Eagles vs. Broncos Pre-game Notes

This should be fun.  The Eagles, as double digit road underdogs, have absolutely no “risk” in this game.  Their not expected to keep it close, let alone win it, and that should make it much more enjoyable for fans to watch.  I don’t think things are as hopeless today as some others do, but it will be tough.

Here’s what I’ll be watching for:

- Aggressive Play-Calling.  Chip has to expect that his defense will allow a lot of points.  Therefore, the gloves need to come off on offense.  So 4th and less than 5 yards should be a go.  Field goals should be avoided, and not just because Alex Henery is far from a sure thing right now.  Unless it’s 4th and long from the 30 yard line or less, I wouldn’t send him out there.  This might also be a good opportunity for a surprise on-side kick, provided there’s some evidence it’ll work (depends on Broncos STs, which I haven’t reviewed.  Overall, this needs to be an “all-in” type of game.

- Boom or Bust Defense.  If we start the game under the assumption that the Broncos will score nearly every possession, then the “goals” for the defense shift.  Big plays against are not the enemy, they’re the necessary result of playing a high-risk defense.  The Eagles should be doing everything they can to bait Manning into an INT (unlikely as that might be) or to sack him.  That requires taking chances, which will leave some big openings for Manning to exploit.  That’s OK, the Broncos were probably going to score anyway.  If the Eagles can grab an extra possession or two with a big defensive or STs play, it’ll go a long way towards neutralizing the Broncos advantage.

- The Broncos are not invulnerable.  For example, the team has fumbled the ball EIGHT times already this year, though not all of those were lost.  Tying into the last bullet point, today’s the day to commit to stripping the ball at the risk of a broken tackle.  Also, the Broncos were losing to the Ravens at halftime in week 1.  The Broncos were beating the Giants by just 1 point at halftime in week 2.  There have been long stretches of play where Denver looked ordinary.

- Get Vinny Curry on the field!  The problem seems to be that Bill Davis refuses to play either Cox or Curry out of position.  I think that’s ridiculous.  Hell, I’d put Curry at NT if that’s what it takes.  He’s undersized, but on passing downs, I don’t see how he’s not an upgrade over Sopoaga or Logan.  Last week, KC double-teamed Curry several times, meaning you could play him next to Cox and force the defense to single-block one of them.  The Eagles are going to need as many coverage men as possible, so pressure from the D-Line is a must.

- Blitz, but do so carefully.  If the Eagles blitz as transparently as they did against the Chargers, this is going to get ugly fast.  Manning, as everyone knows, loves to read the defense pre-snap and call his own play to take advantage of the weaknesses he sees.  Therefore, all blitzes must be fully disguised, or they need to be adequately covered (bait blitz essentially).  For example, if the CB blitzes off the slot receiver, there needs to be a DL or LB that falls underneath the WR, hopefully getting in the way of a Manning hot-read.

This also looks like a tough game for Kendricks.  If I were Davis, I wouldn’t hesitate to use him very sparingly, it just doesn’t seem like a good matchup for him (I’d much rather have an extra CB or S on the field).

- Dare the Broncos to run the ball.  Most obvious, but if the Eagles can force the Broncos to run, they’ll have an advantage.  I’d much rather have to worry about Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball than the passing game.  If that means playing with 6-7 DBs on the field at one time, so be it.  I’d rather roll the dice with that line-up against the run than go with the base 3-4 against the pass.  In fact, I really don’t want to see 4 LBs on the field at all.

- Have fun.  This is more of a reminder for fans.  Again, this is an all-upside game.  The schedule gets easier after this, so don’t freak out if the Eagles get steamrolled.  Meanwhile, watch the rest of the NFC East carefully, a loss to the Broncos today might not end up mattering much.

Checking the Benchmark: The Eagles are behind, but not by much.

Before the season, I put a 9 win projection on the Eagles team.  I then went through the schedule and explained how, from my point of view, the Eagles had to perform across each stretch in order to actually achieve those 9 wins.  Well it’s now week 4, and the first benchmark I set was after the first 3 games.

Here is what I wrote; the full article can be found here.

