The Culprits Are...?
As I noted in part 1 of this 2 part series, our running backs are pretty good. Correll Buckhalter and Brian Westbrook have seen about the same number of touches and gotten about the same results. Interestingly, outside of actual touchdowns scored, Buck has actually put up better numbers than West so far this year. That said, we're all in agreement that Brian brings more to the table than does Correll.
This year the Eagles rushing attack has been off somewhat and has lead to a number of investigations. Marty Mornhinweg has been asked about it in his press conferences and bloggers have tried to dig into the problem too. The play by play has something to say about our travails. I think it might just vindicate (at least to some degree) one of the more vilified players on the team and call Andy to task for a certain stubbornness in his playcalling.
After the break, I examine the problem.
The chart below shows the Eagles running backs' attempts in every situation listed in the play by play through the first six weeks of the season. Each column is scaled such that it's height is equal to the number of carries to a given spot on the Eagles offensive line and the width is equal to the average gain per attempt in that direction. Grab the scale bar and drag it around to see about how many yards per carry the Eagles have actually mustered and to get a sense of how many carries we've actually run in each direction.
What jumps out to me is how much less effective the Eagles are at running the ball to the left as compared to the right. For the season, there have been 43 attempts by running backs with a "leftward" component – that is from Left Guard out – and on those carries the Eagles have averaged 3.12 yards per carry. This compares to the 38 "rightward" carries where the Eagles have averaged 5.05 yards per attempt. That's a difference of 1.93 yards per carry – to my mind that's an astonishing disparity. If we assume that running plays behind the guards are indistinguishable from those run over "middle" as the Football Outsiders suggest is appropriate, the disparity is even greater: 35 carries to Left Tackle and Left End for and average of 3.23 yards per carry and 29 carries over Right Tackle and Right End for an average of 5.62 yards per. Why are we so much worse running left and perhaps more importantly why do we do it more than running right?
Before we address those questions, it's important to note that the play by play contains no information about pulling Guards and whether or not there's a Fullback in the backfield so we must assume vanilla straight ahead run blocking. Another thing we should pay attention to is that the play by play marks 4 carries for 12 yards run behind Shawn Andrews and 5 carries for 17 behind Max Jean-Gilles. Based on those numbers, you tell me who is the better straight ahead blocker. I think that combined with the aforementioned success running right rather handily dispels the notion that our problems running the ball are all because the Big Kid isn't on the field.
I don't have any numbers, but I'm fairly confident I can say that when Shawn Andrews is healthy and the Eagles run left, a fair number of those attempts involve Andrews pulling as a lead blocker. Max Jean Gilles may be a decent straight ahead run blocker, but not too many people would accuse him of being as fleet of foot as Shawn. Certainly some of our troubles on the left side of the line can be attributed to Andrews health problems, but there are still a number of carries that go left which don't involve pulling guards. We all know that Tra Thomas is getting somewhat long in the tooth for a professional football player. Has he lost a step in the running game? Are the Eagles scouting Left Tackles in next year's draft? I think it's probably time.
What about the right side? Why do we average about 2 yards per carry better going right? Does the name L.J. Smith ring any bells anybody? For that matter, in our base offensive set, doesn't the Tight End line up to the right of John Runyan? Correct me if I'm wrong, but to my recollection the answer is – YES. That extra blocker obviously has an effect in the running game. Perhaps this is overly simplistic, but it is the one thing that jumps out to me that would help explain the disparity between the left and right sides of the line.
I'd like to leave this rather extended post with a question: If we average 2 yards per carry better when we run behind the right side of the offensive line, why are there fewer attempts in that direction? The average per carry disparity is so great we should probably see 2 attempts right for every 1 that goes left. This Sunday, I want to see that during the self scouting phase of the bye week, Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg noticed their play calling problems and have done something to fix them.