Now that we’ve reached the midway point of the Eagles season, it’s a good time to take a big-picture look at where the team stands.
The Eagles (3-4-1) may be in the driver’s seat of the putrid NFC East, but there’s still some concerning areas, along with some bright spots. Here are the four biggest takeaways from the advanced statistics.
Wentz’s worst season
Carson Wentz’s struggles have been one of the biggest topics of the Eagles season, and for good reason. Wentz is on pace for the worst season of his five-year career, and Sunday’s win against the Cowboys was arguably the lowest point for the Eagles quarterback. Wentz had two interceptions and two fumbles lost against a lackluster Dallas defense, furthering solidifying his status as the most turnover-prone player in the NFL.
Wentz is on pace to throw 24 touchdowns and 24 interceptions with the worst completion percentage of his career. The advanced numbers tell an even worse story for the 27-year-old. He’s got the fourth-worst completion percentage over expectation in the NFL, according to Next Gen Stats. Only Joe Flacco, Dwayne Haskins, and Sam Darnold have been worse. Football Outsiders has Wentz as the second-worst starting quarterback in the league behind Darnold. According to PFF, Wentz has 23 turnover-worthy plays. No other quarterback has more than 13.
Wentz’s accuracy and turnover issues aside, he’s also on pace to be sacked a staggering 64 times. His season high came last year, when he was sacked 37 times. For reference, the league high for sacks last season was a three-way tie at 48. It’s easy to understand the role the Eagles' makeshift offensive line has in Wentz’s constant pressure — the group has used seven different configurations in eight games — but the advanced stats tell a different story than conventional wisdom might suggest. The Eagles' offensive line is eighth in the league in pass-block win rate, which measures how often an offensive front gives its quarterback 2.5 seconds to throw, the amount of time widely considered adequate protection.
So what’s the issue? Wentz is using that time, and then some, to get the ball out. He’s averaging 2.9 seconds to throw according to Next Gen, and he leads the league in throwing attempts that took longer than 2.5 seconds. Translation: Wentz is putting some strain on the offensive line by holding onto the ball consistently longer than most quarterbacks.
Combine the accuracy and turnover numbers with the responsibility Wentz has for his sack totals, and it’s easy to understand why he’s ranked so low in the advanced stat realm.
Fulgham’s sustained production
Life is about balance, so let’s move on to some good news. Wide receiver Travis Fulgham has been the brightest spot of the Eagles offense since he was promoted from the practice squad before the team’s Week 4 win over the San Francisco 49ers. He caught a pivotal touchdown pass toward the end of the game, and left fans wondering whether he would be a one-hit wonder or a consistent contributor.
Through five games, the second-year player has met the hype. Fulgham, who was added to the practice squad during training camp after being waived by both the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers, has been one of the most productive receivers in the league since his promotion. It’s a limited sample size and likely bound for regression, but Fulgham’s 16-game pace is still 93 catches, 1,392 yards, and 13 touchdowns.
The 2019 sixth-round pick’s ascension is comparable to some of the best receivers drafted in the last two years. Among wideouts taken in 2019, Fulgham is fourth in total yards even though he has played only five games.
Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson has been one of the most productive first-year wideouts in the NFL, and Fulgham’s per-game averages are better across the board. Same goes for Cowboys rookie receiver CeeDee Lamb, taken four picks before the Eagles took Jalen Reagor. Fulgham is just two catches away from Jefferson, and has scored one more touchdown even though he has played two fewer games.
Fulgham’s success will make him an important piece of the Eagles' team-building moving forward. His emergence has helped fill the hole left by JJ Arcega-Whiteside’s disappointing start to his career. The best-case scenario for the team involves Fulgham staying around this level, even if he doesn’t flirt with 90 catches in a season. As a possession receiver capable of running precise routes and commanding high-volume targets, he’s an excellent complement to Jalen Reagor, who is a vertical threat and/or gadget player.
How good is the defensive line?
There’s more good news. The Eagles' pass rush has been as good as advertised this season, but it hasn’t come all from the expected sources. The team has a significant amount of salary-cap space invested in its interior line, but Brandon Graham’s edge-rushing production has been the engine for the defensive front halfway through the season.
With seven sacks in eight games, Graham isn’t only making an ironclad Pro Bowl case. The 32-year-old could have an outside shot at going All-Pro if he continues at this rate. Graham has nine tackles for losses, two forced fumbles, and is the league leader in run-stop win rate among edge rushers, according to ESPN. Run-stop win rate records how often a defensive end wins his block against the run in under 2.5 seconds. In pass-rush win rate, which measures the same 2.5 seconds, Graham is ranked No. 8. He’s winning 22% of the time. For reference, Chicago’s Khalil Mack is No. 10 with 21%.
It’s not all Graham, though. As a team, the Eagles rank fourth in pass-rush win rate, and Fletcher Cox is winning 13% of the time, which is seventh among defensive tackles. PFF takes it even further, ranking the Eagles as the best pass rush in the NFL.
Fortunately for us, FiveThirtyEight’s site runners found some time to update their NFL playoff odds before election night. The Eagles have a 70% chance of winning the division, according to the site’s model. The team’s win against the Cowboys gave them a 6% bump in FiveThirtyEight’s numbers, and a 5.3% increase in Football Outsiders' metrics, which have them with a 61% chance of making the playoffs through the NFC East title.
The Washington Football Team (2-5) is still the most noteworthy challenger. FiveThirtyEight gives Washington a 20% chance of winning the division, while Football Outsiders has it at 24.6%. The Cowboys, once the leader of the pack, are down to 8%, according to Football Outsiders, and the Giants have a 6% chance.