Week 5 of the 2019 NFL season brings a New York Jets-Philadelphia Eagles matchup and ESNY previews the statistical aspect.
Throughout the season, I’ll be previewing the New York Jets‘ opponent each week with a look at their greatest strengths and weaknesses from a statistical standpoint.
Let’s dive into some key numbers on the Philadelphia Eagles heading into this Sunday’s season-opening AFC East clash.
Strength: Situational football
Getting the job done in crucial situations has been the bread-and-butter of the Philadelphia offense.
The Eagles’ yardage efficiency numbers are not all that good. Philly is ranked 23rd in net yards per pass play (6.1) and 18th in yards per rush attempt (4.1). Yet somehow, they rank fourth in points per drive (2.56).
That disparity has occurred because Doug Pederson’s squad has done an incredible job converting when it matters most. The Eagles have moved the chains on 32 of 57 third downs, a 56.1 percent clip that leads the NFL.
A key aspect of Philadelphia’s third-down success has been their ability to get into third-and-short situations. The Eagles have faced an average of 6.4 yards to go on third down, the second-shortest distance in the NFL (behind only Oakland).
Third down is not the only aspect of situational football that the Eagles offense has excelled at. They have been tremendous in the red zone as well. Their 68.8 percent red-zone touchdown rate ranks eighth-best. Their total of 11 red zone touchdowns is the league’s second-greatest total, trailing only the Ravens (12).
The Jets may be able to get some early down stops against the Eagles, but the key will be holding up in decisive situations. Philadelphia’s offense might not be the kind to swiftly charge down the field, but they find a way to get the football in the end zone no matter how long it takes.
Weakness: Dropped passes
The Eagles have battled injuries at wide receiver and it’s hampered the team’s pass-catching production. DeSean Jackson has missed the last two games and will miss Sunday’s game against the Jets. Alshon Jeffery missed a game before returning against the Packers last week, but he did not look 100-percent.
In turn, Carson Wentz has had to spread the ball around a bit more — but the results have been iffy. The Eagles have been credited with 12 dropped passes, the most of any team in the league. There isn’t one player at fault for the issue, as most of the offense has contributed to the drop-fest. No Eagle has dropped more than two passes, and a total of nine Eagles have been tagged with at least one drop.
Drops were a driving force behind Philadelphia’s two losses. 9 of the team’s 12 drops came between Weeks 2 and 3 when the Eagles took back-to-back losses to the Falcons and Lions. Four passes were dropped in Atlanta, then five were dropped in the home loss to Detroit. Nelson Agholor and Mack Hollis had two drops apiece over that stretch.
In the Eagles’ two victories, they have dropped a total of only three passes — one in the season-opener against the Redskins, and two in the Thursday Night Football victory at Lambeau Field.
It really seems that the Eagles have beaten themselves more so than opponents have beaten them. Yet, despite the injuries and self-inflicted wounds, they have stayed afloat at 2-2. Once they can stop shooting themselves in the foot, Philly should right back on track in its quest for another Super Bowl victory.
Strength: Run defense
The Eagles have had to deal with a pair of injuries on their defensive front. Timmy Jernigan will miss his third consecutive game against the Jets, while Malik Jackson was placed on IR following his first game with the team.
Those losses raised questions about Philadelphia’s ability to stop the run, but they have squashed those doubts in resounding fashion. Jim Schwartz’s unit has done a spectacular job stopping the run. The Eagles defense ranks third in fewest yards per rush allowed (3.2), fourth in fewest rush yards per game allowed (62.0), fifth in rush defense DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average), and sixth in rush defense EPA (estimated points added).
Halting Green Bay’s run game was a key part of Philadelphia’s upset victory in Week 4. The Eagles defense held Aaron Jones to only 21 yards on 13 carries, an atrocious 1.6 yards per attempt. Only one of Jones’ 13 carries was a chain-mover (his three-yard touchdown run).
Thanks to their phenomenal run-stopping, the Eagles forced Aaron Rodgers to pass the ball 53 times. Late in the game, the Packers refused to run the ball in the red zone, opting to pass it play after play. Their offense became predictable, and the Eagles kept the Packers out of the end zone on a whopping four out of seven red zone drives. That would not have been possible without their dominant run defense earlier in the game.
The injury bug has bitten the Eagles hard at the cornerback position. Jalen Mills, Avonte Maddox, Ronald Darby, and Sidney Jones are all sidelined for the time being. That leaves the team razor-thin at the position, sporting only Rasul Douglas, James Craig (recent practice squad call-up), and Orlando Scandrick (scrapheap pickup).
These holes only make matters worse for an Eagles pass defense that was already struggling even with those players on the field. Philadelphia has allowed 323.8 passing yards per game this season, most in the league. They rank 23rd in pass defense DVOA and 28th in pass defense EPA.
The effects of Philadelphia’s struggles in the back end have shown up most glaringly through poor pass rushing results. Shaky play in the secondary has made it difficult for the Eagles front seven to finish sacks. Philadelphia has done a decent job creating pressure, as they are tied for 17th in total quarterback hits (20). However, only three of those hits were sacks. Their 15.0 percent sack-to-hit ratio is by far the lowest in the league and well below the NFL average of 44.7 percent.
These numbers suggest that the Eagles secondary is not holding up long enough to give the front seven time to convert pressure into sacks. In turn, their sack production has been historically awful. The Eagles have the lowest sack rate in the league, a measly 1.7 percent. If they finished the season with the same mark, it would be the worst sack rate in NFL history.
Special Teams tidbit: Jake Elliott has been perfect
Eagles kicker Jake Elliott has had a phenomenal start to the season. He has made all four of his field-goal attempts and all ten of his extra-point attempts. His 22 points scored without a missed kick ranks as the fourth-most in the league, trailing only Chris Boswell (28 points), Justin Tucker (31), and Josh Lambo (36).
Currently, in just his third season with the team, Elliott has already made 64 field goals for the Eagles. If he can make 28 more over the final 12 games of the 2019 season, Elliott will move into second place on the franchise’s all-time made field goals list.