Given that the Football Outsiders Almanac was released this week, I could probably make this 25 Eagles Numbers That Matter. But we’ll spread it out over a number of posts instead.
I’ve mentioned it before, but the annual publication is a great resource for football fans and I highly recommend giving it a look.
Keeping that in mind, here are three numbers from the FOA that stood out to me:
77.8 – The percentage of pass plays in which the Eagles rushed only four defenders last year; no team did so more. The number backs what we’ve been discussing all offseason about the scheme change on defense. During the 2011 and 2012 seasons, the philosophy was to rely on the front four to get to the quarterback and drop seven into coverage. When it worked, the Eagles were in good shape. They didn’t have to commit extra defenders to rushing the passer.
But when it didn’t work, they looked predictable and got picked apart to the tune of a league-worst 33 touchdown passes.
The overall philosophy under Billy Davis will be different.
“We’ll pressure anybody on the defense,” Davis said. “We’ve got pressures for everybody. We’ll bring anybody we need.”
That doesn’t mean the Eagles will necessarily blitz on a high percentage of plays, but Davis seems to desire a certain level of unpredictability. He acknowledges how good NFL quarterbacks have become at making pre-snap adjustments and sees where the league is trending. Every day in practice, Davis goes up against an up-tempo offense that’s centered around changing things up on the fly.
Last year, the Eagles rushed five 13.1 percent of the time. That ranked dead-last in the league, and it’s a number that will look completely different next season. We’ve mentioned before that the Eagles’ defense will be influenced by the Steelers and Dick LeBeau. Davis got his start as a defensive quality control coach in Pittsburgh, and you can expect to see zone blitz concepts when watching the Eagles’ D next season.
Often times, that means rushing five, dropping six into coverage and disguising where the pressure is coming from. In 2012, the Steelers rushed five 32.7 percent of the time, second-most in the NFL. Don’t be surprised if the Eagles’ number looks similar in 2013.
26 – The number of hurries notched by Brandon Graham in 2012, 10th-most in the league. That’s impressive, considering Graham only played 40.4 percent of the snaps, per Pro Football Focus.
More from FOA:
Graham easily averaged the most hurries per snap last year, and Seattle’s Bruce Irvin was the only other player with 15-plus hurries on fewer than 500 snaps.
Remember, Graham only averaged 10 snaps per game through the first month of the season. The list of mistakes last year is a long one, but waiting so long to replace Jason Babin with Graham has to rank near the top (well, at least on the first page).
Now, the fourth-year player seems to be stuck a bit in no man’s land. Most of his snaps during the spring came with the second team at left outside linebacker. Will Graham only be used in sub packages? Will he rotate in with Connor Barwin and Trent Cole in the base defense? Does Davis have a special role carved out for him that will capitalize on his pass-rushing skills?
I was at every practice open to the media this spring, have talked to Graham and have talked to Davis. But with the opener against the Redskins just about seven weeks away, I have no clue what Graham’s role is going to be on this defense. We’ll see if the picture is any clearer when camp opens next week.
17 – The number of defeats Fletcher Cox had as a rookie. Defeats are “the total number of plays which stop the offense from gaining first down yardage on third or fourth down, stop the offense behind the line of scrimmage, or result in a fumble (regardless of which team recovers) or interception.” Cox ranked fifth in defeats among defensive tackles, behind only Geno Atkins, Kyle Williams, Ndamukong Suh and Vince Wilfork. Those four players have combined for nine Pro Bowls.
If you’ve been reading Birds 24/7 for awhile, you know we’re driving the Fletcher Cox bandwagon. In addition to being the Eagles’ most active defensive lineman last year, he only missed one tackle.
Davis has maintained all along that he will scheme to the strengths of his personnel. That means taking advantage of Cox, the Eagles’ most talented player on defense. If Davis is successful, and if Cox improves from his rookie season, he’s got a legit shot at becoming a Pro Bowler in 2013.