Short term setbacks and My Response to Tommy Lawlor

In my last post, I mentioned that, from my point of view, there’s a relatively significant chance that the Eagles will take a “step backwards” next season.  Many people took exception to that, specifically Tommy Lawlor over at  Today I will respond, after I make a few important points.

First, I have not made any projection for this team yet.  It’s very possible that after examining each factor in more detail, I’ll come to a different conclusion. However, it’s foolish to do such an analysis now.  There are simply too many things that can happen between now and the start of the season.  Moreover, we’ll get more information about specific players as we move through the summer and training camp.  Once that’s all finished, I’ll have an “official” projection that probably looks a lot like what I did last season.

Second, I’m relying on a number of factors, not just the on-paper roster changes, when I suggest the potential for a step-back.  For example: Nick Foles’ regression, injury regression, aging, harder schedule, etc….  Each of those (and there are others) requires an in-depth analysis, and deserves a full post.  I won’t do much of that today, but rest assured we’ll take a closer look between now and the beginning of the season.

Third, I am not a pessimist or perma-bear.  In fact, prior to last year, I was one of the few Eagles writers/bloggers/analysts/whatever predicting such a good season.  I thought Nick Foles should start from the beginning.  I thought Chip Kelly was a great hire, provided Lurie was confident he really wanted to be in the NFL.  I projected the team to win between 9 and 10 games.  How did I do that?  An objective analysis of the team, including a deep look into what made the 4-12 team that bad (a lot of bad luck).  Here’s the important part though:  If you’re truly being objective, the numbers and factors say what they say, and you need to be willing to believe them whether that’s good or bad.   Ideally, the team does its own analysis before the season, identifies (objectively) the expected performance distribution for that season, then tries to make specific moves to improve it.   Here, we can only do the first part.

Lastly, the rest of this post is done in typical “takedown” form.  However, I want to stress that this is NOT a “takedown”.  As Tommy said, we’re all better off when smart people look at the same information and disagree, provided we’re each willing to change our stance in light of new evidence or arguments.  The biggest virtue of blogs, in my opinion, is that they allow this type of back-and-forth in a public forum.  These blogger-to-blogger conversations happen a lot in finance and economics (though they’re not always as civilized as they should be) but rarely in sports.  That should change.  Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, he’s actually provided a response to some of the things I will say below, and I encourage you to go read it at afterwards.

In italics you’ll find Tommy’s words.  Mine are in regular type.

First, I don’t get why Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff can’t be expected to contribute. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin both contributed as rookies, and that was in a more complex passing offense.

The questions isn’t “can they contribute?”, it’s “how much can they reasonable be expected to contribute?”.  The track record of rookie WRs, unfortunately, is not good.  I will do a full post about this with a more in-depth look at the statistics, but for now just note that from 2000-2013, 49 WRs were selected in the 2nd round and played at least 10 games in their rookie years.  The average receiving yards of that group is 437.  Jordan Matthews was taken in the second round.  

That does NOT mean he won’t do better.  I’m very confident he will.  BUT, when you’re making a projection for him, you need to keep that context in mind.  If you say he will register around 800 yards, just know that would be nearly TWICE as good as the average 2nd round WR.  Again, I’ll have more detailed stats later, but the upshot is: be very careful in assuming any significant contributions from rookie WRs.  There are a number of reasons Matthews might be different, and they are important to note as well.  But if you’re analyzing those factors without reference to the context of average rookie performance, you’re not going to end up with very good projections.

Speaking of Maclin, why isn’t he mentioned at all? I know he’s coming off an ACL injury, but that happened last summer and these days players are coming back from standard ACL tears at a pretty high rate.

If the Eagles tried to replace Jackson with just a rookie or just Maclin, I could see some extreme skepticism. Instead, the Eagles brought back Maclin spent 2 early picks on WRs and added Sproles to help the passing game.

I should have mentioned Maclin, though Tommy hits on the primary reason for concern.  He’s coming back from a torn ACL injury.  I intend on doing a post-ACL injury study to see just what we can expect from Maclin, but for now I don’t have any numbers.  Yes, Maclin has come back from a torn ACL before.  But I’m not sure that’s a good thing.  The fact is, we don’t know one way or the other, at least until I do the analysis (provided there is good data on WR cal injuries).  However, even at 100%, he is a VERY different receiver from DeSean, and the offense will look much different with him as a #1 option.

I explained in two very detailed posts just why DeSean will be so hard to “replace”.  I won’t rehash that here, just see those posts.  We can argue about why DeSean had such a good year and whether it was him, Foles, or Kelly that deserves the credit; but that doesn’t actually matter!  The point is, whatever was going on, DeSean + Foles + Chip = one of the most ridiculous and unique seasons EVER put up by a WR.  Again, see the post.  If DeSean was still here, we’d have to look at whether that was largely luck or whether it could have persisted.  With him gone, though, we can say that it will not persist (it can’t).

While I like Maclin, I think it’s a near certainty that he isn’t putting up a 65% catch rate while going deep 40+% of the time.  He’s just not that type of player.  So the offense will undoubtedly look different, even with Maclin at full strength, whether it ends up better or worse is a tougher question to answer.