Section 1 – The Sprint Start

3 games, 11 days.  The Eagles first stretch, in my view, comprises these 3 games (Redskins, Chargers, Chiefs).  The Chargers and Chiefs are both home games.  The Eagles, realistically, NEED to win 2 of these 3 games.  Again, it doesn’t really matter which two teams they beat (beating the Redskins would obviously help within the division).   However, the San Diego and KC games count as part of the “easy” side to the schedule.  San Diego is a mess and they’re coming across the country for an away game.  Kansas City is much improved (I think they’ll challenge for the playoffs, maybe get to 9 wins as well), and given the Andy Reid return and the McNabb ceremony, it’ll be a crazy game.

Benchmark: 2 Wins

The Eagles just finished that stretch, and only came away with 1 win.  As a result, the team is firmly off-pace.  However, there is some good news, the first of which is that the next stretch, which I labeled “the Darkness” no longer looks so difficult.  Here is what I wrote for Section 2 of the schedule:

Section 2: The Darkness

Three straight away games.  Denver, NY Giants, Tampa Bay.

This is the part of the season after which I expect a fair amount of hand-wringing.  If/when that happens, remember what we’ve said here.  The Eagles will probably lose 2 of these games, maybe even 3.  Denver is a beast; Peyton Manning against this defense is a very bad matchup.  I don’t think the Giants will be as good as most expect, but it’s still a road divisional game.  Tampa Bay is a bit of a wild card.

The key here is getting 1 win.  Again, it’s most helpful if it comes against the Giants (division) or Bucs (conference), but that’s a secondary concern.

Benchmark: 1 Win

The question now: is there any reason to believe the Eagles can win 2 of the next 3 games, bringing them back on pace?

I believe there is, and not just because the Giants look terrible and the Bucs just named Mike Glennon their starting QB.

Let’s take a look at a few statistics from the season so far.  If you were reading EaglesRewind.com in the offseason, you’ll remember I did a lot of work on finding which statistics correlated most highly with winning.  The most important, outside of the obvious (points for and against), were TO Differential, which gets a lot of attention, and Sack Differential, which does not, though it’s arguably more important.

For illustrative purposes, here are two charts showing the correlation between TO Differential and Wins and Sack Differential and Wins.  For both, the data set is all NFL teams from 2003-2012, so 320 data points.

Screen Shot 2013-09-28 at 2.04.57 PM

Screen Shot 2013-09-28 at 2.11.37 PM

The corresponding correlations are .64 (TO Margin) and .62 (Sacks).  Obviously, each is a very important indicator of team success.  The reason I say Sack Differential is more important is because, in my view, it’s much less luck-dependent.  Whereas in TO Differential, you have things like fumble recovery % to skew the results, there is very little gray area involved in sacks (though there is some).  Overall, a team has much more control over Sack Differential and it does over TOs.

So how are the Eagles doing?

Well the team’s TO Differential is currently -2, which places it 22nd in the league.  That’s not good, but it’s not disastrous either (especially when compared to last season).  Now there are two ways to looks at this number at this point in the season.  Either it’s reasonable, because it’s close to zero, or its bad, because it means the team is “on pace” for a TO Differential of -10 to -11, which would, if you look at the chart above, correlate to a Win expectation of less than 6 wins.

I’m leaning towards the more optimistic case, and here’s why: the Eagles lost 5 turnovers against KC, and KC is one of the best defenses in the league (I know not all the TOs were on offense).  Since it’s so early in the season, single games have a large effect on the overall numbers.  The Eagles schedule has them playing just TWO more teams that rank in the top 10 defenses by Football Outsiders the rest of the year.  As I just said, it’s early, but the overall point is that the most recent event (KC) is more likely an aberration than a true indication of the Eagles’ ability.

I expect the Eagles to finish the season close to EVEN in TO Differential, though it’s a very difficult statistic to predict.  For now, just know that the team probably won’t have any more -5 TO games.  If it can finish around 0, it’d be indicative of an 8 win team (obviously).

Moving to Sacks

Here is the more important area.  Through 3 seasons, the Eagles’ sack differential is also -2.  That’s a bit of a disappointment.  The Offensive Line has not played up to expectations.  Granted, with Vick at QB, you have to assume a higher than average sack rate, but the hope was that a great O-Line anchored by Peters and Lane Johnson (a potential red flag that isn’t getting a lot of attention) and a “quicker” decision system from Chip Kelly would result in far fewer sacks of Michael Vick.

