Eagles Wake-Up Call: DeMeco Debunks Tempo Theory

NFL: Detroit Lions at Philadelphia Eagles

DeMeco Ryans played more snaps than any other inside linebacker in the league during the regular season.

Connor Barwin held the same distinction among 3-4 outside linebackers. And Cary Williams played more snaps than any other cornerback.


While cleaning out his locker last week, Ryans was asked if that's just the expectation going forward playing for Chip Kelly and his up-tempo offense.

"I hate to say that because that’s not the plan," Ryans said with a laugh. "It’s definitely not the plan to play those many snaps."

A popular theory (and one we've tackled before in this space) goes like this: The Eagles' offense moved fast. It didn't always score, and when it did, it scored quickly. As a result, opponents got more possessions per game than they otherwise would have. And that's why the Eagles' defense was on the field so much.

The only problem? The numbers don't back up the theory.

Football Outsiders keeps track of such things. The Eagles' defense was on the field for 190 possessions during the regular season. The league average was 186. Said in another way: On average, defenses faced 11.6 possessions per game last season. And the Eagles faced 11.9. Eleven other teams faced as many possessions as the Birds.

So then, if the Eagles' up-tempo offense wasn't to blame for the defense playing so many snaps, what was the reason?

"I think it really ties in to us defensively, with us being able to stop people," Ryans said. "Just because our offense scores doesn't mean we have to go out and play a 10-play drive. We can go out and get a three-and-out and get off the field or get a turnover. Then our snaps are limited and we can give our offense a chance to play more snaps. So I think most of those snaps fell on us defensively and not our offense and their quick tempo, them scoring quickly. It was moreso us and not getting off when we had favorable third downs, not getting off the field."

The man speaks the truth.

Getting off the field was a major issue for the Eagles' defense all season long. Opponents averaged 6.17 plays per drive against them, the second-worst mark in the league.

The Eagles forced three-and-outs 18.9 percent of the time; that ranked 30th. And opponents converted on 41.15 percent of their third-down opportunities against the Eagles' defense (24th).

Overall, the defense showed great improvement throughout the course of the season. But a priority going into 2014 will be to do a better job of getting off the field and giving the Eagles' offense even more opportunities to score.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Weekend notebook: A Seahawks player takes a jab at the Eagles, and Nick Foles is headed to the Pro Bowl.

Where do Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper rank among free agents? Plus, a 2008 re-draft.

Tom Gamble has drawn interest from a pair of teams for their GM openings.

What they're saying: mock drafts, Johnny Manziel buzz and more.

A player-by-player look at how the Eagles' rookie class performed.

Do Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry have futures in Philadelphia?

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING

ESPN.com has outside linebacker, cornerback and safety as the Eagles' draft needs:

Dallas is the only team that averaged fewer sacks per passing attempt than the Eagles, and adding an outside linebacker is the best way to improve the pass rush. Trent Cole played well after moving from defensive end and 2013 free-agent signing Connor Barwin is a steady starter, but Cole is 31 years old and Barwin isn't a great pass-rusher. A first-round pick in 2010, Brandon Graham has been a disappointment.

Geoff Mosher of CSN Philly has five under-the-radar players to watch going into next season:

Kruger, a seventh-round pick in 2013, spent the season on injured reserve with a shoulder injury that he suffered in the preseason. The team could have waived him with a settlement but liked his development at training camp and saw enough potential to place him on injured reserve. Kruger probably won’t unseat Fletcher Cox or Thornton but backup defensive end Clifton Geathers is headed for free agency. Either way, Kruger will compete for a roster spot at camp.

COMING UP

We'll have some reaction to the weekend of playoff action and start making free agency predictions.

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

    I do wonder though what the numbers would be like if we did get off the field more. If we forced more 3&outs, we’d actually end up facing more drives per game, as less playing time would be wasted by teams that “are better at standing around than us”…

    • B-West

      Agreed. I think looking at number of possessions is probably flawed. If things are humming for the Eagles, the offense is scoring quickly and the defense is getting off the field, there will be more possessions in a game. The defense being on the field for long drives is the only thing that kept the possession numbers down in Eagle’s games this year.

      Either way, it still boils down to the same fact (and DeMeco’s point). The defense needs to get better and get off the field.