I’m less impressed by the addition of Sproles than many others seem to be.  He obviously represents some “addition”, but I think fans are getting carried away a bit.  He’ll be 31 at the start of next season and he’s just not the same player he was a few years ago.  Over the past three years, his receptions, yards, and TDs have declined.  So has his yards per rushing attempt.  We can examine the general performance/age correlation for RBs in more detail later, but I’ll tell you right now that it’s not good.  The upshot is that I don’t see any good reason to expect Sproles to exceed his production from last year (604 receiving yards) and he will likely do worse, considering his trend.  There’s a lot more to look at there, and I haven’t looked at his “advanced” stats like target rate and catch rate, but that’s my hypothesis for now.  It’s not as if Sproles is leaving some terrible offense either, he’s been catching passes from a HOFer for the past 3 years.

Combined, Maclin and Sproles and the Rookies certainly COULD fully compensate for losing Jackson.  I just don’t think it’s likely, or if it is, I don’t think it will be enough to compensate for risk factors elsewhere.  Moreover, while they might match his production on a pure yards/TDs basis, there are additional effects that are harder to account for.  For instance:  DeSean likely helped open things up for the rest of the offense more than a 100% Jeremy Maclin can.  Again, that needs analysis, but I think that hypo is more reasonable than the opposite (saying Maclin will have greater effects on the rest of the offense).

The defense added a veteran Safety in Malcolm Jenkins. That means that Nate Allen and Earl Wolff will battle for the other starting spot. Nolan Carroll and Jaylen Watkins add depth at CB. If you don’t think that is important, just go re-watch the loss to San Diego. Bradley Fletcher missed that game and Philip Rivers threw for 419 yards and looked like Peyton friggin’ Manning.

Of course depth is important, but from a pure points for/against standpoint, the 1s and 2s matter far more than the rest.  Malcolm Jenkins is a nice addition, but let’s be clear: he’s not a great player.  He’s an OK safety.  Last season he registered an Approximate Value of 6.  Nate Allen, by comparison, registered a 7.  Pro Football Focus says QB’s registered a Rating of 101.8 when targeting him last season.  He’s also never played in all 16 games.  So the value of Malcolm Jenkins is debatable.  I do believe the Safety corps will be better than last season, but I’m not seeing a great leap in performance.

I do like the Nolan Carroll addition.  No argument there, he definitely helps the CB depth chart.  Jaylen Watkins is a different story.  He’s a 4th round pick.  It’s possible he contributes on D this year, but I don’t think that’s likely, given the historical performance of later round DBs.  Note: I like the pick!  I just don’t think it will pay big dividends THIS year (which is pretty much the overall theme of this offseason).

Marcus Smith adds depth up front and gives the coaching staff an athletic option to mix into different packages if they want. He can play on the right or left side. The backup LOLB last year was Casey Matthews. That meant the coaches stuck with Connor Barwin as much as humanly possible.

Marcus Smith is a wildcard.  However, if the Eagles do take a step forward this year (record-wise), he really HAS to play a big role.  I don’t think the depth chart sets up that way.  Long-term, Smith might turn out to be a great pick.  However, we’re only concerned with this season.  I’m going to put him in the wait-and-see category for now, because we’ll learn a lot more about his potential usage during training camp and preseason.  It’s just very difficult to tell how much playing time he’ll get this year.  Without a lot of snaps, he obviously won’t be able to make a big impact.

The qualitative benefit of having better depth behind the 1s is real, but the magnitude is difficult to evaluate.  If having Smith allows the Coaches to make more optimal strategic decisions, then his impact could be big beyond the snaps he sees.  However, how much stock can you put in this?  Again, we’re not trying to predict what WILL happen!  We’re trying to get a sense of what is MOST LIKELY TO HAPPEN.  Just as we can think of hypos benefitting the team, we can also think of hypos working against them.  If you’re not looking at both sides of the coin, your analysis is incomplete.  For example, maybe Smith isn’t ready to be an impact player but the Coaches want to get him snaps to speed along his development.  Sounds reasonable, right?  Of course, that would (probably) leave the team with worse on-field performance in the near-term (this season).

Ideally Chip Kelly would rotate his players on defense to limit some of their wear and tear. The Eagles played more snaps on defense than any other team last year. They didn’t have the depth to rotate as much as they wanted. Players like Smith and Watkins and Taylor Hart and Beau Allen can help that situation. They don’t have to start or make lots of plays in order to help the defense.

Might be a valid point, and it’s one I’ll have to take a longer look at.  To the extent the additions to the defense allow the 1s to play fewer, higher impact snaps, there could be an increase in overall performance.  However, beyond Smith we’re talking about late-round draft picks.  Over the long-term, most of these guys (late rd rookies in general, not just these specific players) will NOT contribute anything significant to the team.  We know this. It’s possible the Eagles had a great draft and that each of these guys will see the field this season, but it’s NOT likely!  The objectively reasonable assumption is that guys drafted from the 4th round and beyond will contribute, if at all, on Special Teams.  I do think the Eagles STs will be much better this year than last.  BUT, STs just don’t have a very large impact on games.  They absolutely matter, but generally speaking, teams do not get a lot better just by improving on STs.

I get that the Eagles lost a star player in DeSean Jackson and didn’t replace him with an obvious star. That fact is going to skew the perception of some folks when it comes to the offseason discussion. I don’t know if Brent is in that camp and I don’t want to try and speak for him.

I’m not sure enough people appreciate the Foles angle in regard to DeSean Jackson. Foles doesn’t have a great arm and he’s not a consistently good vertical passer. Jackson had 3 catches that covered 50 or more yards from Foles. One was a short pass from Foles in the MIN game that Jackson turned into a big play with a long run after the catch. There was the 55-yard TD vs the Packers on a ball that was underthrown. Foles did make a pretty good throw for a 59-yard gain in the Oakland game.

