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Reviewing the Eagles' First 15 Plays Per Game in 2013

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It's the second annual first-15-plays-of-each-game-of-the-Eagles-season review! Conclusion: Chip Kelly is good at this play-calling thing and his players executed often.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike last year's edition, there won't be another team for comparison purposes, but, hey, it'll still be fun to see just how much better the Eagles were on offense at the beginning of games in 2013 than 2012. First, a refresher.

Here's the overall stat line the Eagles put up in the first 15 plays of each game in 2012:

Called Runs Yards (excl. scrambles) Yards (incl. scrambles) Called Passes Yards Total Yards (run + pass) Total Turnovers Total Points
91 275 (3.02 YPC) 323 149 767 (5.15 YPA) 1,090 (4.54 YPP) 10 (5 INT, 4 FUM, 1 PBK) 31 (4 TD, 1 FG)

Note: Called Run/Called Pass ratio was 38/62

Analysis: Based on YPP (yards per play), the Eagles were, in fact, just as terrible in their first 15 plays as I expected going into this study. Compared to the rest of the league in terms of YPP overall, that 4.54 figure would have ranked 31st of 32 teams, ahead of only the Cardinals (4.1). The Eagles ranked 20th in the league at 5.3 YPP, just to magnify how bad they were at the start of games.

What really hurt the Eagles was -- this might come as a shock to you -- turnovers, which ruined any chance the offense had to put up points early in the game. They turned the ball over twice as often as they registered scoring plays. Only thrice all season did the offense score on its first drive: 1 TD vs. Dallas, 1 FG vs. Carolina, 1 TD vs. Washington.

And here are the overall stats for the Oregon Ducks' offense in the first 15 plays per game in 2012:

Called Runs Yards Called Passes Yards Total Yards (run + pass) Total Turnovers Total Points
112 972 (8.68 YPC) 83 685 (8.25 YPA) 1,657 (8.5 YPP) 3 (2 FUM, 1 INT) 133 (19 TD)

Note: Called Run/Called Pass ratio was 57/43

Disclaimer: I'm not sure how many of the runs by Mariota were scrambles. Without going back and watching the film of every game, I relied on the ESPN.com play-by-play reporting and which words were used. If the QB scrambled instead of immediately took off on a called run, the game log classifies it as such (as was the case when going through the Eagles' game logs). Not once was the word "scramble" included in the Oregon play-by-play game logs.

Analysis: Yes, I know, the vast discrepancy between the level of competition faced by the Eagles and Ducks is a joke, but these offenses were polar opposites. Look at the run/pass ratio, look at the YPC/YPA/YPP, look at the (lack of) turnovers, look at the (ton of) total points. The Ducks' YPC, YPA and YPP numbers are absurd and obviously won't be duplicated at the NFL level, but I do think there's merit to the stats from a basic perspective.

Oregon accumulated under 100 yards in its first 15 plays just 3 times last season, while the Eagles eclipsed 100 yards just 1 time. Oregon averaged 127.5 yards over the first 15 plays per game, while the Eagles averaged 68.1. Oregon typically got good field position (something else that'll be much different from what we became accustomed to with Andy Reid's Eagles over the final seasons) and started nearly every game like a bat out of hell, scoring a TD on its first drive a remarkable 8 of 13 times (and a TD by the end of the second drive 11 of 13 times), while the Eagles did so just 2 times. Overall, the Ducks scored 6 (six!) touchdowns for every turnover it committed in the first 15 plays of games. The YPP for the first 15 plays of the game was 3.71 yards more than the Eagles, and the 8.5 figure would've placed first in the entire NFL in 2012 by a ridiculous 2.3 yards (New Orleans ranked 1st at 6.2). Again, I know this is not a fair comparison on its face, but I feel it's at least worth noting.

On its face, the comparative premise of my original article wasn't fair because of the immense differences between the pro and college games. But for me the exercise was more about examining what went wrong with the Eagles at the beginning of games as the Andy Reid era came to a crash-and-burn end, and then getting an exciting glimpse of how Chip Kelly operated in the same situation.

Those who believed in Kelly as a pro coach were resolute in predicting that his offense would be top-five in the NFL immediately, especially with the weapons at his disposal. Turns out he exceeded even our lofty expectations, and a lot of that had to do with getting the Eagles off to great starts that resembled the blitzkriegs his Oregon teams unleashed on opponents.

Note: I disregard plays negated due to penalties. I also count scrambles as called pass plays -- because that's what they are -- but factor the yardage into the run total, and subtract sack yardage from total passing yards. Field goal attempts and punts are not included in play totals.

Week 1: at Washington

Run Yards Pass Yards Total Yards Turnovers Total Points
8 61 7 76 131* 1 (FUM) 0

*includes -6 yards credited on the Michael Vick "fumble" before DeAngelo Hall scooped up the ball and returned it for a touchdown

Week 2: vs. San Diego

Run Yards Pass Yards Total Yards Turnovers Total Points
9 33 6 76* 109 0 3

*includes LeSean McCoy 70-yard catch-and-run and a sack that went for -6 yards

Week 3: vs. Kansas City

Run Yards Pass Yards Total Yards Turnovers Total Points
5 108* 9 34 142 2 (INT, FUM) 6** (TD Pass)

*includes runs of 61 and 24 yards by Michael Vick **Two-point conversion attempt failed

Note: On the 15th play from scrimmage, there was a fumble on the snap between Jason Kelce and Vick, which Justin Houston recovered. I don't know if the play was a called run or pass, so I didn't count it against either total.

