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Crunching The Numbers: Week 7

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The Eagles get redemption

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Considering how tough an opponent the Vikings were, that game went about as well as any of us could have hoped. I was especially impressed with how the offense came out in the second half and marched down the field for a touchdown, which essentially put the game away when you factor in the unbelievable play of the defense.

I also don’t have as much of a problem with Carson Wentz’s second pick as a lot of people do. Yes, it was a horrible throw and he probably should have just tossed it out of bounds, but the willingness to take on the league’s best defense head-on is what really counts in my book. Remember in 2014 when the Seahawks came to town and Sanchez was practically urinating himself every time he dropped back to pass? It was painful to watch. But we won’t see any of that from Wentz. The key now is to make sure he complements the moxie with good decisions.

But enough of the offense - what about the redemption of the defense? 6 sacks and three times as many hits on Bradford. Not to mention the interception and four(!) forced fumbles. Jim Schwartz’ unit stole the spotlight on Sunday, now let’s see what they could do for the Eagles’ spot in the rankings on Wednesday. (An archive of previous rankings can be found here.)

Crunching The Numbers Rank Index: Week 7

Why the Eagles are First

After a brief fall from the top spot to third last week, The Eagles once again find themselves in the top spot. This has less to do with their performance (which only improved slightly overall) and more with the failures of last week’s #1 (Minnesota) and #2 (Buffalo). The Patriots, who I thought would have the top spot, find themselves behind because of turnovers. New England is surprisingly fumbling an absurd twice per game (the Eagles fumble at a rate of 1.5 per game after last week’s mess). Furthermore, they average a respectable 1.3 takeaways per game, but the Eagles are generating 1.6. Finally, the Eagles have a slight advantage in point differential per game. If you look at total points, the Patriots have the edge, +69 (ha) to +68, but they’ve done that with an additional two wins under their belt. All of this slightly outweighs the other statistics where New England beats out Philadelphia.

I’ve spent this time outlining why, in this formula, the Eagles narrowly edge out the Patriots for the top spot. I’m not going to give a rationale why New England is better than everyone else, because if you can’t reasonably believe that you haven’t been watching football for the past fifteen years.

Week 8 Reconnaissance: Dallas Cowboys

If the Vikings offered the best defense and the best coaching the Eagles have faced all season, the Cowboys offer the best (and most well-rounded) offense. As much as we might hate to admit it, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are having great starts to their careers - Dak averages 7.9 yards per pass attempt with a 0.55% interception rate, while Elliott is helping power the Cowboys to an incredible 9.8 rushing first downs per game. The offense does have a tendency to fumble (1.3 per game), but that’s about their only flaw right now. They were firing on all cylinders before the bye, so let’s all hope that they’ll suffer the same lethargy the Eagles and Vikings did after it.

The Cowboys’ defense has earned a reputation this season for being opportunistic, and that’s an accurate assessment. They are forcing 1.5 takeaways per game, but give up an average 7.0 yards per pass attempt and a downright awful 45% of their third down conversions. Their passing touchdown and rushing percentages (83% and 35%, respectively) are the hallmarks of a team that is controlling the clock and holding onto leads.

Overall, the Cowboys are winning in much the same way that they did in 2014 when they rolled to twelve wins. The difference this time is they have a quarterback who is more athletic and has a spine that isn’t made out of glass. This might sound like a tough game, and that’s because it is - when all is said and done, Dallas could very well be the most difficult opponent the Eagles face this season. But the good news is the way to beat them is relatively simple: shut down the run game on defense, take care of the ball on offense, and force Dak to win the game. It’s much easier said than done, but if the front seven and safeties play with the same fire they did against the Vikings - and the cornerbacks hold their own - the first task is very achievable. And with Dallas’ lackluster pass rush, the second task can be done if Carson shakes his midseason funk. The game is there for the taking for sure, but it will take a total effort on the part of the offense, defense, and coaches to get it done.

Notes

In “The Year Without a (Typical) Aaron Rodgers,” the Packers are only averaging a dismal 6.1 yards per pass attempt... Even after their 4-interception performance against the Rams, the Giants are only managing 1 turnover per game... For everything they do wrong, the Jaguars are only allowing a stellar 5.7 yards per pass attempt.