Chris Berman and Tom Jackson had a great rule of thumb for gauging player and team developments during their all-time classic NFL Primetime run. They said once is an accident, twice is a trend, and three times is a fact. Boomer and TJ wanted to see something occur more than one time before they were willing to buy into the idea that this was the new normal, as they knew if something happens on only a single occasion, it might just be happenstance.
This is a good mindset to take regarding the Eagles now that we have two games in the books. There is now enough evidence to spot some trends, so let’s dive into the tape research and numbers to find out how these trends portend for the Eagles’ future.
The Eagles operated a dink and dunk-oriented passing attack in their season opener. Jalen Hurts threw only one deep pass (defined as aerials thrown 15 or more yards downfield) against the Falcons, which was the 18-yard touchdown to DeVonta Smith.
The Week 2 matchup against San Francisco was a much different matter, as injuries forced the 49ers to start fifth-round rookie Deommodore Lenoir at one cornerback position and the much-traveled Josh Norman at the other cornerback spot.
This caused the Eagles to be more aggressive in attacking downfield, as Hurts threw eight deep passes against the 49ers. He completed two for 117 yards, including the 91-yard pass to Quez Watkins over Lenoir. One of the incompletions was also targeted at Lenoir, that being the 36-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Reagor that was overturned because Reagor stepped out of bounds before coming back in to catch the ball.
The Eagles also didn’t wait for long down-and-distance situations to call for the deep aerials, as four of their eight vertical passes occurred on first-and-10.
These elements show that Nick Sirianni will call plays to target potentially weak players in coverage and will do so at unexpected times. Were it not for the goal-line gaffes and the penalty on Reagor, these throws would have netted two touchdowns, so look for Sirianni to keep going down this path.
The Eagles led the league in the 2020 season in my good blocking rate (GBR) metric that measures how often an offense gives its backs quality run blocking.
So far, the Eagles are trending toward being even better in this area this year. They have posted a 56.6% GBR that is more than 10 points higher than their elite 46% total in this category in 2020. This indicates that consistent run blocking is an area Sirianni can rely upon in his play calling, and it makes one wonder why in the world he didn’t rely on it on the aforementioned disastrous goal-line series.
The Eagles do have an area of concern here, however, as they have tallied a meager 7.0-yard average in my good blocking yards per attempt (GBYPA) metric that gauges how productive ballcarriers are when they are given good blocking opportunities. That is a 1.4-yard reduction from their 2020 GBYPA mark and is a pace that would have rated at the bottom of the league last season.
Miles Sanders’ performance in this metric is the main cause for the decline. He tallied a 9.7 GBYPA last year that ranked 11th among qualifying backs (100-plus planned rush attempts needed to qualify), but has posted a 7.6 GBYPA mark so far this year. This may be a case where a two-game sample simply isn’t enough to properly gauge things, as Sanders only has 15 good blocking carries so far this year, but an improvement is certainly needed.
This is Jonathan Gannon’s first season as a defensive coordinator at any level, but that lack of experience hasn’t kept him from getting this platoon out to a fantastic start.
According to Pro Football Reference, the Eagles defense ranks fifth in scoring drive percentage, third in yards per play, second in pass yards per attempt, 12th in pass pressure rate, and, most importantly, is tied for second in points allowed.
The superb numbers carry over to multiple individual players, as the Eagles have three players in the top 21 in the league in yards allowed per target (YPT). Anthony Harris is the highest-rated safety in the NFL in this category with a 2.7-yard mark on nine targets. Avonte Maddox ranks ninth among cornerbacks with a 3.9 YPT on seven targets. Darius Slay places 12th among cornerbacks with a 4.1-yard YPT.
An area that does need improvement is interceptions, as the Eagles are one of only seven teams without a pick this season.
As noted in my Week 1 review article, the Eagles rush defense under Jim Schwartz had a consistent combination of strong showings in GBR and terrible numbers in GBYPA allowed.
Gannon’s platoon did not fare well in GBR in Week 1, as the Eagles allowed a 50% GBR against Atlanta, but they stepped their game up in this area in Week 2 with a 37.5% mark.
More importantly, the Eagles have slashed their GBYPA totals by a notable margin this season, as their 7.3 GBYPA allowed is a 27% improvement over their 10.0 GBYPA allowed in 2020 that ranked 29th in the league.
If they can keep these trends going, the Eagles should have one of the best rush defenses in the NFL this year.
One way to measure special teams performance is via the special teams expected points added (STEPA) metric that gauges the estimated value of a play result based on a variety of factors such as down, distance, and field position.
This statistic does a solid job of pointing out special teams strengths and weaknesses, so it is a concern that the Eagles rank 28th in Pro Football Reference’s version of STEPA. This system indicates that the return game is the biggest problem, as the Eagles rank 27th in punt return EPA and 28th in kick return EPA. They also rate 26th in punt return average with a 5.3-yard mark, so this is an area that first-year special teams coordinator Michael Clay will be working to improve.