FanPost

The Eagles, Through the Years

Andy Reid has been a coach a long time. As of this writing, he’s coming back for the 2012-2013 season, which will be his 14th. In recent history, only people like Bill Cowher and Jeff Fisher have gotten this longevity, for better or worse. Throughout this season, there has been an achingly high amount of debate between those who believe Reid is the best man for the job and those who believe Reid was the best man for the job. We have thrown out stats here and there, mostly using the Super Bowl season as the inflection point for arguments. My discussion will be no different. I have tried to accumulate relevant data to document the evolution of this team as one who played suffocating defense (it’s true, JJ fans better get the tissue boxes ready) to one who is merely above average. But first, I have to talk about what I did and did not include. I have compiled all of these relevant stats in a spreadsheet further down in the post.

The focus of my Fan Post will be efficiency.

I will admit that I love the analysis done by the Cold Hard Football Facts (CHFF). They have forever changed the way I view football stats by looking at football through an efficiency prism. Volume stats are convenient, but the NFL is about efficiency. I’m not going to link anything specific here, but a perusal of their site clearly lays out how efficiency metrics (and in particular, passing effiency metrics) indicate how good a football team really is. As a result, I am going to completely ignore the running game.

“But Brian Westbrook! Duce Staley! LeSean McCoy! Establish the run! We pass too much! Fire Marty!”

Save it. As per historical stats, the running game serves merely to complement the passing game for balance in order to keep the defense honest. Ever since the invention of the T-formation in the 1940s, the NFL has been won and lost by aerial battles. There are a few exceptions here and there, but they are usually due to anomalous circumstances – the 2000 Ravens, for instance, probably had the best defense in the NFL since 1977. Moreover, some would argue that Westbrook’s most valuable contributions to the Eagles came via the passing game, anyway. Additionally, we see in the NFL that with the exception of a few standouts (McCoy is one of them), you can generally find just some hard running guy in later rounds (or UDFA), throw him in behind a solid O-line, and he’ll churn out 4.0 YPC and get 1200 yards. As a matter of fact, that was Duce Staley’s best year, and he was just another guy. It’s all about the quarterbacking. As you will see, in the past few years, we have not been quite as pass wacky as many would believe.

But first, a few notes on some derived states – Scoreability, Bendability, Net Passing Yards Per Attempt, and Passer Rating Differential.

Scoreability and Bendability are measures of team-wide efficiency, and it is simply total yards (allowed) divided by points scored (allowed), so you get the funky unit of yards per point scored (allowed). A Scoreability of 15.33 YPPS might not really mean much, but to get a feel for it, multiply it by 7. That is, a team has to travel the equivalent of 107 yards to score a touchdown. 15 YPPS generally puts you somewhere in the middle. Near 14 YPPS gets you into Top 10. Having something in the 13 YPPS range is Top 5 and is truly excellent. Bendability is the opposite, as it is an attempted quantification of “bend-but-don’t-break” defense, something that really defined the early JJ defenses. Again, 15 YPPA puts you somewhere in the middle, 16 YPPA gets you top 10-ish, 17 YPPA gets you Top 10 comfortably, 18 YPPA closes you in to Top 5, and anything greater than 19 YPPA is truly excellent. And as you’ll see, we had some truly excellent years early on. Now these are measures of team efficiencies. It is not perfect, as an interception might give the defense a short field; however, it is still the responsibility of the defense to stop the opposing offense. Here is the 2010 Bendability Index from CHFF.

Net Passing Yards Per Attempt is what, I hope, Marty Mornhinweg is using to evaluate quarterback efficiency. When PYPA has been discussed here and elsewhere, it is usually just Gross Pass Yards divided by pass attempts. There is a fatal flaw here. This completely ignores sacks! Sacks are passing plays! So to get a real idea of how efficient a passing game is, you have to factor in Net Passing Yards Per Attempt. To get at NPYPA, the formula is: (Passing Yards – Yards Lost to Sacks) / (Pass Attempts + Sacks). That gives you a true indication of how efficient a team is passing the ball. Quarterback Ratings have spiked in recent years as teams favor the West Coast Offense of low-risk, high-percentage short- to medium-range passes.