Week 4: at Denver

Run Yards Pass Yards Total Yards Turnovers Total Points
7 43 8 36 79 0 0


Week 5: at New York Giants

Run Yards Pass Yards Total Yards Turnovers Total Points
6 71 9* 0 71 0 3

*Vick did not complete a single pass, but he did scramble five times for 52 yards

Note: With Vick starting, the offense had three instances with 60 or more yards rushing. With Foles, as you'll see, there was nothing quite that substantial. There were, however, steady chunks of yards broken off in a majority of games. Nothing explosive that was a huge gainer, but enough to move the chains.

Week 6: at Tampa Bay

Run Yards Pass Yards Total Yards Turnovers Total Points
6 39 9 79 118 1 (FUM) 7 (TD run)

Week 7: vs. Dallas

Run Yards Pass Yards Total Yards Turnovers Total Points
7 34 8 20 54 0 0

Week 8: vs. New York Giants

Run Yards Pass Yards Total Yards Turnovers Total Points
7 8 8 -6 2* 1 (INT) 0

*Note: This game was bad, very bad, from beginning to end. It was also Michael Vick's final start as an Eagle.

Week 9: at Oakland

Run Yards Pass Yards Total Yards Turnovers Total Points
6 46 9 99* 145 0 7 (TD pass)

*Included one of the sneaky huge plays of the season -- first drive, Foles to Maehl on 3rd and 13 for 19 yards

Week 10: at Green Bay

Run Yards Pass Yards Total Yards Turnovers Total Points
8 47 7 71 118 0 7 (TD Pass)

Week: 11: vs. Washington

Run Yards Pass Yards Total Yards Turnovers Total Points
6 28 9 125 153 1 (FUM) 7* (TD run)

*Note: On the 16th play, Shady scored on a one-yard touchdown run

Week 13: vs. Arizona

Run Yards Pass Yards Total Yards Turnovers Total Points
6 27 9 67 94 0 7 (TD pass)

Week 14: vs. Detroit

Run Yards Pass Yards Total Yards Turnovers Total Points
10 14 5 2 16* 1 (INT) 0

*Fun in the snow!

Week 15: at Minnesota

Run Yards Pass Yards Total Yards Turnovers Total Points
5 58 10 55 113 0 3

Week 16: vs. Chicago

Run Yards Pass Yards Total Yards Turnovers Total Points
9 45 6 65 109 0 14 (TD pass, TD run)

Week 17: at Dallas

Run Yards Pass Yards Total Yards Turnovers Total Points
6 28 9 128 156 0 10 (TD pass)

Week 18: vs. New Orleans

Run Yards Pass Yards Total Yards Turnovers Total Points
5 9 10 60 69 0 0

There's nice consistency, including gaining 100-plus yards in 10 of 17 games and scoring in 11 of them. The Eagles turned the ball over in the first 15 plays in just six games, and seven times total. What I like the most is the 54/46 pass/run ratio, which just so happens to be a happy medium between the two extremes of last season's Eagles and Ducks teams. The balance was hugely important and happily welcomed after years of a lopsided, stubborn preference for the pass. I could feel myself gaining my sanity back while watching the Eagles.

One thing that is different from last year when adding up the totals -- it's tougher to know when to include yards on scrambles because of the style the Eagles play under Kelly. A lot of runs by both Vick and Foles were designed. So there won't be any distinction in the stats about yards excluding and including scrambles. It's just all being compiled as the rushing total, which, by the way, comes in at a delicious sliver over six yards per attempt.

Called Runs Yards Called Passes Yards Total Yards (run + pass) Total Turnovers Total Points
116 699 (6.03 YPA) 138 987 (7.15 YPA) 1,686 (6.61 YPP) 7 (3 INT, 4 FUM) 74 (9 TD, 4 FG)

The Eagles' 6.61 yards per play would've ranked first in the NFL ahead of Denver and is actually four tenths of a yard per play better than their own overall average for the season. Look at the yards per rush attempt, too, pretty crazy and nearly a full yard more than the 5.1 that led the league. At this point I think that if we want to be fair with respect to projecting this upcoming season, we have to separate the average yards per rush attempt accumulated when Vick and Foles started. In the six games with Vick, the Eagles gained nearly half of their total rushing yards with 324, and in the 11 games that Foles started, the total was 375 yards; an average of 7.71 yards per attempt under Vick and 5.07 yards per attempt under Foles.

The passing numbers, however, were vastly improved with Foles as the starter. In fact, in the six games that Vick started, the Eagles' yards per pass attempt (4.55) was more than a full half-yard lower than the overall 2012 number. It's worth pointing out that the two Giants games, in which the offense TOTALED -6 passing yards, considerably depressed the final average. On the flip side, with Foles starting, the offense had a 8.47 yards per pass attempt average, which, though four yards better than what the team achieved with Vick, fell about six tenths of a yard short of Foles' league-leading yards per pass attempt mark of 9.12 for the season.

The total averages are sexy. It couldn't get much worse than the way the 2012 team played, but the 2013 team browbeat it across the board. Three yards more per rush attempt, two yards more per pass attempt, more than doubling total points and having three less total turnovers. Those are staggering improvements, and Kelly's Eagles established themselves as an equally devastating threat on the ground and through the air. The meshing of that Oregon-inspired run game and NFL passing concepts seems to have worked out okay for one season. Here's to more, hopefully, although I acknowledge it can't get much better than first or second in the NFL.

I think -- no, I know -- that in addition to the consistency, the most satisfying part for me is knowing how methodically Chip is attacking his opponent from the beginning. Then after he gashes them early, he makes in-game adjustments to evolve. Seeing how Kelly's offense, with Foles at the helm from the start, plays in 2014 as an encore to last season is the most fascinating story line domestically and at the top of the list for the league as a whole. Getting off to fast starts and minimizing early mistakes again will be important, of course.