Through 3 games, his sack rate is 10.8% (11 sacks).  For his career, it’s just 8.7%, so clearly things are not going according to plan.  Again, we have to talk about the opposition.  KC will probably finish the year among the league leaders in sacks, and 6 of Vick’s sacks (more than half) came against the Chiefs.  That’s not normal and won’t continue.  

On the other side of the ball, the Eagles defense has come up with 9 sacks, led by Barwin and Cox, who each have 2.  The “on-pace” number is now 48 sacks, which would be a VERY good result.  Last season the Eagles had just 30 sacks, and the long term NFL average is roughly 35.  Here’s the good news: I don’t see much reason to distrust this number.

The Redskins have allowed just 6 sacks, 3 of which came against the Eagles.

The Chargers have allowed just 5 sacks, 1 of which came against the Eagles.

The Chiefs have allowed 10 sacks, but 5 of them came against the Eagles.

Against all three teams, the Eagles were able to sack the QB more than the other competition has.  As a result, it’s somewhat likely that the Eagles pass-rush (base, blitzing, whatever), will be legitimately good this year, despite what it has felt like.

If the Eagles can keep pace and finish with anywhere close to 48 sacks, it will be in very good shape, and likely to finish the year with a positive Sack Differential.  If Vick and the O-Line can keep it to between 2-3 sacks allowed per game (so similar to the Redskins/Chargers performances), it’ll finish with around 40 sacks, and a +8 differential.

Checking the chart, that’d be indicative of a 9 win team….

Summing things up

The Eagles are in better shape than people think.  The team still lacks defensive talent, but looking at the first three games together, there’s still every reason to believe that this team is a “True” 8-9 win team.  That should be good enough to contend for the division.  I fully expect people to write the team off after this week’s game against the Broncos.  However, I’d advise you to save your seats on the bandwagon, because in a couple of months, everyone’s going to be scrambling to get back on.

Either that or I’ve been blinded by homerism…

 

 

 

 

The line on the Eagles vs. Broncos game is 11. Can you guess who’s favored?

This was posted yesterday at BGN.  I’m doing a weekly “odds” column for them now, so I’ll just re-post it here.  Probably a little simplistic for this audience, but I hope to gradually raise the level of analysis on this side of football as the season progresses.  I’ll be back with a more “normal” Rewind post soon.

For reference, SBNation compiles several major lines here.

I’m sure almost everyone already knows this, but there are two major aspects to the “odds” for each game, the spread (think of it like a handicap) and the Over/Under. Rather than explain in more detail here, I’ll just encourage you to ask questions in the comments, as I’m sure plenty of folks will be able to explain at least the fundamentals.

As the year progresses, I might delve more deeply into the statistical side of NFL game odds, but for now lets just keep it simple, because this week provides an interesting case by itself.

The Eagles, playing on the road this week against the Broncos, are 11 point underdogs.

The Over/Under is 57.

First, here’s some relevant information. As you read it, you should be thinking about what this means for the lines above.

- The Broncos are 3-0 and have the 2nd best point differential in the league (+56), just behind the Seahawks and well ahead of everyone else.

- The Eagles are 1-2, with close losses to the Chargers (1-2) and the Chiefs (3-0), both at home.

- The Broncos have scored 127 points and are, according to Football Outsiders, the best offense in the league. The Denver pass offense currently has a ridiculous DVOA of 93.2%.

- The Eagles have scored 79 points and are, according to Football Outsiders, the 6th best offense in the league.

- The Broncos have allowed 71 points and are the 12th ranked defense (FO).

- The Eagles have allowed 86 points and are the 26th ranked defense (FO). The Eagles Pass Defense is ranked 27th by FO.

- Denver is 2-1 ATS (against the spread) this season, the Eagles are 1-2.

So…where does that leave us?

First, let’s look at the Over/Under.

With a 57 point line, clearly the game is expected to be high scoring. However, note that Eagles games have averaged 55 total points thus far while Broncos games have averaged an astonishing 66 total points. With the Eagles terrible pass defense going up against what looks to be among the best pass attacks in recent NFL history, the safe bet is that the Broncos will score a lot of points.

Denver scored 49 points against BAL, 41 against NYG, and 37 against OAK. Among those teams, the Giants rank most similarly to the Eagles on defense (DVOA of 14.7% versus 14.9% for the Eagles).

