Friday, February 12, 2016

Supporting the Eagles' pass-happy ways

Time to continue our Q&A with Bill Barnwell, managing editor of Football Outsiders.

Supporting the Eagles' pass-happy ways


Time to continue our Q&A with Bill Barnwell, managing editor of Football Outsiders.

If you missed our first part about the Eagles and short yardage, or are wondering exactly what Football Outsiders is, click here.

Also, last night, we updated news on Hollis Thomas, Derrick Burgess and more first-round picks signing.

And don't forget to join me for a live chat at 2 p.m.

OK, now on to the Q&A with Barnwell. As the author of the Eagles chapter in the Football Outsiders Almanac, Barnwell examined a constant criticism of Andy Reid, Marty Mornhinweg and the Birds' offense: they pass too much.

Q: You wrote about the Eagles' "pass-happy" offense. What did you find? Do they pass significantly more than other teams? Does this hurt them?

A: We're probably the only people in the world outside of the Eagles organization that think their pass-to-run ratio is just about perfect. The first article we wrote at Football Outsiders and our reason d'etre was to analyze a Ron Borges piece in the Boston Globe about "establishing the run". Our founder, Aaron Schatz, compiled the play-by-play and found that run attempts in the first half bore no correlation to winning -- it was, instead, run attempts in the second half that had a significant relationship to winning. That's because teams that are ahead in the second half run the clock out; instead of teams "Running to Win", they really "Win To Run". So next time you see one of those stats like "The Eagles are 15-1 when Brian Westbrook gets the ball 30 times", realize that what they're examining with that statistic is the effect, not the cause.

The problem for the Eagles is first down, where they do throw the ball too much. The average NFL team throws the ball 48.5% of the time on first down, and gains an average of 6.6 yards per attempt; the Eagles throw the ball 53% of the time, but only gain an average of 5.9 yards per attempt. Meanwhile, the Eagles gain 4.2 yards per rush attempt on first down, while the league average is 4.3.

Philly also throws the ball more often than league average on second down (58.2% of plays versus a league average of 53.8%) and third down (78.5% of plays versus a league average of 75.6%), but they're more successful in those situations than the rest of the league is. (The Eagles only had an average of 6.4 yards to go on third down, the fifth-fewest in the league.)

If there was one specific situation where the Eagles should definitely run the ball more often, though, it's second-and-short (three yards to go or less). A league average team gains 3.7 yards on running plays in that situation, and 6.0 yards on pass plays -- naturally, teams have the option of going deep in that situation and taking a shot downfield. The Eagles do that too frequently, and they don't succeed often enough. Although the Eagles average 4.1 yards running the ball on second-and-short, they only average 4.3 yards passing the ball.

My take: First of all, thanks to Bill for taking the time to provide so much depth with his answer. I thought the stat about the Eagles having an average of 6.4 yards to go on third down last season (fifth-fewest in the league) was particularly interesting. You always hear coaches talk about getting the offense in manageable third-down situations, and the numbers show the Eagles did a good job of that last season.

As for the rest of the post, I agree with Bill for the most part. If you go back to my posts last year, I very rarely whined about the team's pass-to-run ratio. I argued that the team just wasn't running the ball effectively enough in certain situations. The whole "run the ball" thing has become a crutch for some, who use it to explain every failure we see with the Eagles.

Do they need to get better at running the ball? Absolutely. And I think you saw them address that through their offseason moves.

But last year, I thought the problem was that they didn't run the ball effectively when they needed to, not that they didn't run the ball enough.

Coming later today, Barnwell takes a look at the turnover on the offensive line. Plus the live chat at 2. Plus the first full-squad practice at 3:30.
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About this blog
Sheil Kapadia is in his fifth season writing about the Eagles and the NFL for His earliest memories as a sports fan include several trips to Veterans Stadium with his Dad. He's not a beat writer or an Insider, but is here to discuss the NFL 365 days a year. E-mail him at or by clicking here

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