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 14 In Hindsight (Reader Discretion Advised)
Well, that sucked. For some of us, the season was over a long time ago, but for most of us holding onto hope, that last nail is finally in the coffin. Not only are the Eagles now 2 games behind the Cowboys with 3 games remaining, they lose the head-to-head tiebreaker, have games against the 11-2 Rams and 9-4 Texans coming up, and Dallas gets to play the Buccaneers and Giants to close out their season. There is an outside shot at a wildcard, but I just don’t see it. Pack it up, boys. It’s over.
I was, on the whole, frustrated with the gameplan up until the fourth quarter. It was then that Doug seemed to realize the defense was turning in the performance of their lifetime and he was squandering it with the unimaginative strategy of “have Carson sit in the pocket and wait for Zach Ertz to get open.” From what I saw, my big suggestions for the offense from last week’s post (fourth-down attempts, exotic formations, pre-snap motion) did not occur until the fourth quarter, and the one play with motion that I witnessed resulted in a scoring play. The Eagles should have run away with this game and made a statement, but once again they squandered it with poor planning. In a season full of blown leads and failed comeback attempts, the lack of any kind of a “statement win” seems fitting.
Unpopular opinion time: I am (mostly) okay with the decision to not go for 2 at the end of the game. After the penalty did taking the ball at the 1-yard line look more attractive? Absolutely, and I would have been on board if Doug decided to go for all the marbles. But playing for overtime was an acceptable approach in my book. The defense had been on the field for almost 40 minutes, and regardless of whether you kick the extra point or get the 2-point conversion, all the Cowboys needed was a field goal in a game where their kicker had previously nailed a 62-yarder.
“But Matt,” you protest, “the Eagles got the big stop anyway! If they had gotten the 2 it would have been game over.” Well, chaos theory dictates that we can’t assume the game would have continued to progress the same way had the Eagles taken the lead there. There’s just no way to know whether or not that 1-point lead would have inspired a better performance by Dallas on that last drive in regulation. And this all assumes the try was successful, anyway. There was always the chance it would have failed.
If you want to say that the 2-point try would have been “playing to win the game,” I won’t argue with you. There were a lot of reasons to go for 2 in that situation. I’m just saying I understand the reasoning behind kicking the extra point. Would I have been amped up if they went for 2? You bet your ass I would have been. But I wasn’t devastated that they kicked the extra point, either.
Speaking of chaos theory, it’s impossible to understate how much that fumble ruling at the beginning of the game changed everything. I have a general rule not to blame a loss on the officials (most of the game’s penalties went against Dallas anyway), but that was easily the worst call I have ever seen in my entire life, and it absolutely decimated any pre-game momentum the Eagles might have felt they had going into the game. I can understand that the referee might not have been able to tell who exactly came up with the ball, but there were only Eagles in that pile! There is no reason why the Cowboys should have retained possession of the football. But I suppose the moral of the story is that a game (or season) shouldn’t come down to calls like that in the first place, or whatever. It’s hard to really care at this point.
While we’re on the subject of apathy, the Eagles still have 3 (most likely) meaningless games to play. Next up is the Rams, who are surely furious about their embarrassing 6-point performance against the Bears on Sunday night. What does that matchup look like for the Eagles? Find out by reading on below! Bold-faced statistics indicate that team has the advantage, while numbers in parenthesis are the league rank.
Game Preview: Los Angeles Rams
With the season effectively over, and the Rams being a team that is good at football, I will keep this short. There is only one clear path to victory on either side of the ball anyway.
When they have the ball, the Eagles need to play a game that anyone with older siblings was probably a victim of growing up: keep away. Even after the abysmal difference in possession in the Dallas game, the Eagles are still third in the league for TOP (31:32). The Rams, meanwhile, get chunk plays in bunches and as a result are only a middling 17th in the same metric. Doug needs to assume the Rams are going to score when they have the ball and therefore limit their opportunities to possess it. On that note, they should build easy reads into the passing gameplan to mitigate the likelihood of an interception and stress ball security as a main topic during practice. The Rams’ defense is also nowhere near as formidable as the Cowboys’, so I’d open the game run-heavy to try and establish the line of scrimmage, especially with outside runs that can move the ball away from Aaron Donald. All in all, if the Eagles wind up with 2-3 more possessions than the Rams by the middle of the fourth, my guess is that they will be in a position to at least take the lead, if they’re not already winning. How likely that is to occur is another question altogether.
Jim Schwartz is trying valiantly to find some kind of scheme in the secondary that can get serviceable play out of the practice squad players he is forced to start, but after Amari Cooper’s dominating performance on Sunday I think he needs to cut his losses. And in a game like this that means selling out to stop Todd Gurley. The Rams’ star runningback might be the best offensive player in the league, but he only had 14 total touches against the Bears in a game where the Rams scored 6 points. Granted, the Bears have the best defense in the league right now, but the Eagles do have the personnel to play the run if they choose to focus on it. I’d even consider putting an LB spy on Gurley since he is also a capable receiving threat out of the backfield. Putting all of your chips in on stopping one player is certainly a risky move, but if the Eagles can limit Gurley’s damage on early downs and perhaps play just enough press to disrupt quick-timing routes (especially with Rasul’s inspired performance last weekend), they can force third-and-longs that let the defense pin their ears back. I’ll admit the Rams are likely to convert these anyway, but it’s better than being in the dreaded third-and-short and giving Sean McVay full reign of his playbook.
It’s been a frustrating season. The Eagles will most likely leave a mark in history as having one of the worst follow-up seasons to a Super Bowl win of all time. But of course, they can’t leave a mark like that without having won the Super Bowl in the first place, in what was easily one of the greatest Super Bowls in history.
Between the health scandals, questionable approach and execution of player discipline, and deteriorating quality of officiating, the NFL as a product is on the decline, even as offenses score at a record pace. As my favorite sport, I hope it turns around, but in a somber way it’s almost fun to picture that Super Bowl win as a potential “high water mark” for the league if it continues down this path for the foreseeable future. Regardless of what happens to this season - and the league - I will still have my small Eagles shrine set up in my home office, providing a constant reminder that the Eagles did indeed accomplish something I feared they never would.
Does that mean this season isn’t still a massive disappointment? No - of course it is. Does it make it suck less? Well, honestly, yeah.
(But only a little bit.)