What advanced stats say about the Eagles’ woes, Doug Pederson’s abandoning the run, and Jalen Hurts’ production vs. Carson Wentz’s | Early Birds
Breaking down the numbers surrounding Pederson's decisions on Sunday, Hurts' struggles, and Jalen Reagor's lack of production.
Good morning, Eagles fans. Listen, I know it’s not necessarily a great morning, but at least the Eagles are in line for a good draft pick and 2020 is almost over. Let’s stay positive here. The Eagles are one loss away from cementing a top-six pick, although it’s certainly possible that the Eagles will play spoiler for Washington in the season finale. We’re one week away from having the full-season sample size of stats, but we’ll still dive into this past Sunday’s numbers. More on that later.
For those of you reading this Tuesday morning, Jim Schwartz and Dave Fipp will speak with reporters shortly. It will be interesting to hear Schwartz’s explanation for why the team took so long to bench struggling cornerback Michael Jacquet against the Cowboys.
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Behind the numbers
1. Run the ball?
Typically whenever a coach overuses runs on early downs and settles for field goals, NFL Twitter erupts into a debate between the old guard and the analytics crowd. Regardless of what side you’re on, you can put your pitchforks away for the day, or at least redirect them, because the numbers and the conventional wisdom are in agreement: Doug Pederson was in the wrong.
The Eagles might have trailed by two scores early in the third quarter, but it’s fair to question why Pederson was so averse to running the ball in the second half. The Eagles ran just six designed run plays in the entire second half, compared to 32 called passes. It’s worth mentioning the Eagles had six false-start penalties and often found themselves in a handful of third-and-long situations because of them, but the stats show the Eagles were at their best when they were steadily exploiting the Cowboys’ run defense, which was the worst in the league entering the game.
According to rbsdm.com, the Eagles’ expected points added were .14 on 23 rushing plays compared to negative .11 on 50 passes. It might seem like common sense that the Eagles were better running in a game they finished with 151 rushing yards, but it’s important to remember just how heavily EPA skews toward passing plays, which are widely considered more efficient. This is the first time the Eagles have had better EPA on running plays since Week 12 against the Seahawks.
The analytics also disagreed with Pederson’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-15 instead of trying a 50-yard field goal.
2. Hurts’ regression and Wentz comparisons
Jalen Hurts turned in his worst game as the Eagles starter Sunday, but one could argue this was bound to happen. Even in Hurts’ first two starts, the instability of his production on third-and-long and fourth-and-impossible situations was hard to overlook. He was always going to regress from the .58 EPA on third and fourth downs he had going into the game, and he did just that, throwing two interceptions, with one coming on a third-and-12 in the red zone.
For the Carson Wentz apologists eager to use Hurts’ first hiccup as an opportunity to absolve Wentz of all blame, not so fast. Hurts’ numbers are still vastly better than Wentz’s were this season. Hurts’ completion percentage over expectation is still significantly higher than Wentz’s. Hurts’ negative 1.4% is tied with Matthew Stafford and is ahead of Ben Roethlisberger’s -1.8%. Wentz, on the other hand, is still ranked among the league’s worst in the category at -4.1%, which is ahead of only Dwayne Haskins and Drew Lock. Hurts’ QBR is also higher than Wentz’s, although Wentz has the edge in completion percentage.
3. Jalen Reagor’s rank
One injury-marred season isn’t enough to make any sweeping declarations for Jalen Reagor, but it’s fair to say this wasn’t the year the team had in mind when it passed on chances to trade for DeAndre Hopkins or Stefon Diggs and selected Reagor ahead of highly rated receiver prospects such as Justin Jefferson, Brandon Aiyuk, and Tee Higgins.
Reagor has flashed potential at times, but he’s also looked out of place and has yet to have a game in which he’s been more than a low-usage gadget player. Reagor’s yards per route run do not stack up well against the rest of the rookie class. He’s tied for 12th out of 17 rookie receivers with at least 29 targets. Quez Watkins doesn’t have the targets to qualify, but his recent surge in the offense has him ranked higher than Reagor in the category if you don’t filter for targets.
Again, there’s plenty of time for Reagor to find his role, but he’s got some ground to make up.
What you need to know about the Eagles
Still trying to make sense how the Eagles fell apart so quickly against the Cowboys? Paul Domowitch offers his weekly five reasons for the outcome.
Pederson apologized to Eagles fans for the way the season has gone and pointed to injuries as the main culprit for the team’s sharp regression. Les Bowen has all the details from Pederson’s day-after news conference.
Speaking of Pederson’s news conference, Jeff McLane dissects what the coach said about possibly having more say in personnel decisions moving forward.
How should the Eagles approach their season finale Sunday night against the Washington Football Team? Marcus Hayes offers some advice.
Hurts is going to be the starter for the season finale against Washington, as Bowen reports along with the rest of the notes from the day.
From the mailbag
Eagles have a lot of needs. Are they better off trading their top pick in next draft for a 1st and either second or third rounder depending on how far down they would drop? — from Rick (@rickphils) on Twitter
Good question, Rick. While it would be enticing for the Eagles to grab one of the best players in the draft, trading back would certainly be a smart play considering how many holes this team has. The Eagles have pressing needs at wide receiver, corner, safety, and linebacker. They need to find young, elite talent to sustain the success of both the offensive and defensive lines, and there’s the obvious quarterback problem going into next year.
There’s one exception. It might sound radical, but if the Eagles are in a position to take a quarterback prospect such as Justin Fields, I’d argue they should. Elite quarterbacks are the hardest thing to find in the league, and the opportunity to add one is too rare to pass up. Assuming Fields is off the board and/or the front office doesn’t have the stomach for taking another quarterback, trading back makes too much sense, assuming a competitive offer is available. If Fields is still on the board, they could potentially leverage him into getting a future first. Otherwise, they’d do well to add a second for the 2022 draft to move back a few spots.