I just don’t see any way, short of an injury to Peyton Manning, that the Broncos do not continue their offensive onslaught. Frankly, with Thomas, Welker, Decker, and other Thomas (Julius) against Cary Williams, Fletcher, Allen, Boykin, and Chung, the Broncos could conceivably score 60+.

You read that right, I think it’s possible (though unlikely) the Broncos cover the 57 point line themselves, or at least get close. It’s just about as terrible a matchup as you can draw for the Eagles right now.

Scaling it back a bit, let’s put the Broncos at 40 points. Clearly that’s a realistic expectation, since they scored 41 against the Giants, a nearly identically ranked defense.

That leaves just 17 points for the Eagles to score to hit the over. Seeing the 16 point “floor” the Eagles put up against KC (short rest, good defense, multiple turnovers, missed FG), I feel extremely confident that the Eagles can get at least 17.

Take the over, the oddsmakers/public hasn’t yet adjusted to how good the Broncos are offensively.

Now to the tough part, the 11 point line.

The Broncos smallest margin of victory thus far has been 16 points (against Oakland last week). Meanwhile, the Eagles have lost by 3 points to the Chargers (a mediocre team) and by 10 points against the Chiefs (a good team). In light of those results, and the information above, the Broncos look like the safer pick, even with a really large line.

One note of caution though.

The Eagles offense is really good. Some people don’t seem to believe that yet, but it’s true. The reason I mention this is that, if the Offense plays well (avoids TOs and limits dumb penalties), it should put up A LOT of points. Regardless how how much better you think the Broncos are, asking any team to score 12 MORE points than the Eagles is a tall order.

Therefore, I’m taking the Eagles at +11. The Broncos deserve to be heavy favorites, no doubt, but giving 11 points against an explosive offense is too much for my common-sense test to bear. Also keep in mind that an 11 point home favorite is just begging for a late-game, backdoor cover.

Summing up, I’m “taking” the OVER and the Eagles, at +11 (though I’ve seen lines as large as 12.5). I put “taking” in quotation marks because, of course, gambling is illegal and I don’t recommend that anyone do it.

Defensive Adjustments: The Limits of Creativity

Three games into the season, we have a pretty good idea of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the 2013 Eagles.  At least I do; it seems many others are confused.  Let me be clear:  If you are at all concerned/worried/disappointed with the Offense, you’re not watching the same games I am.  As I explained last week, the Eagles, in their last game, gave us a pretty clear example of what the offense’s “scoring floor” is.  I won’t address it any further today, but let’s just say that 16 points is a pretty good “reasonable worst-case scenario”.  Considering the turnovers and the skill of the opposing defense (Chiefs), I’m confident that’s what we saw, or at least close to it.

I’m definitely confused as the usage patterns of the offensive personnel (extremely starter-heavy), but there’s no reason to really question it at this point.  The offense is working very well, it just needs to avoid the unforced turnovers (think Kelce snap).

The defense, however, is another story.  It’s bad, it’s worse than I expected, and there’s no way to couch that statement.  Football Outsiders has the Eagles as the 29th ranked defense after three weeks, above only San Diego, Green Bay, and Washington.  Most worrisome, as you probably know, is the pass defense (also ranked 29th).  The run defense, by comparison, is well within the “mediocre” range we were hoping for (ranked 18th by FO).

So now we know the facts.  The real question is, can the Eagles actually do anything about it at this stage? 

I think they can, though how much it’ll help is up for debate.  I mentioned after the San Diego game that the Eagles were in a true “try anything” situation, meaning that the default assumption on every SD possession had to be a score, and likely a TD.  Therefore, the downside to taking additional risk (by doing things like big-blitzing) was limited.

I probably should have been more careful about the “try anything” description, because it looks like Bill Davis took it too literally.  If you haven’t already seen it, definitely read Derek Sarley’s breakdown from the KC game on Philly.com, found here.  It’s really informative and will help you make sense of the Eagles defensive issues.  I’m going to steal a couple of screenshots from him to illustrate what I’m talking about, namely: the limits of “creativity”.

