“Get better everyday” is a mantra that coaches and players alike use in the summer. Improvements come in all shapes and sizes, and today we’ll look at three areas that the Eagles could improve on that may not be high profile but certainly would help them win games. Coincidentally, they cover the offense, defense, and special teams.
Offense: Stop fumbling
Sheil Kapadia touched on this last week:
According to SportRadar, Eagles running backs have fumbled 38 times since [Duce] Staley took over in 2013. That’s second-most in the NFL. On a percentage basis, they’ve fumbled on 1.35 percent of their touches during that span, which ranks fourth-worst.
Last season the top 32 running backs by carries fumbled on 0.7% of their touches, half the rate of the Eagles under Staley’s tenure.
Unfortunately for Staley and the Eagles, there’s no one player skewing the results for everyone else. Five running backs have fumbled on at least 1% of touches under Staley: Jay Ajayi (1.1%), Corey Clement (2.1%), Ryan Mathews (2.0%), Wendell Smallwood (1.1%), and Darren Sproles (1.5%). There have been successes though, as LeGarrette Blount was excellent at 0.5%, and LeSean McCoy’s 0.7% in his two seasons with Staley was solid.
That may be one reason why they traded for Jordan Howard. Howard has just 5 fumbles on 850 touches, a 0.6% rate. However Miles Sanders fumbled on 3.2% of his touches in college. Staley has his work cut out for him.
Defense: 1st downs
Finding the first domino that fell is the key to fixing problems. Being good on first down isn’t the reason why defenses are good on third down, but it sure helps to avoid third and short if you’re not giving up yardage on first down.
In 2017 the Eagles defense gave up just 4.33 yards per play on 1st and 10. On the ground they gave up just 3.5 yards per attempt, and in the air they were suffocating, averaging just 5.5 yards per pass attempt for a 77.1 passer rating. They made QBs play like Blaine Gabbert on first down. As a result, just 21% of third downs were of 3 or fewer yards, and they gave up a first down or touchdown on 1st or 2nd down on 3% of plays.
2018 was comparatively a disaster, averaging 6.68 yards on first and 10. There were no bright spots. They gave up 5.0 yards per carry. QBs averaged 8.5 yards per attempt and a 96.8 rating. The rate of short 3rd downs increased to 29%, and they gave up a first down or touchdown on 1st or 2nd down on 7% of plays.
Special teams: Penalties
Good or bad special teams gains or costs you “hidden yards.” It’s the same for penalties, so when you combine the two, it’s magnified.
Eagles special teams struggled in 2018, and one reason was penalties.
In 2017, Eagles special teams committed 0.79 penalties for 7.26 yards per game. In 2018 those rose to 0.94 penalties for 8.83 yards per game.
Less than a penalty a game may not seem like much, but the Eagles ST penalty rate increased 15% and the yardage they gave up increased by even more. If that happened on offense or defense, it would be crippling.
The Eagles were fortunate that none of the special teams penalties cost the Eagles a game in 2018. But they may not be so lucky in 2019 if they don’t improve.