Eagles – Cowboys: Thanksgiving Day Notes

The Eagles need a win against Dallas.  BUT, it doesn’t HAVE to be today.  What today’s game is really about is whether the Eagles are good enough to make a real run at a bye.  I’m confident they’ll take the division.  To do so, the Eagles just need to win one against Dallas, beat WAS and NYG and have the Cowboys drop a game (they play the Bears and Colts, both very lose-able games).  However, keeping up with the Packers is a taller order, and probably requires the team to go 2-1 over the next three (and win the final two).

Now, to the matchup-

- Dez Bryant scares me.  He’s really good, and Tony Romo is really good as well.  The only QB/WR combo the Eagles have played with as good a combination are the Packers (Rodgers/Nelson).  That didn’t go so well.

But,

In Dallas’ three losses this year, Bryant has recorded a TOTAL of 100 yards receiving.  He can absolutely be contained.  The key is to avoid situations where he gets one-on-one deep.  Normal 50/50 balls turn into 60/40 or 70/30 balls when Dez is involved.  He’s probably not going to beat you deep, but he doesn’t have to.  If the Eagles can jam him at the line and get reasonably responsible Safety play over top, they an hold Dez to a less-than-catastrophic game.

- Dallas’ O-Line is overhyped.  The run-blocking has been great (#1 according to Football Outsiders), but the pass-blocking has not (20th by FO, with an adjusted sack rate of 6.9%).  That’s the key to the game, and something people are overlooking.  The Eagles can absolutely get pressure on Romo, and whether they DO or not will go a long way to determining the outcome.

- Against the run, the Eagles LBs are going to have to play really well.  I’m mostly looking at Barwin and Kendricks here, because its foolish to rely on the other guys.  Also from Football Outsiders, Dallas is #1 in Second-Level blocking.  If the LBs can’t get off their blocks or work around the Dallas O-Linemen when they get downfield, Murray is going to gash this defense.

- Turnovers.  Stating the obvious here, but they’re key.  Mark Sanchez will likely turn the ball over at least once, and I’m betting on twice.  That’s not the important part.  The important part is getting them back on the other side.  Demarco Murray has 5 fumbles this year, and the Cowboys overall have 19 turnovers on offense.  That’s almost 2 per game, and that’s what I think the Eagles need to get to win this game.

- As has been the case in nearly every game this year, the Eagles have a big advantage on Special Teams.  That’s they’re leverage point, and without it I don’t see much of an edge.  Practically speaking, if the Eagles don’t get a couple of big returns or pin the Cowboys back with good coverage consistently, it’s going to be hard for the Eagles offense to keep up.

The Cowboys defense isn’t good (25th by DVOA), but the Eagles’ inconsistency worries me.  A couple of short fields would be a big help, even if it just results in Parkey FGs.

That’s all for today.  Odds breakdown is below, and as you’ll see, I don’t see a strong edge either way.  The opponents in common breakdown strongly favors the Eagles, but their 3 point underdogs, meaning Vegas sees them as roughly 42% to win.  I think the line is off (I’d have it at pick-em or Dallas by 1 point), but the takeaway is the same: this is a very close matchup.  In that case, natural variance will likely decide the winner.  Hopefully you’re feeling lucky.

—————–

My picks record to date:

Line: 5 – 6

O/U: 6 – 5

Reader record:

Line: 6 – 5

O/U: 9 – 2

This week’s lines:

Eagles +3 (+105)

Cowboys -3 (-125)

Over 56 (-110)

Under 56 (-110)

Reviewing last week:

The Eagles took care of business, as did we.  2-0 for the third time in three weeks, putting me in position to make a run at >55%. for the year.  Not much to take away from the game itself, the Eagles are a much better team and the result reflects that.

This week’s game:

This is a big game, no way around it.  BUT, I want to remind everyone that the Eagles don’t “need” this win by any stretch of the imagination.  Looking at the rest of the schedule, as long as the Eagles win against Washington and the Giants to close out the season, going 1-2 over the DAL-SEA-DAL set gets the team to 11-5.  Here’s the key: as long as that win comes against Dallas, the Eagles are in really good shape to win the division.  The Cowboys still have games against Chicago and Indianapolis, and I don’t think they’ll win both.  By virtue of the Cowboys’ loss to Washington, the above results would give the Eagles a tiebreaker over Dallas for the division (better division record).

So…a win tomorrow takes a lot of pressure off the team and keeps them in the race for a bye, but a loss really isn’t THAT damaging.  It would just mean the Eagles need to win at home against Dallas in two weeks.

Now for the breakdown:

DVOA:

Eagles Overall DVOA: 12.4% (8th)

Cowboys Overall: 8.5% (10th)

Eagles Offense: -2.2% (16th)

Cowboys Defense: 6.1% (25th)

Eagles Defense: -5.3% (8th)

Cowboys Offense: 14.5% (5th)

The Eagles STs reclaimed the #1 ranking, with a DVOA of 9.4%.  The Cowboys STs rank 13th at 0.1%.

As you can see, the DVOA suggests a really close game.  The Eagles offense has struggled to find consistency, but the Cowboys defense is in the bottom third of the league.  On the other side, the Cowboys offense looks really good, but the Eagles defense is playing well also (notwithstanding the Packers game).  As has been the case several time this year, it really could come down to special teams, where the Eagles have a large advantage.

In general, though, the numbers point to a tossup, which squares with the spread (2-3 points for home field).

Opponents in Common

Here’s where things look interesting for Eagles fans.  These teams have EIGHT opponents in common.  Being in the same division will do that for you.  Anyway, here are the results:

Jacksonville – Eagles won at home by 17.  Cowboys won on the road by 14. (Tie)

Washington – Eagles won at home by 3.  Cowboys lost at home by 3. (Advantage Eagles)

49ers – Eagles lost on the road by 5.  Cowboys lost at home by 11. (Eagles)

Rams – Eagles won at home by 6.  Cowboys won on the road by 3. (Tie)

Giants – Eagles won at home by 27.  Cowboys won at home by 10.  (Eagles).  The Cowboys also beat the Giants on the road by 3.

Arizona – Eagles lost on the road by 4.  Cowboys lost at home by 11. (Eagles).

Houston – Eagles won on the road by 10.  Cowboys won at home by 3 in OT.  (Eagles).

Titans – Eagles won at home by 19.  Cowboys won on the road by 16. (Tie).

Now you see why I thought they were interesting for Eagles fans.  Of the 8 comps, the Eagles clearly performed better in 5 of them, with the other 3 a coming out as ties (with each exactly accounting for a 3 point home field advantage).

Basically, this says to me that the Eagles, in a vacuum, are probably a slightly better team than the Cowboys.  Of course, that doesn’t mean a head-to-head matchup would play out that way.

Score Projection

The Cowboys defense ranks 25th by DVOA, just behind Washington and just ahead of Carolina.  Against those teams, the Eagles scored 37 and 45 points, both at home.  The only other worse defenses the Eagles have played are the Giants and Titans, against whom the Eagles scored 27 and 43.  That’s a pretty bullish signal for the Eagles offense.