Jackson is a dynamic deep receiver. Foles is not a dynamic deep passer. Jackson was still a good receiver for Foles and the Eagles last year, but his value becomes diminished because of the fit. You’re limiting what makes him special.

I don’t understand this line of argument.  Again, see my posts on DeSean’s performance last season.  He was spectacular last year.  One of the best WRs in the league.  That doesn’t mean getting rid of him was a bad idea, perhaps there’s a rational “scheme” or “chemistry” argument there.  But that’s LONG-term thinking, not short-term.  In the SHORT-term, i.e. next season, the Eagles offense has lost a dynamic weapon.  There’s just no way around it.  Repeating myself: This might be a long-term positive, but a short-term negative.

There is no denying that losing Jackson will affect the offense, but I think it won’t be nearly the same as if Vick or even McNabb was the QB. They were much better vertical passers. Foles excels on short and intermediate throws. This is where having a WR corps of Cooper, Maclin, Matthews and Huff should be fine. You lose some verticality, but gain some physicality.

As I said above, the offense will definitely be different.  The question is: is the “physicality” more than enough to make up for the loss of “verticality”.  Also, I don’t quite understand the QB argument.  Foles and Jackson did great things last year.  Yes, Foles is not the deep passer Vick is, but why does that matter?  Foles is still the QB, and he did great things with Jackson last season.  Maybe Tommy is saying the Eagles weren’t dependent on the deep game last year.  That’s probably true (I need to check), but it doesn’t mean that losing it won’t hurt a lot.  The WR corps certainly seems to “fit” Foles better, but just how many WRs/TEs can you really have running short routes?  Someone has to go deep, regardless of the QB’s strengths, and Jackson was really good at that.  Conversely, I don’t see the huge benefit of “physicality”, outside of perhaps the running game, which was already great.  

I think the offense will still be very good (assuming OL stays healthy, another potential issue given age), but last year the offense was great.  A small step backwards seems like a reasonable expectation.

It would have been great to see the Eagles land some major impact players this offseason, but the team didn’t miss out on anyone that I coveted. There was no Kearse or TO to go get. Brian Orakpo would have made the most sense, but he got tagged. I admit to being curious about DeMarcus Ware, but age and injuries have started to affect him. Darelle Revis would have been interesting, but I’m guessing Kelly didn’t want a “mercenary”. Revis wanted a 1-year deal so he could turn around and go for another mega-deal in 2015.

There were no slam dunk, can’t miss, gotta have him guys for the Eagles.

Agree completely.  But the above explanation is also completely irrelevant.  It perhaps explains why the Eagles didn’t make more significant additions.  But it doesn’t mitigate the fact that they didn’t.  Again, I don’t hate the offseason moves, I just don’t see them translating to big short-term benefits.

Another question some may have is at QB. If Foles gets hurt, can Mark Sanchez or Matt Barkley win games? That is a mystery. But it also would have been with Vick. He was an erratic player for the Eagles and lost his starting job last year. He didn’t want to return as a backup. I’m not worried about Sanchez or Barkley for a game or two. You can argue that having Vick would have helped if Foles went down long term, but then you have to acknowledge Vick’s biggest problem…getting hurt himself. He never stayed healthy for the Eagles and when he got dinged, his performance level dropped quite a bit.

I think Sanchez is a better acquisition than people realize. He failed in New York because the Jets saw him as a franchise QB, which I don’t, and because they failed to keep the right pieces around him. Sanchez has made some big plays in some big games. He’s just not a guy you build a team around. I think he can be a solid backup.

I like Sanchez less than Tommy does, but in the end it doesn’t matter.  We’re talking about next season, and Nick Foles was healthy (mostly) last season.  I don’t think anyone would argue that if Foles misses significant time this year, the team will take a step backwards in performance, regardless of which backup plays.  Health is always major risk factor, but I’ll have more on that later.  The fact that the Eagles got such good QB play last season means they’re more likely to receive worse play this season!  Foles’ expected regression is a HUGE issue that I’ll analyze later, but I’m very comfortable saying he will not duplicate his performance (he can play a lot worse and still be really good, though).

While the team may not have gotten the dramatic help many wanted, I do think it got better. I see the loss of Jackson and Jason Avant as a wash when you look at Maclin, Matthews, Huff and Sproles coming in. I realize I’m projecting with the rookies, but they have the size, skills and athleticism to help right away. They also have experience in a similar offense that makes the adjustment easier.

The defense didn’t lose any key players, but added a good FS, some CBs and an athletic OLB. How is that not an improvement?

Tommy’s is ignoring the fact that while some players will improve, others will get worse!  I addressed the rookie WRs projection above.  I agree that the defense got better, I just think it did so by a smaller amount than Tommy apparently believes.

Overall, what I’m seeing is: Moderate step back on offense, small step forward on defense, and an improvement (potentially large) on special teams.

If you’re stuck on Jackson, that’s fine. I disagree, but I get that.

Not “stuck” on Jackson, I’m done analyzing it as a strategic move.  But if you’re comparing last year’s team to this year’s team, it’s impossible not to address Jackson.  He’s the biggest piece either added or subtracted.  I know people are tired of hearing about him, but he simply MUST factor into any year-over-year comparison or analysis.

