Welcome to yet another edition of Crunching The Numbers, a weekly series in which I preview the Eagles’ upcoming game by comparing them against their opponent using a few select statistics. For more information on why I chose the statistics I analyze (along with a full archive of past posts), check out this hub.
Ah, the endless tragedy of Philadelphia sports. Probably the worst part of this whole “Our Lord and Savior Carson Wentz is lost for the season” catastrophe wasn’t that it was devastating, it’s that it wasn’t devastating. All season, no matter how much I tried to extinguish the flames of doubt in the recesses of my mind, I was still patiently waiting for the other shoe to drop. I had embraced the Super Bowl aspirations of this season - the Eagles were overcoming adversity in a way I haven’t seen before - but it was more of the, “Let’s see what happens as we get there” variety. I knew I was watching a championship-caliber team dominate opponents, and I sparingly entertained visions of Carson hoisting that silver trophy amidst a flurry of confetti, but not once did I truly believe that a Super Bowl run was inevitable (even though I tried). These were the Philadelphia Eagles, after all. If we were going to make it to the big game, it wouldn’t be without a healthy dose of heartbreak, panic, and emotional torture.
And now here we are.
As for the rest of last week’s game, not that we really care at this point, most of what I said about offense was true. The big point was on ball control, and the Eagles held the football for almost forty minutes. This was indeed predicated on utilizing passes over the middle and a healthy dose of the run game. Defensively, I said the Eagles should force Goff to dink and dunk his way down the field. Unfortunately, they had trouble containing Todd Gurley, which set up play action passes deep for Goff. It’s hard to say how Goff would have handled the game if Gurley had been held in check.
One last point was how I said the Rams would be harder to score on, so the Eagles needed more possessions. This ended up being right on the money, as Philadelphia ran 85(!) plays to the Rams’ 45, but Los Angeles was actually more efficient when they had the ball, as I predicted they would be.
But enough on this bittersweet chapter in an otherwise incredible season. Let’s look at who Nick Foles will face in his first start of 2017:
As with other bad teams the Eagles have played this season, I won’t go too in-depth here. The Giants only have the advantage in one statistic - OY/PT - and while that has tended to be a bellwether statistic in terms of opponent difficulty, I simply can’t see a team as dysfunctional as the Giants overcoming just how awful they are in every other metric to pull out the win here. The Eagles are simply far and away a much more complete team, and it would take a colossal comedy of errors on their part to let a potential chance at clinching the #1 seed throughout the playoffs slip through their fingers.
Of course, there is one thing we need to consider here, and it’s the one thing we’ll all be focused on in this game: Nick Foles.
I’m not going to touch on a profile of Nick Foles too much - Ben Solak already did a marvelous job for us on that - other than to point out how we can toss the Eagles 11th-ranked YPA out the window. Foles can run this offense efficiently, but he’s not going to be anywhere near as surgical as Carson Wentz was. One of Wentz’ best qualities this season was his determination to throw to the sticks on third and fourth down, and in only a few series against the Rams we already saw Foles be content to dump it off to his safety valve in the flat.
That being said, I still think Foles can lead this team to the promised land. Or, rather, Doug Pederson can. He has an incredibly deep roster to work with, and to call his playcalling with Foles in the game anything less than “encouraging” is laughable. Foles - who began the season with mystery “elbow soreness” and hasn’t started a game for the Eagles in over three years - entered the game and Doug immediately dialed up 5 straight passes. It’s tempting to try and run the ball with your backup quarterback behind center, but that’s also the easiest way to destroy his probably already shaky confidence. But Doug declared boldly, “We can win this with you, Nick,” and let him start firing. That’s how you show faith in your players, and that’s how you build the resiliency that has been the cornerstone of this team all season.
You’ve been hearing all week that losing Wentz sucks, and I won’t tell you differently. But this season is not lost! The future sure seems murkier than it did before, but it’s still ours for the taking. As much as we wanted to see Carson play in January, if Foles and Doug do find a way to guide us to the Super Bowl, how can you not like their chances? If you overcome THAT much adversity to still make it to the big dance, whose to say it’s not your time? And honestly, as epic as a Wentz-Brady showdown in Minneapolis would have been, can you think of a more beautifully fitting way for Brady to lose his third Super Bowl than against backup quarterback Nicky Foles?
Of course, there is a long and bumpy road ahead before we can even be thinking abut Minneapolis. We say dreams are “fulfilled” rather than “granted” because you have to earn them. And given all of the shit that’s been thrown at us this season, from everywhere, nobody will question whether or not we fucking earned it if we make that dream a reality.
We’ve got our backs against the wall and an ace in the hole with Doug Pederson. As goofy and awkward as he can be, few coaches have been able to rally his teams past injuries like Doug has. I believe in Doug Pederson, because we have to believe in someone now, and if not him, then who?
Carson may have gone under the knife to end his season, but as long as Doug is still under the headset, the 2017 season is alive - scratching, kicking, clawing - but alive.