Passer Rating Differential is Offensive Passer Rating minus Defensive Passer Rating. It is not uncommon (check the CHFF) for the teams with the best PRDs in their respective conferences to meet in the Super Bowl.

I have tried to rank teams, but for Scoreability, Bendability, and PRD, that would require me to calculate each of those metrics for every team going all the way back to 1999. CHFF has a list of these numbers for 2009 and 2010, so that should give you a rough estimate of how good the individual numbers are.

There is a lot of data that you can look over.

HERE ARE THE SPREADSHEETS: Through the years.

I uploaded them in Excel 2007 format. If need be, I can save them and re-up them as standard .xls format. It is *highly* recommended that you have this spreadsheet open while reading this article.

Most of the titles are self explanatory. QW and QL are quality wins and losses. This describes how well the Eagles did versus teams with winning records. As you can see, in 2005 and 2007, we were quite bad against the good teams. Surprisingly, in 2003, we did quite well against tougher competition. The next four columns include playoffs. NB: I ignored the tie in 2008 because fuck that tie.

On to the history lesson!

1999 – The Beginning

Donovan McNabb, drafted 2nd overall, booed by the crowd. A day that will live in infamy. 5-11 was the result of the season, and the stats bore that out. Despite the fact that our offensive efficiency number was somewhat respectable (14.1 YPPS), I suppose that only came into play when we actually scored. A lot of our offensive categories were dead last (remember, 31 teams) or next to last. Who remembers Rod Dowhower!? The biggest surprise of 1999 was that we actually led the NFL in takeaways with 46 and led the NFL with 28 INT. Interestingly, those are the most of the Reid era. Way back in 1999! But you have to keep things in context. Bobby Taylor, Troy Vincent, Brian Dawkins, William Thomas, Hugh Douglas (hurt), Jeremiah Trotter… they were already here, holdovers from the Rhodes team.

2000-2004 – The Golden Era

The difference between 1999 and 2000 is absolutely remarkable: from 5-11 to 11-5. The question is, of course, why did this big jump happen? The answer: the defense. On offense, NPYPA increased a full yard, but when you’re bottom of the barrel and mired in futility, there’s only one way to go. The team, in McNabb’s first full year as a starter, definitely scored more and chewed up more yardage, but the efficiency remained about the same (i.e., still good). No, the biggest change was on defense. Just look at those numbers! 4th in points, 11th in yards, for a fantastic 19.67 YPPA. 50 sacks! NPYPAA under 5.0, good for 4th! DPR of 66.6, 7th in the NFL! 33% 3rd down against, second in the NFL! This is the defense we remember. This is the defense we loved. The Eagles maintained this type of suffocating defense for years. In 2001, we had an otherworldly Bendability of 22.6 YPPA. Figure that the best two defenses of the last two years were around 20 YPPA, and you’ll get a good idea of just how efficient we really were. I will hesitate to call them the best in the NFL, because also remember around this time was the beginning of the Pats’ dynasty and the Ravens’ great defense. But still, when thinking about the best defenses of that era, we are right there.

The offensive side of the ball is not quite as rosy. There was a big jump in OPR between 2000 and 2001, but think about who was receiving the ball from McNabb. This was the era of James Thrash, Todd Pinkston, and Antonio Freeman. Yikes. Interestingly, our passing attempts were the lowest of the Reid era, and our offensive efficiency was at its highest. But something very obviously stands out, and that is the final year of the Golden Era – our Super Bowl year of 2004. Our offensive efficiency took a noticeable hit as we racked up the yardage but didn’t convert those yards to points as consistently. On the other hand, passing numbers skyrocketed from the previous year. That is due to two things: the arrival of Terrell Owens and the emergence of Brian Westbrook. 2004 was a much bally-hooed year for the arrival of Owens, but many people forget that 2004 is the first year that Westbrook really established himself as one of the great running-receiving threats in the NFL. Additionally, Owens was out for the latter third of the year, so it was basically Westbrook and guys like THE PEOPLE’S CHAMP who were carrying the load. McNabb kept up the excellence until the last game of the season. And then… ugh. Tears.