Look at this picture:

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 9.46.25 AM

 

Derek has boxed the most important part.  That’s Brandon Graham lined up over the CB.  There are a couple of potential results to this play, and I can’t think of one that I like:

- Graham blitzes.  This one makes little sense to me.  Graham should definitely be used as a pass-rusher, but having him attack from a pre-snap position so far from the QB is outrageous to me.  At that point, you might as well take him off the field, because he’s essentially out of the play already.  He’s simply too far to get to the QB in time (especially against Alex Smith.)

- Graham shows coverage or jams the WR at the line, then drops into a short coverage zone.  Of the three options, this makes the most sense, though that’s not saying much.  It still results in using Graham in coverage, which doesn’t play to his strengths at all. We also have to question how seriously the offense views the “coverage” threat.  Surely no team would actually put a DE on a WR in man-to-man coverage.

- Graham plays the WR man-to-man.  Not much to say here, other than it’d be close to a fireable offense for a DC.

The result of the play, BTW, was #2.  Graham ended up in coverage, picking up the RB on a wheel route.  Notice that the BEST RESULT of this alignment involves Graham trying to run step-for-step down the field with a RB.

All-in-all, I’d say this play qualifies as “creativity for the sake of being creative”.  I’ve racked my brain, and I just can’t think of a really positive aspect to this strategy.  To be fair, it certainly falls under the “try anything” category, so if Bill Davis actually read my breakdown, then I deserve some blame as well.

In a similar vein, Derek notes that, according to PFF, Brandon Boykin rushed the passer on 11 of his 46 snaps.  Think about that for a moment.  11 different times, the Eagles chose to take their best CB out of coverage.  On a team with a decent CB corps, that’s not a big deal, and may be productive since we can assume the offense isn’t expecting it.  However, on a team like the Eagles, whose DBs don’t belong anywhere near the 1st String, that’s a really difficult decision to rationalize.

Again, “try anything”, so for that I apologize.  Let me update that.  First, I have to note the whole 3-4 defense switch conundrum.  My preseason position was that this season is purely a building block for the future.  In that sense, it doesn’t matter if the Eagles’ defense sucks.  You might as well install the 3-4, see if anyone can play in it, and have a year of experience for the guys who will stick around.  HOWEVER, that position was under the assumption the Nick Foles would be the QB.  By selecting Vick, the coaching staff sent a clear signal that it did, in fact, expect to win this year.  Once that decision’s been made, you simply must do everything you can to win, including holding off on your philosophical preferences in order to play to the team’s strengths.  There can be no half-measures…

So Billy (I can call you that, right?), here’s what you should be doing right now.

1) Get your best players on the field.  That means Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry.  I don’t mean to suggest that these guys are Pro Bowlers or anything, but the fact is they are easily among the top 11 defensive guys on the team.  Against the Chiefs, Curry played just 12 defensive snaps.  Graham played just 17.

To me, that’s unacceptable.  Get them on the field, let them rush the passer, which hopefully till let you back off the blitzes a bit.  God knows the Eagles can use as many guys in coverage as possible.

2) Stop blitzing Brandon Boykin.  This holds for Graham as well, and perhaps for Trent Cole.  Let guys do what they do best.  It’s early, but at the moment Boykin covers better than anyone on the team.  Let him keep doing that.  Let Graham rush the passer from the DE position.  It’s clear, to me at least, that he’s not going to be a long-term 3-4 OLB.  Stop pretending, maximize his value for this year by playing him where he belongs, and say goodbye after the season.

3) Be creative, but keep it within reason.  For example, how about taking that B-Graham alignment from above, and running Earl Wolff or Kurt Coleman out there instead of Graham.  Cary Williams can handle coverage, provided he isn’t asked to press.  Have Wolff jam at the line then cover the flat (which is hurting the Eagles a lot so far).  Scary thought, but maybe try the Wide-9 more often, at least until teams prove they can commit to the run (especially against an unbalanced team like Denver).

4) Stop playing a single-high safety so deep.  This part is starting to annoy me.  Essentially, the Eagles are trying to apply a band-aid to the back of the defense by keeping a S really deep in the middle of the field.  The only problem is that this is a relatively low-risk/low-reward strategy, which is the COMPLETE OPPOSITE of what the Eagles should be doing.

