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Crunching The Numbers: Week 17

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With 15 games in the books, the Eagles are a win and some help from making the playoffs. What can they do to hold up their end of the bargain?

NFL: Houston Texans at Philadelphia Eagles James Lang-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 16 In Hindsight

Merry (Belated) Christmas everyone! I hope you all enjoyed the holiday, in whatever way you chose to celebrate it. And how about that early Christmas gift from St. Nick? How exhilarating was that win? Last week, I got a lot of flak for saying I’ve had fun watching the Eagles this season. The Texans game is why I stand by that statement. Has this season been infuriating? Yes. Have the wins been as dominating and comfortable as 2017? Hell no. But with 2 OT games and 5 other games (by my count) that have come down to the last play, watching the Eagles has, on the whole, been a ride that would make any adrenaline junkie blush. As someone that’s followed them since 2006, a Week 17 win-and-in (with help) game is what I’m accustomed to, and it’s that kind of emotional roller coaster that got me hooked on football in the first place. Would cruising to 13 wins and a first round bye every year be awesome? Absolutely. But for me, there’s something to be said about making the playoffs on a hot streak by the skin of your teeth.

Once again, I’m going to avoid the “Wentz or Foles” discussion for now. I imagine I’ll write something more substantial after the season is over. I just don’t see a point now when we don’t know if they’ll make the playoffs, and if they do, we don’t know who will be starting under center. I will say, right now, that I love Foles and everything he has done for Philadelphia. He deserves that statue of him and then some. The dude just wins. Including playoffs, he’s 23-12 in an Eagles uniform, and if you take out his rookie season, he’s 22-7. That’s a career win percentage of 0.758, which is only 0.01 below... Tom Brady (who Foles defeated in the Super Bowl). And when he’s on, there are few other quarterbacks that are more fun to watch (and tougher) than Foles. When he’s not on... well, we won’t talk about that.

As for what I said about this game last week, I felt the Eagles did try to work the intermediate routes on offense (especially with Sproles’ wheel routes) but didn’t need to really do any rollouts since Lane Johnson did a superb job against J.J. Watt. The main idea was to build Foles’ confidence, which Pederson accomplished masterfully, as evidenced by the deep shots where I predicted Foles would “100% chuck the ball up there,” which is exactly what he did on his 83-yard bomb to Agholor.

On defense, they tried putting a spy on Watson, as I suggested, with not-so-great results. It opened up a lot of intermediate passes, and he still managed to rush for 2 touchdowns. I’ll take the “L” on that one. As for selling out to stop the big play, while Hopkins had himself a decent game, it wasn’t nearly his biggest, and he was often lined up against rookie Avonte Maddox. I’ll say that’s a win for the defense there. From what I saw of the game (I caught it from the beginning of the second quarter on), the only real big play was the Texans’ last touchdown, and that was more of a perfectly thrown ball and perfect catch than anything.

But enough of the big win in Week 16. Assuming Matt Nagy does us a solid, what will it take for the Eagles to make the playoffs again in Week 17? Check it out in the preview below! Bold-faced statistics indicate that team has the advantage, while numbers in parenthesis are the league rank.

Game Preview: Washington Redskins

I’ll keep this brief since the Redskins are a team reeling from injuries and are not a very good at football right now. If the Eagles can keep up the quality of play they’ve exhibited over the past two and a half weeks, they should be able to walk out of Landover with a win. What would a victory look like on both sides of the ball?

Eagles Offense

If there’s one thing the Redskins’ defense is really good at doing, it’s sacking the quarterback (7.88 SACK%). The Eagles’ offensive line has done a phenomenal job mitigating the impact of premier pass rushers in the past 2 weeks, and that trend must continue for the Eagles to keep their playoff hopes alive. It would also behoove them to play primarily out of 12 personnel for a couple of reasons: 1) it’s been very effective for them this season, and 2) it can give them flexibility to disguise extra protection for deep shots down the field. Dialing up bombs should be a big part of Doug’s gameplan since the Redskins cut the best player in their secondary, safety DJ Swearinger, last week. Deep shots can help the Eagles score quickly and potentially pull away - which is important, since as we saw last week Washington is a scrappy team that will fight to win a game if you allow them to stay in it.

Eagles Defense

On defense, the gameplan shouldn’t really be that different from the one I suggested the first time these teams met: stop Adrian Peterson. That was a goal the Eagles largely accomplished, with the exception of a brutal 90-yard touchdown run in the first half. Everything about this game on defense should be about forcing Josh Johnson to win the game with his arm. To couple that, they should play the flats aggressively to prevent any checkdowns from gaining traction, and keep their heads on a swivel for deceptive screen passes. As much as I’ve griped about Schwartz’s refusal to play anything resembling press coverage, I’m okay with playing zone on the back end in an effort to confuse Johnson and bait him into making an ill-timed mistake. The Redskins do have a modest deep threat with Josh Doctson, but I think you risk that and take away the deep ball with the pass rush as opposed to the secondary. Only one person can have the ball at a time, and Johnson is clearly the weak link in that chain.

Closing Thoughts

It’s been a wild ride this season, and I’m not sure what more needs to be said. If the Bears do us a solid and the Eagles take care of business, they will sneak into the playoffs. In that case, I will follow the precedent I set last year and abstain from doing game previews unless the Eagles make the Super Bowl (no harm in being a little superstitious, after all).

If, for whatever reason, the Eagles do not make the Super Bowl, then now seems like as good a time as any to say that this will be the last edition of Crunching The Numbers. It’s been 8 years since I started this project - and 6 years since I started contributing to BGN because of it - and as much fun as I’ve had doing this, my life is starting to pull me in a different direction and I simply cannot devote the time it takes for a weekly column, even if it is just during the regular season. I’ll still be around here, supporting our great contributors that can put in the time to crank out the great content that makes this site awesome, and will chime in from time to time with my own thoughts and musings. I still hope to write somewhat regularly during the season - perhaps once a month - but I’m in the process of figuring out what that will look like.

So for all of you that have read this series over the years - whether it was with interest or simply to post the obligatory “the Eagles will win if they score the most points!” comment - thank you. A major reason why I write for this site at all is because of the feedback I get from you in the comments. This site easily has one of the most passionate and informed communities among all of the Eagles blogs, and is probably the most devoted of all the NFL SB Nation blogs. And I hope that, with whatever my future contributions to this site look like, my work can continue to provoke the passion for and knowledge of the Eagles we all share.

Cheers, BGN, and Happy New Year.