversations. Can you possibly put yourself in every single conversation, every single play possibility? No. But we try to do as much as we possibly can.”

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