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 11 In Hindsight (I’m Sorry)
Before I get into everything, I’ll wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, which is clearly the best holiday (fight me on Twitter if you disagree). We have a lot to be thankful for, like the Eagles’ Super Bowl win in February, and a lot to not be thankful for, like everything that’s happened to the team since then.
I’m more or less done talking about the defense. Drew Brees is playing out of his mind and the secondary is down to asking people in the stands if they want to play. At this point, it is what it is. I wouldn’t be upset if they let Schwartz go - he’s been painfully slow at making adjustments - but I also would understand if they gave him a pass. How could anyone not named Bill Belichick be expected to deal with this?
On offense, it’s not even worth revisiting my suggestions from last week because they failed at every level. What is going on? The Saints’ secondary is abysmal and they couldn’t do anything against them. It mostly stems from the fact Carson had an atrocious game that has some people ringing alarm bells, but I’m not buying it. With the exception of Tom Brady and maybe Aaron Rodgers, every great quarterback lays an egg once in a while. Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, even Drew Brees... all of them have had terrible games. One game in which he clearly felt he had to do everything with a depleted roster does not a valid narrative make. Press Taylor - whom I maybe gave too much credit last week - needs to sit Wentz down and tell him to go out there, relax, play ball and not try to will the entire team to victory. He very clearly wants to do what Aaron Rodgers does, but he’s not there yet. And besides, even Rodgers’ heroics are unable to push his crappy team to wins this season.
If there one thing that hasn’t helped Wentz this year, it’s been the game plans. I’m sure we’ll be getting a lot of WIP-esque claims that “DOUG’S A FRAUD” and it’s time to let him go, but that is utter nonsense. You do not fire the head coach that brought you your first Super Bowl championship less than one calendar year after hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. If nothing else, he has earned at least one reprieve.
Of course, that doesn’t answer the question of just how good of a coach he is without his supporting cast of Frank Reich and John DeFilippo. That is a fair question. I think we are learning some of the limitations Doug has as a head coach this season: namely, that his play calling abilities depend heavily on what plays actually make it onto the play sheet that week. His ability to improvise on the fly - draw plays in the dirt, if you will - is not what we might have thought it was last year. Last year was simply the product of exceptional preparation, which (as Doug has revealed) is a responsibility delegated significantly between his assistants. Doug’s “golden play sheet” - the one that gets him in the zone and unlocks that great play caller we know is there, because we’ve seen it - is a group effort.
Frank Reich and John DeFilippo appear to have been more than instrumental than we originally thought in developing that golden play sheet Doug needs. Doug, by all observations, has misfired when selecting their replacements and is simply not good enough at developing the game plan himself to pick up the slack. If Mike Groh isn’t shown the door at the end of the season, I’ll be disappointed. And I’ll be even more disappointed if he isn’t replaced with an outside hire. I think the team can benefit from some fresh blood. (Personally, I’d look to poach someone from the Rams staff, but now I digress.)
The bottom line from all this is that while Doug might be the game planner we thought he was, he can still be a great game day coach when put in a position to succeed, and I’d rather have that over the game planner. It is easy enough to find good X’s and O’s people around the league, especially with the way offenses have evolved over the past few seasons. Coaches that make the kind of calls Doug does (this last game aside) are rare, and I don’t think you hit the reset button on that over one bad season, especially when a lot of teams go through something similar the year after they appear in the Super Bowl.
I’m ranting now, so for those of you who are still watching the Eagles play on Sundays, let’s take a look at their upcoming matchup with the New York Giants. Bold-faced statistics indicate that team has the advantage, while numbers in parenthesis are the league rank.
Game Preview: New York Giants
Oh look, two crappy teams only one game apart from each other. If the Eagles decide that they want to do more than just show up, how would they win?
I know this is stating the obvious, but they need to do something radical to find a way to score touchdowns in the red zone. There is no excuse for being 29th in Y/PT, and there is especially no excuse for not being able to move the ball against a Giants defense that is unable to get any kind of pressure on the quarterback. Yes, the offensive line is banged up, but that’s supposed to be a deep position. They should at least be able to manage New York’s virtually nonexistent pass rush.
To me, they need to dumb the offense down a bit to make things easier on Carson. He is clearly a fierce competitor whose instinct is to try and put the whole team on his back when it’s struggling. They need to try and work that to their advantage by moving away from the long-developing routes and maybe breaking out some of the plays they used his rookie year that were successful. This Eagles team is bad, but the Giants are also bad, so this game will be a good opportunity to try some less-obvious strategies to fix this offense. And maybe, a year after their Super Bowl win, that “less-obvious” strategy is not to try and show you’re smarter than the other guy on the sideline with a killer game plan, but to simply put your offense out on the field and tell them to go play ball. As Michael Scott would say, “Keep it simple, stupid.” (That being said, if they decided to dial back on the screen passes and focus more on, say, seven yard slants, I wouldn’t be mad.)
I guess I have to write something here, but it will be brief. They might have to sell out on the pass rush every play. Manning may be toast, but these receivers can turn a four yard pass into a forty yard touchdown, and none of the practice squad guys the Eagles are starting in the defensive backfield can tackle.
Other than that, I don’t know... maybe try to stop Saquon Barkley? I know that’s not realistic with this defense, but I’m not sure what else to say. They’re beat up and Schwartz does not have any meaningful answers.
So yeah. That’s all I got.
Well, here we are. Watching a rudderless team in a lost season. It sucks, but it will also serve as a good opportunity to evaluate how quickly the “brain trust” can adapt going forward. What moves will Howie make with the roster and free agency? How will Doug shake up the coaching staff, or change his approach to game planning? In this way, it’s almost exciting, because we need to see some big moves to fix this mess. With a quarterback like Carson early in his career, the potential is there for the Eagles, and so leadership must act accordingly by moving quickly and decisively during the offseason. I want to see moves that divide the fan base and make headlines, because to me that shows they are willing to buck convention in an effort to win. Conversely, if the offseason is quiet and they appear to be willing to blame everything on their massive injury report without acknowledging the systemic issues behind the team’s struggles... well, we may be in for a long few seasons.
But anyway. Happy Thanksgiving. I hope the Eagles give the kitchen staff the day off this holiday by opting for goose over turkey, y’know, since that is already cooked.