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Crunching The Numbers: Week 16

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Every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Los Angeles Rams Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

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 15 In Hindsight

I hope you’re okay with talking about last week’s game. Personally, you could inject that shit directly into my veins, but that’s just me.

Also, if anyone could please tell me where I can get fresh crow, because I need to eat all of it. After the crushing loss to Dallas I said I had officially given up on the 2018 season, and while I still acknowledge their outside shot of making the playoffs over the next two weeks, I will 100% be following Cowboys and Vikings scores in addition to watching the Eagles. A week after I lamented the Eagles’ lack of a statement win this season, they go ahead and deliver one, and as a result have inspired hope, however small that might be.

As for the game itself, the way the offense came to life so quickly in the game was nothing short of a revelation. Apparently December is around the time that Nick Foles replenishes his Big Dick Energy. Maybe it has to do with the winter solstice? Who knows? Who cares? I certainly don’t. Seeing him revive his playoff self to beat the Rams was amazing, as I will never not hate Sean McVay and his stupid Wooly Willy beard for stealing the Coach of the Year award from Pederson last season.

Digging a bit deeper into the game, last week I said the Eagles should try to play keep away to limit the Rams’ scoring opportunities. Specifically, I said that if they had “2-3 more possessions” than the Rams by the middle of the fourth, they’d “at least be in position to take the lead, if not already winning.” It turns out they didn’t need that - by the middle of the fourth the Eagles ended up with one fewer drive, and both teams ended up tied with 12. They did win the TOP possession battle by holding the ball for 31:36. Much of what I wrote about the actual gameplan is somewhat moot since I did not know Nick Foles would be playing. (Tangent: I am not going to wade into the scorching “Foles vs. Wentz” debate here.)

Defensively, the Eagles didn’t do quite what I thought they should. There was no LB spy on Gurley, and Schwartz still refuses to play press under any circumstances whatsoever. Of course, I was not expecting the Eagles to jump out to a 17 point lead, which certainly made things easier for the defense. Instead of selling out to stop Gurley, they let the game situation take Gurley out for them and sold out to get to Goff instead. And you know what? It worked, as Goff was throwing behind receivers, out of bounds, or interceptions. So I’m not really upset things didn’t go the way I thought they would (or should). I’ll give McVay credit for making adjustments in the fourth to make it a one-score game, but not too much, since he seemed to forget that football games do, in fact, end and that he can’t just saunter his way into a comeback when his team is down 14 with less than 10 minutes to play.

As frustrating as this season has been at times, the Eagles are going to need to be dragged kicking and screaming out of the playoff picture. Will the 10-4 Texans be the team that does that? Let’s find out with this week’s game preview! Bold-faced statistics indicate that team has the advantage, while numbers in parenthesis are the league rank.

Game Preview: Houston Texans

For the second straight week, the Eagles only have the advantage in one area - time of possession, where they are third in the league behind New Orleans and Baltimore. We all know how that turned out last week, so this is a slam dunk, right? Maybe, maybe not. What seems clear to me is that Houston is a good football team (if not a great one) and that we should treat them as such. Let’s unpack how the Eagles might plan against them.

Eagles Offense

The Texans’ pass rush is more or less average (7.03 SACK%), but they have tremendous talent on the defensive line with J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, so the Eagles shouldn’t look to give them opportunities to pin their ears back. The Eagles’ primary goal should be to attack the short-to-intermediate on first down to set up as many 2nd-and-shorts as possible, for a few reasons. First, targeting that range opens up your whole playbook of rushing plays to establish the run. Second, Foles is the definition of a rhythm quarterback so starting drives off with quick slants or simple screen passes is an easy way to build his confidence. And third, once Foles has said confidence you can call shots down the field on those short 2nd downs, which he will 100% chuck the ball up there for someone to catch it.

I think some simple rollouts and bootlegs might be a good idea just to get Foles away from J.J. Watt. As we saw last week, he occasionally forgets that defensive lineman will try to make plays on the ball too, and Watt is an absolute monster who will be looking to tip passes that come his way.

Eagles Defense

The Texans are a well-run, efficient offense (14.5 Y/PT), but they are not a juggernaut like some of the teams the Eagles have faced this year. Schwartz did a great job of taking out the big play against the Rams last week and he’ll have to do it again this week. De’Andre Hopkins is the key to what lets Houston’s offense be dynamic, so making sure he does not get behind the defense - ever would be my #1 priority. I don’t care how deep you have to drop a slow-as-molasses Corey Graham back there. Do NOT let Hopkins beat you deep, because Watson will take that shot literally every time, as evidenced by his respectable 7.6 YPA.

To repeat myself from last week, I think you put a LB spy on Watson, too (Bradham is especially suited for this job). The Eagles have struggled against mobile quarterbacks in the past, and while Watson is not the athlete that Lamar Jackson or Baker Mayfield is, he can still move. If Watson escapes the pocket, someone is there to hit him quickly. If he stays in the pocket, read the play and either blitz or cover his checkdown. Schwartz loves to play his cornerbacks way off the line of scrimmage, and I’m concerned there will be room for Watson to scramble for 5-6 yards whenever he decides to run. Putting a spy on him can help take that element away from their offense.

Closing Thoughts

I’ve seen a lot of comments on here about not being afraid of the Texans since they are a “weak” 10-win team and that the Eagles are playing at home. I don’t think that’s being fair to the Texans and it’s worth remembering the Eagles are currently 4-3 at home this season. Houston has star players at most positions, decent depth, and a quarterback playing good football. If the Eagles want to extend their playoff hopes for another week, they need to take this team seriously, and we as fans should take them seriously too. It would be such a letdown to lose this game at home after a big emotional road win last week.

I have to say, for as frustrating as this season has been, and for as many times as I’ve been ready to give up, I’ve still had a lot of fun watching the Eagles this season. Their inconsistency is maddening, and their inability to close games might cost them the season, but if there is one recurring theme to this season is that they have refused to crumble after suffering devastating losses. I think that speaks to not only the connection the players have with the coaches, but also to the bond they have with each other. Win or lose, the Eagles are still an easy team to root for, and that alone is a good thing to have. (I don’t honestly know how Cowboys or Redskins fans do it.)