Meanwhile, the Eagles offense ranks 16th, slightly better than San Francisco and Houston.  Against those teams, Dallas allowed 28 and 17 points, both at home.

Those are tough results to reconcile.  On the season, the Eagles are averaging 31.1 ppg, while Dallas is allowing 21.8 ppg.  Facing a poor defense, it seems unfair to expect the Eagles to perform below average, but you could say the same thing from the other perspective.  Overall, I think an expectation between those averages is reasonable, but the results point strongly to the high end of the range.  With that, I’m setting the Eagles projection at 28-30 points.

The Cowboys offense ranks 5th by DVOA, a few spots below GB but with a large value gap (10% DVOA).  Unfortunately, the next highest ranking offense that the Eagles have faced is Indianapolis, now ranked 13th with a DVOA of 3.1%.  Against them, on the road, the Eagles allowed 27 points.  Against GB, the Eagles allowed 53.  For obvious reasons, I think the Colts is a better comp, but neither of them is a really strong match.

From the other side, the Eagles defense ranks 8th, just behind Seattle and a few spots ahead of Jacksonville.  Against those teams, the Cowboys scored 30 and 31 points, both on the road.  Knock those up a couple of points for home/road and combined it with the Indy comp and we’re left with a range of 29-31 points.

On the season, the Cowboys are averaging 26.5 ppg, so a range starting at 29 against a good defense seems generous.  The Eagles are allowing an average of 25 ppg, but have only played one offense better than Dallas, against whom they were destroyed.  Factor in home field and I don’t see any good reason to adjust the range.  I’m setting Dallas at 29-31.

That gives us a score projection of Dallas 29-31, Eagles 28-30.  In other words, a razor thin margin, and well within our relatively wide margin of error.  We also haven’t adjusted for the STs advantage, which I think is worth 1-2 points.  That puts us dead on a 50/50 game. In that case, take the points.

I’m terrified of Dez Bryant against the Eagles’ secondary, and Tony Romo is a much better QB than most Philly fans like to admit.  HOWEVER, the Dallas O-Line hype-train is a little out of control right now.  The run-blocking has been great, but that plays into the Eagles strength (relatively).  The pass-blocking, on the other hand, has not been good.  Romo is taking sacks at a rate of 6.3%.  Demarco Murray has 7 TDs…but 5 fumbles.

I’d feel a lot better if Nick Foles was the QB, since I think 2 interceptions is inevitable for Sanchez, but the Cowboys could very easily give those TOs right back.  In all, buckle your seat belts, because this should be a wild game.

The O/U is 56 at Bovada, but you can get it at 55.5 other places.  Regardless, my projection points to a range of 58-62, depending on how you factor the Eagles STs.  That means take the over, which the Eagles have now hit in 8 of 11 games this season.

 

 

 

Eagles – Titans Pregame Notes

Last week sucked, but the Eagles couldn’t have asked for a better game with which to get back on track.  The Titans are 2-8, and have lost 8 of their last 9 games.  Their only win came by two points, at home, against Jacksonville.  As you’ll see below, the spread reflects this as the Eagles are 11 point favorites.  Here are a few notes:

- The defense was embarrassed last week, but now they play an offense averaging just 16.8 points per game.  In fact, the Titans have scored 17 or fewer points in 7 of their 10 games this season.  Basically, the defense has absolutely no excuse for not shutting this team down.  Bishop Sankey isn’t exactly a world-beater at RB, and the Titans don’t have anything close to the deep passing game of the Packers.  Nate Washington could certainly beat Bradley Fletcher in a footrace, but he still needs Zach Mettenberger to get him the ball.

In all, if the defense plays well, we should see a huge blowout.

- The Titans defense isn’t quite as bad as their offense, but it’s still not a unit the Eagles should struggle too much with.  I’m not a big Mark Sanchez fan, but he’s certainly capable of putting scoring drives together with regularity against a mediocre defense.

- Tennessee ranks first in the league with a Fumble Recovery % of 66.67%.  That’s pretty high.  The team overall has recovered 11 fumbles while losing just 4.  That doesn’t really effect today’s game, but it suggests the Titans’ “true” level as a team might be even worse then their record.

- The Titans are allowing 4.4 yards per carry to opposing teams and are 2nd to last in the league in rush yards allowed per game (143.5).  Shady hasn’t looked 100% this year, but today is a chance for him to have a strong performance.  Leveon Bell ran for 204 yards and a TD last week against TEN, and Justin Forsett rushed for 112 and 2 TDs the week before.

That’s all for now.  I could keep throwing out stats, but the message isn’t changing.  There are no excuses for not coming away from today’s game with a comfortable win.  The Eagles are playing at home, against a 2-8 team coming off a short week (they played Monday night).  With the Eagles playing on Thanksgiving, it’s even more important for the team to take care of business early.  Although Chip Kelly has shown a puzzling tendency to leave starters in the game too long, pulling Shady/Maclin/Sproles/Cox/etc… early might go a long way to keeping them in good condition for Thursday.

Full odds breakdown from BGN is below, but the summary is I see some recency bias in the line here and think the Eagles win by close to 2 TDs.  I’m taking the over because its the Eagles (they’ve hit the over 7 out of 10 this season, despite very high lines).

My picks record to date:

Line: 4 – 6

O/U: 5 – 5

Reader record:

Line: 5 – 5

O/U: 8 – 2

This week’s lines:

Eagles -11 (-110)

Packers +11 (-110)

Over 49 (-105)

Under 49 (-115)

Reviewing last week:

Well that sucked.  I didn’t think the Eagles would win, but certainly expected it to be a close game.  That’s what happens when you get outplayed AND have nearly every bounce go against you.  Took an 0-2 here, and the 55 point O/U that seemed really high ahead of time was nearly covered by just GB.

This week’s game:

This is a really interesting line.  11 points is big, especially when it favors a team that just lost by 33 points.  Meanwhile, the Titans are just 2-8.  After an opening week win against Kansas City, Tennessee has lost 8 of its last 9 games.  It’s only win was at home against Jacksonville, by just 2 points.   Last week, the Titans nearly beat the Steelers (lost by 3), but that’s about it for positives.

Needless to say, the Eagles will almost certainly win this game.  The question, of course, is by how much.

DVOA Breakdown:

Eagles Overall DVOA: 9.6% (8th)

Titans Overall: -16% (27th)

Eagles Offense: -3.4% (18th)

Titans Defense: 9% (29th)

Eagles Defense: -5.6% (8th)

Titans Offense: -6.0% (20th)

On Special Teams, the big news is that the Eagles have fallen out of the top ranking for the first time since week 2.  They now trail Baltimore, but Tennessee ranks just 19th.

Opponents in Common:

Washington – Eagles won by 3 points at home.  Titans lost by 2 points on the road.

Jacksonville – Eagles won by 17 at home.  Titans won by 2 at home.

Houston – Eagles won by 10 on the road.  Titans lost by 14 at home.

