Happy Thanksgiving! It’s the best holiday (don’t let anyone tell you differently), so make sure to reflect on what a great season it’s been, enjoy the family, enjoy the football, and most importantly, ENJOY THE FOOD.
Welcome to yet another installment of Crunching The Numbers, a weekly game preview where I use a select few statistics to compare the Eagles to their upcoming opponent. For an explanation of why I chose these specific statistics, as well as an archive of previous entries, check out this hub.
What a great win over Dallas. I’ll admit, I was extremely nervous coming out of halftime. Nothing seemed to be going right on Sunday: the Redskins blew a 15-point lead over the Saints, the Vikings crushed the Rams, I got walloped in my fantasy game, and Kansas City lost me a point in my pick ‘em pool. Then the Eagles went out and were simply awful on offense, with Carson Wentz looking rusty and (at times) lost. Doug Pederson’s playcalling was beyond frustrating, as the running game which had served them so well was all but abandoned. David Fipp’s usually dominant special teams was completely out of sorts and their only kicker was undergoing concussion protocol.
There were only three things that I was able to take solace in as halftime rolled around: 1) The Giants continued to hurt their draft stock, 2) The defense was playing lights-out to keep them in the game, and 3) I trusted in Doug enough to make appropriate halftime adjustments.
And boy, did he ever. 30 minutes of football and 30 points later and we’re talking about how the Eagles embarrassed the Cowboys on national television. The story shifted entirely from the abysmal first half to this idea that the Eagles can simply “turn it on” whenever they feel like and bury whomever they happen to be playing. That is a quality of a team that opponents not only respect, but fear. While the saying, “I’d rather be feared than loved” is a questionable personal philosophy, it’s exactly what I want out of my sports teams.
My only concern is that Doug needs to figure out why his teams play so poorly coming out of a bye week. If they get one in the playoffs, they might not be able to afford a sluggish start against whatever competitive NFC team will be knocking on their doors.
- The Eagles should use the run game to set up play-action downfield, as the Cowboys are good at limiting big plays.
- On defense, the Eagles should employ their “big nickel” packages (3 safeties) to limit big plays while still playing strong against the run.
- The defensive ends need strong discipline to contain Dak on rollouts and bootlegs.
The clear dud in these predictions was the use of the “big nickel” package. I boldly claimed that Corey Graham might play over 50% of snaps... he only played 16%. Instead, the Eagles relied heavily on a traditional nickel package, as Patrick Robinson played 68% of snaps on defense. As the game wore on and the Eagles pulled away, Schwartz moved onto more dime looks.
The other two predictions, however, were more accurate. In the first half, Doug did the opposite of “lean on the run,” as Wentz thew the ball 18 times. As a result, they only put up 7 points. Then Doug came out in the second half with a run-heavy game plan and was immediately rewarded by Jay Ajayi’s scamper down to the red zone. Once the running game took over, the passing game opened up wonderfully, and the Eagles scored 30 unanswered points and 3-out-of-4 two-point conversions.
As I suspected, the Cowboys did indeed try to bail out their struggling offensive line with bootlegs and option plays. Some were successful (and even fooled the camera), but for the most part the swarming Eagles’ defense kept this in check. Still, the Cowboys had the best day on the ground against the Eagles since they played the Chiefs in Week 2, but this is overshadowed by the fact that Philadelphia’s 3-headed backfield monster piled up 215 rushing yards.
And finally, what is emerging to be the “signature stat” of this series is the opponent yards per point. I noted last week how Dallas, ranked 24th in this category, represented the average rank of all the teams the Eagles have played since I debuted Crunching The Numbers before the Cardinals game:
Every opponent the Eagles have faced since I debuted this feature in Week 5 has ranked 20th or worse in this category. In fact, the average rank during this time span is 24th, and the Eagles have also failed to score fewer than 28 points during this span. It is this stat that leads me to seemingly always say that the Eagles should be aggressive, as “points are there to be had” and so far this assertion has held up. Will the Eagles score 28+ points against the Cowboys? We don’t know for sure, but as long as they continue playing as well on offense as they have so far this season, there’s good reason to believe they will against this breakable Dallas defense.
Lo and behold, the Eagles went out and piled up 31 offensive points against Dallas (29 if you don’t count the two-point conversion after the defensive touchdown). Opponent yards per point might be the statistic we all want to pay attention to down the stretch, as it is becoming increasingly apparent that if a defense has a tendency to break, the Eagles will find a way to break it.
Now that I’ve written almost 1000 words about the dead-and-buried Cowboys, let’s look at the Bears! (Don’t worry. Like the 49ers, this week’s game notes will be sparse.)
As you can see, the Bears are simply outmatched by the Eagles in every category. The only statistic they show any promise in is OY/CMP, which isn’t terribly surprising considering the decent play of their safety tandem, which includes Penn State alumnus Adrian Amos. Unfortunately for the Bears, being merely competitive in one area won’t be enough to completely derail the Eagles. Will Wentz throw for 400 yards and 4 touchdowns? Probably not. He may even throw a pick. But Chicago’s ineptitude on offense and generally mediocre defense means that Wentz won’t need a banner day to beat the Bears at home. Hell, he didn’t even need a banner day to beat the Cowboys in Dallas.
That being said, the Bears have played some pretty gritty football this season. They have two quality wins over the Panthers (7-3) and the Steelers (8-2), although the Steelers have a habit of playing down to inferior competition. The Bears have also taken a somewhat-surging Lions team (6-4) down to the wire. The common denominator for all of these performances is that they’ve occurred at Soldier Field and the Bears are playing in Philadelphia this week. Still, while the Eagles should win comfortably, I don’t think we can expect the Bears to just roll over and die right from the start.
I’m not going to go through my usual gameplan because, like the 49ers, it’s hard to say anything really insightful when the matchup is so lopsided. There is a part of me that wants to see them let Kamu Grugier-Hill handle kickoff duty and practice two-point conversions all game if Elliott doesn’t clear concussion protocol, but if something goes awry and they lose the game by a few points, Doug would get crucified for not having a plan for field goals.
Overall, I think the Eagles can get away with a “safe” gameplan of shutting down Jordan Howard and then leaning on the run game to try and keep everyone healthy. As long as the team plays disciplined, simple football, it shouldn’t be hard to come away with a win at home against this team. I wouldn’t be upset at all with a final score of, say, 24-13 where Wentz attempts 16 passes and the running backs rack up 150+ yards on the ground.
In short, while the Bears may try to really fight for this one in the beginning, I have no doubt that the Eagles can - and will - do what is necessary to put this game away, barring some sort of disaster. Stay focused and disciplined and win the game.
Happy Thanksgiving and GO BIRDS.