Three Eagles Numbers That Matter

From the idea of a QB-friendly system to limiting big plays on defense, here are three Eagles numbers that matter.

64.1 – That was Mark Sanchez’s completion percentage with the Eagles last year. He also averaged 7.8 YPA. Those numbers really pop if you compare them to what Sanchez produced with the Jets: 55.1 and 6.5.

So why am I bringing this up now?

There has been a lot of talk about how QB-friendly Chip Kelly’s scheme is. We had a large sample size (62 games) of who Sanchez was with the Jets. And we got a smaller sample size (nine games) last season with the Eagles. But in a couple of base indicators – completion percentage and YPA – Sanchez performed significantly better in Kelly’s scheme than he did with the Jets.

On the other hand, Sanchez’s interception rate remained nearly identical: 3.7 percent with the Jets and 3.6 percent last year.

Perhaps Sanchez serves as an example for why Kelly has stressed the need for a good decision-maker above all else at quarterback. Through two years, the scheme has been able to manufacture open receivers (although, obviously, having talented receivers helps too) and big plays downfield. But scheme can only do so much with decision-making. The quarterback needs to take care of the football and know where to go with it.

Going forward, the point can be taken in one of two ways as it pertains to Marcus Mariota. On one hand, the risk with Mariota would seem to be lessened. Given Mariota’s skill set, it’s tough for me to picture him just being a complete disaster in this offense. He has the physical tools, and by all accounts he has the necessary work ethic. Decision-making was a major strength of his in college, as Mariota threw just 14 interceptions in 1,026 attempts (1.4 percent).

On the other hand, perhaps Kelly doesn’t think he needs a first-round talent to play the position. Maybe he thinks having an elite decision-maker in this scheme will be enough. In other words, the model we saw in 2013 when Nick Foles threw for 27 touchdowns and two interceptions.

There’s been plenty of talk about scheme vs. culture. But scheme as it pertains to the QB position and what Kelly is looking for will be in focus in the coming months.

[H/T to Derek Sarley and Brian Solomon, who recently discussed this topic]

58.4 – The percentage of passes completed by opposing quarterbacks against the Eagles in 2014. That was good enough for third-best in the NFL.

Billy Davis wanted his defensive backs up at the line of scrimmage, pressing opposing receivers and disrupting the quarterbacks’ timing. On many occasions last season, the plan worked. Quarterbacks held onto the ball, and the pass-rush was able to get home.

The problem, of course, was that when the plan failed, it failed miserably. The Eagles allowed 72 pass plays of 20+ yards, tops in the NFL. And opponents averaged 7.8 YPA (tied for 27th).

In the coming weeks, Kelly, Davis and the scouting staff will be doing their homework on potential defensive back upgrades – both in free agency and the draft. It seems like a lock that there will be two new starters in 2015 (taking the place of Bradley Fletcher and Nate Allen). It’s possible that there will be three if the Eagles find someone to replace Cary Williams.

I don’t expect the style or the scheme to change much though. Davis wants his corners to press and win within that 5-yard window. And if they played single-high with Fletcher on the outside, they’re going to continue to play a lot of single-high going forward, regardless of who’s out there.

At this point, it’s “prove-it” mode in regards to the Eagles’ ability to find adequate upgrades. Remember, Fletcher and Williams were added after Kelly got the job. Allen was brought back after they had seen him in action for a full season. Draft picks like Earl Wolff, Ed Reynolds and Jaylen Watkins – none of whom have contributed as of yet – were made under Kelly’s watch.

The exception was Malcolm Jenkins – a mid-level free agent who exceeded expectations in his first year here. The Eagles need one or two more of those hits this offseason if the defense is going to take a step forward in 2015.

11 – The number of non-offensive touchdowns scored by the Eagles in 2014.

There’s been a lot of talk since the season ended about how the offense is fine. Some cite points per game – 29.6, third-best in the league. But that number is misleading.

According to Football Outsiders’ DVOA, the Eagles’ offense ranked 13th. The unit had 36 giveaways, tops in the league, and averaged 4.56 points per red zone trip (20th).

In other words, this was a mediocre unit.

It would be a mistake to assume the offense will be fine in 2015. The offensive line should be healthier, but it’s an aging unit. The QB play should be better, but the most important position on the team is a question mark.

One of Kelly’s priorities this offseason has to be examining his scheme and making tweaks – particularly in the run game, which is the foundation of the offense.

In terms of personnel, the QB question hangs over the franchise. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Eagles drafted a RB earlier than expected. They have to either re-sign Jeremy Maclin or find a way to replace him. They have to decide whether they’re OK with another year of Riley Cooper. And the offensive line has to get younger.

In other words, the idea that the offense is fine is misguided. The areas of need are just less obvious than they are on the other side of the ball.