The brings me to Blitz Theory.  Unfortunately, I’m at 1200 words and have to go to class, so that’ll have to wait.  Briefly, though, the Eagles, in their current position, are heavily incentivized to make high-risk defensive plays (provided there’s a reasonable expectation of corresponding return).  The team will allow A LOT of points.  The key will be to also create a lot of positive defensive plays.  That means TOs, that means sacks.  With a weak defense, 3rd and 5 isn’t that promising a situation (for the D).  You need 3rd and 10 or longer (and as we’ve seen, even that’s not assured).  If that means selling out a few times and risking a big play, so be it.  The other team is probably going to score anyway.

Have to leave it there, but I promise I have a lot more to add to that thought

Hey, Wha happened? Eagles vs. Chiefs Post-Game notes

Eww.   Maybe those Thursday night games really are a bad idea.  Both teams looked awful; lots of mental errors and sloppy mistakes.

The upshot, of course, is that the Eagles are now 1-2, and head to Denver next week, which is a likely loss.  As a result, I expect to see people jumping off the bandwagon at a steadily increasing pace over the next two weeks.  Me?  I’m staying.

The ultimate question is: Are the Eagles bad players or are they playing badly?  The short answer is that we don’t know.  Some players we thought would be good might not be (Todd Herremans?).  However, each the following factors played a significant role in at least one of the Eagles’ losses:

- Muffed punt.

- Ass-Snap (what I’m calling the Kelce debacle from last night)

- Multiple illegal formation penalties on the O-Line.

- Poor clock management

Notice the similarity? They’re each INTERNAL problems that have nothing to do with talent.  In theory, the Eagles can fix every one of them.  That’s what I mean when I say “playing badly”.  While the Eagles certainly need some talent upgrades at multiple positions, that isn’t why they’ve lost 2 games.

So, I think the best way to proceed is to split the good notes from the bad.  Which do you want to see first?  Thought so.

The Bad

-  Since 2008, NFL teams have converted on:

3rd and 10 –  20.7%

3rd and 15 – 10.8%

3rd and 19 – 7.0%

The Eagles allowed the Chiefs to convert one of each of the above situations.  It was the most frustrating part of the game.  I’m not going to go into it in great detail here, I’m assuming the play-diagrammers will handle that (if not I’ll put one up next week).  However, those stats (pro-football-reference.com) prove what we already knew…on 3rd and 10 or longer, the Defense MUST get off the field.  Those situation don’t require anything special.  Playing your base defense and tackling should come close to assuring the offense doesn’t pick up the required yardage.

Allow 3 such conversions is just terrible defensive play.

- According to the NFL game book, Vinny Curry played just 12 defensive snaps. (I’ll just let that one simmer).

- Zach Ertz, he of the high second round pick, had just 1 reception for 5 yards.  Through 3 games, he has 4 catches on just 6 targets.  Given where he was selected, he HAS to have a bigger impact.  His blocking needs to improve before the team can put him on the line, but his receiving skills are supposed to be excellent.  So….where are they?

- Michael Vick looked like Michael Vick.  Hate to say “I told you so”, but I stressed this throughout the preseason: Vick is going to have games like last night.  It’s inevitable.  He doesn’t make progressions, holds the ball too long, doesn’t move well in the pocket, has a lot of balls tipped at the line, and consistently doesn’t see open check-down receivers.   Those are his weaknesses; it’s unfortunate that we saw all of them last night.  It’s rare that he’ll play that poorly, but you have to expect it at least 2-3 times per season.

- The offensive line struggled.  Another one of my preseason themes was that, if the Eagles are going to contend for a playoff spot, the Offensive line has to be the strongest position group on the team.  I do have to note that they were playing against a VERY good defensive line last night.  Tamba Hali is really good,  Dontari Poe looks like he’ll actually be a disruptive player, and I don’t know who Justin Houston is, but he already has 22 career sacks in just 35 career games.  Still, the line needs to be much better, and as we get further into the season, it becomes less likely it’ll get there.

There’s a lot more “Bad” from last night, but I’d like to have a good weekend, so I’m going to move onto the other side.

The Good

- A number 1, as I explained at the top, the Eagles have beat themselves!  That’s little consolation when it comes to the W-L record, but the fact is, it DOES matter how you lose. The Eagles are not losing on skill.  That means it’s possible for the team to stop hurting itself and win a bunch of games.

