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