In OTAs earlier this week, Eagles cornerback Cary Williams stated that the Eagles' pass defense must improve, and he's right. They most certainly do. However, he overstated how bad they were a year ago.
"We were the No. 32-ranked pass defense," said Williams. "To me, that's not very impressive. I don't think that's impressing anyone out here. We have to do better than that."
That is absolutely a better statement than if Williams were to say, "We gave up 7.3 yards per pass attempt last year, which was 19th in the league, so we weren't that bad."
While Williams is indeed correct that the Eagles gave up the most passing yards per game last season, those numbers are a little skewed because of the number of snaps they had to face. When the Eagles' offense scored, they scored quickly. In fact, the average Eagles touchdown drive in 2013 was a ridiculous 2:08 in duration. Here's how that compares with the rest of the NFL.
Similarly, when the Eagles went three-and-out, they did so very quickly.
As a result, the Eagles faced more snaps on defense than any other team in the NFL. They also faced the most pass attempts in the league:
The league average was 566.8 opposing pass attempts. If you'll note, the Eagles faced 100+ more pass attempts than the NFL average.
Here is a list of some statistical metrics that give the Eagles' pass D more context.
Some notes on the above stats:
• The Eagles' defensive yards per pass attempt, completion percentage, and quarterback rating are all metrics that look at the Eagles' pass defense from a more fair perspective. They measure defensive efficiency and eliminate the skewed nature of stats that look bad because the Eagles faced an abnormal number of snaps. In those metrics, the Eagles are near the league average.
• Their interception numbers appear high, but really aren't overly impressive considering that, again, they faced the highest number of pass attempts in the league.
• The Eagles only collected 37 sacks, which was 20th in the NFL. That is highly alarming. When you face the most pass attempts in the league, that number should be far higher.
• The Eagles' quick strike / quick punting offense isn't completely to blame. The Eagles did a poor job getting off the field when they had their opportunities. They were 24th in the league in third down situations, and they were 23rd in percentage of first downs allowed per play. In other words, they often gave up long drives, which contributed to the high number of snaps they faced.
Should the Eagles' defense get a pass for being the "32nd ranked" pass defense in the NFL? Yes and no. On the one hand, while the Eagles may have given up the most passing yards in the NFL, they were far from the worst pass D in the league. However, they weren't exactly "good" either.
It is critical that the Eagles do a better job of getting to the QB in 2014, and their efficiency in getting off the field on third down also must improve.
But the reality is that no matter how good the Eagles' defense may get, as long as they run their up-tempo offense, their overall yardage numbers on defense are going to look worse than they really are.
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