- This is still the NFC East.  It’s early, but it looks like nobody in the division will truly be eliminated until they lose their 9th game.

- The Eagles played TERRIBLY against a good defense and scored 16 points.  That’s not a bad scoring “floor”.  For reference, last season the Eagles scored fewer than 16 points SIX times.  Once the defense gets fully built, it will be very difficult to outscore this team.

- The Eagles next stretch of games looks a lot less daunting than originally thought.  Playing the Broncos in Denver is very difficult, but the key to this stretch was that the Eagles THEN play the Giants and Bucs, both on the road.  Granted, if the Eagles play as poorly as they did last night, they can lose to anyone.  However, road games against the Giants and Bucs don’t look nearly as bad now as they did before the season started.  It still looks like the Eagles come out of it at 2-4, but 3-3 is at least foreseeable.

I promise there’s more good, but I’ve gotta go catch a flight to New Orleans.  Moral of the story:  It’s too early to panic.

Game #3: Eagles vs. Chiefs pre-game notes

Big game tonight.  Andy Reid’s return to Philly, but more importantly, a chance for the Eagles to take a 2nd win out of the first 3 games.  In the NFC East, 2-1 would look pretty damn good.  It’s a short week, so my normal schedule is a bit screwed up, however, there were a few things I wanted to get out there in preparation for tonight’s game:

- This one deserves its own post, but: The Eagles and Chip Kelly should be about as aggressive on fourth down as possible.  I’ve covered this at a league-average level, but I also mentioned the logical adjustments we should make according to how good/bad the offense/defense is.  Remember, using expected points, that a very good offense means possession of the ball is worth MORE than the averages we looked at.  Similarly, a bad defense means the OPPOSING team’s expected points at each yard line increase.

Well the Eagles’ offense looks very good.  It’s still unclear how the defense will shake out, but we thought they’d be a bit worse than average and they haven’t done anything to suggest that expectation was too low.

Logically, that means the Eagles have even more incentive to go for it on 4th down than most teams do.  They’re success rate should be higher, and the “value” of a punt should be lower.  Again, it deserves its own full analysis.  However, it’s pretty clear to me that the “right” call with this team is to go for it in 4th and 1-3 yard situations (maybe even 4-5 yards).  Additionally, field goals don’t mean very much, since there’s a good chance the opposing team comes right back and scores.

- The pass-rush needs to be better.  The Eagles defense might see a lot of the same tonight.  Heavy passing game, stressing short drops.  That gave the team fits on Sunday, but hopefully they’ve made a few adjustments since then.  I’ll be paying close attention to how they “disguise” the rush, since that was a big weakness against the Chargers.  However, it’s important to note that players need to win one-on-one battles as well.  That was also a big problem, though it’s a tougher one to fix.

- Is the offense as good as it looks?  This early in the season, it’s always tough to know how to apportion credit.   Is the Eagles offense amazing, or are the Redskins and Chargers defenses terrible?  Judging by the Redskins and Chargers’ other games, it might be more bad defense than we’d like to believe. Tonight, the Eagles face what appears to be a legitimately good defense.  They held the Jaguars to just 2 points in week one (not a huge accomplishment, but impressive nonetheless) and, on Sunday, held the Cowboys to 16 points.  The Cowboys, as much as we dislike them, are a good offensive team, and keeping them to 16 points is a really good performance (they scored 36 in week 1 against the Giants, though 14 of those came from TOs).  For what it’s worth, Football Outsiders has the Chiefs as the #1 defense so far.

By the end of tonight, for better or worse, we should have a bit more confidence in the offense’s “true” ability.

- The penalties.  Sunday’s game was sloppy.  The Eagles took 9 penalties, giving San Diego 77 free yards, including 4 first downs.  There were a lot of “differences” on Sunday, but the penalties are near the top of the list.  The O-Line illegal formation calls are absolutely unacceptable.  That’s the definition of an unforced error, and I struggle to understand how it’s even possible to commit that penalty, especially after the ref warns you multiple times.

I’m more concerned, though, with Cary Williams.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to finish a game review, but it seemed to me that Williams’ pass interference calls all occurred when he was in press coverage.  The book on WIlliams, before coming here, was that he likes playing off receivers and gives up a lot of short catches.  The upside is that he tackles well and doesn’t allow a lot of YAC.  On Sunday, the Eagles lined him up at the LOS.  The receivers then ran by him and he grabbed the jersey to stay close.