NFL history sidebar: In 2004, the NFL decided to kowtow to the Colts, and illegal contact became “re-emphasized.”

2005 – Rome is sacked

Whenever we grow up and we talk to our children about what could have been, we will talk about the 2005 Eagles. I don’t want to dwell on this season too much, but the entire team was deflated. I find it amazing how one person – a wide receiver, no less – submarined an entire team. Owens got banished, McNabb got hurt, and we were exposed to some of the worst quarterbacking of the Andy Reid era. Westbrook had a down year and got hurt. Offensive efficiency bottomed out to numbers that we hadn’t seen since the earliest years. Scoring defense dropped from 2nd all the way to 27th, with an embarrassing Bendability of 13.41 YPPA. We also had the least amount of sacks of the Reid era. I could go on, but let’s just accept that this year was DOA and move on.

2006-2008 – “Everyone has a plan until they get hit.”

T.O. was unceremoniously dumped in the offseason and Brad Childress left to run the Vikings’ ship. This gave us the beginning of what I think we have seen as the current, post-Super Bowl doldrums. There are some interesting things to note. In 2006, the Eagles had their best year as a passing team, and that is not entirely a result of McNabb’s injury. McNabb actually was having a terrific year in terms of TD-INT, but he was only 5-5 as a starter. Garcia came in, lit the world on fire, and then fizzled out in the playoffs. Incidentally, our highest rated passer in 2006 was AJ Feeley. Say what you want about Mornhinweg’s ability (or inability) to call games and his situational awareness, but the man can coach up his quarterbacks. Our defense also suffered. We dropped precipitously from our efficiency highs of the golden era, but our pass defense remained stout in 2006. 2007 was a different story for our defense. A lot of the problem can be seen in our schedule. We played a total of 9 winning teams in 2007, but our record was a pretty terrible 2-7 against those teams. Our defense as a whole was more efficient, but that is most likely skewed by the fact that so few teams ran against us (abstracting that away from the total yards and passing yards). Our passing defensive efficiency fell to unacceptable standards. 2008 brought a serious change. It is sometimes difficult to pin things on one person, but I would say that the biggest change in 2008, from a defensive perspective, was the arrival of Asante Samuel. The best “off” corner in the NFL was brought in to fix the worst number of turnovers in the NFL, and his presence brought immediate dividends. Additionally, we had a good Stewart Bradley in the middle with a fading Brian Dawkins and a peaking Quintin Mikell back deep. Our offense as a whole played very efficient football, even though our passing numbers declined a bit. We rode this all the way to the NFC championship before losing to the Cardinals. Interestingly, even though we had a maddeningly frustrating 9-6-1 record, we were a quite respectable 5-4 versus winning teams, quite an improvement over the 2-7 from the previous year.

2009-2011 – “The Fragile Art of Existence is kept alive by sheer persistence.”

And now, our recent past and pain. I think the low trend of our defense is perfectly exemplified by the Bendability. Putting all these stats together also highlights how poor of a defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was. Yes, Juan Castillo is a better coordinator, and you can make the argument that Castillo had better talent, but 31 passing touchdowns is still inexcusable. Matter of fact, you will notice that in the past three seasons, our defense has given up 27, 31, and 27 passing touchdowns, respectively, easily the highest three totals of the Reid era. Our team as a whole played quite well in 2010, going 10-6 with a 4-2 record against winning teams. We also went toe to toe with the eventual Super Bowl winning champions. The issue here is that our passing ability was merely above average. A Scoreability of 14.19 was good for 7th in the NFL (according to CHFF), whereas our Bendability was mired around 25th. That spells doom against teams that can move the ball and score efficiently.

