Patrick Causey, on Twitter @pcausey3
This is a three-part series analyzing where the Eagles stand after the game against the Dallas Cowboys. This is part three. You can read all three by clicking the following links below:
- Part 1: The Run Game
- Part 2: The Passing Game
- Part 3: How Predictable Play Calling is Contributing to the Inconsistency on Offense, and a Preview of the Eagles Remaining Schedule
Predictability of Play Calling: Murray swing pass, Murray run
Lost in the euphoria of the Eagles win over a hated division rival is how poorly the Eagles played for the first three quarters of the game. As I mentioned about 3,000 words ago, the Eagles offense produced just 91 yards of total offense in the first three quarters, excluding their two touchdown drives.
Many expected the Eagles to come out of their bye week swinging. Instead, the Eagles started off the game with a rare feat, running six plays without getting a single first down. It was an ominous sign of the things to come, and was made worse by the fact that the defense allowed the Matt Cassell-led Cowboys to drive the ball 93 yards down the field for a touchdown.
The Eagles next two drives combined yielded just nine plays for 38 yards. On three third downs the Eagles faced to start the game, Bradford threw the ball short of the sticks and unsurprisingly, failed to gain a first down. Here are examples of two of those throws:
Eagles fans and media members were understandably frustrated. Throughout the game, Twitter was filled with examples of frustrated fans and media members who had seen enough
Simply put, it was an incredibly frustrating first 45 minutes of the game.
Many people have asked why the Eagles have consistently struggled in the first halves of games. One explanation is that Chip Kelly has become too predictable of a play caller. Some of this probably unfair, since every team has tendencies in certain downs and game situations. Some level of predictability is to be expected.
But some of it was entirely justified. For example, earlier this year Kelly started running the ball with Bradford under center after it became clear that Murray was struggling running from the shotgun. The Eagles ended up calling 17 plays with Bradford lined up under center against the Saints, which had to be some sort of record for a Kelly-led offense.The only problem? On every single play, the Eagles ran the ball.
Before that, Kelly was telegraphing the direction in which he run plays were designed by the formation of his running back. Specifically, when a running back would line up on one side of the quarterback in the shotgun formation, he would run to the other side of the field 80% of the time.
Each of these examples are far too predictable against NFL defenses and defensive coordinators. It’s why you heard stories about defensive players calling out the Eagles plays before they were snapped.
While Kelly has done a better job switching things up as of late, there is one area that really stands out that needs to be changed. To start the game against the Cowboys, the Eagles called a pass that incorporated a swing pattern for DeMarco Murray out of the backfield:
The next play, Murray did an inside zone run on second down.
The problem with this series of play calling — in addition to gaining only one yard total — is that it has become a staple for the Eagles to start each half.
There have been 16 halves of football played by the Eagles.The first play run in eight of those halves was a designed pass play to Murray out of the backfield. He was targeted on seven of those plays, six of which involved Murray running a swing route.
To make matters worse: on nine of the 16 drives in question, the Eagles ran the ball on the very next play, usually on an inside zone run up the middle.
In other words, there is approximately a 50% chance that the Eagles will start the first and second halves by throwing a swing pass to Murray followed by Murray running the ball up the middle.
If I can figure this out in 30 minutes looking over NFL Films, you can rest assured NFL defensive coordinators have figured this out as well.
And how did the Eagles do on those plays? Not good. On those seven pass plays to Murray on first down, the Eagles have gained an average of 2.14 yards per play. And on those follow up run plays, the Eagles have gained only 3.88 yards per play.
To be fair to Chip Kelly, this is not entirely his fault. Almost every pass play in his offense comes with multiple options. So Bradford can go in another direction if he so chooses, as we saw on the one occasion where Bradford threw the ball to Agholor instead of Murray.
But, if the defense knows what routes are coming — and it says here that they do — then it is much easier for the defense to shut those other routes down and force the Eagles to settle for a dump off to Murray.
The most troubling thing, at least for me, is that the Eagles coaching staff failed to pick up on this during the bye week. The Eagles coaching staff spent the bye week self-scouting themselves, including their play calling.
The fact that the Eagles came out against the Cowboys and ran the exact same two plays to start the game is somewhat shocking. The Eagles need to switch things up on opening drives. One thing we’ve seen is that the offense gets rolling after it is able to convert a first down or two. But that momentum will be much harder to manufacture if the defense knows which plays are coming. Keep an eye against the Dolphins to see if the Eagles run these plays to start each half. If they do, do not be surprised if it leads to another three and out.
The Eagles Remaining Schedule
A short word on the Eagles remaining schedule. The Eagles are in prime position to go on a mini-win streak here, as their next three opponents (Miami, Tampa Bay, and Detroit), are a combined 7-17. If the Eagles handle their business, they will be 7-4 by the time they travel to New England to take on the Patriots.
But it gets better. Looking over the NFC East, the Eagles have a decided advantage over the New York Giants in terms of strength of schedule. Here is a breakdown of the NFC East by records plus the records of their remaining opponents:
- Giants 5-4 (37-19)
- Eagles 4-4 (33-32)
- Redskins 3-5 (31-34)
- Cowboys 2-6 (35-29)
The Giants have a demonstrably harder schedule than the Eagles. And this is made worse by the fact that five of their remaining eight games are being played on the road. Conversely, the Eagles are playing five home games to just three road games. In what figures to be a close race down the stretch, the Eagles have an advantage over their biggest threat for the NFC East crown.
And while I hate to pick games — usually because I am wrong — it is not hard to get the Eagles to 9-7 or even 10-6:
- NE (L)
- Arz (L)
This puts the Eagles at 10-6, a remarkable feat given how inconsistent they were to start the season. But even if we assume the Eagles might lose a game they should win, they could still easily land on 9-7. Given the current state of the rest of the NFC East, that might just be enough to win the division.