I just think the team brought in too many talented players to think that it took a step back. That isn’t to say the Eagles might not go 9-7 this year or something like that. There are no guarantees when it comes to results. We saw that when the 2011 offseason happened and the Eagles added all the big names, but the team got worse.

If you’re asking me whether I like the 2013 roster better than the 2014 roster, no way.  I’ll take the current group in a heartbeat. Kelly has brought in another set of players who fit his system and fit his football culture. They also happen to be pretty talented as well.

We’re much closer to agreement here than it might seem.  For the long-term, I like this year’s roster better.  For this season, though, I think there’s a significant chance of a step backwards, but that also relies on factors beyond the roster.

As I said above, most of these points need more unpacking and research, and I hope to do that over the next few weeks.  The possibility for a step backwards is there, though.  That doesn’t mean I hate Chip Kelly (I love Chip), or the direction of the team (I like it a lot). We’d be foolish, though, to drink so much Chip-flavored Kool Aid to believe he is infallible, or that EVERY one of his moves will work.  They won’t, at least not quickly, and this year that could be a problem.


37 thoughts on “Short term setbacks and My Response to Tommy Lawlor

  1. As you look at impact of rookies going forward, I think it would be helpful to parse the rookies by Seniors versus Underclassmen.

    Its a noted emphasis of Chip’s, and may help some of these guys contribute faster than a “typical” rookie.

    Jordan Matthews is a prime example – Senior, productive in the SEC, has played a ton of snaps – He should have a much easier time contributing Day 1 compared to a Cody Latimer, Kelvin Benjamin type.

  2. If DeSean was such a GREAT “deep threat” I just have one nagging issue.

    Why was NO TEAM in the NFL willing to part ways with a 5th, 6th, 7th rounder??

    Okay fine, so they thought Eagles would release him. Fine.

    Then so few teams show serious interest?? For a GREAT DEEP THREAT??? I don’t get it.

    Not even Kansas City with Andy Reid who drafted him?? They needed receiver help.

    Fact of the matter is, NFL teams realize that you don’t need a one-trick pony deep threat to be successful on offense. If anything that hurts your team. When DeSean lines up outside, teams are only worried about him going deep. Thats it. Easy to cover.

    In the NFL you need receivers who can do more than just that. I don’t care (and the Eagles agree) that we don’t have a “deep threat” like DeSean anymore. The fact of the matter is we have receivers who are more well rounded than DeSean. And I will take that versatility any day.

    The top 3 NFL teams in points/game last year. 1. Denver. 2. Chicago 3. New England
    The top 3 NFL teams in yards passing last year. 1. Denver 2. New Orleans 3. Detroit

    None of those teams have a “Deep threat” like DeSean. Most employ a WR by committee. They have Physical WRs or GREAT short area quickness WRs. None with the deep threat that DeSean is.

    SO…yes. I do think the Eagles will be better next year on offense. Just wait and see.

    • For the same reason that Darelle Revis wasn’t worth a 5th, 6th, or 7th. Doesn’t matter how good you are if the new team can’t or won’t honor the massive contract attached. I’m willing to bet, though, that this isn’t the first time you have heard this.

      • I gave a reply to that.

        Very few teams courted/showed interest in Djax after he was released. When you could have negotiated from scratch.

        It was pretty much the Skins. 49ers were rumored but came out and said they aren’t interested.

        Clearly, NFL does not value “deep threats”.

        There has to be something we don’t know.

        My conclusion: You don’t need a deep threat to be successful and score points on offense. You need guys who are versatile.

  3. I’d like to open by saying I’m a fan of your writing.

    However, I respectfully disagree; Re: DeSean Jackson.

    1. I’m not saying that you said this but many folks are saying that Foles can’t repeat a historically fantastic season, so why expect DeSean to do it?
    2. DeSean is a year older and his game depends largely on his speed. Will the wheels fall off that bus this year? (we won’t know until the end of the season)
    3. We aren’t playing the Chargers or Raiders this year.
    4. 42% of DeSean’s “explosive plays” came with Vick as QB.
    5. In 4 out of 12 games with Foles at QB DeSean records 0 plays of 20+ yards.
    6. I believe Chip was quoted as saying that teams played against our offense with 8 in the box frequently, which I think limits the argument that DeSean’s “threat” caused the run game to open up.

    There are facts (3-5) that suggest that even in the short term, the team won’t miss DeSean on some deeply impacting level. The possibilities I listed (1-2) could even mean that he would be a hindrance on the field. In statement 6, I am going to suggest that it is possible that having “bigger more physical players” can help the run game more than a small speedy guy.
    While it is entirely possible that the offense falls flat with the disappearance of DeSean, I find that conclusion to be unlikely.

    • All very fair and good points. If DeSean WAS still here, we would definitely have to analyze whether last season was repeatable, it likely wasn’t anyway. So the DeSean factor isn’t the only aspect regarding Foles’ regression. He likely would have regressed regardless, just by virtue of how amazing last season was, statistically.

      The age factor for DeSean is a big issue, and as I’ve said, I don’t disagree with the notion that, long-term, DeSean wasn’t worth paying a lot and dealing with. I agree with you there. However, right now we’re only focused on the short-term effects. WE need to disaggregate the cap/long-term factors from the pure performance factors. I’m not saying the D-Jax move was good or bad strategically, just that it presents some short-term on-field risk.

