If you’ve read BGN for some time, you’ll know that Football Outsiders’ proprietary DVOA metric is one I cite regularly. It’s a good way to determine the quality of a certain team, unit, or player. For a smarter explanation, read this short version:
DVOA is a method of evaluating teams, units, or players. It takes every single play during the NFL season and compares each one to a league-average baseline based on situation. DVOA measures not just yardage, but yardage towards a first down: Five yards on third-and-4 are worth more than five yards on first-and-10 and much more than five yards on third-and-12. Red zone plays are worth more than other plays. Performance is also adjusted for the quality of the opponent. DVOA is a percentage, so a team with a DVOA of 10.0% is 10 percent better than the average team, and a quarterback with a DVOA of -20.0% is 20 percent worse than the average quarterback. Because DVOA measures scoring, defenses are better when they are negative.
An even more in-depth explanation is available if you’re interested in that.
In honor of this year’s Football Outsiders Almanac, which is always a great NFL preview resource, I thought it’d be interesting to look at what DVOA might tell us about the 2020 Eagles.
We’ll start by looking back at how the 2019 Eagles finished in DVOA and that was 11th overall. Even if you’re not big into stats, we can agree that that ranking seems about right. The Eagles were hardly an elite unit; they were a fringe playoff team that needed to win their final four games just to clinch a weak division. An above average team, yes, but not by a ton.
Out of curiosity, I couldn’t help but wonder how teams that finish 11th in DVOA end up ranking the next season. There are a lot of factors to consider here so this is hardly the most predictive activity. But history isn’t really on the Eagles’ side:
2019: Eagles … 2020 finish: ?
2018: Texans … 2019 finish: 19th
2017: Chargers … 2018 finish: 3rd
2016: Seahawks … 2017 finish: 14th
2015: Vikings … 2016 finish: 20th
2014: 49ers … 2015 finish: 32nd
2013: Bears … 2014 finish: 26th
2012: Texans … 2013 finish: 30th
2011: Lions … 2012 finish: 16th
2010: Titans … 2011 finish: 13th
2009: Chargers … 2010 finish: 8th
As you can see, the Chargers (twice) were the only team to improve from 11th in the last 10 years.
When we look at the DVOA of specific units, we can get a better sense of where the Eagles need to improve in 2020 to avoid that decline.
Special teams: 19th
An average-ish offense just isn’t going to cut it in today’s high-scoring NFL. Eight of the top 10 DVOA offenses in 2019 made the playoffs. Four of the top seven earned first-round byes. By contrast, only five of the top 10 DVOA defenses qualified for the postseason and only two of them earned first-round byes.
So, while some defensive improvement would be nice, the Eagles really need to get their offense back on track. There are reasons to be optimistic on that front. The return of DeSean Jackson obviously figures to be huge. And the Eagles should be able to better handle losing him this year with Jalen Reagor, who’s impressed early in training camp, in the fold. Having some actual dynamic weapons to work with should help Carson Wentz finish well above his 20th ranked DVOA mark from 2019.
It’s reasonable to expect the Eagles’ defense to at least be solid. Jim Schwartz has never had a unit rank lower than 15th and that was in 2018 when the Eagles were literally the most injured defense in the NFL according to Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Games Lost (AGL) metric.
Seeing the Eagles’ special teams unit get back to being one of the best in the league would sure be nice. Dave Fipp oversaw some elite groups back when Chip Kelly was head coach but the Eagles haven’t been quite as good there since. Reagor could potentially give the Eagles a big boost on punt returns if he’s given the opportunity. The 2020 first-round pick logged a whopping 17.8 average at TCU.
The 2020 Eagles are hardly without their concerns. But after reading the Eagles’ chapter in this year’s Football Outsiders Almanac, it’s hard not to let yourself think about how things could go right for the Birds this year. At least, that’s the hope we can hold on to right now before we’re ready to fire everyone by Week 5.
Seriously, though, go check out the Football Outsiders Almanac! As I’ve been pointing out on recent BGN Radio podcast episodes, there’s a lot of good info in there. And not just on the Eagles but also their division rivals and 2020 opponents. It also includes the KUBIAK Preseason Projections which are industry leading and a must for fantasy football fans.