Three Eagles Numbers That Matter

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean JacksonHere is our (somewhat) weekly feature, three Eagles numbers that matter:

78 – DeSean Jackson’s yards-per-game in eight full games with Michael Vick as his quarterback last year. Jackson had 37 catches for 624 yards with Vick. That equates to 74 catches for 1,248 yards over a 16-game season – both of which would have been career highs.

Vick got injured on Nov. 11 against the Cowboys and was replaced by Nick Foles. Jackson only played a total of eight quarters with Foles, totaling six catches for 36 yards before fracturing his ribs against the Panthers. But he still had some encouraging words for the second-year quarterback last week.

“Nick Foles is a special player. Even though he’s kind of big and lanky I still think he’s able to have mobility and sling the ball and move up in the pocket and do some things,” Jackson said. “He’s never been in an offense like this before so it’s really hard for me to say how he would fit into it. When minicamps come, maybe I’ll be able to answer your question a little better. But I think he’ll do fine. He’s a great quarterback.”

The truth is, both Vick and Foles had trouble with the deep ball last year. According to Pro Football Focus, Foles was on-target on 35.7 percent of his throws that traveled 20 yards or more downfield. Vick was almost identical at 35 percent. That put them at 24th and 26h in the league, respectively. Of course, both QBs had consistent pressure in the face, making the downfield throws even more challenging.

With Vick, there’s evidence to support the idea that last year was an anomaly in terms of his miscues downfield. In 2011, he was on-target with 51.7 percent of those throws (fifth in the NFL). And in 2010, 47.5 percent (sixth). With Foles, the issue seemed to be one of mechanics and footwork, something he’ll try to iron out this offseason.

As for Jackson, who knows how many downfield routes he’ll be running in 2013? If Oregon’s offense provides any indication, he’ll see plenty of catches on WR screens. He might be called on for some touches out of the backfield and could be used as a punt returner as well.

But Jackson’s strength is still getting behind the defense and making big plays downfield. Kelly, Pat Shurmur and company will look to find a way to help him be successful in that area, regardless of who is playing QB.

(+)21 – Oregon’s turnover margin last year. That ranked No. 1 in the nation. In fact, no team in college football in the last three years has had a better turnover margin in a single season.

But I was surprised to find how the Ducks landed at that number. Like all coaches, Kelly values taking care of the football, but Oregon turned it over 19 times, which ranked 39th in the nation. On the other side of the ball, Oregon had 40 takeaways, which ranked No. 1 in the country. In 2011, it was 29 takeaways (19th). In 2010, 37 (2nd). And in 2009, 25 (32nd).

We’ve spent plenty of time discussing the Eagles’ problems with turnovers on offense the past two years, but the defense was terrible in that area too. The Birds had 13 takeaways in 2012, tied for dead-last in the NFL with the Chiefs.

It makes sense that Kelly’s teams created a lot of turnovers. Score early, score often, and force the opponent to throw the ball and play catch-up. Of course, that formula only works if the offense is clicking, something that probably won’t happen right away with the Eagles.

0 – The number of touchdowns Oregon allowed on kickoff returns and punt returns during Kelly’s four years as head coach there. I did some digging with the help of CFBStats.com and discovered that only one other team could tout that same distinction from 2009 to 2012: Florida State.

Last year, the Ducks allowed just 55 yards (total) on 17 punt returns. That should be music to the ears of Eagles fans. As we’ve mentioned before, the Birds had the worst punt/punt coverage unit in the league last year, according to Football Outsiders’ rankings.

Mat McBriar is gone, and Donnie Jones is the new punter. The Eagles have also bolstered their special teams with free-agent signings. This unit has to be better to help the Birds win the field-position battle, something that rarely happened in 2012.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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