As it usually happens, this post started with completely different intentions. Originally this was supposed to a piece on the positives that could be taken form the last four games of the season, when the Eagles decided to play at the level we expected from them all year. We were thrilled when the Eagles went 4-0, feeling that finally they had turned a corner. There had to be some aspect of the game that had improved. Instead what i saw in those games was a slightly disturbing trend. In those games the offensive lines run blocking did not pass the eye test. Holes weren't being opened, and many plays were stopped at, or behind the line of scrimmage. When I started watching games i went in reverse, starting with the Redskins game. As I watched that game I wrote it off as the backups not performing well in place of McCoy, who was out with an ankle injury. Still I felt this needed further attention because a lot of the runs never had a chance. What I noticed was very interesting. Having been a BGN resident for some time I know that if you are gonna make any kind of accusations about this teams play, you better be able to back it up with facts. I present to you my analysis of those last 4 games, with stats to support my opinions
This was the last game of the season, and the Eagles had lost Shady McCoy and had to rely on the backups. Ultimately after watching I feel it wouldn't have made a difference. The Redskins spent a ton of time in the backfield. The numbers support this theory. After removing attempts by Vick ( 1 for 3 ), the Eagles went 18 for 72 ( 4 ypc ) and 3 TFL ( tackles for loss ). Not too bad, but they really couldn't run the ball all game. Subtracting a 20 yard run late in the game by Dion Lewis the Eagles were 17 for 52 ( 3.06 ypc ). Nothing to brag about.
In week 16 the Eagles handily beat the Cowboys, but the ground game wasn't much of a factor. Subtracting rushes from Vick (3 for 10 ) and Jackson, the Eagles were 21 for 68 ( 3.23 ypc ) with 5 TFL. And the Eagles leading rusher? LeSean McCoy with 13 carries for 35 yards ( 2.7 ypc ). This won't cut it. The Eagles won, but were very one dimensional and had a lot of trouble sustaining drives.
The lone bright spot in the last 4 games. The Eagles dominated the Jets offensively this game. Subtracting runs by Vick ( 5 for 32 ), and Kafka (2 for -2 ) the Eagles were 26 for 130 ( 5ypc ) and 2 TFL. Nothing but smiles this game. McCoy gashed the Jets defense to the tune of 18 carries for 102 yards (5.7 ypc ) and 3 TD's. Round of applause for the line in this game.
Save the worse for last I guess. I remember watching this game live and thinking about how bad the line looked, in both run and pass blocking. In Vick's first game back from injury, a situation where it might be better to rely on the run game while your QB shakes off the rust, he was sacked 4 times. Keeping the ball on the ground and out of his hands wasn't an option. Once again removing Vick ( 2 for 9 ) the Eagles were 30 for 42 ( 1.4 ypc ) with 9 TFL. They couldn't get the ground game going at all. It was actually pretty pitiful to watch.
Now i know people will throw the stats at me, so I'll save you the trouble:
5th ranked 450 attempts 2261 yards 5.1 ypc 20 TDs
Not too bad, but once again lets look deeper. First we will remove the numbers for all non RB's.
Micheal Vick 76 attempts 589 yards
Vince Young 18 Attempts 79 yards
DeSean Jackson 7 Attempts 41 yards
Mike Kafka 3 Attempts 0 yards
Which leaves us with 346 attempts for 1672 yards and an average of 4.49 ypc. Still not a bad average, but still above what I saw in 3 of the last 4 games. But these were just my amateur findings so I decided to compare my thoughts with that of the professionals over at Football Outsiders. Their stats showed something closer to what I was seeing. If you look here you will find that they grade the Eagles 26th in run blocking. Their adjusted line yards is 3.89 ypc, while their adjusted RB yards is a bit closer to what I calculated at 4.54 ypc. The fact that they are ranked 2nd in 2nd level rushing, and 4th in open field rushing supports what I felt all season. The Eagles are better at blocking at the second level, but more importantly they benefit from McCoy's ability to make people miss once he reaches the second level; much in the same way they benefit from Vick's elusiveness. The problem is getting him to the second level. They rank the Eagles as 32nd in the league in stuffed plays, being stopped behind the line of scrimmage 25% of the time. Look at these stats from NFL.com
Running Left 23 TFL (29th in the NFL )
Running Center 14 TFL ( 29th in the NFL )
Running Right 19 TFL ( 22nd in the NFL )
While being 12th in the league in attempts, we are 29th, 29th. and 22nd in the league in each direction. Leaves me wondering would those numbers go up or down with an increase in attempts. The fact that I noticed was that 37.5% ( 21 ) of those came in the last 4 games of the year when we were "improving". Either way what this all means to me is this; When we open holes up for Shady he makes things happen. The problem is, we aren't opening these holes up consistently. McCoy had to work hard for a lot of his yardage this year, and when the line couldn't free him up he struggled. I know my looking at only 4 games may not be a large enough sample, but the the numbers don't lie. In order for us to make a deep run in the playoffs next year the line has to not only keep Vick upright, but also do a better job of allowing our backs to reach the second level.