Indianapolis – Eagles won by 3 on the road.  Titans lost by 24 on the road.

Every result is in the Eagles’ favor, and to a significant degree.  Now, we already knew the Eagles would be the the pick to win, but these results point to a lot of potential for a blowout.

Score Projection:

The Titans are bad on defense.  The team is allowing an average of 25 points per game and ranks 29th by DVOA.  The Eagles haven’t played anyone quite as bad on defense, with the Colts coming closest (26th).  Against them, on the road, the Eagles scored 27.

The Eagles offense ranks 18th by DVOA, just better than Houston.  Against the Texans, at home, the Titans allowed 30.

Those results point towards a 30-33 point game for the Eagles.  Given that the team is averaging 29.9 on the season, that seems reasonable. For a projection, I’m setting the Eagles line at 31.5 points.

The Titans, on the other hand, are averaging just 16.8 ppg.  By DVOA, they rank 20th, right above Washington, and just below Houston.  Agains those teams, the Eagles allowed 34 and 21 points.

Among Titans’ opponents, the Eagles rank most similarly to Baltimore, coming in just be behind them.  Against them (on the road) the Titans scored just 7 points.

Now we see the tricky part.  Pegging the Eagles defense is tough, especially after the team gave up 55 (Yes, I know that wasn’t all the defense).  If we think the Eagles will score 31-32 points, that means we need to project the Titans to score 20 or less, so let’s see how likely that is.

The team is allowing an average of 25.1 ppg this season.  They’ve allowed 20 or less just twice, against Jacksonville and New York.    They’ve also allowed 21 points twice, to Houston and Carolina.  So expecting them to hold the Titans below to 20 or less doesn’t seem like a high probability bet, BUT, we have to look at the other side of the equation.

The Titans have scored 20 or less SEVEN TIMES.  In 10 games.  Overall, the team averages just 16.8 points per game.   If we just peg the Titans at their average, we get a spread of 13-14 points.

So why is the spread just 11?  Everything above points to a 2 TD game.

My answer:  I think there’s a strong recency bias here.

The Eagles are coming off of a terrible game, and the Titans have just played their most impressive game since week one.  Add in the fact that Tennessee is coming off a short week (played Monday Night) and playing on the road, and it looks like we might be seeing a dislocation here.

I’m taking the Eagles, and I think the Titans score just 15-17 points. 

Adding my projections together, I get 46-48.5 points.  The over/under is set at 49, so that says take the Under.  However, that goes against my general rule for this year (bet the over unless there’s a VERY strong signal.)  The Eagles have hit the over in 7 of 10 games this year, and I’m confident in Billy Davis and the defense allowing 1-2 late garbage TDs.

So Over is the pick.

Eagles – Packers: Pre-game notes

Odds breakdown is below.  Shot version: 80% of the public is betting the Packers, the line is up to 6 on Bovada.  I think that’s too high, and there’s potentially a huge recency bias here.  The Packers look great (though the Eagles played very well against the Panthers), but their best win was against the Dolphins.  Meanwhile, they’ve lost games against the Lions, Seahawks, and Saints.  Note that all of those games were on the road, but they also lost them by large margins (details below).  Overall, Rodgers/Nelson against this secondary scares me, but their far from a “great” team, at least thus far.

More notes:

- The key to beating Aaron Rodgers is pressure.  That sounds like a really obvious statement, and it is.  However, Rodgers is the best QB EVER at avoiding interceptions.  He’s got an INT rate of just 1.1% this year, and a career rate of just 1.7%.  That’s amazing, as are most of his stats.  However, when it comes to sacks, Rodgers is much more ordinary.  He’s taking them this season at a rate of 6.7%, and his career rate is 7.2%.

He uses his legs and athleticism to keep plays alive, but he’s also prone to holding the ball to long and taking sacks.  Even more enticing is his propensity to fumble.  He’s done so 4 times this year, and 46 times in his career.

The Packers are going to score today, but the Eagles can mitigate the damage if they can grab a Rodgers fumble, or get a couple of timely sacks to force short drives.

- Mark Sanchez will be a point of focus for everyone, but I’ve got a slightly different take.  Whereas last week (and pretty much every game for the past month) I said the key was avoiding turnovers against an inferior team, this week we have a different situation.  The Eagles will likely need to score 3-4 offensive TDs to win this game.  That means taking a few chances.  So…the key for Sanchez is NOT avoiding INTs (though that would be awesome).  The key is the ratio of big plays to INTs.  I’ll gladly accept an interception if it means he’s hit on a few high-reward balls downfield.

This just doesn’t seem like the type of game you can win by kicking a bunch of FGs.

- Speaking of FGs, Cody Parkey has been amazing.  He’s 16 of 17 overall, and has hit all 3 FGs from 50+ yards.  Just as important, he’s kicking touchbacks at a rate of 62.50%.  For comparison, last year the Eagles (Alex Henery) had a rate of just 40%.

I bring this up because today will be the toughest conditions Parkey has faced.  It probably won’t crack 30 degrees today, and there’s a 20% chance of precipitation (i.e. snow).  That definitely takes some distance off of his kicks, the question is how much.  What we see today will go a long way towards informing what we can expect from him in the playoffs, especially if the Eagles get a home game(s).

- Mychael Kendricks and Fletcher Cox look really good.  Today they’ll be challenged more than they have been in a long time.  I’m optimistic, but there’s certainly a risk that these guys, and the defense as a whole, have benefited from playing a lot of very weak offenses.  While it’s a great evaluation of everyone on defense, I’ve made it clear that these are the most important players.  As long as they’re playing well, the Eagles long-term future looks good.

More below, but today’s game is a pretty good one from a fan’s perspective.  The Eagles are 6 point underdogs, which means they’ve only got about a 35% chance of winning.  The Packers are covered in hype and the Eagles are starting Mark Sanchez on the road.  In other words, this is a “mostly upside” game.  A win is huge, and a loss isn’t (Wild Card odds would take a big hit, but division still looks very good).  Additionally, I think the public has pushed this line too far.  Expect a close game, hopefully this time the Eagles come away with the win.

My picks record to date:

Line: 4 – 5

O/U: 5 – 4

Reader record:

Line: 5 – 4

O/U: 7 – 2

This week’s lines:

Eagles +6 (-105)

Packers -6 (-115)

Over 55 (-110)

Under 55 (-110)

Note:  This line opened at Packers -4.5.  1.5 points is a big shift, especially with the Eagles coming off a really impressive win.  It looks like the Packers hype-train is just about full, which means we should look very closely for signs the team might be overrated.

Reviewing last week:

That’s more like it. 4-0 over the last two weeks, though my projection for this game wasn’t nearly as close as last week’s.  Of course, it was pretty clear going into the game that the Eagles were a much better team, the only question was how large the win would be.  Sanchez played a much better game than I expected, and the Eagles ST scored another TD.  All in all a great win.  As a reminder, winning by very large margins over bad teams is a really good indicator of team quality.  With big wins over the JaguarsGiants, and Panthers, the Eagles are looking really good on that front.

