Ten Eagles Numbers That Matter

With the opener less than a week away, here are 10 Eagles numbers that matter.

Big tip of the hat on these to the Football Outsiders Almanac, a tremendous resource for the upcoming season.

31 – Where the Eagles’ offense ranked in terms of red-zone efficiency (per FOA) last year. This team was a complete mess once it got inside the opponents’ 20. The Eagles scored touchdowns on just 44 percent of their red-zone possessions.

But with Chip Kelly calling the shots, there appears to be help on the way. According to CoachingSearch.com, Oregon scored touchdowns 74 percent of the time between 2010 and 2012. That was second-best in all of college football over that period.

Just having a healthy offensive line should help. LeSean McCoy had 17 rushing touchdowns in 2011, but managed just two last season. According to FOA, McCoy had 145 yards on 53 red-zone carries in 2011, rushing for nine touchdowns on 22 carries inside the 5. Last year, he totaled just 25 yards on 25 carries and scored twice on eight attempts inside the 5.

Don’t be surprised if Kelly replaces DeSean Jackson in the red zone. Jackson has just four red zone catches in the past two seasons. With Zach Ertz and James Casey now joining Brent Celek, expect the Eagles to utilize two tight-end sets in the red zone quite a bit in 2013. Ertz, specifically, should be effective down there.

30 – Where the Eagles ranked in terms of using two tight-end sets in 2012. Only two teams went with multiple TEs less than the Birds, who did so 20 percent of the time. That’s absolutely going to change in 2013. We just mentioned how Kelly could use those packages in the red zone, but really, it will be much more than that.

A couple weeks ago, we showed how Kelly used a 4-TE package at times during the preseason. The thought process is simple. Tight ends have a receiving advantage when matched up against linebackers and a blocking advantage when going up against defensive backs. Look for Ertz, Casey and/or Celek to be used on the same side of the field as Jackson on bubble screens too.

3 – The number of tight ends last year who had at least 50 catches and averaged 12.0 yards per catch. Carolina’s Greg Olsen, New England’s Rob Gronkowski and (wait for it…) Celek were the three players who accomplished that feat.

Celek has had issues with drops, but he’s still a better blocker than Ertz and Casey. If I’m picking which of the three will play the most snaps in 2013, it’s still Celek.

75 – The percentage of snaps the Eagles went with a single-back formation last year, fifth-highest in the league. There are some similarities between what the offense did in 2012 and what it’s probably going to do this season. For example, the Eagles were in shotgun 57 percent of the time last year, seventh-most in the league. That number figures to go up, but it’s not like it’s a brand new concept.

Meanwhile, only four teams spread it out with 4-WR sets more often than the Eagles last year.

The bottom line here? The shotgun/spread/single-back looks will go up. But it’s not like the Eagles were an I-Formation, under-center offense in 2012.

6.21 – The average number of players in the box against the Eagles’ offense last year. Only seven teams saw fewer players in the box. Part of that had to do with the Eagles getting behind in games and relying on the pass. But it also speaks to how teams defended the Birds overall.

We’ve shown on multiple occasions this preseason how a lot of the decisions the quarterback has to make in this offense depend on how many players are in the box. Given how much Kelly is expected to run the ball, that 6.21 number will almost definitely go up in 2013.

22 – The number of touchdowns of 30+ yards scored by DeSean Jackson in the last five years. That’s the most of any wide receiver in the NFL. This point goes hand in hand with the above number. If Kelly’s offense works the way he wants it to, teams will be forced to bring safeties up in the box to defend against the run game and the zone read.

That should open things up for Jackson to get back to being one of the league’s best vertical threats. Fran Duffy of PhiladelphiaEagles.com did a great job of showing how Vick and Jackson were able to hook up for a 47-yard score in the preseason against New England. One of the keys on the play? The Patriots had a single high safety. Jackson and the Eagles should see that more in 2013 than they have in the past.

15.6 – The percentage of plays in which opponents blitzed a defensive back against the Eagles last season, tops in the league. Yes, this one probably goes back to that Tuesday night in 2010 against Antoine Winfield and the Vikings.

But will teams still blitz Vick even if this is a more option-based offense? Interesting note from former NFL safety/now analyst Matt Bowen in this Bleacher Report article:

I’ve had multiple coaches and league scouts tell me to look for more pressure schemes this season versus read-option teams. Why?

Defensive coordinators want to speed up the “read” for the quarterback through the mesh point with edge pressure. That impacts the quarterback’s decision-making process in both the run and pass game. Plus, NFL defenses want to put a helmet under the chin of the quarterback if he elects to run the ball or stand in the pocket off play action.

One thing’s certain: When the Eagles are in obvious passing situations, opposing defenses will still blitz their DBs until Vick and the Birds make them pay.

14 – The number of QB hits tallied by Connor Barwin last year with the Texans. That was among the top-10 in the league. Much of the focus was on Barwin’s sack total dropping from 11.5 to 3.0. But the hits number indicates he still had his moments pressuring the QB. After watching several of Barwin’s games from last year, I came to the conclusion that he was more of a savvy pass-rusher than an explosive one. Barwin was rarely the first player to the QB, but he found ways to maneuver inside.

Of course, as we showed last week, expect Barwin to be used more in coverage this year. The Eagles need his versatility as they shift towards a 3-4.

58 – Brandon Boykin’s success rate as a rookie. That ranked 15th in the NFL. A reminder that success rate is defined as “the percentage of passes that don’t manage to get at least 45 percent of needed yards on first down, 60 percent of needed yards on second down, or 100 percent of needed yards on third down.”

As a point of reference, Cary Williams’ success rate was 44 percent; that ranked 79th. Bradley Fletcher was not targeted enough to be eligible.

The expectation is for Williams and Fletcher to start on the outside, with Boykin coming in as the nickel. But if one of the starters really struggles and Boykin continues to improve, he should see more snaps in his second season.

38 – The number of games started by Nate Allen since the Eagles selected him in the second round of the 2010 draft. Allen has had multiple chances to show he’s a quality starting safety in the NFL, and he hasn’t done so. He seems like a good teammate who works hard, but Allen just has not produced.

Against the Jets in the final preseason game, most of the starters rested. But not Allen. He was out there with rookie Earl Wolff in the Eagles’ defensive backfield. Why? Because Allen hasn’t shown the current coaching staff enough to nail down the starting job.

We’ll see what happens Monday night vs. the Redskins. Chance are, Allen still gets the start. But make no mistake about it. If that’s the case, it’s only because the coaches don’t believe Wolff is ready. Allen is more than likely just keeping the seat warm for his future replacement.

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