We’re coming down the home stretch with Crunching The Numbers, as there are only four games left to play this season. For those who may be new here, Crunching The Numbers is a weekly series in which I preview the Eagles’ upcoming game by comparing them to their opponent using a few select statistics. If you’d like to read previous entries (and an explanation of why I chose the statistics I use), click here.
I won’t go too much into last week’s game, since I doubt any of you want to relive it. Unfortunately, my fears about the Seahawks having the Eagles’ “kryptonite” proved to be valid. In an uglier twist, disgraced former coach Chip Kelly actually had a soundbite during his introductory press conference at UCLA about the difference between college and pro coaching: situational football. The Eagles bested the Seahawks in several areas, including net yards, first downs, times punted (really), yards per play, and time of possession, just to name a few. Where they lost? Red zone efficiency, goal-to-go efficiency, turnovers, and penalties. The Eagles fell flat in situational football, which is probably a symptom of Pete Carroll being a seasoned head coach and Doug Pederson being, well, a second-year head coach. Russell Wilson’s experience as a Super Bowl-winning quarterback trumps Carson Wentz as well.
The good news with this is that Sean McVay, for all his success, is still a rookie head coach, and Jared Goff is a sophomore quarterback like Wentz. They should also be facing a friendlier environment than the hostile confines of CenturyLink Field. Doug Pederson should have the upper hand here. Is he helped out at all by the statistics?
Well... yes and no. Even after they were unable to defend the scramble drill against the Seahawks, the Eagles are still fourth in OY/CMP, while the Rams are all the way down at nineteenth. That 0.9 difference might not seem like much, but it’s the difference between a first down and fourth-and-inches on 3rd and 10. The Eagles also have the edge in time of possession by almost three full minutes. That’s not terribly surprising as clock control has always been a staple of Doug’s game plans.
In the other categories, the Rams have a clear statistical advantage. Even with PTS/1HLF, where the Eagles are ranked right behind Los Angeles, it’s a distant third with a 3.5 point difference (New England is first in this category at 18.1). The most concerning difference is with OY/PT. As I noted last week, the Seahawks were much more efficient in this area than the majority of the Eagles’ opponents and held them to 10 points. At the time, they were ranked thirteenth. The Rams are ranked fourth.
Given that the Eagles have somewhat of an uphill battle here, with a first round bye now on the line, what can they do to come out on top?
When The Eagles Have The Ball
The Eagles and Rams feature the league’s top two scoring offenses, with exactly 361 points scored each (30/game). As noted above, the Rams have a defensive advantage with OY/PT, meaning that (statistically) the Eagles will need to work harder for their scores than Los Angeles will. Considering this, the name of the game is ball control. Simply put, the Eagles should aim to have more possessions during the game than the Rams. Los Angeles goes down the field and scores first? Go to hurry up on the next drive. Eagles hold the Rams, or have first possession? Chew clock and pound the rock. Mix-and-match hurry-up to put yourself in a place to have that crucial possession at the end of the half - or game.
Given the Rams’ tendency to allow longer completions, I would expect Doug to install some concepts to work the middle of the field. He did a terrible job of getting the Eagles’ most reliable receivers involved early last week, so some slants, posts, and corner routes for Jeffery and Agholor could go a long way to cure their ails from Seattle. Toss in some dig routes for whomever lines up at tight end and you’re good to go.
When The Rams Have The Ball
Jared Goff, for all the public abuse he took in his abysmal rookie season, has been somewhat of a revelation this season. He’s guided his team to an impressive 9-3 record and is third in the league in YPA. Therefore, the Eagles’ top priority on passing defense is to shut down the deep ball. With Jordan Hicks out, they’ve opted for more single-high looks over a two-deep safety look. This might be the week to bring those two deep safeties back into the gameplan to make sure the receivers running the go route are covered. Make Goff dink and dunk his way down the field, and when he’s faced with a third-and-long, DON’T LET HIM THROW PAST THE STICKS. If the Eagles can force the Rams to play timid football on offense, they have a good shot at winning this game.
With how quickly the Rams score, an unorthodox approach early in the game might be to let the Rams catch a few passes over the middle, and then just destroy them with big hits. The old Raiders teams would do this all the time, and while it’s more difficult to do with today’s rules, sending a message early that the Eagles are not going to play nice could get them out of their element. Slowing Todd Gurley down is an obvious choice for this strategy, but that plan is more or less a given with the way Philadelphia plays the run.
Like the Seahawks game, this should be a tough contest. Unlike the Seahawks game, the Eagles shouldn’t be outclassed the entire game. When the season really spiraled out of control late last year, Pederson showed that he can get his team motivated with the resolve to compete down the stretch. This team is much better than last year’s, so we should see a similar bounce-back with better results.
Beating the Rams is vital. If the Eagles drop a second straight game, they’ll lose a first-round bye two weeks after sitting high and mighty with homefield advantage. In addition, defeating a playoff-caliber team in December should go a long way to reassuring the locker room that they can accomplish the same feat in January. Then again, looking ahead might have been part of their undoing last week. After a sobering loss, it’s back to one game at a time, and the Rams are next up on the docket.