This week’s game:

Well…it had to happen sometime.  The Eagles defense gets its toughest test, by far, since week 2 against the Colts.  Aaron Rodgers is arguably the best QB in the league (and on his way to one of the greatest careers ever, as I’ve discussed before), and the Eagles are still starting Nate Allen on defense.  Before we get to the DVOA numbers and breakdowns, let’s take a quick look at what the Packers have done so far.

The Packers are 6-3 on the year, averaging 30.8 ppg and allowing 22.8 ppg.  The team’s wins have come against the JetsBearsVikingsDolphins, Panthers, and Bears (again).  On the other hand, the Packers have lost games against the SeahawksLions, and Saints.

The only win that looks somewhat impressive is against Miami (6-4), a road game the Packers won by a field goal.  When we take a look at the losses, though, things look even better for the Eagles.  Although all three losses were on the road, the margins of 20, 12, and 21 points should dispel any notion that the Packers are a great team.

As everyone here knows, the Eagles largest lost was just 5 points, on the road against the 49ers.

The DVOA Breakdown

Eagles Overall: 19.9% (5th)

Packers Overall: 21.3% (3rd)

Eagles Offense: -1.2% (17th)

Packers Defense: -0.7% (11th)

Packers Offense: 20.6% (2nd)

Eagles Defense: -10.6% (6th)

On STs, the Eagles, obviously, are in first overall.  The Packers have a STs DVOA of 0, placing them 15th in the league.

As I mentioned, this will likely be the best offense the Eagles face all year.  Much will depend upon the defense’s ability to prevent big plays.

Comparable Games

The only opponent in common is the Panthers.  The Eagles beat them last week, at home, by a score of 45-21.  The Packers also beat the Panthers at home, by a score of 38-17.

Those results are really close, so while that doesn’t help us in picking a winner overall, it does suggest these two teams are similarly skilled, which certainly calls into question the size of the spread.

Score Projection

The Eagles have not played an offense as good as the Packers.  Green Bay ranks second in the league, just behind Denver.  The closest the Eagles have seen was in week 2 against the Colts.  In that game, the Eagles allowed 27 points.  On the season, the Eagles are allowing an average of 22 ppg.  Obviously, we should expect the Packers to exceed that by a fair amount.

Among Packers opponents, the Eagles defense ranks most similarly to Seattle (just better) and a bit worse than Miami.  Against those teams, the Packers scored 16 and 27 points.  Both of those games were on the road.  Combining it all, I’m setting the Packers scoring expectation at 27-30 points. That Seattle data point is a tough one to incorporate, but given the agreement among the others, I’m assigning it very little weight.  The Packers are averaging 30.8 points per game, but have played a number of good defenses.  Therefore, expecting them to score just below their average seems reasonable.

The Packers defense ranks most similarly (a little bit better) to Jacksonville and Houston. Against those teams, the Eagles scored 34 and 31 points, though Jacksonville was a home game.

On the flip side, among Packers opponents, the Eagles offense ranks most similarly to Chicago (a little worse) and Miami (just better than Chicago).  Against the Bears, the Packers allowed just 17 (road) and 14 (home) points.  Against the Dolphins, the Packers allowed 24 points (road).  That’s bad for the Eagles.  In fact, the Packers have played 4 games at home this season and in those games have only allowed 20+ points once (Jets scored 24).  However, the Eagles haven’t scored less than 20 points all season.

Putting it all together, that puts us in the 21-25 point range.  However, we haven’t accounted for STs.  While normally not a big factor, the Eagles unit has been so good, especially in the return game, that its foolish not to adjust.  Given that the Packers are mediocre in Punting DVOA and relatively bad in Kicking DVOA, I’m bumping the Eagles offense a full 2 points.  That moves us to 23-27 points for the Eagles.

If we combine our projections, we get a range of Pick’em to Packers +7.  With the line at Packers -6, it’s pretty clear we should take the Eagles with the points.

On the over/under side, or combined projections give us a range of 50 – 57 points.  The line is 55.  Three of my four losses on the over/under this season came from taking the under.  In fact, I made a point of saying if it’s anywhere close we should take the over.  However, 55 points is a really high line, and our range says there’s more value in the under. So that’s the play.

Wrapping up, this looks like a tough game for the Eagles, but 6 points is too large a line.  The Packers aren’t as good as they seemed against the Bears, and might not have beaten a good team yet (depending on your evaluation of Miami).  Given the movement in the line towards the Packers, I think there’s a really good chance the team is being overrated at the moment.  Look for a close game, in which case a single play might determine the final outcome.

Eagles vs. Panthers: Pre-game Notes

Running way behind schedule (only 45 minutes to game time), so I’ll keep this brief.  Odds breakdown is below, but short version is: the line looks dead-on.  That makes betting difficult, but it means the Eagles really should win this game.

- This is basic stuff by now, but as a big favorite, the Eagles should look for a low-variance strategy.  That means relatively conservative play-calling, a special focus on turnover avoidance, and backing off the blitzes a bit.  All of that is relative, of course, 4th and 1 is still a go for it situation in most situations.

- The turnover avoidance point from above is the one that worries me.  The Panthers are averaging less than 20 points per game.  If they score more than that, it will likely be because the Eagles gave them great field position (or points) with turnovers.  Unfortunately, Mark Sanchez is extremely turnover-prone.  It’s certainly possible (perhaps probable), that Chip Kelly’s system will help Sanchez with easier reads/throws.  However, we can’t ignore Sanchez’s history (3.8% int rate, and 43 fumbles in 63 games).

This is a game that calls for pure “caretaker” play from the QB, and I’m not that confident in Sanchez’s ability to play that role.

- Evan Mathis is back, which means the Eagles are as close to being 100% healthy on the O-Line as they have been all year.  Herremans, of course, is gone, but I’m not sure there’s much of a drop-off in play from him to Tobin.  The upshot, of course, is that we can finally see if the Eagles rushing problems (and play-calling change from last year) were due to the line play, an actual Shady injury, or something else.  With Sanchez in the game, we should get plenty of opportunities to watch and evaluate the run game.  Kelce looked rusty last week, particularly with his snaps, but he also looked to have all of his athleticism back.

With the Kelce/Mathis combo back, look for a lot more action in the screen game.  There’s just no way to replicate the ability of those guys to get downfield quickly enough to stay in front of the RB at close to full speed.

- Also keep an eye out for Zack Ertz.  This is completely speculative, but my guess is that Celek’s blocking was particularly valuable while the OL was banged up.  With those guys healthy again, Chip might be more willing to trade Celek’s blocking ability for Ertz’s offensive ability.

- Mychael Kendricks’ looked great last week.  For the long-term, he’s the most important player to watch tonight.  If he can consistently play as well as he did against the Texans, the Eagles have found themselves a major defensive piece for the foreseeable future.  Combined with Cox, that would form a really strong foundation on the defensive side of the ball.  Let’s see if he covers Greg Olsen at all tonight.  Olsen’s not great, but he’s a major part of the Panthers’ passing attack (along with Kelvin Benjamin).  It’ll be a good test  for whoever ends up covering him, but I’m most curious to see if Kendricks’ coverage skills have evolved.

