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Simulating one drive using the Eagles 2017 season

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What did a typical drive look like?

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

If you were to run a simulation of what a typical drive looked like for the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles in 2017, what would be the outcome? Well, you no longer have to ponder that question that you may have never asked, because we now have the answer.

Using Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder, I scrubbed through down-and-distance data and worked my way through several different scenarios to find the most likely outcome of each play of an Eagles drive. Aided by a random number generator, I determined if passing plays were successes or failures. For some situations I had to widen the range of plays to select from due to small samples sizes, but overall you’re getting a fairly close representation of play-calling tendencies.

I started the drive on the Eagles on 25-yard line, their most frequent starting position last season.

PLAY 1: 1st & 10 - PHI 25

Outcome: Carson Wentz Incomplete Deep Middle to Nelson Agholor (PBU Kendall Fuller)

In this situation the Eagles were 5% above league average in passing frequency, hence the pass on first down here. Wentz attempts to find Agholor on a deep post, who is one-on-one with Fuller. Fuller does an excellent job sticking with Agholor, sticking to his route and nearly making an interception on a slightly underthrown ball. This is the type of play the Washington Redskins will be missing from their nickel cornerback position in 2018.

It’s noteworthy that for all the hullabaloo over the Eagles third down success, they had the biggest gap in overall offensive DVOA and third down success. Football Outsiders’ DVOA calculates a team’s success based on the down-and-distance of each play during the season, then calculates how much more or less successful each team is compared to the league average. On first down, the Eagles ranked 13th in the league in DVOA. This result should come of no surprise.

PLAY 2 - 2nd & 10 - PHI 25

Outcome: LeGarrette Blount Runs Middle for 5 Yards

While this play is a success, running on 2nd and 10 after a completion isn’t the most effective way to set up third down. The coaching staff would come to realize this as they entered the playoffs and turn this tendency on it’s head.

What makes this particular play work is the execution of an Eagles staple, the Wham play. Chicago Bears defensive tackle Eddie Goldman is allowed a free run to the backfield, only to be met by tight end Brent Celek. This allows center Jason Kelce and right guard Brandon Brooks to release upfield to pick up blocks on the second level, creating space for Blount to operate. The Eagles were highly successful with these trap concepts in 2017.

“According to Pro Football Focus, they ran a league leading 40 plays (8.5%) that featured components of a trap play. Their 8.5% market share was well over the league average of 2.1%. Those 40 plays averaged 7.3 yards per carry, which was tops in the league among teams that ran 10 or more trap concepts and also 2.5 yards more than the league average.”

PLAY 3: 3rd & 5 - PHI 30

Outcome: Wentz Complete to Alshon Jeffery for 14 Yards

Believe it or not, the offense got a gift from the random number generator in this scenario. When narrowing down their third down success rate to 3rd & 5, they ranked towards the bottom of the league by converting only 41% of tries.

Lane Johnson had a fantastic day against Von Miller, but it wasn’t without some occasional help, as shown by the chip by Trey Burton. This gives Wentz time to allow the winning route to develop. Jeffery gets isolated on the field side against Denver Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby and wins the route utilizing his play strength. Wentz has plenty of time and whizzes one past Roby’s ear for the conversion.

PLAY 4: 1st & 10 - PHI 44

Outcome: LeGarrette Blount Runs Middle for 2 Yards

The Eagles ranked 20th in second down DVOA, again highlighting their offensive unevenness between downs. The major takeaway from this play is Blount’s alignment. In 2017, Blount struggled with consistency when running out of shotgun. On 67 rush attempts he averaged only 3.7 yards per carry. Conversely, Jay Ajayi averaged 6.2 yards per carry and Corey Clement averaged 5.6 yards on the ground from shotgun. This is a good sign for the offense in 2018, as the Eagles ran shotgun 71% of the time last year, ranking 6th in the league.

PLAY 5: 2nd & 8 - PHI 46

Outcome: Wentz Incomplete Short Left to Wendell Smallwood (PBU Tony McDaniel)

The Eagles took a good chunk of the game before they got used to the San Francisco 49ers pressure packages. They were victimized early with stunts, which they struggled with all year, and on this play they fail to pick up the blitz to the right side of their line. With trips to his right and plenty of space to his left, Wentz thinks the clear-out from Ertz will free up room for Smallwood. The easy completion turns into a batted pass as the defensive end unexpectedly drops into coverage. The offense would eventually find their sea legs and put together a blow-out win, but on this play the 49ers pressure won out.

PLAY 6: 3rd & 8 - PHI 46

Outcome: Wentz Sacked for -8 Yards (Ryan Kerrigan, Junior Galette)

Not all stories have fairy tale endings. It’s apropos that Kerrigan and company would undo this drive, given his past success against the Eagles. In 14 career games, Kerrigan has terrorized the Eagles offensive lines for 10.5 sacks. He’s also put together 10+ sacks season in three of the past four seasons. On this play he’s kicked inside and matched up against Stefen Wisniewski, which combined with the 6-man blitz is too much for the line to hold up against.

Drive, Fin.

So the random number generator giveth and it taketh the hell away, but I hope you enjoyed this simulation as we grind towards the Eagles first preseason game of the 2018 NFL season. Oh, crap, what about the punt?! It would be fair to use the very next play after the sack, right?

Damn, they got lucky.