Rich Hofmann: A few off-day topics for Eagles

Posted: August 17, 2012

NO LEHIGH, no Eagles practice, a day to think about stuff. What follows is kind of stat-nerdy but, well, sorry. Sometimes the numbers tell you something and sometimes they confirm what you already think you know.

With that:

The reason you have athletic linemen.

Good feet and overall athleticism are the prerequisites for offensive linemen who want to play for the Eagles. That is Howard Mudd, right there. When the Eagles work out an offensive lineman these days, what they want to see most of all is how he runs and moves in space.

We all see the players, and we all nod our heads knowingly - not necessarily the biggest guys, but the best athletes. Yes, we all recognize it. It is the stat sheet, though, that provides some additional validation. Because this is the truth: In 2011, the Eagles were more persistent at attacking the edges in the running game than any team in the NFL.

Obviously, running back LeSean McCoy has a lot to do with this - his speed and his explosiveness and his ability to wait and wait and then make something out of nothing all combine in a unique way. But linemen who can arrive quickly at the open spaces and lead the way are equally as important.

And so, according to the NFL's stats, the Eagles ran 107 times around the left end in 2011 - the most in the league. Their average gain was 6.31 yards, which was 11th in the NFL. Around the right end, the Eagles ran it 86 times - second-highest in the NFL. Their average gain, 6.29 yards, was third highest.

The second tight end is your friend.

When you look at how the Eagles attacked first-and-10 last season, you see that they most often did it with one back, one tight end and three wide receivers. Out of 442 first-and-10 plays, they did it that way 185 times. Their results were decent, average, 15th in the NFL.

But when they went to two tight ends and two wide receivers, they were the best first-and-10 team in the league. They gained 8.05 yards per play in that situation, more than 2 yards higher than the NFL average - and they were especially good at running the ball, which makes some sense.

It is a league of adjustments, though, and you wonder what the counter-move around the league might be.

Whither third-and-short?

There have been seasons when these situations have killed the Eagles. Even when it is better, the overall impression, still, is that they aren't nearly good enough at converting first downs in these chain-moving moments.

Two truths emerge when you look at the numbers, and they suggest how the league has evolved over the years.

First: On third-and-1, the Eagles were much better off running the ball than throwing it. They had the second-highest number of third-and-1 runs in the NFL last year, 24 out of 29 plays, and got the first down 71 percent of the time when they ran it compared to only 60 percent when they threw it.

Second: On third-and-2, it was the exact opposite. That is how pass-happy the NFL has become. The Eagles ran it only four out of 16 times on third-and-2, but they should have run it more. They converted 75 percent of the time when they ran it and 67 percent of the time when they threw it.

New rankings.

The NFL now keeps a stat for "net yards over average." It takes into account down, distance and field position and gives a player yardage credit every time he is on the field when his team outperforms the league average in a specific situation and subtracts yardage when his team underperforms. It is just a number, kind of a plus-minus on steroids (you should excuse the expression), but here goes.

At running back, LeSean McCoy was second in the NFL in 2011.

At quarterback, Michael Vick was fifth.

At wide receiver, Jeremy Maclin was ninth and DeSean Jackson was 12th.

At tight end, Brent Celek was fourth and Clay Harbor was 15th.

At guard, Evan Mathis was eighth and Danny Watkins was 19th.

At tackle, Todd Herremans was sixth and Jason Peters was 12th.

At center, Jason Kelce was third.

The calculation is limited in a lot of ways. Overall, it suggests the offense was really very good in 2011, and that the talent and scheme are in place - which is probably why the Eagles did everything they could to keep the group together during the offseason. Seeing as how the stat doesn't penalize a team for turnovers, it also suggests the root of whatever inconsistencies they experienced last year.


Contact Rich Hofmann at hofmanr@phillynew.com. Follow him on Twitter @theidlerich. Read his blog at philly.com/TheIdleRich, or for recent columns, go to philly.com/RichHofmann.

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