The Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles sputtered out of the gate in their first defense of their title. Before dissecting the film of their sloppy 18-12 win over the Atlanta Falcons, there are stories to be told in the numbers that point to problem areas to be examined further.
I charted each offensive play, extracted non-plays, accepted penalties and kneels, and came out of the other side with baseline numbers with which to track trends. While this is a small sample size and some tendencies won’t hold up, there are some interesting similarities and deviations from the 2017 season.
First, the expected bonanza of 12 personnel with Alshon Jeffery and Mack Hollins out with injury did not come to fruition. Instead, wide receiver DeAndre Carter out-snapped rookie Dallas Goedert 53 to 17. Overall, their 11 personnel frequency (77%) comes in comfortably above their 65% from last year.
This suited the Falcons just fine, who prefer to use their nickel package that boasts two excellent coverage linebackers in Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell. The duo provided tight coverage in the middle of the field all night and made the lack Jeffery on the outside even more pronounced. When the Eagles tried attacking nickel with the run, they managed a mere 3.86 yards per carry and a 39% success rate. Falcons safeties are no strangers to sniffing around the box and being active in the run game.
Doubling down on their philosophy to pass from two tight end sets, the Eagles jumped from a league 2nd 57% pass from 12 personnel to a hyper 91% last night. Did it work? Heavens no. Those passes went for an average of 3.30 yards per play as the duo of Zach Ertz and Goedert struggled to either catch or get open.
Obviously not all the blame is on them for the passing game woes; separation was severely lacking across the board and Nick Foles had one his classic scattershot games. The biggest play from 12 personnel came on a Philly Special 2.0 troll job which went for 15 yards.
The lone run from 12 personnel came on a 2nd & Goal carry from the 1-yard line that resulted in a touchdown for Jay Ajayi. On that play tight end Josh Perkins came in jet motion before the snap and was used to block up the backside end man on the line of scrimmage to create a numbers advantage.
BIG BOY RUNS...
What did work consistently for the Eagles from a personnel perspective is their use of six offensive linemen in the run game. They used this heavy set on 4 of their 8 under center plays with a mixture of one and two tight ends. Those plays averaged 6.75 yards on the ground and resulted in the game-winning touchdown scamper from Ajayi.
Fantastic run by Ajayi for the lead. Watch his feet in the backfield. So good at making subtle steps and setting up defenders. pic.twitter.com/wFCd3Lt5Zm— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) September 7, 2018
You would expect the Eagles to continue to use these sets, as they have in the past, and show more play-action looks with them to not tip their hand in the future.
Early down inefficiency was a major reason for the offensive struggles as the offense found themselves behind schedule at an alarming rate.
The problem isn’t with the play selection on first down; their 57% pass frequency is nearly identical to last years’ number. They just couldn’t get anything going through the air to take bites out of the chains. That problem got exacerbated when they turned in a truly awful 9% success rate on 2nd & long.
Going run heavy there didn’t help, as it’s historically much less efficient than passing in that situation, but again, Foles wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire either. Still, I’d like to see them get back to what was successful for them in the playoffs in that regard.
That fact that the Eagles converted on 50% of their third downs is no small miracle considering this early down performance. For the night, the offense didn’t convert a single first down on first down, highlighting the stark difference between bad Foles and good Foles.
On the plus side, the Eagles found their new short yardage money down back in.. :squints:.. Ajayi, Nelson Agholor, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles, who converted 4 for 4 collectively. Glad that’s solved.
It’s just one game and there were extenuating circumstances that impacted how effective the offense could be. The Falcons also boast a young, fast defense that is on the verge of coming into their own.
It’s not time to be concerned yet, but the longer Carson Wentz is inactive, the more Foles will have to improve on his atrocious 3.44 yards per attempt and the more the run game and defense will have to carry the load. It would also be good for the brand if the #GodErtz package stepped up.