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 12 In Hindsight
It’s nice to see that even when the Eagles are bad they can still sweep the Giants, I suppose. Regardless of the outcome of the season, I think this win should be weighed heavily when evaluating Doug at the end of the year. Teams that mail it in do not erase sixteen point deficits. Locker rooms that are lost do not erase sixteen point deficits. Players that give up on their coach do not erase sixteen point deficits. Admittedly, the Eagles have been here before - 2015 comes to mind - but those Eagles teams hadn’t won the Super Bowl the year prior. They didn’t know they were capable of greatness. I think this team is at the very least competitive in the rest of their games (even against the Rams), and if they lay an egg on Monday versus the Colt McCoy-led Redskins I will eat crow.
As for the actual game, it was nice to see some extra juice on offense. They seemed to simplify things a bit at the request of the players (and me). They ran the ball more (with Adams), they got more pieces of their offense involved, the plays showed more creativity but less complexity, and they even tried to get the ball to Golden Tate, although that trade still looks bad.
To go on a small tangent, I’ve seen some people gripe - not necessarily here - that responding to player input means Doug can’t coach. This is nonsense. The players are the people who actually on the field and therefore can provide a perspective the coach doesn’t have. The fact that they’re comfortable making requests during the game means they trust Doug and feel comfortable talking to him about what’s going on out there. Would you rather have a coach like Doug, who responds to players when it’s needed, or a coach like Brian Schottenheimer, who calls time outs in a hissy fit when his quarterback audibles out of playcalls?
Defensively, I think they’re still screwed. Yes, Schwartz finally displayed an ability to make real adjustments, limiting a bad Giants team to just 3 points in the second half after moving the ball at will in the first. However, Giants receivers were wide open all game, finding soft spots in zones against a secondary that played eight yards off the ball on third-and-sevens. With all the injuries, I’m not sure what else they can do, but it’s probably worth dialing up a man blitz or two just to see if they can get away with it. And if they can’t, we more or less throw up our hands and say, “Well, this is life now.” In fairness, I missed the sack-filled second half while driving home, so it’s entirely possible Schwartz has tried this already.
The Eagles have five games left to try and be relevant again, and it starts with a Monday night matchup against the Redskins. What will it take to beat a team coming off extra rest after a shellacking in Dallas? Bold-faced statistics indicate that team has the advantage, while numbers in parenthesis are the league rank.
Game Preview: Washington Redskins
I was surprised at some of the Redskins’ stats when I pulled them up. Their YPA is abysmal, and one game of Colt McCoy wasn’t going to change much, which means Jay Gruden was totally fine with Alex Smith being Captain Checkdown all year. They also have an offense just as inefficient as the Eagles (only 0.3 Y/PT difference), but they were actually winning games, which says a lot about their defense. So how does all this translate to the Eagles gameplan?
The Redskins’ run defense has been stout all year, but I think it’s important that the Eagles continue to run the ball early to establish control of the line of scrimmage. This is when they play their best ball and it will have to continue if they want to have any hope of turning this season around. Additionally, the Redskins have a formidable pass rush (7.49 SACK%) which will be a huge problem. The Giants had the worst rush in the league last week and still managed to sack Carson a few times because he held onto the ball too long. He will get murdered if he does the same thing this week, so Doug needs to call quick rhythm passes early and often to set the tone on the type of offense they’re going to run on Monday night. If the run game is successful, maybe try some deep shots off of play action, but save that for the second half.
This is most likely the worst passing offense the Eagles will face all season (29th in YPA), making the defensive gameplan fairly straightforward. For starters, they absolutely cannot let Adrian Peterson get going. He’s had a decent season and the clearest path to victory is to shut him down and force Colt McCoy to win the game with his arm. Outside of the tight ends, the Redskins’ receivers are uninspiring so this is the game you dip your toes in man coverage and bring extra heat on the pass rush. This is an easy way to keep things simple defensively, which was a request made by the defense in last week’s game and was instrumental in holding the Giants to just 3 points in the second half.
In all likelihood, we will see a low-scoring game on Monday night. The Eagles have been able to win those for the most part, depending on your definition of “low-scoring.” The difference maker will be the defenses. Both offenses struggle to build momentum, putting more pressure on the defense - making the fact that the Redskins defense has mostly risen to the challenge the difference between 5-6 and 6-5. If the Eagles’ defense can carry over all (or even most) of the kind of the play they showed in the second half of the Giants game, there’s no reason they can’t win this game.
As for the rest of the season, I still have my doubts. The Cowboys are clearly the best team in the division right now, and the Eagles might have to win their remaining division games and split the Rams/Texans games, who are a combined 18-4. While I can’t say I have a ton of newfound hope in them moving forward, I can say I’ve stopped looking forward so earnestly to the offseason.