Looking Further Into Our 3rd Down RB's

Last week I had a look at the amount of times the Eagles running game was utilised by Andy Reid in his final year in charge of Philadelphia. Looking at the figures we ran it just 12.2% of the time when it came to third down. That’s very low, considering the more successful, playoff bound teams like the Patriots and ‘9ers managed to hit around 35%-40% of runs on third down. A lot of this is down to our losses, when you’re chasing a game, second half especially, you’re always going to throw it on third down. Yet even in the first half, be it the Eagles leading or losing McCoy and Bryce Brown were invariably shunned in favour of the passing game.

This week I though I’d delve a little deeper into the 3rd down running game, looking into when and what distance Reid used McCoy and Brown in 2012 and back to 2011 McCoy, Lewis, Brown, Schmitt and Jackson. Ultimately I wanted to see how successful we were in 2011 compared to 2012.

I’ll start with 2012 as that’s the year my original article was based around and I looked at every third down that the Eagles ran, noting the distance and in the case of 2012 the circumstance (didn’t do this for 2011). First point of note, in 2012 the Eagles didn’t convert a single rushing 3rd down of more than 2 yds, they attempted two third and fours (both McCoy) and failed them both so outside of 3rd and 2 every single team we faced no doubt knew it was a passing situation. Although in 2011 we didn’t attempt a single third down over three yards with four attempts coming in at 3rdand 3, one being a TD.

We had five 3rd downs that were only ran on to give our punter better field position these were at 3rd and 15, 19, 20, 21 and 35. Obviously none were converted and whilst they are statistical fails I would personally not count these towards the backs totals, simply because bar a miracle these are never going to get converted.

My notes are basically based around 3rd and 1’s and 3rd and 2’s as Reid obviously had no faith in McCoy or Brown for that matter when it came to anything above 3rd and 2. As for 3rd and four well the first one came against the Ravens, we were losing by 7 in the 1st and Reid no doubt wanted to surprise the Ravens and yet ended up 4th and 6 as McCoy lost two yards. That was in the second game of the season and straight away you could see Reid shy away from using McCoy on 3rd downs, he again tested the water on a 3rd and 4 this time against Pittsburgh, the Eagles down by 6 in the 4th with McCoy managing 3yds before falling short. In fairness on 4th and 1 Reid did try again with McCoy and did convert so he can be somewhat forgiven for that one.

On 3rd and 2 Brown was used on two attempts and McCoy on three. They both converted two; Brown was perfect on 3rd and 2’s with McCoy being stuffed on the line against Dallas, with the Eagles again trailing. On 3rd and 1 McCoy ran it four times and converted on three occasions, Brown ran it three times converting twice. That’s 75% success for McCoy and 67% for Brown, that’s hardly bad numbers.

Reading deeper into the passing stats I can see why Reid used it so often, when passing the offense converted 3rddowns 71% of the time and got two TD’s. They did concede three sacks which meant just over one in six 3rd down passing attempts ended in a sack, a little high I’ll admit but with the Eagles constantly chasing games you can see Reid was looking to speed his offense up and you could somewhat forgive him for his lack of McCoy/Brown 3rd downs.

Despite that I still think he abandoned running the ball to quickly in the 1st half of games. Again in the third and fourth quarter as the Eagles chased a game the lack of running plays is to be expected, but in the first half I still think he over-used his QB. Of the 20 rushing third downs, he only attempted around 50% in the first half of the game, nice to see an even spread but I was expecting it to be very much tilted in favour of the first and second Quarter’s.



Enough with 2012, let’s compare it to 2011 and see if Reid liked to run it more often a year previous to the disastrous 4-12 season. The answer is obviously yes; in 2011 he ran it nearly three times as much, 58 attempts and compared to the 12.2% split from 2012 Reid did in fact run it on 30% of third down plays. That’s a huge difference and gave Reid that ability to keep the defense guessing as to whether he was passing or running it on 3rd down. We may have not had four wins in 2011 but it wasn’t exactly a successful season, if not for our final four wins the year would have been disastrous. We still found ourselves chasing a number of games especially during the beginning of the year and yet Reid always kept his faith in McCoy and co’s abilities on 3rd down.

The time to use 3rd down backs is generally at third and one or two yards, now in 2012 Reid sort of tried to do that, 12 attempts at this range with 17 through the air. Look back one year and its 28 attempts on the ground to just 16 through the air. That’s a pretty monumental shift I think you’ll agree.

Perhaps the HB’s were simply more successful in 2011? Wrong, we were more successful in 2012 converting 75% of third downs as oppose to 71% in 2011.

Well surely we faced easier rushing D’s in 2011 compared to 2012? Wrong, in 2011 we had a much tougher year against some top class rushing D’s including the 49ers, Dolphins, Bears, Cowboys, Redskins and Falcons all being top ten teams in terms of yards per game. In 2012 we faced just two top ten teams, Tampa and Pittsburgh (one and two respectively).

Well it’s got to be down to the O-Line? I cannot honestly see how someone could blame the offensive line, the 2012 offensive line helped convert three quarters of third and one or two’s, the ‘superior’ offensive line in 2011 converted less than three quarters. I do wonder if Reid’s choice not to run was down to the O-Line though, not due to poor numbers or key failed conversions, but because he thought his personnel weren’t up to the task. The numbers say otherwise.

Whatever way you swing it Reid didn’t run it enough, you can blame chasing games for a certain amount of that but not all of it. Perhaps he simply panicked, wanted to put lots of points on the board in the vain hope that the Eagles would turn it around and he’d keep his job. Instead what we got was a flurry of INT’s and countless fumbles as Vick struggled reading D’s and attempted off-the-cuff runs.

McCoy and Brown are very good at converting 3rd downs, numbers aren't everything but I don’t think the numbers lie in this case. If you’re successfully converting third downs three quarter’s of the time when giving it to your backs, then keep on giving it to them.

Chip is bringing in a new offensive scheme, how will this affect our utilisation of Bryce and LeSean in these key moments? I think Chip will see just how good these boys are at making key plays and come the end of our 2013 season I envisage that our total number of rushing third downs will be around or in fact above the 30% mark… where it should be.

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