2As you hopefully noticed, I haven’t posted much this season. I’m finishing up my JD/MBA program while trying to find full-time employment. Unfortunately, this hasn’t left much time for posting, at least not enough to allow for the quality of analysis I expect (and you deserve). However, I consider this to be a short-term problem, and hope to have much more time to post next season. In order to keep things interesting here, I’ve added Patrick Causey as a contributor. His posts thus far have been tremendous, and we should all be excited to read his future work. If you would like to contribute, either on a one-off or regular basis, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now…to the team.
This is a massively important game for a number of reasons:
- Most clearly, the Eagles need the win. As maddeningly inconsistent as the team has been (and as terrible on offense as they’ve been), they’re in the driver’s seat for the division title if they can beat Dallas tonight. Let’s break it down a bit:
- Dallas – A loss tonight puts Dallas at 2-6, with another week to go before Romo comes back. Moreover, they play 4 of their next 5 games on the road, and 5 of their last 8 games on the road. Their schedule includes games against Carolina (7-0), and at Green Bay (6-1). Basically, the Cowboys, even with Romo, are not going to win out. That puts them at no better than 9-7, and much more likely, 8-8 or worse.
- Giants – The Giants are 4-4, but the Eagles hold the tiebreaker over them right now by virtue of the head-to-head win and a Giants loss to Dallas in week 1. Here’s the key issue for New York: According to Football Outsiders, the Giants have faced the 28th hardest schedule thus far. Heading into this week, they have the 5th hardest schedule going forward. In other words, the Giants have a .500 record through the easy half of their schedule, so we shouldn’t expect anything better over the rest of the year (I expect worse). That puts the Giants, at best, at 8-8.
- Washington – Washington is 3-4, same as the Eagles. They’re currently getting killed by New England, so let’s just assume they’ll be at 3-5 soon enough. How do things look the rest of the way? Well, FiveThirtyEight’s ELO ratings have Washington as underdogs in EVERY game for the rest of the season. That could, of course, change in the future. But right now, it means Washington is very unlikely to string together a few wins. They’re remaining schedule includes: New Orleans (suddenly looking competent), @ Carolina (still undefeated and winning by 20 over GB right now), 2 games against Dallas w/ Romo, and week 16 in Philadelphia. Just 3 losses out of those games puts Washington at no better than 8-8, and that assumes they sweep the rest of their schedule (Buffalo, NYG, @ Chicago), which they won’t.
Where does that leave us? Well, to put it simply, the Eagles have a great chance at the division if they can just get to 8 wins. They have 3 right now. Here’s the rest of the schedule, with the current FO rank and ELO win %:
- @ Dallas (25th, 46%)
- Miami (20th, 68%)
- Tampa (26th, 79%)
- @ Detroit (31st, 60%)
- @ New England (1st, 17%)
- Buffalo (14th, 66%)
- Arizona (2nd, 49%)
- Washington (18th, 79%)
- @ NYG (15th, 46%)
They need 5 wins out of that stretch. Based purely on the ELO odds, the win expectation is 5.1 wins. If the Eagles win tonight, the remaining win expectation is at least 4.64 (so closer to 9 wins than 8), and likely higher assuming the ELO odds improve to account for an Eagles win.
So that’s why tonight is important. Win, and Dallas is basically eliminated and the Eagles become the clear favorites, needing just 4 wins against a schedule that includes 3 games in which the team is a heavy favorite.
A few other Dallas notes, then I’ll get to a few bigger picture bullets:
- Matt Cassell has been awful this year. Matt Cassel has also been bad for pretty much his entire career (save two seasons, the most recent of which was 5+ years ago). The Eagles defense should be able to completely shut the Dallas passing attack down.
- Darren McFadden is the Dallas “rushing attack”.
- The Dallas defense ranks 17th by DVOA, and 20th against the run. I really hope Ryan Mathews is healthy enough to play, but regardless, Chip needs to run the ball. The Jason Peters injury hurts, but it shouldn’t dissuade Chip from sticking with the run. This is not a game where they need to worry about the other team running away from them if they don’t get points up quickly.
- The Dallas Punt Coverage unit ranks 3rd worst in the league by Football Outsiders. Combine that with Matt Cassel and the Eagles defense, and we should be looking at a few big return opportunities for Darren Sproles.
The Eagles have been so inconsistent that I’m hesitant to make any prediction. The Eagles SHOULD win this game. But the amount of uncertainty around the Eagles expected performance is so large right now there’s just no way to be confident about it.
Now to a few higher-level notes:
Chip – This is a huge game for Chip. As I explained above, the implications are enormous. He’s had a bye week to plan/prepare. Alonso and Kendricks are back healthy (I think). He’s going against Matt Cassel. Dallas has lost 5 straight games.
In other words, there are absolutely no excuses for a poor performance. The Eagles are the better team talent-wise, and they’ve had more time to prepare and rest. If they don’t perform, it’s going to be really hard to blame anyone but Chip, especially because he’s now in charge of picking the players too.
Sam Bradford – He’s been terrible. There’s no way around it, and if you’re defending him, just know that you’re doing so with absolutely no supporting evidence from his actual play. Yes, the WRs have also been bad, and the dropped passes make Sam’s job a lot harder. But remember that every WR drops some balls that should be caught. The questions isn’t how many drops, it’s how many drops ABOVE what we should expect. According to SportingCharts.com (full disclosure: I have no idea if this site is trustworthy or not), the Eagles have a drop rate of 6.6%. That’s 3rd highest in the league. The median drop rate is 3.9% (not using average because it would take too long to calculate right now and not make a meaningful difference).
So…the TRUE drop rate we’re talking about is 2.7%. That’s how much worse the Eagles have been than average, according to this source. Bradford has 272 attempts. If we normalize the drop rate, that means Bradford should have 7-8 more completions than he does. Maybe a few more if we adjust for second-order effects as well (additional first downs). Regardless, still think drops are why Bradford has struggled?
The only reason to have any hope is that Bradford is coming back from injury and is in a new system. He has a relatively long track record, which he is currently underperforming. That tells me that MAYBE, with a little more time to adjust/learn, he will get better. But frankly, “better” doesn’t get you very far when you’re looking at one of the worst starters in the league.
He’s dead last in QBR, he’s 30th out of 33 qualifiers in Passer Rating. He has the 6th worst Interception Rate. He has the 3rd worst Yards per Attempt (and adjusted Yards per attempt).
I hate to be so pessimistic, but it seems pretty clear to me that Bradford isn’t “the answer”, unless all you’re hoping for is league-average play. And in that case, he’s far too expensive, and will continue to be far too expensive after this year (my projection, perhaps the market value will be much different).
The Defense – Not much to say here other than I told you so. Not that anyone was disagreeing, but I made it pretty clear in my preseason write-up that this defense could be a top 5 unit. Right now they rank #3 by FO.