On the other hand, the Panthers’ rush dominant offense should give him plenty of opportunities to make plays.  Last season he was over-aggressive at times, leading to some missed tackles and poor angles.  Cleaning that up is perhaps his biggest “to do” if he’s to fulfill his potential.

That’s all for now, see the breakdown below for more.

———-

From BGN:

My picks record to date:

Line: 3 – 5

O/U: 4 – 4

Reader record:

Line: 4 – 4

O/U: 6 – 2

This week’s lines:

Eagles -7 (-105)

Panthers +7 (-115)

Over 48 (-110)

Under 48 (-110)

Reviewing last week:

Nailed the score range for the second week in a row (I also pegged the Eagles for 27 points the game before that).  I had the Eagles at 30-32 points and the Texans at 20-23. Final score was 31-21.  Fortunately this time the line was off by enough to give us an easy win. Let’s see if we can put a streak together here.

This week’s game:

This is a BIG line.  Especially given that the Eagles are starting a backup QB and just lost their starting MLB and defensive play-caller.  So what gives?

The Panthers are 3-5-1, and have a point differential of -59 points.  That’s bad (it ranks 26th in the league).  Since starting the season 2-0, and picking up a lot of hype in the process, Carolina has managed just 1 win, against the Bears at home.  Some attention has to be paid to the fact that the Panthers have had a very tough schedule.  Here are their losses:

Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Green Bay, Seattle, New Orleans

Those teams are a combined 25-17.    Of course, Carolina has lost those games by margins of 18, 28, 21, 4, and 18.  Basically, they’ve shown no indication they belong among the top half of the league.

Let’s see what DVOA has to say.

Eagles Overall DVOA: 14% (6th)

Panthers Overall DVOA: -11.8% (26th)

Eagles Offense DVOA: -2.6% (18th)

Panthers Defense DVOA: 6.4% (24th)

Eagles Defense DVOA: -7.1% (8th)

Panthers Offense DVOA: -5.0% (20th)

The Eagles are still 1st in STs DVOA, the Panthers rank 18th.

As is clear from the numbers above, the Eagles are the MUCH better team by DVOA.  I’m not that excited to see Mark Sanchez start, but since he has to, this is a pretty good time to do it.  Opponent QBs have a rating of 97.4 against the Panthers this season.

Opponents in common- Unfortunately, the Eagles have not played any of the same teams as the Panthers. That means we’re missing a valuable piece of information regarding relative strength.

Score Projection -

Out of the teams the Eagles have played, the Panthers defense ranks a little below Washington and the Giants, and a little above St. Louis.  Against those teams, the Eagles scored 37, 27, and 34 points.  That puts us around 32 points.  The Eagles are averaging 29.1 ppg thus far, so scoring a FG more than that against a bad defense isn’t exactly a stretch.  Mark Sanchez worries me a bit, and not necessarily because I don’t think he can play well.  Regardless of your feelings about him, there’s no question he presents a major risk factor.  So 32 points seems reasonable, but with a backup QB, it’s really hard to have a lot of confidence in the projection.

Of the Panthers’ opponents, the Eagles rank a bit below the Bengals.  Against them, the Panthers allowed 37 points.  In fact, the Panthers have managed to hold their opponents below 24 points just 3 times this year: against the Bucs and Lions in the first two weeks, and against the Seahawks two weeks ago.  Overall, the Panthers are allowing an average of 26.2 ppg.  In other words, the Eagles should be able to score a fair amount.  However, I don’t trust them to put up close to a full TD more than the Panthers are allowing on average (to a lot of really good teams).  Given that, I’m dialing the Eagles expectation back to 28 points.

From the other side, the Panthers offense ranks most similarly to the Giants, against whom the Eagles allowed 0 points.  The next closest opponents by DVOA are Washington (Carolina is a bit worse) and  San Francisco and Arizona (Carolina is a bit better).  Against those teams, the Eagles allowed 34, 26, and 24 points.  That puts us at 27-28 points.  However, the Panthers are averaging just 19.7 points per game overall.  The Eagles have a good defense.  Basically, I think DVOA is overrating the Panthers offense here.

If we view it from the other perspective, the Eagles defense ranks most similarly to Baltimore (a bit better), and is also close to Seattle (a little worse).  Against Baltimore, the panthers scored just 10 points.  Against Seattle, they scored just 9.  Now we have a problem.  Our two estimates are completely different.    On average, the Eagles are allowing 22.1 ppg, so I’m inclined to skew closer to that amount.  All told, I’m setting the Panthers expected output at 20-21 points.

That gives us a final projection of Eagles 28, Panthers 20-21.  The line is 7, so we’re very close.  On balance, the Eagles look like the slightly better pick, but remember what I said about Sanchez.  Him playing puts a lot of additional expected variance in the game.  In other words, be careful with this one.

Even more bad news:  the Over/Under is 48, meaning we’re right on target there as well.

The Eagles are hitting the over pretty consistently, so if I have to pick a side that’s what I’m going with.  Just know there’s not nearly as much opportunity in this game as there was last week.

Eagles – Texans Pregame Notes

I’m feeling pretty good about today’s game.  Obviously, the Eagles have demonstrated they can give games away to worse teams (even if they haven’t actually done so just yet).  Anytime you turn the ball over multiple times, the other team is going to have a very good shot at winning, regardless of quality.  However, consider these (some from the odds breakdown below):

- Opponents in common.  Here are the outcomes:

Giants: Eagles win by 27 (home).  Texans lose by 13 (road).

Washington: Eagles win by 3 (home). Texans win by 11 (home).

Colts: Eagles win by 3 (road). Texans lose by 5 (home).

On balance, the results favor the Eagles by a significant margin.

- For as much grief as Nick Foles has caused this season, his numbers are remarkably similar to Ryan Fitzpatrick’s:

Foles: 59.2% Comp., 4% TD, 3% INT, 6.49 NY/A,  2.3% Sack Rate

Fitzpatrick: 63.4% Comp., 4% TD, 3.1% INT, 6.98 NY/A, 6.6% Sack Rate

That’s not meant to absolve Foles from criticism, but it does raise a pretty important issue for today’s game: Even with Foles playing like crap, the Eagles don’t have a disadvantage at QB.

- From the previous bullet, look at Fitzpatrick’s sack rate.  It’s 6.6%.  The Eagles defense has a sack rate of 6.5%.  In other words, we should see a lot of pressure from the DL today.

- The Texans are averaging just 23.1 points per game this year.  Moreover, they’ve yet to play a defense as good as the Eagles, at least by DVOA.  Arian Foster is having a really good year, and DeAndre Hopkins scares me a bit, but on paper the Eagles should be able to shut down Houston.

