Eagles offense still has a way to go

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Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford.

The Eagles' shocking win over the 10-1 New England Patriots was always going to be a tough act to follow, but this week's scraping by of the 6-6 Buffalo Bills was particularly underwhelming.

None of the offense's 14 drives covered more than 57 yards. Six were three-and-outs ending in punts, including the penultimate possession in which even one first down would have ended the game.

Collectively, the running backs averaged 3.6 yards a carry. And quarterback Sam Bradford brushed up to the definitional basement of "efficient" by completing 60.5% of his passes for 6.5 yards per attempt (which remain bottom five-ish numbers in the modern NFL).

Bradford threw the ball deep more frequently this week, due to the "dare you to try" coverages the Bills were running, but simply tallying up the number of downfield shots obscures the larger issue, which is that the percentage of passes he's completing should be translating into far more yards overall:

On this point, the wide receivers and tight ends have come in for blame in recent weeks, with some suggesting their inability to break tackles or accumulate "yards after catch" is what's really slowing the offense down. Yet the stats don't back this up. In percentage terms, Bradford is actually seventh among the 36 quarterbacks with at least 1,000 yards passing this year.

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As for total yards, the current shape of the Eagles' passing offense is not YAC-maximizing. Across the league, YAC yardage is much higher on short throws (screens behind the line of scrimmage) and long ones (beyond 20 yards). In the middle range, there are just too many bodies, including all those linebackers and safeties who are either draped on the backs of our wide receivers or lying in wait as our guys catch those shallow crossing routes.

About the only good thing you can say for the offense's effort this week is that it surpassed the even weaker output against the Patriots the week before, when three touchdowns by the defense and special teams saved the season (and maybe Chip Kelly's job).

And yet none of us care about any of that, because winning is fun. Imagining playoff scenarios is fun. Taking the haughty Bostonians down a peg is so fun it's almost obscene.

There is a maximalist subset of the Eagles' fan base that believes the only thing that matters is winning a Super Bowl. These people are wrong, says science.

Academic researchers have known for years that humans tend to overrate the long-term happiness effects of one-off events. You may believe that watching the Eagles win a Super Bowl will complete your lifetime experience as a fan, but in truth it's unlikely to make you much happier, once the parade has passed.

In a foundational 1978 paper, university researchers studied 22 people who'd won a significant amount of money in the lottery, along with 29 accident victims who'd been paralyzed from the waist down. What they found is that after an initial burst of emotion – either positive or negative – all of these people tended to revert to an average level of happiness as time passed.

One potential explanation is what's been termed the "hedonic treadmill." As we get more stuff – whether that's money, health or a perennially contending home sports team – our expectations rise in lockstep with our circumstances. That's one reason why rich people aren't all that much happier than those in the middle class.

This is also how Andy Reid ruined a generation of Eagles fans with his years of sustained success. At a certain point, ten wins and a playoff win felt like a birthright.

As annoying as the Negadelphians can be during a playoff run – "They'll blow this, just watch" – there's also research that suggests people in bad moods have better memory and cognitive performance. On the flipside side – and of particular note for observers of Chip Kelly's press conferences – one study also supports the converse, in that a "positive affect" increases "susceptibility to misleading information."

Speaking of Sam Bradford, there's empirical support for the "yeah, but he's our crummy quarterback" reaction, too. The classic research study involved coffee mugs, in which participants wanted to charge a much higher price to sell a mug they were given than they were willing to pay to acquire it themselves.

Economist Richard Thaler was the first to label this the "endowment effect." People place a much higher value on an object they own than they did before they owned it, which helps explain our tendency to see the best in "our" quarterback, when we'd be more clear-sighted about his overall performance if he wore a different team's jersey.

It's not that big a deal, since we're only fans, unless of course Chip Kelly is human too.