Eagles Wake-Up Call: Fourth-down Attempts

Did Chip Kelly make the right calls on Sunday?

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports.

Chip Kelly needed to jump-start his sputtering offense. Through four games, the Eagles scored just two offensive touchdowns in the first half. They normally developed a better rhythm in the second half, but it was often too late, so they stood at 1-3 when they squared off against New Orleans.

With this in mind while facing a 4th-and-7 from the Saints’ 39-yard line Sunday, Kelly sensed an opportunity.

“I just felt like our offense had confidence, that we could move the football on them,” he said.

As Sam Bradford dropped back to pass less than two minutes into the game, he found Riley Cooper open on a fade route, but he didn’t complete the pass. The move was instantly criticized, though Kelly said after the game that his quarterback could’ve made a better throw.

Immediately after the play, Bradford looked frustrated. It appeared Cooper’s route was supposed to give him outside leverage, but the receiver cut inside to an opening. Instead of throwing the ball where Cooper cut, Bradford located the ball closer to the sideline.

Neither player discussed the specifics of the play after the game, however, and Kelly seemed to put the blame on his quarterback’s shoulders.

“We were open on the first one, Sam just kind of threw it on the line,” Kelly said. “If he just puts it up a little bit, and he’ll tell you the same thing.”

Regardless of whose fault the incompletion was, should the Eagles have gone for it in the first place?

According to the New York Times’ 4th Down Bot, they should’ve punted it. You can read more about the Bot’s methodology and what they take into account on each individual play analysis, but it essentially uses the results of hundreds or thousands of similar plays to determine whether a team should punt the ball, go for a first down or kick the field goal.

Bot 1

The Bot created the nifty chart above based on its calculations, and it estimated that the Eagles had a 40 percent chance of getting the first down and a 37 percent chance of making a field goal. According to the Bot, based on about 1,000 similar situations in the last 15 seasons, teams attempted the field goal (64 percent of the time) much more than they punted the ball (25 percent) or went for it (11 percent).

Kelly said the field goal was “maybe a little bit out of Caleb’s [Sturgis] range,” before adding his kicker made two 54-yarders in pregame.

In the second quarter, the Eagles faced a 4th-and-9 on the Saints’ 35-yard line and again went for the first down. On this play, Bradford also targeted Cooper but the pass was deflected by the Saints. According to the Bot, Kelly made the wrong decision for the second time and should’ve instead attempted a field goal.

Bot 2

The chart for this play is above, and it estimated that Sturgis had a 61 percent chance of making the field goal, while the offense had just a 30 percent chance of converting the first down. This calculation was based on about 1,400 similar situations in the last 15 seasons, and coaches most often kicked the field goal (69 percent of the time) versus punting the ball (28 percent) or going for it (three percent).

Kelly’s decisions obviously didn’t have much impact on the outcome of the game, but they were interesting calls nonetheless.

“I felt like I leave our offense on the field because I do have confidence in our defense,” Kelly said. “The risk/reward is if I put our defense out in the field in that situation, that I have confidence that they’re going to get a stop. And that’s the way I feel about our defense and how they’re playing right now.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

The Eagles signed offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson and released Julian Vandervelde.

Breaking down each of the Eagles’ key plays from Sunday’s win, including Fletcher Cox’s dominance.

Updates on the Eagles’ offseason departures, including a roughed-up Nick Foles.

“He just wanted for me to unleash the beast.” Diving into Josh Huff’s explosive Sunday.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

The Eagles used plenty of two-tight end sets against the Saints on Sunday, and the results showed in the passing game, says Zach Berman.

Ertz ran pass patterns on 63.6 percent of his snaps, and he blocked on the other downs. He finished with five catches for 60 yards, his best outing of the season. He has played 64 percent of the offensive snaps this year, which is a 14 percent increase from last season. But Sunday was the first time his playing time and Celek’s playing time were steady together.

“I like to think I can get open regardless of who’s on me,” Ertz said, “but we knew going into the game that the two-tight end package was going to be on the field a little bit more than it has in prior weeks.”

Chip Kelly’s buzzword was execution leading up to Sunday, and when push came to shove, the Eagles executed, writes Phil Sheridan.

There is no doubt that Sam Bradford lined up under center more Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. Of the Eagles’ 33 running plays, Bradford was under center on 17. Kelly said that resulted from “just what New Orleans was doing in terms of where the back was offset.”

But there is some support for Kelly’s contention that execution is a major factor in the Eagles’ uneven performance so far this season.

Pro Football Focus, which grades every player based on a review of game tape, had high marks for two of the Eagles’ offensive linemen Sunday. Center Jason Kelce and left tackle Jason Peters each received their highest grades of the season.

COMING UP

Bill Davis will address the media at 11:45, while Pat Shurmur will speak at noon.