Welcome to another installment of Crunching The Numbers, a weekly, stats-based game preview I do for Bleeding Green Nation. For more about the stats I use (and why I use them) to make my “armchair coach” observations, check out an archive of previous posts in this series here.
Week 5 In Hindsight, Plus Runningback Talk
I’m not going to talk too much about that horrible game against the Vikings since we’re all sick and tired of it by now. I’ll sum everything up in two points:
- I was really disappointed in Doug’s gameplan, which didn’t feature anything I expected it to from last week’s post. Instead, he seemed to kind of hope starting Seumalo over Wisniewski would somehow make everyone else on the line play better. He called the same intermediate passes that take a while to develop and Carson paid the price. Pederson needs to start assuming his line will be bad until they show him otherwise, and gameplan around it.
- I didn’t think the defense was as bad as it was versus the Titans. They gave up some long passes, but more often than not clamped down in the red zone. It’s important to remember that one of their touchdowns - in a 2 point game - was scored by the Vikings’ defense.
On the fallout from Ajayi going on IR... while it seems pretty much impossible that the Eagles would land Le’Veon Bell anyway, we should be glad they won’t. This team, as it stands now, is not an elite runningback away from making a title run. His pass-blocking abilities won’t completely fix protection issues. His ability to catch from out of the backfield won’t help the secondary. And his hard running style won’t cut down on the senseless penalties. The Eagles don’t have the money to sign him long-term, he’s approaching the “downhill” age for his position, and he will cost considerable draft compensation that they can use to draft a younger running back next year that will be on the team for a lot longer. Bell is a total non-starter for this team.
If another runningback becomes available for cheap (LeSean McCoy?), by all means Howie should pull the trigger. I’m personally going to be hesitant to spend more than a fifth for any guy, however, unless he is a young guy that has long-term value.
ANYWAY, onto next week’s game. Bold-faced statistics indicate that team has the advantage, while the number in parenthesis is the league rank.
Game Preview: New York Giants
The Eagles are a bit more evenly matched against the Giants, but the Giants are a 1-4 team, so that shouldn’t be a source of pride. While the Giants are mostly mediocre with one bad stat (pressuring the quarterback), the Eagles are solidly mediocre with one great stat (playing keepaway). Let’s dive a little deeper into this matchup.
If there’s one game for the Eagles to figure out what the hell is wrong with their pass protection, it’s this one. The Giants have been abysmal at getting to the quarterback. I still think Doug needs to get the runningbacks more involved, even if we’re down to our #2-#5 options. They’re not going to bowl through the line like Ajayi could, but they are excellent candidates for the screen game. I also appreciate Smallwood’s toughness as a runner after contact, limitations aside.
As I mentioned above, we are past the point of simply “waiting out the funk” maligning the offensive line. Slants, slants, slants! With the exception of Alec Ogletree, the Giants have notoriously thin depth at linebacker. The Eagles have the perfect personnel to exploit this with Ertz and Goedert. I know Doug loves his smash, dagger, and levels concepts, but the line play simply is not there to execute them. You are a good coach, Doug. Mask your weaknesses early on in the game and then take advantage later after defensive adjustments. That’s how you’ll get the chunk plays the offense has been sorely lacking.
As an added bonus, fast rhythm plays should help the offense protect the ball. The Eagles’ unimpressive yards per point metric is almost entirely due to their turnover problem that barely anyone is talking about, for some bizarre reason. The Eagles coughed up the ball twice last week deep in Vikings’ territory, and it was a costly fumble that gave the Titans the opportunity to catch up to the Eagles two weeks ago. Faster plays will help prevent the strip sacks that have been plaguing Carson this season.
As our own Michael Kist has noted, the Eagles have struggled to defend the play-action, which the Giants like to run. They’ve also struggled to defend against the quick passing game the Giants utilized over their last two meetings. Does this mean the Eagles’ defense is going to get torched all day on Thursday?
It’s a possibility, but both the Giants’ yards per point (16.2) and yards per pass attempt (7.0) suggest that they aren’t really pushing the ball down the field. They haven’t been horrible at generating big plays, but they haven’t been getting the kind of plays we’ve seen from Tampa Bay or Minnesota this season, either. Of course, you could have said the same thing about the Titans before the Eagles played them.
I think the Eagles’ pass defense marginally improved last week - they weren’t giving up the horrendous down-and-distance conversions anymore - but it’s clear that it’s not where it needs to be for the pass rush to be effective. They mitigated the impact of big plays (for the most part) at the expense of allowing receivers to leak underneath with soft zone coverage. This will not fly with the Giants’ corps of sterling receivers, who can turn short completions like this into big gains. Their best bet is to play more press to disrupt the route timing so the rush can get home prior to the pass. Maybe get their bigger corners like Douglas involved early to get handsy (perhaps the more I pound the table for Rasul, the more he’ll play...). They will likely get beat a few times on a go or sluggo route, but Manning’s arm is toast. The Eagles’ corners need to challenge him to beat them with the deep ball. Yes, he was able to beat them last year on the deep ball, but I’m not convinced Manning can make those connections consistently anymore.
1000 words in and I haven’t even mentioned Saquon. As a Penn State alum, I will always love the guy, and I hate how he was drafted to a less-than-ideal situation in New York. Schwartz will need to have a guy accounting for Barkley at all times. Hicks seems to be the logical choice - he’s a great, athletic coverage linebacker. He won’t be enough to solo tackle Barkley (nobody really is), but he can definitely slow the #2 overall pick down enough for Bradham or Cox to clean up.
Simply put, the Eagles are just not a very good team right now. They give up big plays. They can’t generate big plays. They turn the ball over too much. They commit dumb penalties. They have too much sex. They tried making adjustments last week, but it was obviously not enough, and not to the level I advocated in last week’s post. It’s the coaches’ job to prepare the team in the face of adversity and not just assume that their execution problems will work themselves out. I don’t know to what degree the coaching staff has assumed this, but whatever it is it’s time to stop. Make some real changes. That’s what I’ll be looking for on Thursday when the Eagles look to salvage a season still alive purely by the grace of an NFC East division mired in mediocrity.