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2016 was a nice starting point for the Eagles’ new era

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How the 2016 Eagles compared to the NFL average.

Minnesota Vikings v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Doug Pederson ended the 2016 season by saying the Eagles are “extremely close” to being contenders. Optimists might agree with that assessment while skeptics will point out how the Eagles still have a lot of work to do after going 7-9 in Pederson’s first season. In order to evaluate the accuracy of Pederson’s assessment, here’s a closer look back at the 2016 Eagles and how they compared to the NFL average.

GENERAL

Category Eagles Rank
Point Differential +36 t-9
Turnover Differential +8 t-7

The Eagles finished the season with more points scored than points allowed. The Eagles also finished the season with more takeaways than turnovers. This is typically a recipe for success, but somehow the Eagles finished with more losses than wins. By these metrics, there’s a case to be made the Eagles were better than their record truly indicates.

OFFENSE

Category Eagles NFL AVG Difference Rank
Yards/Game 337.4 350.4 -13 22
Yards/Play 5 5.48 -0.48 29
RushYards/Game 113.3 108.9 4.4 11
RushYards/Play 4.14 4.19 -0.05 18
PassYards/Game 224.1 241.5 -17.4 24
PassYards/Play 5.89 6.76 -0.87 29
Interception Rate 2.30% 2.27% 0.03% 17
Sacks/Pass Attempt 5.42% 6.11% -0.69% 9
First Downs/Game 20.8 20.3 0.5 14
3rd Down Pct 37.95% 39.67% -1.72% 20
4th Down Pct 48.15% 51.36% -3.21% 17
RedZone Pct 49.09% 55.58% -6.49% 24
Goal to Go Pct 75.00% 71.91% 3.09% 14
Points/Game 22.9 22.8 0.1 16

To no surprise, the Eagles were below average in a number of categories. The real weakness of the offense was the passing game. Carson Wentz showed promise in his first year but he was also plagued by rookie struggles. His struggles were exacerbated by the fact the Eagles had the worst wide receiver corps in the NFL. The Eagles need better pass catchers and Wentz needs to be better moving forward. Having some NFL caliber receivers should be a big help for the young passer.

Additional note not shown in the table: the Eagles led the NFL in time of possession. It’s clear Doug Pederson favors a ball-control offense.

DEFENSE

Category Eagles NFL AVG Difference Rank
Yards/Game 342.8 350.4 -7.6 13
Yards/Play 5.61 5.48 0.13 20
RushYards/Game 103.3 108.9 -5.6 15
RushYards/Play 4.23 4.19 0.04 16
PassYards/Game 239.5 241.5 -2 13
PassYards/Play 6.93 6.76 0.17 20
Interception Rate 2.89% 2.27% 0.62% 7
Sacks/Pass Attempt 6.15% 6.11% 0.04% 14
First Downs/Game 18.8 20.3 -1.5 6
3rd Down Pct 40.00% 39.67% 0.33% t-19
4th Down Pct 44.44% 51.36% -6.92% 12
RedZone Pct 45.10% 55.58% -10.48% 3
Goal to Go Pct 73.68% 71.91% 1.77% 20
Points/Game 20.7 22.8 -2.1 12

The Eagles’ defense performed better than their offense did. Jim Schwartz’s unit ranked average-to-above-average in a number of categories. The Eagles’ defense got off to a good start last season but it struggled down the stretch (not unlike other seasons in recent history). Overall, the Eagles defense wasn’t awesome, but it wasn’t a downright disaster.

The weakness of the defense is highlighted in passing yards per play surrendered. Philadelphia clearly needs upgrades at cornerback.

One area where Schwartz’s unit was really good: red zone defense.

SPECIAL TEAMS (FOR)

Category Eagles NFL AVG Difference Rank
Punt Return Avg 12.9 8.6 4.3 2
Kickoff Return Avg 27.3 21.9 5.4 2
Field Goals Made 85.37% 84.24% 1.13% t-15

Philadelphia’s return units were great last season. The Eagles were the only NFL team to have two touchdown returns for kickoffs. Josh Huff had one (before he was cut) and Wendell Smallwood had the other. Kenjon Barner didn’t take one to the house but he also had some nice returns that helped boost the Eagles’ average.

Darren Sproles was a big factor on punt returns yet again. He’s still got it in that regard.

Caleb Sturgis had a slightly above average season.

SPECIAL TEAMS (AGAINST)

Category Eagles NFL AVG Difference Rank
Punt Return Avg 8.1 8.6 -0.5 9
Kickoff Return Avg 18.7 21.9 -3.2 2
Field Goals Made 40.00% 39.67% 0.33% t-19

Yawn. The Eagles’ coverage teams were great once again under special teams mastermind Dave Fipp.

...

Now a look at some advanced metrics.

FOOTBALL OUTSIDERS

Category Rank
Team DVOA 4
Offense 20
Pass Offense 25
Rush Offense 9
Defense 4
Pass Defense 2
Rush Defense 13
Special Teams 1

The 2016 Eagles graded out higher than you might have expected. The offense was below average but the defense finished very high in defensive DVOA.

Part of the reason the Eagles’ defense ranked well is because they faced a lot of tough offenses last season. DVOA accounts for strength of the opponent. The Eagles had to face the Cowboys twice, Washington twice, the Steelers, and the Falcons.

Philadelphia totally shut down the Steelers by holding them to only three points. The Eagles also held the near-Super Bowl 51 champions, the Atlanta Falcons, to their worst offensive output of the season.

TAKEAWAY FROM THE NUMBERS

So is Pederson crazy when he says the Eagles aren’t far away from contending? I don’t think he is.

Now, look, I’m not saying the Eagles are about to be Super Bowl favorites any time soon. But they’re probably not far off from making the playoffs. I will die on the hill that they were better than their record indicated in 2016. They just got unlucky and lost some close games. You can argue that good teams win close games, but the truth is luck is a big factor: a fumble bounces a certain way, a drop at a key moment, etc.

Historically, teams that under-perform their point differentials tend to bounce back the next season. Because, like I just said, it’s an indication that the team is better than their record truly shows.

The Eagles still have a lot of work to do before they can be considered among the NFL’s elite teams. Wentz needs to take a big step forward. The Eagles have to make significant upgrades at the wide receiver and cornerback positions. There are other underrated areas of need, such as running back. It’s very important the Eagles get this offseason right.

The 2016 season was very much a starting point for the Eagles. And a decent one at that.