- The game will really hinge on the performance of the Eagles offense.  The Texans are allowing just 20.8 points per game this year.  Now, they’ve played a pretty easy schedule as well.  Their best opponents thus far are the Cowboys, Colts, and Steelers.  Against those teams, the Texans are 0-3 and have allowed 20, 33, and 30 points (average of 27.6).  The Eagles offense hasn’t been as good as those teams’ units, but there’s clearly opportunity there.

The Eagles scored 20 points last week on the road in Arizona, against a much better defense.  They SHOULD be able to do much better today.

- Darren Sproles is back.  That’s a big deal, especially today. The Texans have a relatively weak punting unit, so if Sproles is healthy he might be able to give the offense a big advantage via strong field position.  The combination of good field position and a strong kicker means the offense really doesn’t need to do much in order to get points on the board.  Just as big, perhaps, is that Maclin won’t have to return punts.  With #18 back there, a turnover seems to be inevitable, as he’s just not reading the punts very well.

- Jason Kelce is back too.  I think Kelce/Mathis has been a much bigger loss than any of us projected.  I think it’s effected Chip’s play-calling, Shady’s ability to contribute, and consequently Nick Foles’ efficiency.  With Kelce back, we can start to analyze whether that hypothesis is true.  If it is, the upside for this team is immense.  If it’s just wishful thinking, though, we’re in for rough ride as far as Foles evaluation/hand-wringing goes.

That’s enough for now.  The spread says this should be a close game, but I don’t see it.  If the Eagles avoid turnovers (admittedly a big “IF” at this point), I think they win by a TD or more.

My picks record to date:

Line: 2 – 5

O/U: 3 – 4

Reader record:

Line: 3 – 4

O/U: 5 – 2

This week’s lines:

Eagles -2 (+115)

Texans +2 (-105)

Over 49 (-110)

Under 49 (-110)

Reviewing last week:

Last week was a great example of why it’s so difficult to win money by betting on the NFL.  Here’s what I said: “the Eagles at 20 and the Cardinals at 20-24 points”.  The line was 3.  Unfortunately, the Cardinals hit the one value in that range the fell outside the point spread.  Fortunately, we did hit the under.  I’m not 100% sure, but I believe it’s the first time the readers chose the under.  Good timing.

This week’s game:

The Houston Texans are 4-4, but there is a pretty big split in quality between the teams they’ve beaten and the ones they’ve lost to.

Wins: Washington, RaidersTitansBills

Losses: GiantsCowboysColts, and Steelers.

Which group of teams do the Eagles fit better with?

The Numbers:

Eagles Overall DVOA: 12.4% (6th)

Texans Overall DVOA: -4.8% (22nd)

Eagles Offense DVOA: -3.7% (23rd)

Texans Defense DVOA: -2.5% (13th)

Eagles Defense DVOA: -6% (8th)

Texans Offense DVOA: -2.5% (19th)

With Darren Sproles back, the Eagles appear to have a very large advantage on STs.  The Eagles still rank 1st, while the Texans are 27th.  The punt return game for the Eagles looks especially promising.

Clearly, the Eagles are the better team by DVOA.  It’s not even close.  The Texans defense is decent, but nowhere near as good as the Cardinals, so the offense should LOOK much better on Sunday.

The two teams do have several previous opponents in common.  Here are the outcomes:

Giants: Eagles win by 27 (home).  Texans lose by 13 (road).

Washington: Eagles win by 3 (home). Texans win by 11 (home).

Colts: Eagles win by 3 (road). Texans lose by 5 (home).

On balance, the results favor the Eagles by a significant margin.

Score Projection:

The Texans’ defense ranks most similarly to Washington, with just 1.3% DVOA difference (Houston is better).  The Eagles scored 37 against Washington.  Houston also ranks just a bit worse than both Jacksonville and San Francisco.  The Eagles scored 30 and 21 against them (SF was all STs).  That puts us around 30-32 points. The team is averaging 29 points per game, so that seems reasonable.

Meanwhile, the Eagles’ defense is the best the Texans will have faced (by a big margin).  The closest ranking defense Houston has played is Washington (14th).  Against them, Houston scored just 17 points.  In fact, Houston has scored 30 points just twice this year, against Tennessee and Oakland, the 24th and 25th ranked defenses by DVOA.  The Texans are averaging just 23.1 points per game this year.  As demonstrated, they’ve faced a very weak schedule when it comes to defenses.  I’m setting the Texans expected points at 20-23.

You’ll notice that’s a HUGELY different from the spread (Eagles -2).  Usually when we’re this far from the spread, it means we’ve done something wrong.  I really don’t see what though.  The Texans have a .500 record, but they’ve built that with wins, albeit strong ones, against relatively subpar teams.  You can say the same thing about the Eagles, but the Eagles performance in losses has been much more impressive.

Basically, I’m getting a similar feeling to the Giants game a few weeks back.  I think the Eagles roll, and I’m taking them -2. On our over/under, the real risk is the Texans.  As I said, they’ve yet to play a defense playing as well as the Eagles are right now.  They might struggle just as the Giants did.  But I don’t think that’s likely.  I’m taking the Over 49, but I like the spread bet a lot better.

Eagles – Cardinals Odds Breakdown

As promised, my column from BGN is below. Short version: I’ve got the Eagles +3 and Under 48.  If Sproles plays I like the Eagles a bit more, if he doesn’t I like the under a bit more.  This looks like a close matchup, but I’m still skeptical that the Cardinals are a very good team.  If the Eagles defense plays like it has over the past few games, it will be very tough for Arizona to put up any points (their offense is bad).  Most importantly, of course, is the play of Nick Foles.  In a tight game, TOs are often determinative.  Against a bad offense on the road, I’d be quite happy to see a lot of sacks if it means avoiding an INT (and hopefully a fumble).  Note, though, that Arizona has a sack rate of just 3.0% (low), but an opposing INT rate of 3.6% (high).  That just reinforces the notion that Foles should be extra conservative with his throws today.

Sproles’ potential absence looks like a big factor today.  The Cardinals punt team is close to the bottom of the league according to DVOA.  If he plays, that could easily swing the game in the Eagles favor.

Rumor has it Mychal Kendricks might play.  If so, watch him closely.  If he’s developed like we all hoped he would (he looked good to start the season), it could have a big impact on the Eagles defense, particularly against a player like Andre Ellington who is dangerous catching passes out of the backfield.

See the rest below, but I’m cautiously optimistic that Chip Kelly used his bye week effectively.  Just 1-2 big plays on offense should be enough to win this game.

My picks record to date:

Line: 2 – 4

O/U: 2 – 4

Reader record:

Line: 3 – 3

O/U: 4 – 2

This week’s lines:

Eagles +3 (+125)

Cardinals -3 (-145)

Over 48 (-115)

Under 48 (-105)

Reviewing last week:

The Giants are who we thought they were! I had a strong suspicion that the Giants hype was built largely upon a really easy schedule, and it looks like that was correct.  Unfortunately, I really heavily on the numbers, so I ended up taking a loss on both sides. The Eagles covered against the Giants (by 24 points) but failed to clear the over.  That gives me a loss on both sides.  To be fair, though, I did say I would actually touch the line.  But this column isn’t much fun if I don’t take a side each week, so losses it is.  Readers split the action, winning with the Eagles but losing on the over.

