(Editor’s note: Nerdy football article to follow).
Football is a tricky game to analyze. Unlike baseball, which can be acutely analyzed using statistics, football tends to be a bit tougher to pin down statistically, especially for certain positions (Editor’s note: Percent of missionary per attempt?). How does one accurately judge a safety, or a defensive tackle, statistically speaking? Can you fairly evaluate a wide receiver on a team with a running philosophy based purely on statistics? I don’t think so.
With that being said, I think that, when examining specific aspects of the game, certain statistics can provide valuable insight. One of these areas is Offensive Efficiency, both in the passing and running games. Since one of the gripes of many Eagles fans is that the running game is too infrequently used, I wanted to examine whether or not it would benefit the Eagles to run more. Using last season’s statistics, and taking into consideration that the offensive personnel has changed little, I think I can accurately say the Eagles should dedicate more plays to the run. Here’s why:
The Eagles threw the ball 577 times last year (7th most in NFL). Though their total yardage was good (3755 yards, 10th in NFL), the consistency with which they completed passes was just below average (60.7 %, 17th). They were slightly above average in touchdowns (24, tied 13th) and interceptions (15, tied for 11th), but allowed 49 sacks, the 5th most in the league. They averaged 6 yards per pass attempt (18th in NFL). Combining their yards per attempt with the fact that they threw the ball 577 times, and considering the fact that only 29.7% of their passes resulted in first downs (22nd in NFL), their passing offense certainly appears inefficient.
The problem with judging them on these stats alone is the style of offense they play. Andy Reid’s West Coast scheme is based on short timing routes mixed with deep strikes down the field. Thus, a high quantity of short passes indicates that the Eagles will be more likely to have a low percentage of passes resulting in first downs. However, it does not indicate that their completion percentage or sack totals should be below average. If anything, especially in the case of the sacks, the opposite should be true (Editor’s note: I’d wager Mr. McNabb would agree). Thus, the question is whether or not the right personnel to execute the offense are in place. I am a firm believer that the scheme should always facilitate the players on hand (and the personnel department should always carefully consider the scheme).
Meanwhile, the Birds only ran the ball 40.2% of the time. What a shame: their 421 attempts (20th in NFL) went for 1974 yards (8th in NFL). Their yards per carry average was 4.7, the second best average in the NFL last year! They ran the ball, when given the opportunity to do so, at an extremely efficient clip. As was the case with their passing offense, their touchdowns (12, tied 16th) and turnovers (12 fumbles lost, tied 15th) fell around the league average.
Two small points, then I will cease this lengthy and dry article (Editor’s note: Wrap it up, B!). The claim could be made that the running game has been efficient because it is used as a counterpoint to the passing game, and thus takes defenses off balance. However, the Eagles rushed for 991 yards on first and ten (8th in NFL), a traditional running down. Plus, the Eagles do incorporate a lot of screen passes and low-risk passes to Brian Westbrook, who is clearly their best player and most dangerous weapon. So I don’t think Andy Reid should dramatically alter his offense: I simply think utilizing a bit more balance between the run and the pass would make the Eagles much more efficient.