      I actually don’t think DeSean helped the run game that much, for the reasons you stated. HOWEVER, I do think he helped the rest of the passing game. That’s a big part of what I’m worried about. How many times did Cooper see a double-team last year? I don’t know, but Id guess almost never. I think D-Jax was very helpful in drawing safeties deeper, opening up the underneath routes (big part of the offense). Now, I haven’t confirmed any of that, so theres a good chance I’m wrong. But that’s where Im at right now on the DeSean-helping-others issue. I don’t think I mentioned the run game, but if I did it was a mistake.

      I should probably make this a permanent disclaimer, but: I still think the offense will be VERY good. However, last year the offense was GREAT. A small step back there, with a still-mediocre defense, might result in a tougher go of things this year.

      • Jackson wasnt going to replicate his historic 65% catch rate on 40+ deep passes. Its a huge outlier in his career, so based on that alone we shouldnt expect a repeat.

        I do not buy the passing game thing. Most teams like the Saints in the play off game played some version of cover 1 against us, that means that unless teams are going to play cover 0, Cooper or Maclin will see a safety over the top (I do miss 2010 where teams played cover 2 with safeties extremely deep, but that require both Maclin and Jackson and a QB with a cannon).

      • Sorry for misinterpreting what you said. I can certainly see how DeSean would have an impact on Celek, Ertz, Cooper, and Avant in the passing game. Maclin should (if healthy) be able to help out in that regard. But I do think that the overarching principle in Chip’s offense seems to be that someone (anyone) will be open, and he wants his QB to get the ball to the open guy. My guess (which has no data to back it up) would be that Chip is confident that he and Foles are simply playing a numbers game and that they are happy to take whatever advantage they are given by the defense.

        I also appreciate your candor in saying that that you think the offense will take a step back, and it actually does help adding the qualifier that it will be a small step back. haha!

        On a completely different topic: I have especially enjoyed the segments where you break down the team by position and player by color and show how minor upgrades from a low quality player to a mediocre player can have a great impact (especially on defense) and I think that is part of what we experienced at CB this past season. I’m taking the optimist position on Jenkins and saying that he will help elevate the defensive backfield another notch this year. I wish more fans would get exposure to this line of thinking because it is very different from a normal “fan” perspective, and makes a ton of sense.

  4. I think it’s important when doing this analysis to also look at DeSean’s 2013 performance and the degree to which we can expect it to be repeatable. After all, Desean’s 2013 stats do not need to be replaced, his expected 2014 stats are what need to be replaced.

    • That’s partially true, but I actually want to get away from the whole “replacement” argument. This offense will be very different without DeSean. It will be better in some areas and worse in others, it’s just a matter of where the overall balance shakes out. DeSean’s 2013 season was likely NOT repeatable, but that just means the offense might have taken a step back even with him here.

  5. I think the one element that’s very hard to predict is how much players on both offense and defense will develop. Last year we had a lot of young players and new schemes on both sides of the ball. Brent makes a strong argument that some players will also get worse, but I think we can expect improvement on the whole. Some of this improvement could be very high leverage. Eg if cox takes a leap I think he’s at least capable of, we may have he desean effect on the defense – a player that has to be schemed against on every snap. After all, I’m less worried about losing desean’s direct production than his effect on the rest of the offense more broadly.

  6. “Moreover, while they might match his production on a pure yards/TDs basis, there are additional effects that are harder to account for. For instance: DeSean likely helped open things up for the rest of the offense more than a 100% Jeremy Maclin can. Again, that needs analysis, but I think that hypo is more reasonable than the opposite (saying Maclin will have greater effects on the rest of the offense).”

    I agreed with large chunks of the article as a whole, but I wanted to address this piece specifically, because it kinda relates to something I noticed over the course of last season. Firstly, I think that hypothesis was absolutely true in the Andy Reid years – teams feared DeSean’s speed and kept their safeties deep to account for it which left them open in the middle of the field. That said, as the 2013 season wore on, it seemed that fewer teams were playing their safeties deep.

    It looked to me that teams were less scared of getting beaten by Jackson over the top (perhaps because they didn’t trust Foles to consistently hit him?) than they were about McCoy running up the middle – and as a result, they were bringing additional safeties into the box and leaving more space for the deep passes to Cooper and Jackson.

    Not trying to take away from any of your points here, it’s just something that I noticed over the course of the year and thought you might find interesting 🙂

  7. One place where size matters is the redzone, Maclin+Matthews should in theory be a better redzone combo than Jackson+Avant (neither scored that many redzone TDs in their careers here).

  8. Good stuff. I think the statement in your original article that the Eagles are “worse on paper” is what caused so much backlash. That’s not the same as saying you don’t think they can repeat or improve on what they did last year, which is what you addressed here.

    Let’s get to the numbers, much more interesting. That article on why the numbers show Jackson is such an amazing and unique talent seems way to focused on one set of data. First, any statistician knows that numbers can be twisted to make almost any argument you want, particularly if you limit the data. Second, football is not yet as quantifiable as baseball, despite ongoing efforts. Chip seems to be on the leading edge of coaches using data to drive decisions, yet he made the call on Jackson. He realizes that the game is more of an idea cloud than a decimal rating. In this case you simply must factor in the fact that each team has limited resources to build a roster. Would you object to Jackson being cut if he was due 30 mill next year? Clearly there is an economic value to each player. The fact that no one would give even a 7th for Jackson indicates that football minds place his value at less than 10.5 mill. You could say that cap limits precluded some teams from bidding, but why not recognize that cap limits affected the Eagles decision as well? They decided they need that 10.5 mill for future moves.