Summary:

My feelings after reading all of this are that the Reid Eagles can be neatly divided into two sub-eras by that Super Bowl loss. We have somehow coasted into that area that is above mediocre but below great. I guess you could call us “above average” and, indeed, our averaged record since the Super Bowl is 9-7. This is a team that has ironically never been able to put it all together except for 2004. In the earliest years of the Reid era, we had a devastatingly efficient defense, but our offense’s weaknesses were almost always exploited very, very late in the season. More recently, we’ve seen pretty spectacular offensive production, but our defense has since fallen off, especially since Jim Johnson passed away. I want to make some observations. I guess nowadays all these TV shows call them Bold Predictions or Observations or whatever, but here we go.

Andy Reid should donate a portion of his salary to the memory of Jim Johnson.

Jim Johnson’s defense, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is what drove this team in the earliest years. As we’ve all seen, Reid is heinous when it comes to in-game management (admittedly, it is tough to quantify this and my feelings on this are anecdotal), but Jim Johnson’s defenses, as seen here, were the constant through it all. At least, initially. And I think this really stabs at the heart of the matter. There is an interesting undercurrent here, and it has to do with talent evaluation by the current regime. Now, I’m not saying that anyone can foresee with 100% certainty someone who is injured seemingly continuously (Jevon Kearse), and Draft post-analysis is always 20/20 hindsight, but what I take away from these numbers is that this regime is not good at evaluating defensive talent. One Asante Samuel signing does not a career make. If we are to assume that Jim Johnson’s defensive strategy was constant for the duration of his tenure as Defensive Coordinator, what is the difference between the Golden Era and the Doldrums? Talent level. The personnel that Jim Johnson used to craft his mighty defense was primarily put together during the Ray Rhodes regime. Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown were definitely not Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent. On the flipside, you can wonder if Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent would be effective in a post-Colts passing world. Both Taylor and Vincent were big, physical corners. Even today, corners play more with their feet, and I never remember Vincent’s nor Taylor’s possessing top flight speed, especially with respect to the Darrell Greens of the world. Just something to think about. This is NOT a knock on JJ at all. Just an observation.

Juan Castillo does not deserve another shot as Defensive Coordinator.

I want to point to 2002 for this. In 2011 and 2002, we led the NFL in sacks with 50 and 56, respectively. A high number of sacks should yield a lower NPYPAA. What do you see? Even though we led the NFL in sacks in 2011, the NPYPAA was a full yard worse than 2002. Now, again, that may have to do with the rule change, but that is an awfully big jump. Furthermore, 27 touchdowns? During JJ’s time, only in 2005, when our team was besieged by Terrell the Visigoth, were our passing TDs allowed to climb that high. There is no doubt that our 2011 year was submarined by turnovers on the offensive side, but that’s the only thing that separated 2010 and 2011. Had we made the playoffs, our defense would most likely have been shredded by an opponent that simply needed to avoid mistakes (i.e., the 49ers or the Giants).

I think Reid has been here too long. Sometimes, a devastating event can cause deep-seeded institutional harm, and the only way to change is to make massive changes. For the Raiders, it was that 2002 Super Bowl. For us, it was Terrell Owens in 2005. We have been mired in this weird above average neutral state for quite some time. Our average record before the Super Bowl was 12-4. Since then, it's 9-7.

There are obviously more stats to look at, but I at least want to put a lot of discussions in perspective. I did some additional segment by breaking up our team by D coordinator, by O Coordinator, and using the Super Bowl as an inflection point. There is plenty more to talk about, but I'm at like 3200 words. Enough. I hope you enjoyed. Thanks.

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