Why Targeting the Eagles' Secondary Is a Smart Fantasy Football Strategy

The Philadelphia pass defense is struggling, and the offense isn't helping matters.

By this point in the fantasy football season, the importance of player analysis starts to fade a little, as players either are or aren't who we thought they were. With this frailty realized by Week 6, the ability to identify promising matchups can make or break fantasy decisions going forward.

It's likely that you've identified your sure-fire starters by now, the guys you're going to play regardless of matchup. But you've also probably been able to peg the merry-go-round spots on your squad, the positions without absolutes.

So long as you're in need of a quarterback, wide receiver, or tight end, you'd be best served to key in on secondary play if you want to get the most production from your fill-in plays.

Right now, a great target is the Philadelphia Eagles secondary, which features some sub-par play, but that also has the disadvantage of facing a lot of plays and of playing with a voluminous (and inefficient) offense.

So the real question is: can you plan on targeting the Philly secondary all year, or is there reason to believe things can turn around soon?

Let's take a look.

High-Octane Attack

Through five weeks, the Eagles' offense has run 368 plays, which is third-most in the NFL.

Make no mistake though, I'm being deliberately deceitful with that phrasing. Saying they rank third makes them seem like they're one of the best at controlling the ball and running a lot of plays, but that's not the case - which is important if you're targeting the Eagles secondary.

Now, the fact that they rank third is impressive from an offensive standpoint, but they aren't actually that far above the league average in offensive plays run. The average for the 24 teams who have yet to have a bye week is 347.8 plays. That means the Eagles have really only run four more plays per contest than the average team.

With those plays, though, they aren't doing a whole lot. They rank just 21st in Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) per play, meaning they're the 21st-best offense in football if you ask us.

In case you're not familiar with NEP, it's numberFire's way of quantifying on-field production into a number that indicates net points scored or allowed by a team or player. We also can adjust this for schedule strength, too.

So, this voluminous-yet-fruitless offense is giving the defense a volume problem of its own.

By Air and By Land

The more important number of plays for the Eagles right now is 401. That's how many plays the defense has seen so far this season through five games. That's the most in the NFL.

The Eagles have faced 156 run plays, fourth-most in the league. As for pass plays, the number is 215, tied with the Jaguars for the most in the NFL.

Philadelphia's defense is experiencing too high a volume not to surrender fantasy points, but their NEP scores aren't actually that bad.

The Eagles have an Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per Play of 0.10. This means that, considering schedule strength, the Eagles allow teams to gain 0.10 points per pass. This ranks 15th in the NFL, which is passable but not at all stingy.

However, Philadelphia ranks fourth in rushing defense according to our per-play metrics, so the secondary is clearly the way to find success against them.

Even still, the Eagles have an average pass defense according to our metrics, but they allow the second-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers and quarterbacks. What gives?

Ball Control

The culmination of the offensive style and defensive play for the Eagles has resulted in an atrocious average time of possession for the offense, which is directly correlated to how much time the defense spends on the field.

The Eagles have the ball on offense for just 24:53 per game. That's almost a full minute worse than the 31st-ranked Jaguars (25:41).

Having a poor time of possession is bad news for that team's defense. I know that's not shocking, but it can be a bit of an afterthought when trying to exploit defensive matchups and identifying defenses to target in fantasy football.

Here are the bottom five teams according to average time of possession as well as their ranks in a few other categories (defensive plays against, Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, and fantasy points allowed to the quarterback, wide receiver, and tight end).

TeamTOPD Plays AgainstPass Defense RankFP vs QBFP vs WRFP vs TE
Green Bay303096105
Tampa Bay282931223026

So, first thing is first poor time of possession correlates pretty obviously with the amount of plays a defense will face for these teams - except in the case of the Raiders.

But not all of these teams surrender significant fantasy points to quarterbacks and pass catchers, so I have to address this.

The Packers defense, which ranks highly in both passing metrics and points allowed, rank dead last in rushing defense according to our metrics. And they allow the 21st-most fantasy points to running backs. They're also 21st in overall defense according to our metrics, so they don't necessarily have an undeniably great passing defense. Rather they are just extremely vulnerable to the run.

It's similar for the Raiders, who are more susceptible to the run than to the pass and who rank 25th against fantasy running backs and 22nd in overall defense.

The other teams, the Eagles included, are exploitable through the air. This indicates that each of these teams with poor time of possession - they're the only five squads in the NFL who don't have the ball for 27 minutes or more per game - vulnerable in one way or the other.

The Eagles currently have a pretty elite rush defense, so the secondary is the place to attack.

Turning Things Around?

While our metrics center on team play rather than individual defensive performance, it's not much of a stretch to call attention to how poorly Cary Williams has played. And with Brandon Boykin opting to cover slot receivers, Williams and Bradley Fletcher are given the task of tightening up the outside coverage.

The pass rush isn't dominating enough to help, either. Despite being tied for 11th in sacks with 11, the Eagles, who are seeing the highest volume of pass plays so far, rank just 18th in sack rate (sacks divided by pass plays faced). They've also had only six sacks since recording five against the Jaguars in Week 1, so their sack rate would rank just 25th if you were to factor out that game.

As for time of possession, the Eagles were the only team in 2013 to average fewer than 27 minutes per game. Their average time of possession of 26:19 was more than a full minute worse than Jacksonville's 27:22, so unless Chip Kelly changes his entire coaching philosophy, the struggling pass defense and pass rush is going to be seeing an extremely high volume of plays.

Ultimately, the Eagles are a team that ranks fifth in total defense according to our metrics, so they aren't a complete sieve. But the clock woes, struggling secondary, and lack of a consistent pass rush make them a must-target going forward on the road to the fantasy playoffs.