Merry Christmas! We’re coming down to our last two regular season editions of Crunching The Numbers, a weekly article in which I compare the Eagles to their upcoming opponent using a few select statistics. To learn more about why I chose the statistics I analyze, and to see a full archive of previous additions, check out this hub.
Typically, when the Eagles play a weaker opponent, I don’t write up a gameplan, which I normally review after linking back to last week’s article. The Giants, being a bottom-of-the-barrel team, were no exception.
But perhaps they should have been one.
To note, Nick Foles absolutely did his job. I spent most of last week’s edition hyping Foles and Doug up, and they delivered. Even with his faults, Nicky Franchise came through when it mattered most (in the red zone) and Doug schemed a beautiful gameplan for him.
The defense? Not so much. Philadelphia seemed comfortable playing off-coverage and letting the Giants dink and dunk their way down the field, which is fine in theory if you are capable of not being burned over the top or making an open-field tackle. The Eagles could do neither of these things on Sunday, and they were lucky to escape with a win. They might have the ability to get one more win and wring everything there is to be gained from the regular season - homefield advantage in the playoffs and a first-round bye - but that doesn’t really mean much if they don’t even win a playoff game. And with that performance last week, I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying they’d even beat the Falcons, let alone the Rams, Panthers, Saints, or Vikings.
But the good news is that it isn’t the playoffs yet. They have time to get things cleaned up for January. With the prospect of winning a playoff game at the Linc for the first time in 11 years (when Jeff Garcia was the backup quarterback leading the charge for an ACL-maligned starter, and Doug Pederson was still coaching high school) staring them in the face, I’m sure the fervor to improve isn’t lost on them.
But for right now, it’s one game at a time, and that starts with a Christmas matchup against the Oakland Raiders. Before I break down the chart like I normally do, I have a confession: I hope the Vikings win on Sunday.
You see, my old man - who might love football more than life itself - has been a lifelong Raiders fan. Being on the East Coast, he has never seen his team play, or even been to a professional football game, for that matter. So, with the two teams playing on Christmas, I figured, “Why the hell not, let’s go to the game.” Get some good ol’ quality time and enjoy some football, which would be much more meaningful if the Eagles have to play for homefield advantage.
But if you still (understandably) feel betrayed because I am rooting for the Vikings, do not fear! The Eagles will still win on Monday. How do I know this, you ask?
Because I will be there.
A Brief History of Matt’s Attendance at Eagles Games
I have attended a grand total of two Eagles games (both at the Linc) in my short life. The first one I attended was a divisional game against the Dallas Cowboys. My brother is a Cowboys fan (yeah, I know, don’t worry - his kids are Eagles fans) and my mom got us tickets to the game for a Christmas present. A game that happened to take place on December 28, 2008. Yep, that’s right - my very first Eagles game was 44-6.
My next game was with my friend (also an Eagles fan) in 2013. He was a bit down on his luck so I suggested we go to a game. We compared schedules and managed to get decently-priced tickets to a game against the Chicago Bears on December 22, in which the Eagles had nothing to play for (due to the Cowboys beating the Redskins earlier that day) and the Bears had everything to play for, since they could wrap up the NFC North division with a ninth win. Even so, Chip Kelly refused to rest his starters, delivering what might be his only unblemished contribution to Philadelphia sports legend with this quote: “We’re from Philadelphia, and we fight.” The Eagles won that game handily, 54-11. If you’re keeping score at home, we’re now up to 98-17, Eagles advantage when I attend games.
But wait, there’s more!
I also strongly considered (as in, attempted to buy tickets) for two other Eagles games: at New England in 2015 and against Pittsburgh in 2016. As I’m sure you’ll recall, the Eagles beat the Patriots that year, 35-28, and clobbered the Steelers in the following season, 34-3. So if you count games I even thought about attending, we now have a running tally of 177-48, for an average game score of 44-12.
So yeah, I feel pretty good about this game. But let’s look at the stats anyway. (Also would not be opposed to a GoFundMe to send me to every game.)
Like last week, the Eagles hold an advantage in every category, although some are closer than others. I won’t go into “When X Has the Ball” like I do with more competitive games. I will, however, provide a more broad gameplan so I have more substance to discuss in my recap next week.
We should get used to seeing declining numbers in YPA, as Foles simply cannot push the ball down the field the way Carson can. Also, the two teams are pretty similar in OY/PT, which tells me we should see similar results from their defenses when they’re backed up against their own end zone. This has the makings of a close game if the Eagles continue to play sloppy in certain areas.
On offense, the Eagles should really focus on maintaining possession of the ball for as much as they can. I think any fourth-and-five (or less, give or take) inside Raiders’ territory is fair game for a try. Staying aggressive should also continue to bolster the confidence of Nick Foles, who could really stand to build upon his impressive 4-touchdown performance against the Giants last Sunday.
With the Raiders’ mediocre OY/CMP, the Eagles should try to work intermediate routes down the seam. Foles seems pretty good at these types of passes, and keeping the ball in-bounds helps maintain clock control. I don’t think you need to try and manufacture big plays for a game like this, but work some deep route options into the game plan to let Foles know you’re not afraid to let him sling it if he sees something open downfield.
Defensively, Oakland starts slow, only averaging 8.5 PTS/1HLF. The defense really needs to key in on this, as allowing an uncharacteristically hot start for a team like this might be all they need to turn this into a shootout. Keep Lynch in check and make sure Carr is uncomfortable in the pocket. I don’t think Schwartz needs to go blitz-heavy here - Carr is an efficient quarterback and that strategy burned the Eagles early in the Giants game last week - but tossing in some wrinkles would do some good. I’ve been a big fan of his early-game safety blitz calls this season, and I think a game like this could be a good time to break one or two of those out again.
Overall, if the defense can force Carr to dump the ball regularly they will have done their job. The Raiders simply don’t throw the ball deep very often, and if they are reduced to a timid, vanilla offense it would only be a matter of time before someone is taken down behind the line or the quarterback is sacked. From there you’ll get third-and-long, which are much harder to complete if you’re not making an effort to pick up chunks of yardage on your passing plays.
While Oakland is not exactly a scary team to be playing right now, they aren’t really pushovers either. In some areas they are not all that statistically different from the Eagles, which means Philadelphia will have to rein in the mistakes if they want to avoid another nailbiter at the end of the game. But we know Doug and Jim can coach this team up, and it could be now or never to really turn the sloppiness around if they secure homefield advantage and rest their starters against the Cowboys.
In any case, here’s to an Eagles’ win in our stockings on Christmas night, and may your holidays be safe and merry!