This week’s game:

Another “big” game for the Eagles, because the Cardinals are currently 5-1 and appear as though they could be competition for a top playoff seed.  Similar to last week, I’m skeptical. The Cardinals point differential is just 21 points, which ranks 10th in the league.  That means the teams “expected” record is just 3.6 wins.  Now, we can’t be too dismissive here, because the team took a -20 hit in its game against Denver (in Denver).  By comparison, the Eagles PD is 51, for an “expected” record of 4.1 wins.

Beyond that, the Cardinals are a very tough team to peg on paper.  The team has wins against the Giants, Washington, and the Raiders.  As we know, that doesn’t tell us anything about the Cardinals beyond “they’re not terrible”.  It is interesting to note that they’ve won those games by 11, 10, and 11 points.  Those are strong margins, but if the Cardinals were really a great team, we’d expect to see them blow a few bad teams away.

Of more concern, if you’re an Eagles fan, are the Cardinals’ wins against San Diego and San Francisco.  Both of those came within the first 3 weeks of the season, so they’re informational value is declining, but they still stand as high quality wins, albeit home wins.

The numbers:

Eagles Overall DVOA: 14.5% (6th)

Cardinals Overall DVOA: 0.6% (15th)

Eagles Offense: -2.9% (18th)

Cardinals Defense: -10% (5th)

Eagles Defense: -6.3% (8th)

Cardinals Offense: -11.2% (25th)

The Eagles have a big advantage on STs (as they have against everyone) and rank 1st in the league in STs DVOA.  The Cardinals rank 15th.

The DVOA breakdown is quite positive for the Eagles.  They rank as the better team by a significant margin.  Additionally, the Cardinals offense is the weakest unit of the group.  Given that the Eagles are underdogs, DVOA would lead us to take the points and side with the good guys.

Let’s look at a few comparative match-ups:

The Cardinals and Eagles, despite only having played 6 games each, actually share 3 common previous opponents.  Each team has played the Giants, Washington, and San Francisco.  The results:

Against the Giants:

Arizona won in New York by 11 points.

The Eagles won at home by 27.

Against Washington:

Arizona won at home by 10.

The Eagles won at home by 3.

Against the 49ers:

Arizona won at home by 9.

The Eagles lost on the road by 5.

That’s an advantage for the Cardinals.  Against the same competition, the Cardinals have performed a bit better on balance.  However, the difference isn’t stark enough to provide a really strong signal towards the Cardinals.

The projection:

Using our DVOA comps:

The Cardinals offense does not rank similarly to any other Eagles opponent thus far.  Arizona is much worse than both Washington and New York, but is a lot better than Jacksonville.  Of course, against those teams the Eagles allowed 34, 0, and 17 points.  That’s very low value information given the dispersion.

From the flip side, the Eagles defense is a bit better than San Francisco, against which the Cardinals scored 23 points.  If we write off the Giants game as an anomaly, that result fits well with the results from the previous paragraph.  Overall, it gives us an expected point range for the Cardinals of 20-24 points. For the season, Arizona is averaging 23.3 points per game, so our range looks very reasonable.

The Cardinals defense is very good.  It’s better by DVOA than any team the Eagles have faced this year.  The closest comparison is with Indianapolis and, to a lesser extent, San Francisco.  Against Indy (in Indy), the Eagles scored 30 points.  Against San Francisco, the Eagles scored 21 points, with ZERO coming from the offense.  As I explained two weeks ago, it is NOT correct to just write that off.  However, it is a warning sign we need to account for.

On the other side, the Cardinals have allowed 14, 14, and 20 points against the Giants, 49ers, and Washington.  Each of those teams ranks almost identically with the Eagles by offensive DVOA.  If we use all of those results, we come to an average of about 20 points and a range of 14 – 24 points (skewed to the low end because of the 49ers game).  Let’s take the midpoint of 18 rather than 20.

BUT, we still haven’t accounted (at least fully) for the fact that A) the Eagles are coming off a bye week and B) the Eagles have a very significant STs advantage.  Qualitatively, people tend to place a lot more weight on the bye week advantage than is probably warranted, but it can’t be ignored.  Last season, the Eagles also played the Cardinals just after the bye week, beating them 24-21.  But the spread was 3.5…  As I said, the bye week is an advantage, but not a huge one.  I’ll give it 1 point, moving the Eagles to 19.

Now, STs must be accounted for, but as everyone knows, Darren Sproles probably deserves a lot of credit for the Eagles great return game.  He’s currently listed as questionable, but I’m operating under the assumption that he won’t play.  That’s a shame, because the Cardinals’ punt team is particularly weak, at least according to Football Outsiders.  There are just 5 teams that have worse punting units, whereas the Eagles have the second best return unit.  Even without Sproles, that’s a potential source of variance in the Eagles favor.  However, as good as Cody Parkey has been, Arizona has a sizeable advantage on the Kick/FG side. That seems really strange, and I’m still figuring out how that’s possible, but I can’t ignore the numbers.  That’s a long way of saying STs is largely a wash.  If Darren Sproles were definitely playing, I’d be inclined to add 2-3 points for the Eagles.  With him potentially missing the game, I’ll dial it back to 1.

That moves us to an expected point output of 20 for the Eagles. That’s REALLY low, especially considering the team is averaging 30.5 points per game.  Fortunately, the spread is 3, which means the Eagles at 20 and the Cardinals at 20-24 points largely points towards taking the points.  The big margin of safety from the Eagles difference from average just increases the confidence a bit more.  Take the Eagles +3.

Lastly, with two good defenses and no Darren Sproles, it looks like under 48 is the play. That goes against our general rule (always take the Eagles over), but the breakdown points strongly in that direction.  Nick Foles, as he’s playing now, and Carson Palmer do not seem likely to combine for a shootout.  If Sproles really is out, I think the under is actually a really attractive play.

Eagles Bye Week Review

I desperately need a non-preview post, and with the Eagles heading into the post-bye week part of the schedule, now seems like a great time for a high level look at how this season is progressing.  Rather than attempt to follow a consistent thread, I’m just going to do bullets so that I can touch on everything I think is important and interesting about the season so far.

- Let’s first check in with my preseason projection.  My base-case had the Eagles scoring about 425 points and allowing 366, for an “expected” record of 9.6 wins.  At their current pace, the Eagles will score 488 points and allow 352.  So the defense is largely where we thought it would be.  The offense is pretty far ahead, though.  It’s important to note that the Eagles’ schedule gets tougher from here on out.  We’ll likely see the scoring rate (30.5 per game right now) decline and the points allowed rate (22 per game) go up.  Meanwhile, the current win projection has to be 10-11, meaning the Eagles are slightly ahead of where I thought they’d be.