  • Bullwinkle

    If we forced more 3 and outs, it would provide the offense with more opportunities to score and we know that they will score more. Also, it would increase the time of possession for the Eagles. The bottom line is that the Eagles would win more games.

  • Will

    Well the Eagles Defense needs help…if we are intent on winning the NFC Championship game or a Super Bowl…We know we need to improve at NT, OLB, CB and both Safety positions…which should help with the 3 and outs….If the Eagles do not get better at those 5 spots expect to keep falling short…Defenses Win Championships…Going to be interesting how much emphasis Chip places on improving this Defense being an Offensive minded Coach….

    • GEAGLE

      Don’t think we are adding any NT…don’t believe we want to play that way…Think we like Benny, want to beef him up, because with him playing NT we can be a multiple front defense, which has always Been the plan…telling you, we aremt adding a traditional nose….maybe they add a really cheap fat bastad as depth, but expect the Eagles NT going forward to be more Logan/jay Ratliff types instead of the Vincent Wilfork. Types that everyone has on their wish list

      • Will

        Well if Benny Logan beefs up that should help…still leaves 4 spots that need to improve…OLB, CB and both Safety spots…will be interesting how important it is ….

        • GEAGLE

          Think Wolff is the starter, so we add a starting caliber safety talent, and safety depth..

          We need back up CBs

          Pass rush OLB is crucial

          We need 6 quality Dlinemen
          Cox
          Ced
          Logan
          Vinny
          Kruger ??? Possibly
          ???
          ….
          We need to start looking at the 3rd and 4th round DTs with similar Frames and arm length to Benny Logan! and that’s probably who we will draft

      • anon

        then i think we’ll continue to get beat by big boy lineman.

        • borntosuffer

          It wasn’t true in the run game (“get beat by big boy lineman”). NO did well, but Davis stated he we giving them the run by playing fewer in the box. I have to think Davis would like to play his base D more often and improve the pass rush and coverage. Maybe a player like Ngata does improve the pass rush.

          • Will

            3rd and short….gave up 1st down on 3 QB sneaks….

          • borntosuffer

            I think they averaged 5 yards/sneak as well. But, that was an anomaly for the season. They were beaten at Safety all season long and the lack of pass rush didn’t help. I also think a good cover corner is probably a higher priority. Not saying I wouldn’t want to upgrade with a run-stuffing NT, just don’t think it is among the highest priorities.

        • GEAGLE

          When you are in Nickle, and your opponent is in two blocking TE power sets, you are SUPPOSED to get run on,,,

          Logan wasn’t even on the field when we were getting the ball ran down our throat. So all this, Benny isn’t the answer is just a foolish knee jerk reaction…really don’t think the coaches view it like us

          • Eagles4Life

            The lack of a “heavy” set to combat those third and shorts when it was OBVIOUS the Saints were intent on running is what pissed me off. And teams did that to us ALL year. Oh, you want to sit in your base alignment? Ok, smash mouth first down.

      • Richard Colton

        I don’t know. Still think Logan can be effective at DE, and maybe splitting time DE/NT. If you tell me that the next Haloti Ngata is sitting there at #22 – I’m taking him and will enjoy watching the interior pass rush get better.

        • GEAGLE

          I see a bright future at DE for Logan just like everyone else, I just honestly don’t believe our coaches view it that way…

          First of all, I’m not even sure why everyone is bitching about Logan at NT…the front of Cox,Logan and Ced was top 10 against the run, so I’m not exactly sure why everyone is clamoring for a starting NT…seems like a Knee jerk reaction to the saints running us over, which really didn’t have much to do with a lack of NT…our Nickle defense is what got TRAMPLED by the saints run game..You can sign all the Haloti Ngatas we want but he wouldn’t have been on the he field in our Nickle Defense…I honestly believe Logan is the starting NT of the future for us….They want a jay Ratliff type of NT so we can switch one the fly between multiple defensive fronts…If we were to add a fat bastard, I suspect it would be a really cheap backup who we just use on short yardage situations…
          ..
          Like I said, I’m down to upgrade any position that isn’t all pro, I just think we are viewing this differently then our coaching staff

          If we draft a Big Monster DT, like Nix, I suspect he would have to be agile enough of a pass rusher to where he DOESNT have to come off the field on Nickle

  • GEAGLE

    It’s not complicated…as great as our DFENSE improved we were horrendous n 3rd and Long…all year we couldn’t get off the field when it was 3rd and 8 or longer….pass rush alone would help improve that, add so em quality safety play and now we are tslking