    Regarding the other article, it would be helpful to look at both performance numbers solely with Foles, and Jackson’s season progression as teams adjusted. I agree that Chip did a good job of maximizing his talents, but not with the conclusion from this one set of data that Jackson is a unique talent who is worthy of building an offense around. Cooper, Celek, McCoy, and Foles are all examples of players who seemed to thrive under Kelly. May be hard to quantify that, but it’s certainly not unreasonable to think players like Sproles, Ertz, Maclin, and the rookies will all benefit from Kelly next year.

    It’s an easy trap to focus on data that supports one’s belief and minimize data that doesn’t. QB and WR certainly have different factors, but if you have concern about Foles “regressing to the mean” next year it doesn’t make sense to argue that losing Jackson meant losing a repeat of last year’s numbers. That may not matter for the purpose of this article, but it certainly seems to be a claim you make in the other one about Jackson. I also think from a football perspective you are simply missing far too many factors involved in a player making his team better. Sproles, Maclin and the rookies are unlikely to replace Jackson?!? That may turn out to be true, but I don’t see any justification for that being the expected outcome. More likely they kick the offense up another notch and make us forget all about him. Come playoff time, the data says Jackson will be easy to replace.

  9. Thanks for the follow up explanation Brent…it will be interesting to see what your deeper dive analysis uncovers as it relates to this season’s expectations.

    A question I have as it relates to Jordan Matthews expected contribution on offense – how does the model account for a player that has a first round worthy grade, but falls into a deep at that position draft? What is the difference in expected contribution between a first and second round selection at the WR position, and does the data sort between WR1, WR2, and Slot?

    • Another question as it relates to your TPR model:

      Since you are using only 3 scouting grades in your TPR model (ESPN,, NFP), do you go back and re-grade draft classes and make adjustments to the current grades by position based on past grading performance by said sites?

      • That’s one of the goals. I don’t have enough data yet (only been two years) to make confident adjustments to the weightings. It’s definitely something I’m thinking about though.

      • Thanks Brent, didn’t realize you were working with only 2 years worth of data. Does the data exist that you could model the prior 10 drafts and then re-grade after 3 years?

  10. This is my first visit to this site. I like what I’ve read so far. Don’t think I’ll find much sugary beverage drinking on here or senseless negativity either. I’m generally not big on obscure stats but recognize that they can tell a story after the fact. I said “a” story, not necessarily “the” story.

    Having said that, I find it endlessly fascinating that fans of pro sports like their athletes to be humble and gracious. If Jackson were not the personality he is, I think people would see his contributions in a different light, regardless of what the stats say or don’t say.

    I’m going to miss him. Been an Eagles fan for too many decades to not recognize that he was one of the most dynamic players to ever wear the wings. I go back to Roman Gabriel days, people. So I’ve seen a lot of mediocre WR play over the years. Jackson wasn’t mediocre.

    • Glad you’ve enjoyed it so far. I haven’t touched on the Jackson personality issues much, mainly because there’s not much to say. It’s clearly a big part of why he’s no longer on the team, but without knowing more inside-the-locker-room stuff, we can’t say much more than that. I think the problem with many fans is that they don’t evolve past first impressions. DeSean began his career as a “one-trick” guy who got by on his speed. However, over the past few years he became a much more complete WR. Casual fans just didn’t realize this, perhaps because the beat writers perpetuated the “deep-threat only” story. Granted, DeSean’s crossing routes in his contract year left much to be desired, but that was completely rational (id have done the same thing). Mostly, I was just trying to get more people to appreciate just how good last season was, regardless of the causes and ignoring what led to his departure.

      On a higher scale, it’s fascinating how soon fans forget last season. Prior to the year, everyone was WAY too pessimistic. I pointed that out and explained why the team would likely be much better than most thought. Given that experience, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the reverse can be true as well (being too optimistic). I don’t think expectations are nearly as out of whack this year, but it does seem like many are ignoring some big potential pitfalls.

    • I was ecstatic when DeSean dropped to us, and we actually turned in the card to draft him, and have loved watching him play for the Eagles. I’ve drafted him as often as I could onto my fantasy football teams as well. And this may sound odd, but that last point is part of the reason I’m not totally heart broken over DeSean moving on… DeSean is a fantastic football player. He has achieved things that few players can, but on a week in week out basis he simply is not consistently productive.

      I think DeSean is the epitome of the Andy Reid Eagles for me. What I mean by that is that (trap games aside) Andy Reid led Eagles were good at grinding the bones of weak NFL teams to dust. I haven’t seen any statistics on this, but it just felt to me like his teams could absolutely dismantle certain other teams, but that against good opponents it would come down to a coin flip as to who would win. I had a lot of fun watching those teams, and I had a lot of fun watching dynamic players like Vick and Cunningham (still my favorite football player of all time).

      But I am ready for a new formula to win, and so far, I am excited about what Chip Kelly brings to the table. I appreciate the concept that we have a wide array of weapons and Foles just has to be the point guard for this team. I’m looking forward to seeing what production we can get out of Maclin, Cooper, Ertz, Celek, Matthews and Huff. And I do think this WR corps even without Jackson will be better than many we’ve had in the past (as long as they can actually catch the ball).