Blue Chips Watch – The most important part of the season.  Do the Eagles have any players that can truly be considered “Blue-Chip” or “top-tier” talents?  The answer to that question is a bit mixed.  First, the good news:

Fletcher Cox has become the player we all hoped he’d be.  I was worried about the transition to the 3-4, and the adjustment did take some time.  However, Cox now looks comfortable in his new role and has been a very disruptive player this year.  Here are the Top 15 Defensive Ends by Expected Points Added Per Game (from advancedfootballanalytics.com).

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 3.13.06 PM

First, I have to mention JJ Watt.  If you’re not watching this guy play, you’re missing out on something special.  It’s really tough to project really high-level play into the future, but I’m completely comfortable saying that JJ Watt is currently playing about as well as any defensive player EVER.

Notice who is #2 on that list, though.  Fletcher Cox has had a very big impact this season. That’s a great sign for the Eagles’ future.  The team needs a few cornerstone players, and Cox is playing like one.

One more note about that chart.   Check out #12.  Cedric Thornton has pretty quietly become a really good player.  Maybe it won’t last and maybe he’s just taking advantage of favorable match-ups as a result of the attention Cox draws.  But, he’s also 26 years old and in just his 3rd season.  I mentioned pre-season that the Eagles have to hope for a “surprise” impact player to emerge.  Thornton isn’t quite there yet, but he’s certainly worth keeping a close eye on.

The rest of the “Blue Chip” breakdown isn’t as positive.  Kendricks looked really good to start the season, but his injury prevented us from seeing if that was actual growth or a short-term performance bump.  Lane Johnson had his suspension, and two games isn’t enough of a sample to make any large judgments.  Brandon Boykin seems to have pissed off somebody behind the scenes, because his usage rates don’t match up to his apparent skill level relative to other players on the team (he’s been playing about 1/3 of the snaps, basically only in the nickel package).  With Chip Kelly’s “culture” focus, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some friction between Boykin and the coaches.  In any case, it’s a big disappointment to not see him on the field more.

Marcus Smith has been a non-factor.  That’s not a surprise, but it certainly doesn’t do much to quiet those who pegged him as a big “reach” in the draft.

Jordan Matthews has 23 catches and 226 yards receiving.  That doesn’t sound exciting, but remember that rookie WRs rarely make significant contributions.  This year’s class is a very strong one, with Kelvin Benjamin and DeAndre Hopkins making a big impact so far.  We shouldn’t let that overshadow the fact that Matthews performance thus far is a good indicator for next year and beyond.

Zach Ertz has been underwhelming in terms of raw stats, but I think that’s due to factors outside of his control.  He may need to improve his blocking ability in general, but with the O-Line injuries, it’s no surprise Chip has leaned more heavily on Brent Celek than I was expecting pre-season.  Still, Ertz ranks 12th among TEs in receiving yards (20th in targets).    His 61.3% catch rate isn’t good, but that’s largely due to Foles’ accuracy issues.   Meanwhile, he ranks FIRST in the league in Win Probability Added and 8th in Expected Points Added Per Play.  In other words, Ertz is still very much on pace to be a high-impact TE, assuming Celek doesn’t play forever and Chip starts to trust Ertz in the run game.

Don’t jump ship on Nick Foles just yet.  Nick Foles is not having nearly as good a year as he did last season.  But we knew that would happen.  Several of his statistics from last season were undeniably unsustainable.  As a result, I think he’s suffering by comparison.  For example, Nick Foles’ interception rate this year is 3.0%.  That’s not good.  It’s also not catastrophic.  Andrew Luck’s Int rate this ear is 2.3%.  Given Foles’ history, I expect that rate to come down.  If he can lower it by 1% (one fewer INT every 100 throws), he’ll be right in line with the best starting QBs in the league.

Meanwhile, everyone who was complaining that Foles took too many sacks last year is now yelling at him for throwing too many picks, apparently ignorant of the fact that they two might be linked.  While Foles’ interception rate has jumped this season, his sack rate has declined from 8.1% to 2.9%.  This year’s O-line also hasn’t been as good.  It’s entirely possible that Foles has been trying to limit his sacks by throwing the ball in areas he would have avoided last season.  Hopefully there’s a better balance to be struck, but we can’t ignore the fact that Foles has dramatically improved an area of the game most people were not satisfied with.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the biggest difference between Foles last year and this year is his TD Rate.  Last season, Foles threw TDs on 8.5% of his throws, the highest mark in the league.  This season, he has thrown TDs at a rate of just 4.2%.  Forget the interceptions, THIS is the real difference.  Relatedly, his Average Net Yards per Attempt has dropped from a league-leading 9.18 to 5.98.

Now….what in the world could be the cause of such a decline?

Let’s tip-toe into this one.

On deep throws this year, Foles is 15 of 48 (31%) with 7 TDs, 4 INTs, and 2 drops.  He’s attempting deep throws on 20.3% of his passes (all from profootballfocus.)

Last season, Foles was 25 of 55 (45%) with 14 TDs, 1 INT, and 0 drops.  He attempted deep throws on 17% of his passes.

That’s the difference between last year and this one for Foles.  The deep passing game hasn’t been nearly as effective.  Note that despite worse results, he’s actually attempting such passes MORE often.  Yes, the causality might run the other way, but the basic takeaway is the same.  For some reason, the Eagles deep passing game this year is not nearly as effective as it was last year.

Oh, by the way, the Eagles released the league’s premier deep threat in the offseason.  Again, this is not a judgment of that decision.  I really don’t want to argue about DeSean Jackson anymore (besides, I think I’ve definitively won the argument already).  However, if you’re going to be hard on Foles, you have to at least try to account for the fact that his receiving corps this year is nowhere near as good as it was last season.  Not only is Jackson gone, but Riley Cooper isn’t the same player he was last season.

The upshot, of course, is that Nick Foles needs to play a bit better, but we might also just be seeing the effects of a subpar receiving corps.  That’s a very fixable problem, at least over the long term.

So, on perhaps the most important Eagles question of the year, “is Nick Foles an answer?”, I’m advocating for a measured approach.  Foles needs to dial back the interceptions a bit, but the rest of his game isn’t nearly as bad is it seems.  Much of the decline can be attributed to the decline in the WR talent.  Additionally, the lack of the run game hasn’t helped.  Last season, teams were loading up the box on McCoy nearly every play, leaving a lot of room for Foles to take clear shots downfield.  That’s not happening as much this year.  Watch closely as Kelce and Mathis return.  If McCoy really is healthy, I think we’ll see a pretty big jump in Foles’ passing performance once those guys get back. Foles isn’t the type of QB who is going to win the game by himself, but I still believe he’s good enough to win consistently when he has a little help.

Let’s also not forget that the team is 5-1.

That’s all for now.  I’ll post my odds breakdown article tomorrow, but the short story is: if Darren Sproles plays, I see a narrow Eagles victory.  If he doesn’t, a narrow loss.  In any case, the teams appear to be pretty evenly matched, so a single big play could swing the outcome.