    • Will

      Safeties that can cover and run support are key to a great Defense…not sold on Wolff with knee injury, Nate Allen is serviceable but not great at run support nor is he a ball hawk…this will be the one position I will be watching again to see what they do in the off season to improve… along with OLB…

      • GEAGLE

        Find the closest thing to Cam Chancellor and draft him! I believe Wolff has the speed and range to play with a hammer like chancellor

    • cliff henny

      almost have to talk about defense in half seasons to get a good picture. while 30th+ rankings will be associated most defensive rankings, dont think that’s accurate picture. do like the amount of turnovers forced, olb getting pressure and wolff plus FA safety, should improve that too.

      • GEAGLE

        Absolutely, those rankings literally mean NOTHING to me…they don’t tell the real story which is we were a top 10 defense against the run, and top in nerve league in turnover margin, after finishing last, last season…
        ..
        OLB, Wolff and a Cam Chancellor Type of HAMMER and we are set
        ..
        Of course we still need to start stock piling depth(CB,S)
        ..
        And when you have 10 new players, playing new schemes, septembers stats r friggin worthless…take those 4 games out of the average and we get a clearer pic of what we had on defense this year

    • Rahkem

      Exactly , if we were even average on 3rd and long the snap count would be alot less, instead we were 29th. I think safety would help improve that a little more than pass rush,. I want both but i think our pass rush could be decent if the safties werent so putrid. Also im hoping cox can take that next step and become a 7-9 sack guy from the 5 technique. We deffinitely need to add pass rush but i dont see many options unless a guy slips. I dont know if we’d be able to get someone who’d be better than cole year 1. Im all for drafting a developmental guy but thats not gonna help us much next year.

    • jabostick

      The silver lining is that we got people in 3rd and longs. It seemed like 2012 every set of downs started with a 7 yard run.

    • Explorer51

      From Roob over at CSN: “The Eagles were best in the NFL on 3rd-and-3 or shorter, limiting teams to first downs just 43.8 percent of the time (28 for 64). But on 3rd-and-10 or longer, they were 29th in the league at 26.9 percent (18 for 67). It ought to be impossible for those numbers to be so close. The Eagles allowed nine first downs on 3rd-and-12 or longer (third-most in the NFL), five on 3rd-and-15 or longer (fifth-most) and even a couple on 3rd-and-20 or longer (third-most).”

  • TheCatalyst

    It was frustrating all season to see that the Birds were better in 3rd & short situations than they were in 3rd & long. They seemed to be able to get off the field on 3rd & 3 but 3rd & 12 was almost seemed to be an automatic 3rd down. Hopefully upgrades at safety & pass rushing will help.

    • Will

      That’s what Billy D is forced to do because are Safeties are pass coverage liabilities…OLB that can Rush would help…

  • R. Colton’s Wine Glass

    Not to steal Dick’s thunder, but Curry is terrible. It’s great that he wants to attack the QB and all, but he’s a liability. Saints abused him. There’s a reason Chip kept him on the bench early on.

    • GEAGLE

      Blah blah…watch some film fool

  • Beastmode

    The jack offs we have on defense are like Swiss cheese.

    • borntosuffer

      Well, they aren’t Swiss Cheese Perverts.

  • GEAGLE

    70% of a future top 10 defense is in place!!

  • mksp

    Can’t wait til Vinny & Brandon are traded. Just hope we get some value for them.

    Name to watch on the DT front is Justin Ellis (La Tech) – 6’2″ 357 w/ a good motor. Sounds like the type of guy that will move up boards (in the media’s eye that is), but could be mid-round guy we take a shot on. I don’t think Bennie is guaranteed a starting spot at NT, which is fine, he’ll still be a vital rotational guy who can play every position on the line.

    • Maggie

      Can a guy who is only 6’2″ carry 357 pounds around and still be quick? for a whole game? Or season?

  • Jon

    Part of the reason the eagles D faced so many plays hinges on Davis’s philosophy of limiting the big play. They forced teams to dink and dunk on them and often gave up space to keep plays in front of them. This is part of the reason they were burned on slants, limited plays of 20 and 40+ yards, and saw so many plays overall. Forcing the other team to string long drives together tires out the defense but also increases your number of opportunities to force a turnover or take advantage of an error by the opponent’s offense.