The Collapse of the Philadelphia Eagles
Filled with turkey and a complete thrashing of their NFC East rivals on Thanksgiving Day, the Philadelphia Eagles exited Week 13 after a huge blowout win over the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas.
The world was their oyster, as they held an important divisional lead over Dallas while holding an 88.9% chance of making the playoffs at the time.
My, how things change quickly in the NFL.
Following that Week 13 victory, Philadelphia then entered a three-game losing skid to end any postseason hopes they had rather quickly. Their entire season collapsed in on itself, as the Eagles saw their playoff chances drop to 73.9% after a loss against Seattle, then drop further to 35.8% after losing to Dallas -- the first time their playoff odds had been less than 50.0% all year including the preseason -- and finally ending all hope after losing to Washington in Week 16.
So what happened that led to the collapse of an Eagles squad with hopes of potentially landing a one or two-seed in the NFC only a few weeks ago?
A Key Ingredient to a Losing Recipe
Head coach Chip Kelly set several new records for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013. He lead his team to scoring their most points, touchdowns, passing yards, and net yards -- all while allowing the fewest turnovers in franchise history.
Not a bad first impression to leave on the NFL, huh?
His sophomore year at the helm of Philadelphia has seen quite a bit of change. His offense is still one of the most dynamic in the league. The Eagles scored the third most points in the league, but the team has developed a terrible habit that would put any team in a hole.
Behind the Frankenstein quarterback monster of Nick Sanchez, Eagles' quarterbacks have coughed the ball up a whopping 30 times between interceptions and lost fumbles. As a team, they lead the league with 36 total giveaways. During their latest three-game losing streak, the Eagles had given the ball up seven times to their opponents. These game-altering turnovers contributed to 30 of the 89 points Philadelphia has given up during this time period.
This high rate of turnovers is costing the team negative Net Expected Points (NEP). No matter how many yards this team piles up, turning the ball over is catastrophic towards any team's chance of winning.
Third in the league in points scored and fourth in offensive yards, the Eagles offense can hang with the best of them. However, we had the Eagles ranked 17th in overall offensive efficiency prior to their win in Week 17 which says a lot about how impactful the turnovers really are. (They jumped to 15th overall after the one-turnover win against the Giants to close out the year.)
The turnovers are not a recent trend, either, as they've been consistently happening all year. Sooner or later, they were due to take a toll. This factor has undoubtedly played a major role in turning a 9-3 team to 9-6 rather quickly, taking their playoff odds from nearly 90% to 0%.
Poor Quarterback Play
Not helping the case is the hodgepodge under center for Chip Kelly and the Eagles. Nick Foles started the first seven games for the Eagles before leaving the team's eighth game after a brutal hit on a sack that left him with a broken collarbone. Prior to that, Foles was failing to execute anywhere near the efficiency of 2013, when he held the fourth-highest Passing NEP per drop back in the league at 0.31.
NEP -- and in this context Passing NEP -- is a cumulative statistic, so by comparing the efficiency per drop back, we can get a more accurate portrayal of how both of Philadelphia's quarterbacks have performed even with fewer combined drop backs than other quarterbacks on the list. Looking at quarterbacks with at least 200 drop backs this season, here's how the Eagles' signal callers lined up in comparison to both spectrums of the league entering Week 17.
|Quarterback||Passing NEP/Drop Back||Rank|
Unsurprisingly, the man holding a 36:5 touchdown to interception ratio, Aaron Rodgers, led the league in Passing NEP per drop back while the Eagles were playoff-relevant. The Eagles' quarterbacks have ranked near the middle of the pack as Foles and Mark Sanchez haven't experienced anything like 2013's success in Kelly's offense.
Prior to Nick Foles' injury, he was incredibly volatile at the league's most important position. Often throwing off his backfoot, his passes were regularly questionable in decision making only to be exacerbated with inaccuracy. He threw at least one interception in seven of the eight games he played after coming off a year in which he threw only two picks. Even before his injury, there were grumblings around the Philadelphia fanbase of giving Mark Sanchez an opportunity.
Unfortunately, Sanchez was not the upgrade some of those Philadelphia radicals had hoped for, though his per-drop back numbers were much more promising.
Sanchez played in nine games and finished the year with a 14:11 touchdown-to-interception ratio while losing five fumbles. That's not exactly how Mark had scripted his comeback story in his mind when he signed with Philadelphia this offseason. While Foles' problems stemmed from loss of proper footwork, Sanchez's root from indecisiveness. His progression through his reads are slow at best, and when his primary and secondary options are taken away, he has trouble reaching his third before the pocket begins collapsing around him and he fails to maneuver within the pocket.
Losing former quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor to Miami might have had more of a negative effect than previously anticipated. Lazor's new project, Ryan Tannehill, is coming off the heels of a four-touchdown performance, while he's on pace to set career highs in completions, passing yards, touchdowns, and rushing yards. Through Week 16, Lazor had also helped raise Tannehill's Passing NEP per drop back from 0.00 in 2013 (an average quarterback last year) to 0.09, taking him from 24th in the league in 2013 up to 16th. While the effect of losing Lazor might not have been evident at the beginning of the season, his loss should not go unnoticed in Philadelphia.
Total Team Collapse
The most damning thing for the Eagles was that their latest three-game stretch of disappointment hadn't been the result of only one aspect of their team. They failed collectively on offense, defense, and special teams, erasing any hope of going back to the postseason.
Facing the defending Super Bowl champions is typically no easy task, and the Eagles had their hands full all afternoon in a 24-14 loss at Lincoln Financial Field in Week 14. Facing the dangerous combination of Seattle's pass rush and their secondary's coverage skills, Sanchez was unable to move the ball at all as he finished the game throwing for fewer than 100 yards. An offense only capable of putting together 2.6 yards per carry while converting only two of 11 third-down attempts didn't help the shortcomings of Sanchez. Russell Wilson had a field day against the Eagles, combining for 311 total yards and 3 touchdowns in what could have been an even bigger rout. This dropped their playoff hopes from 88.9% to 73.9%.
Against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 14, the Eagles hardly had a chance, as they turned the ball over four times and Dez Bryant routinely burned the secondary on his way to three receiving touchdowns. DeMarco Murray and Jason Witten helped keep the Cowboys' offense on pace as the team picked up 38 points on the road. A defense that had smothered the Cowboys' offense only a couple weeks prior had lost all of its momentum and were unable to bail out an inept offense. After this loss the Eagles only had a 35.8% chance to make the postseason.
Then in a win-or-go-home game against the Washington Redskins, one of the Eagles' most consistent players faltered as the team collected their third consecutive loss. Rookie kicker Cody Parkey who had been 29-of-31 on the year, missed both a 34- and a 46-yard field goal attempt in a game that was decided by only three points. A special teams unit that had been on fire throughout the season fizzled out during the last stretch of games, and the Eagles were eliminated from playoff contention.
The Eagles fell as a team, as all three phases failed to produce when it counted most. Consistently giving teams more opportunities with their reckless turnovers made their offense about average (finishing the year 15th overall). Chip Kelly's offense is more than capable of producing high point totals against teams any day of the week, but subjecting his defense to 40-plus minutes of time on the field due to these turnovers and the uptempo play is far from ideal. Kelly has proved that he and his staff belong in the NFL, but their most important task is finding the right quarterback to avoid these costly mental errors and turnovers that prevented them from advancing to the postseason in 2014.