Things to watch for in Week 3.
Big game tonight. Andy Reid’s return to Philly, but more importantly, a chance for the Eagles to take a 2nd win out of the first 3 games. In the NFC East, 2-1 would look pretty damn good. It’s a short week, so my normal schedule is a bit screwed up, however, there were a few things I wanted to get out there in preparation for tonight’s game:
- This one deserves its own post, but: The Eagles and Chip Kelly should be about as aggressive on fourth down as possible. I’ve covered this at a league-average level, but I also mentioned the logical adjustments we should make according to how good/bad the offense/defense is. Remember, using expected points, that a very good offense means possession of the ball is worth MORE than the averages we looked at. Similarly, a bad defense means the OPPOSING team’s expected points at each yard line increase.
Well the Eagles’ offense looks very good. It’s still unclear how the defense will shake out, but we thought they’d be a bit worse than average and they haven’t done anything to suggest that expectation was too low.
Logically, that means the Eagles have even more incentive to go for it on 4th down than most teams do. They’re success rate should be higher, and the "value" of a punt should be lower. Again, it deserves its own full analysis. However, it’s pretty clear to me that the "right" call with this team is to go for it in 4th and 1-3 yard situations (maybe even 4-5 yards). Additionally, field goals don’t mean very much, since there’s a good chance the opposing team comes right back and scores.
- The pass-rush needs to be better. The Eagles defense might see a lot of the same tonight. Heavy passing game, stressing short drops. That gave the team fits on Sunday, but hopefully they’ve made a few adjustments since then. I’ll be paying close attention to how they "disguise" the rush, since that was a big weakness against the Chargers. However, it’s important to note that players need to win one-on-one battles as well. That was also a big problem, though it’s a tougher one to fix.
- Is the offense as good as it looks? This early in the season, it’s always tough to know how to apportion credit. Is the Eagles offense amazing, or are the Redskins and Chargers defenses terrible? Judging by the Redskins and Chargers’ other games, it might be more bad defense than we’d like to believe. Tonight, the Eagles face what appears to be a legitimately good defense. They held the Jaguars to just 2 points in week one (not a huge accomplishment, but impressive nonetheless) and, on Sunday, held the Cowboys to 16 points. The Cowboys, as much as we dislike them, are a good offensive team, and keeping them to 16 points is a really good performance (they scored 36 in week 1 against the Giants, though 14 of those came from TOs). For what it’s worth, Football Outsiders has the Chiefs as the #1 defense so far.
By the end of tonight, for better or worse, we should have a bit more confidence in the offense’s "true" ability.
- The penalties. Sunday’s game was sloppy. The Eagles took 9 penalties, giving San Diego 77 free yards, including 4 first downs. There were a lot of "differences" on Sunday, but the penalties are near the top of the list. The O-Line illegal formation calls are absolutely unacceptable. That’s the definition of an unforced error, and I struggle to understand how it’s even possible to commit that penalty, especially after the ref warns you multiple times.
I’m more concerned, though, with Cary Williams. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to finish a game review, but it seemed to me that Williams’ pass interference calls all occurred when he was in press coverage. The book on WIlliams, before coming here, was that he likes playing off receivers and gives up a lot of short catches. The upside is that he tackles well and doesn’t allow a lot of YAC. On Sunday, the Eagles lined him up at the LOS. The receivers then ran by him and he grabbed the jersey to stay close.
Williams should not be committing obvious penalties like that, but the coaches might not be doing him any favors with their positioning calls. Maybe it was just one game, but I’m very curious to see how often he lines up at the LOS tonight.
That covers the large concepts. I’ll put together a "benchmark" post after this week’s games, but so far, the Eagles look very much like the team we expected to see. Tonight’s game looks like a toss-up to me. I think the Chiefs are a playoff team (thought that before the season, not jumping on after 2 wins). The offense doesn’t strike me as "explosive", but then again, the Chargers’ offense didn’t either.
If the team can cut the penalties and find just a semblance of a pass-rush, I think the Eagles come out on top.
As usual, follow me @EaglesRewind if you want to discuss the game live.