  11. Wow man, NEVER go to a casino. You made a few good points, but all I thought reading through this thing was gamblers fallacy. ” The fact that the eagles had such good qb play last season means they’re more likely to receive worse qb play this season”. Umm, no it doesn’t. Just because the roulette table has hit red 20 times in a row doesn’t mean black is more likely to hit. Each roll/season is an independent event which doesn’t depend on what happened beforehand. I doubt a QB like brees or Peyton will regress using that logic. Unless you don’t think Foles is as good as he played last year, which is a different point/argument. Same criticism can be made for rookie impacts and wrs argument. You cannot make such a bold assertion based on what you perceive (key word) has happened in the past ( pretty sure wolf had an impact before he was injured last year). Also, go look at Jackson’s numbers with vick at QB vs Foles at QB. There is undeniable, empirical evidence you have ignored/misconstrued concerning his value in this offense with either QB at the helm. There are more ways to stretch a defense then fast wrs. You make a couple good points, but it’s clear you’re grasping for straws here. Tommy is right.

    • Saying Foles will regress is not the same thing as the “gambler’s fallacy”. I’ll have a full post on Foles (perhaps a few), but there is simply no reasonable way to expect him to duplicate his performance from last season. Brees and Manning are HOFers with long track records. Foles is not. I like Foles, but expecting him to put up the same type of efficiency next year is ridiculous. Not going to happen.

      Conceptually, receiving GREAT QB play one year absolutely means the team’s QB performance the next year is more likely to be worse. This requires a lot more detail as well, so I’ll save it for a post. However, seasons are not independent events in anywhere close to the same way roulette rolls are. Also, if you’re in a casino, you should be at the craps table, not the roulette wheel.

      • Ok, if you don’t think Foles can repeat the season he had last year based on some combination of ability and fit for this offense, then I can understand where you’re coming from. Viewing last year as a fluke instead of a breakout year is a matter of opinion that will only be resolved by history in the coming years. I respect your knowledge of the Birds and football in general enough to believe you will have some strong arguments as to why you believe the year Foles had is the former. I’ll remind you that, while Foles had a great 2nd half of the season, there were a few games last year where the QB play hurt the Eagles (Dallas, KC, NYG). It wasn’t the Nick Foles show the entire year, the team had to grow as a whole until they hit their stride. There shouldn’t be that much of a learning curve next year. This is a team that, even without Vick, bases its offense around running the ball and quick screen passes. With the best RB in the NFL, coupled with good play calling/design, even degraded QB play should not hurt the offense as much as one may think.

        Yeah, roulette was a sloppy analogy that I’m rightly getting burned for. I just don’t see the reasoning behind saying Foles had a good year last year, therefore he is more likely going to have a worse year next year. Doesn’t it work the opposite? Even future HOF QBs with long track records need to start somewhere. Players like Brady, Wilson, and Kaepernick prove you don’t need high expectations or perceived QB ability out of college in order to find success in a particular system. Even if your argument is he will more likely have 25TDs and 10ints next year then repeat what he did last year, does slightly worse QB play really hurt this team SO much there needs to be such concern for it? I think the more important question/argument is whether Foles will still have a “good” year next year. In my example, 25-10 seems to be a pretty good year to me, yet your argument would be correct. But like I’ve already stated, does this team really NEED Foles to go a ridiculous 27-2 in order to be successful? My slightly educated answer is no.

      • I think we agree more than you realize. I do think Foles is good and will have a good career, just not THAT good. Last year was ridiculous. As you suggested, Foles can regress and still have a very good season (I think thats what will happen actually). From my perspective, the entire season will hinge on whether the Defense’s improvement outweighs the offense’s regression. It might. I have to take a closer look before making any W/L guesses, but if I had to project at this moment, it’d be: around 9 wins, contending for division title, with a still very good (but not GREAT) offense and a slightly improved defense. Probably should have said that originally, I get the sense that some people believe my previous posts means something along the lines of 6 wins and Foles turning into Bobby Hoying.

    • You appear to be a little confused about what the Gambler’s Fallacy actually is. If you want to use the roulette analogy, imagine last season you put all your money on #9. Even though you got lucky and it came up 9, the overwhelming likelihood is that the next spin does not come up 9. Just ’cause you got lucky one time doesn’t mean you’ll get lucky every time.

      That’s not a great way of expressing the point, though, because roulette is a bad analogy to use. I have, therefore, taken the liberty of putting together a little chart which plots the ratio of TDs to interceptions against the yards per attempt of every QB-season with at least 250 attempts from 2000 to present. Here’s the link so you can see for yourself

      What this shows us is that did better at getting his passes into the end-zone and keeping them out of the hands of defenders than any other QB in the last 14 seasons. It also shows that he also racked up more yards per pass attempt than all but 3 other QBs in the last 14 years.

      This means you can make a decent argument that Nick Foles had the best season of any QB in the last 14 years. When considering regression, the point to think about is this: How likely is it that Nick Foles can do that again? Any sensible projection should conclude ‘not very’.

      • Deg has the correct response. The distribution curve of a coin flip or red/black roulette event is completely different than that for a quarterback’s performance. The probability of any quarterback (not just Foles) coming up with another 27/2 119 rating season is very low. This is an extreme outlier, a Black Swan, as a stand-alone event. Regression to the mean is almost certain.

