Three Philadelphia Eagles Numbers That Matter
Here’s a look at three numbers that matter as the Philadelphia Eagles prepare to play the Atlanta Falcons this week.
1 – The Eagles *still* rank first in DVOA as determined by Football Outsiders.
The Eagles also rank third in point differential.
Some might easily dismiss these metrics. “You are what your record says you are.” Others might see these numbers as an optimistic sign for the Birds. Count me in the latter group.
Last week, I wrote that there’s an argument to be made the Eagles are better than their record indicates. After dropping to 4-4, I still believe that’s the case.
Look, four losses in five games obviously isn’t good. But context needs to be added here. The truth is that the Eagles haven’t been playing a terrible brand of football. They haven’t been blown out once. They’ve been in position to win most of these games. They just haven’t capitalized on the opportunities.
In addition, the Eagles have faced a really tough schedule. They’ve had to play three straight games against teams coming off their bye weeks. Two of those games were division matchups on the road, which are extremely critical in the standings. The Eagles will once again be at a rest disadvantage this week considering the Falcons are coming off Thursday Night Football.
The argument here isn’t that the Eagles are one of the best teams in the NFL. The Eagles are flawed. They lack talent, especially on the offensive side of the ball. They’ve been getting off to slow starts in road games. They haven’t been able to close out and win tight games.
But the Eagles are a lot closer to being a good team than they are to being a bad team. Doug Pederson hasn’t been perfect, but the criticism he’s faced lately has been too harsh. He’s done a good job overall, especially for being a rookie head coach. He obviously still has room to grow as well.
The bad news for the Eagles is they likely won’t win the NFC East this year. They’ve already gone down 0-3 in the division and the Cowboys look to be running away with the lead after starting out 7-1.
The good news for the Eagles is that they’re still alive for a wild card spot in the NFC if they can turn things around. It’s just not going to be easy. According to Football Outsiders, Philadelphia owns the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL. The Falcons will be a difficult test for the Eagles this Sunday.
33.9 – The Falcons rank first in points per game.
The Falcons’ offense is ridiculous. Atlanta has scored 37 more points than the next closest team. Here’s a quick overview at how the Falcons rank in other offensive categories.
1st in yards per play (6.8)
2nd in yards per game (429.2)
1st in offensive DVOA
1st in passing plays of 25+ yards (26)
6th in rushing plays of 10+ yards (29)
The Falcons only rank 20th in average time of possession (29:56), which is indicative of their big-play ability. This isn’t a ball-control offense.
Unlike the Eagles, Atlanta has a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has played very well. The Exton, Pennsylvania native has thrown 23 touchdowns to just four interception. He owns the second best passer rating in the NFL (119.0).
Ryan is aided by the fact he has so many weapons to work with. Julio Jones is one of the best receivers in the league. The Eagles saw this up close when he torched Byron Maxwell in Week 1 last season. In 2016, Jones already has 51 receptions for 970 yards and five touchdowns.
Doug Pederson talked about the challenge of going up against Ryan and Jones this week.
“Well, obviously they’re both playing extremely well right now,” said the Eagles’ head coach. “Matt, he’s done an outstanding job this whole season, the way he’s allowing the game itself just to kind of come to him and let things unfold.”
“They may not start out necessarily fast, but they gain that momentum as the game goes on. They’re making play after play and it just shows up on film.”
“But it’s one of those deals where, kind of like the Pittsburgh game, whether you try to double the guy or we know sometimes he’s probably going to be singled up. Matt is extremely smart. He’s playing well that way, understanding matchups.”
“The other thing, too, he’s not always having to look for Julio. He’s got other weapons on that offense that he’s utilizing. That’s what is making that team explosive right now.”
Other weapons on the Falcons’ offense include 2015 NFL leading rusher Devonta Freeman, Mohamed Sanu, and Tevin Coleman. As Pederson noted, Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan has done a nice job of getting a number of players involved.
Atlanta’s offense going up against Philadelphia’s defense will be an interesting matchup of strength versus strength. Jim Schwartz’s unit has only allowed 23 points at home this season. Seven of those points came on a garbage time touchdown scored by the Vikings in Week 7. Another seven points came in Week 1 when a questionable penalty wiped out an Eagles third down stop in the red zone and gave the Browns a new set of downs at the goal line.
The last time the Eagles played at home, they sacked Sam Bradford six times and hit him 16 times. Getting to Ryan will obviously be key in this game. If the Eagles can’t generate pressure, life will be very hard on the Eagles’ secondary. Starting cornerbacks Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin have been dealing with hamstring injuries. Atlanta ranks 21st in adjusted sack rate so there should be opportunities for Philadelphia’s defensive line to step up in this game. Ryan has been sacked the fifth most of all quarterbacks this season. The Eagles need their pass rush to turn in a big performance in order to have a shot in this game.
28.8 – The Falcons rank 28th in points allowed per game.
The Falcons are the anti-Eagles in the sense that their offense is their strength and their defense is their weakness. Here’s a quick look at how the Falcons rank on defense.
17th in yards per play (5.6)
26th in yards per game (381.1)
24th in defensive DVOA
The Eagles’ offense should have ample opportunities to attack this Falcons team. Philadelphia is averaging 28 points scored in three games at home this season.
Moving the ball through the air will be key, so this is a big game for Carson Wentz. The Eagles rookie quarterback threw two interceptions early against the Giants last week. That caused Philadelphia to play from behind the whole game. The Eagles can’t afford to give this Falcons offense extra opportunities to score.
The good news for the Eagles is that Wentz really bounced back after his big mistakes against New York and threw for a career-high 364 yards. Now Wentz will face a Falcons defense that’s allowed the second most passing yards per game in the NFL (289.6).
Wentz hardly has the kind of weapons Ryan gets to work with, but the rookie did get a little more help from his teammates last week. Zach Ertz had his best game of an otherwise disappointing season by catching eight passes for 97 yards. Jordan Matthews also pitched in for 88 yards on six receptions. Matthews had 10 receptions for 102 yards when the Eagles played the Falcons last year.
One of the intriguing new options for Wentz is Bryce Treggs. In his first NFL game, the undrafted rookie receiver caught a 58-yard bomb on a deep pass. The Eagles have lacked a respectable deep threat all season so the emergence of Treggs could provide to be significant if he can continue to produce.
This game potentially has the makings of a shoot-out if Philadelphia’s defense can’t continue to hold up at home. The Eagles might need a big day from Wentz and their offense to hang with the NFL’s leading scorers.