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From Carson Wentz’s performance to Jalen Mills’ success, what advanced stats tell us about the Eagles’ first win | Early Birds

Taking a deeper look at the numbers coming out of the Eagles win against the 49ers.

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz and Eagles coach Doug Pederson talking on the sideline during Sunday's victory against the San Francisco 49ers.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz and Eagles coach Doug Pederson talking on the sideline during Sunday's victory against the San Francisco 49ers.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Good morning, Eagles fans! Still buzzing from that win, aren’t you? I can’t blame you. The Eagles have broken into the win column after a prime-time victory, and all of a sudden they’re in first place in the NFC East. The value of being atop such a bad division through four weeks remains to be seen, but don’t let me rain on your parade.

Reporters will videoconference with defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and special teams coach Dave Fipp on Tuesday morning, and some players will be available in the afternoon. The Eagles will return to the practice field in true fashion on Wednesday as they prepare for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are coming off an impromptu bye week because of the Titans' coronavirus outbreak, which caused their Week 4 matchup to be postponed.

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Behind the numbers

1. Carson Wentz’s improvement

There’s finally reason to believe Carson Wentz is coming out of the slump that’s marred the first few weeks of the season. Each week, he’s made progress in completion percentage above expectation measured by Next Gen Stats. His 1.5% against the 49ers was the best percentage he’s had so far, although it’s still bottom-10 in the league for the week.

What’s more encouraging is a potential breakthrough in identifying Wentz’s current strengths. NGS, which charted all of Wentz’s throws against the Niners, had him completing 11 of 15 passes thrown between 2.5 and 4 seconds, which it calls “in rhythm" throws. His touchdown pass to Travis Fulgham came “in rhythm," and he threw for 146 yards and had 4.6 expected points added. Wentz was also effective on throws that took less than 2.5 seconds, going 6-for-7 for 34 yards.

The bad version of Wentz reared its ugly head on the extended plays that used to make Wentz special, though. On six throws that took longer than four seconds, Wentz was 1-for-6 for 13 yards and an interception for a -12.2 EPA.

Translation: Wentz is finally making strides when the Eagles call quick-hitting pass plays or when he’s operating within the timing of the offense. Wentz used to be most dangerous when extending plays and taking chances, but right now, that’s when he’s at his worst.

Wentz’s numbers on play-action throws were also encouraging. For the first time all season, Wentz had a better completion percentage on throws coming off play-action than in conventional dropback passes with an 11% difference. He was 10-for-13 for 84 yards on play-action passes against the Niners. In the previous three weeks, Wentz was completing 11.5% fewer passes in play-action, one of the worst differentials in the league.

2. Jalen Mills' coverage

Didn’t hear much about Jalen Mills on Sunday night, did you? It was for good reason. Mills moved back to his old position at outside cornerback because of injuries to Avonte Maddox and Trevor Williams. After Mills spent his entire offseason working at safety, his move back to outside corner could have tanked the Eagles' defensive efforts against the Niners. Instead, he was solid, allowing just two catches for seven yards on eight targets according to NGS.

On those eight targets, 49ers quarterbacks Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard’s completion percentage was 43.6% less than expected. Mills earned a 73 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus and didn’t allow any yards after the catch to a 49ers receiving corps that specializes in it.

The Eagles are likely eager to move Mills back to safety once the secondary gets healthier, but his holding his own at his old position was promising nonetheless.

3. Eagles' playoff odds

The Eagles might have woken up Monday morning in first place of the NFC East, but it’s only Week 4, and the percentage chance of making the playoffs for teams that start the season 0-2 and even 0-2-1 is not promising. Football Outsiders still gives the Dallas Cowboys the edge in playoff odds after four weeks. The Cowboys have a 50.7% chance of making it, while the Eagles are at 35.4%, up 10% from last week.

FiveThirtyEight’s projections suggest a similar outlook, giving the Eagles a 37% chance at advancing vs. a 57% chance for Dallas. The strength of schedule remaining is likely playing a part in the percentages. The Cowboys’ remaining opponents have the lowest combined winning percentage in the NFL. The Eagles' remaining schedule ranks 17th.

What you need to know about the Eagles

From the mailbag

Is the floor higher with Jason Peters [over Jordan Mailata]? He was a legitimate liability in both Weeks 1 and 3. — from Anthony (@ByADiBona) on Twitter.

Good question, Anthony. Jordan Mailata did some really nice things against the 49ers, especially considering he’d never played in a meaningful football game in his lifetime before Sunday. He allowed just one pressures in 38 pass-blocking snaps and had a few plays in which his strength and athleticism jumped out. At 6-foot-8 and 346 pounds, he has the power and length to make up for what he might lack in technique. It’s easy to imagine he’ll only get better with more playing time, too.

All that being said, I still think Peters gives the Eagles offensive line a higher floor if he were to come back healthy and return to Wentz’s blindside. Yes, he’s 38. Yes, he had a concerning performance against Washington and Cincinnati. But he’s got the body of work that Mailata doesn’t. I’m willing to excuse Peters for struggling against Washington — that’s a really good defensive line and Chase Young is on his way to becoming one of the league’s top edge rushers. The struggles against the Bengals are harder to explain away.

Still, Mailata’s worst could be catastrophic. I’m talking game-breaking, crippling results. We haven’t seen enough of him yet to really know, but I’ve seen him get beaten by Joe Ostman in training camp too many times to dismiss the possibility that he could struggle in the long run.

That doesn’t change my opinion that Mailata’s ceiling is much higher than Peters'. If he continues to play well, Mailata should keep the left-tackle job even when Peters is healthy again. If he can settle in there, the Eagles offensive line would be much better for it. He’s still only 23 and relatively new to football with elite physical traits. Some of the things he did against the 49ers were incredibly promising. If he continues to improve from a technical standpoint, the Eagles could have a long-term answer at the position.