        The one factor Brent does not mention, and is being ignored overall, is the positive impact an improved defense could have on offensive output. Even a slight improvement in defense, in getting off the field, could improve overall offensive output (by increasing the number of drives) even if points per drive, yards per play, etc go down because of Jackson’s loss and/or Foles lesser performance. The underlying assumption is that Kelly will create a productive offense with the tools he does have, even if it is probably less efficient per play or per drive than before.

        This could be quantified, in terms of how an expected range of improvement in defensive performance (measured, say, by plays per drive defensively) would produce an increase of x more drives a game for Kelly. And what that would have to be to produce the same amount of points given an x decrease in ypp or pp

  12. First time here. I get the sense that you’re playing Devil’s advocate here, but I didn’t get the sense that you were being anything other than a skeptic in doing so. “I was just trying to get more people to appreciate just how good last season was, regardless of the causes and ignoring what led to his departure.” Everyone really enjoyed last season’s success. That being said, I think most people are in the camp that it can be built upon. I think that only makes sense. Even if building upon the success of last season is by addition through subtraction. I do think Tommy made some excellent points in refute of your logic, as well as bringing up some points that hadn’t been mentioned, suchas Maclin, and why the rookie receivers can be expected to contribute.

    Going off the numbers you yourself have given, if you add Maclin’s average yards receiving as a pro (around 850) to the average yards receiving for 2nd round WRs, (435) and add a projected decline in Sproles productivity based on “the trend,” (500) you come up with something like 1785 yards receiving from new additions not on the active roster last year. Jackson had 1340 receiving and Avant had 447. 1787, for a difference of 2 yards? That’s just using your own data. I didn’t use any data on Huff because I didn’t have any. Basically, I see the projected production as being really fundamentally equal or improved from day one.

    Since this is my first time to your site, I can’t say that I was really left with anything truly memorable about your writing style. I think overall the word that sticks out to me was the word you used in your bio which is dispassionate, which I tend to think of as a negative thing, as I think it is synonymous with ‘dry,’ ‘bored’ or ‘uninspired.’ Tommy definitely has a lot of zeal in his writing, but he knows football, and he is thought-provoking without blocking out the Sun with his perspective. I get that in a nutshell you’re ‘just not ruling out regression,’ but throughout your response to Tommy, you continually made the case for why things wouldn’t or shouldn’t come together. Like for instance, you mention Malcolm Jenkins as being “not a great player,” when it’s probably more relevant albeit perhaps more challenging to analyze whether or not he’ll be a great scheme fit for what Billy Davis is implementing. For a first time reader here, it definitely comes across as the Negative Nancy of projecting team and scheme success.

    I think in the end, I see you analyzing the team as only the sum of its parts and in doing so, I think you do a basic disservice to your own capability to write on the “team” itself. It really feels like you’re missing the forest for the trees by over-emphasizing the individual beyond the merits of the team, and I think you end up painting yourself into a corner where in order to defend your skepticism, you have to start rationalizing why the team’s success is likely to decline, when in reality, it was more an inability to move beyond the old paradigms of thought that falsely supported such success in the past. For other instances of this, see also, “Chip Kelly needs a running quarterback.”

    I like anyone who has a passion for the Eagles, but I felt a general dissatisfaction coursing through this piece, and it came across in the writing, and I felt I should address how it could be not only alienating potential readership but that also you didn’t come across as though you knew much of what you were talking about, generally speaking.

    • I’d suggest that would be a waste of his time given that he’s correctly used it twice in this article, which would suggest that he clearly knows the proper usage of the word.

      • Ha! This reminds me of the first time I read correct usage of the word “upshot” and was sure the author had used it incorrectly…..until I actually looked it up.

  13. Pingback: Iggles Blitz » Blog Archive » Monday Night Misc

  14. Fans (myself included) almost always diminish the effect of player decline when forecasting future performance. My biggest concern this year is with the aging of the offensive line. I’m especially concerned about Herremans (whose play seemed to be declining already last year) and the overall lack of depth. God help us if anything happens to Kelce.

  15. I see one consistent assumption, which I am not sure where the assumption comes from: Foles numbers will regress.

    Last season was his first in this offense. He is going into his 3rd year. He only started 10 games last year.

    I understand the concept of improvement while his numbers go down, but what is that exactly based off of? Is it this is that last season too good to believe, so odds are he will not do that again.

    From my observations, it seemed like there were times where he looked outstanding and then stretches where he looked completely lost. Way too many 3+ outs. Also with an over-reliance on the deep ball, we lacked the short and intermediate options to have some more consistency in offense.

    After the bye week, Foles averaged over 2TDs per game. He was pretty consistent with only 1 game less then 2TDs. (6 games, 13Tds 2 Ints). So there is not any sign of regression of fluke to his season. If he holds serve and you extrapolate that out he still has a (35TD 5Int) season. Isn’t that the expected base line then you factor improvements from there? (Since the first Dallas game and the Oakland games are the outlier extremes those are not included in that base line projection)

    • I’ll address it soon, but the short answer is: Unless Foles is a truly GREAT QB (like Manning, Brady, etc…), he’s going to regress at least a little bit. The biggest concern is the INT rate. I think Foles is actually one of the best no-INT guys in the league, but 0.6% is simply ridiculous. The all-time career leader is Aaron Rodgers, at 1.8%. That’s a good example of what I mean when I say that Foles can regress significantly, and still be a very good QB. More to come when I have some time, but that’s one of the big factors (there are a few).

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