A couple of days ago, I tweeted this:
Obviously, I meant it to be a sign of hope. The fact is, the Eagles not only have a relatively “easy” schedule remaining, but have also played an extremely “hard” schedule thus far. As a result, the Win-Loss record may not be representative of the team’s actual ability. Today, let’s dig into that a bit.
Here are the SOS ratings from Football Outsiders. We’ll start with the schedule so far.
The “hardest” schedule are on top, and we can see that the Eagles are #2. So that means there’s nothing to worry about, right? The Eagles have just had the unlucky misfortune of playing really good teams, and that’s why they’ve looked bad? Look more closely, and you’ll see the problem with that conclusion (not that it necessarily invalidates it).
More specifically, look at the bottom of the table. KC…DEN…WAS
By now, it should be obvious what I’m getting at. This early in the season, it’s very hard to identify the true “cause” of each game result. For example, the Denver Broncos look awesome, but they’ve also played one of the “easiest” schedules, with games against the Eagles (1 win), Giants (0 wins), Raiders (1 win), Ravens (2 wins). How much of that is the competition being terrible and how much of it is the Broncos being great?
We don’t know for sure.
That’s a long way of saying that while I firmly believe the Eagles are better than their current record indicates (indeed FO has them as a “true” 1.8 win team right now), it’s also possibly that the Eagles opponents have looked good simply because the Eagles are so bad. But is there any way to gain confidence in our assessment? I think so.
We can look at “controllable” or “affirmative” stats. Namely, these are areas in which the Eagles have more control than their opponents. If these are bad, it’s an indication that the Eagles really aren’t good. If they’re not, then it lends more credence to the idea that the Eagles have been victimized by a tough slate of games.
QB play – While the difficulty of the opposing defense obviously effects this area, it’s still largely a “controllable” function. It may not seem like it, but Michael Vick has played fairly well. His overall numbers:
55.1% completion (bad); 5 TDs/2 INTs (good); 1.7% INT rate (very good); 93.2 Rating (good); 10.6% Sack rate (bad); 228 Rushing yards (very good), 2 Rushing TDs (good).
Before you come at me with the outlier argument (Redskins game), let me say that, so far, the actual outlier game for Vick has been KC, where he was terrible. His passer rating was 110+ against both the Redskins and the Chargers, and against the Broncos it was 83.6, which isn’t good, but isn’t terrible either, especially for a team with such a potent rushing attack.
Overall, Vick’s play doesn’t give us any reason to believe this is actually a “bad” team.
Sacks – Again, there is definitely an opposing team effect, but the idea is that it’s MORE dependent on the Eagles than it is on the opposition. Highly correlated with winning, Sack Differential is among the most important “controllable” stats. Naturally, you’re Sack Differential will be a lot better if you create a lot of sacks (especially with Vick at QB).
The Eagles are tied for 6th in the league with 14 sacks.
Five of them came against Kansas City, distorting the numbers a bit, but that’s still better than any other team has done against the Chiefs. Moreover, as I showed earlier this week, the Eagles have consistently out-sacked the other opposition for each team.
I have to note that selling out your coverage to create sacks, as Davis has done a few times, is not ideal and potentially erodes the basic idea behind Sack Differential. However, I don’t think that effect has been strong enough thus far to complete negate the value of the statistic.
Dropped Passes – This one’s tough because of the inherent subjectivity of judging when a pass is “dropped”, but it’s also something that’s entirely controllable. According to the Washington Post, the Eagles have 7 dropped passes thus far. That’s not good, but it’s also not bad. Overall, that places the Eagles in a three-way tie for 14th in the league.
the operative statistic, as you probably guessed, is dropped pass RATE, not total. After all, the Eagles do not throw the ball very often. The team is currently attempting just 30.8 passes per game (TeamRankings), the 6th lowest rate in the league.
The Eagles have a Drop rate of 5.69%, which places them 9th in the league. For reference, the Rams have the highest drop rate (8.2%) and the Vikings have the lowest (just 1.6%). Overall the NFL average is 4.87%.
So the Eagles, in this controllable area, are not good, but again, they’re not terrible either. When you factor in the subjectivity of grading “drops”, there’s very little here to be overly concerned about.
When you put the above statistics together, I believe it offers support for the “hard schedule” theory as opposed to the “Eagles suck” theory. That’s not certain, but at this point, the preponderance of the evidence (law school reference!) points in an optimistic direction.
Now the fun part. I’m not going to cover this in a lot of detail. I’ll just show you the numbers, because they’re self-explanatory. Here are the Football Outsiders “Future Schedule” ratings.