Williams should not be committing obvious penalties like that, but the coaches might not be doing him any favors with their positioning calls.  Maybe it was just one game, but I’m very curious to see how often he lines up at the LOS tonight.

That covers the large concepts.  I’ll put together a “benchmark” post after this week’s games, but so far, the Eagles look very much like the team we expected to see.   Tonight’s game looks like a toss-up to me.  I think the Chiefs are a playoff team (thought that before the season, not jumping on after 2 wins).  The offense doesn’t strike me as “explosive”, but then again, the Chargers’ offense didn’t either.

If the team can cut the penalties and find just a semblance of a pass-rush, I think the Eagles come out on top.

Adventures in tackling: Williams and Kendricks edition

I’ve been hard on Bill Davis over the past couple of days, and while he did not have a good game, the fact is that several players the Eagles rely on to play well did not.  Therefore, I figured I’d highlight a bad defensive play that was purely the result of players not doing their jobs; the Ryan Matthews 20 yard run.

Situation:  Game tied at 3.  4:49 remaining in the 1st quarter.  SD has 2nd and 8 at its own 9 yard line.  This is important to note.  SD began the possession with terrible field position (penalty on kick return after an Eagles field goal) and was still able to score a TD.  This play played a large role in the success of the drive.

Here is the pre-snap look:Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 5.25.13 PM

I’ve illustrated the movement of the O-Line as well as the rush angles for the D-line.  Note Patrick Chung is in the box on the left, and rushes on this play.  Also, the blue lines are the resulting running lanes Matthews has after the play develops.

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 5.25.05 PM

Above is the play just before Matthews gets the handoff.  Notice his running lanes.  Kendricks as one blocked, Ryans as another blocked.  However, nobody has sealed the left edge, which Matthews sees and capitalizes on.

Next, the handoff has been made and Matthews has chosen his lane (cutting back away from the direction of the line’s blocking).  At this point, Kendricks is the only Eagle (on screen) in position to make the play.  Cary Williams, of screen, has noticed the run and come out of coverage (this view is more instructive than the All-22, though it keeps Williams off-frame until next shot).

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 5.24.57 PM

Below, we see Williams attacking and Kendricks pursuing.  This is the most important frame in the breakdown.  At this point, the Eagles have the play well-contained.  The LOS is the 9 yard line, so if the tackle is made, the resulting gain will likely be just 3-4 yards.

 

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 5.24.50 PM

Look at the angles I highlighted above.  Put simply, they’re not good.  If Williams cuts off the sideline, Matthews has nowhere to go.  Instead, he pursues aggressively (not necessarily a bad decision).

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 5.24.44 PM

Above, we see the result of the angles I highlighted in the last frame.  Kendricks is beat, though it’s not really his fault.  Both he and Matthews are running laterally towards the side-line, and I don’t think expecting Kendricks to match Matthews’ speed is fair.  The bigger issue here is Cary Williams.  His poor previous angle means the sideline is now open for Matthews; all he has to do is beat Williams to the spot.

Below, we see the moment of truth.  Williams has put himself in position to make a tackle, but he’s also failed to contain Matthews, meaning if Williams DOESN’T make the play, nobody else can.  Conversely, had he contained, Kendricks would be in position to make the tackle.

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 5.24.38 PM

That leads us to…Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 5.24.32 PM

Williams doesn’t make the tackle.  Contain is broken, so nobody else is in position to make the play.  A 3-4 yard gain has turned into a 20 yard gain, moving the Chargers from 2nd and 8 at its own 9 yard line to 1st and 20 at their 29 yard line.

Just to review, at one point the play looked like this:Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 5.24.50 PM

Which led to this:Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 5.24.32 PM

I still don’t understand Davis’ reluctance to incorporate the 4-3 into his defense, at least until the team has the personnel to commit to the 3-4.  However, if guys like Williams and Kendricks (to a lesser extent here), don’t perform, it doesn’t matter what defensive scheme the team runs, or how well blitzes are disguised.

We know Nate Allen isn’t good.  We know the backup CBs will be overmatched.  It’s wasted energy to lament those areas.

Guys like Williams and Kendricks, however, are fair game, and need to be much better.