Eagles succeed by winning the turnover battle

Nick Foles looks downfield for an open receiver in Sunday's win over Washington.
Nick Foles looks downfield for an open receiver in Sunday's win over Washington. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: November 21, 2013

Chip Kelly rattled the number off the top of his head. He knew the exact turnover differential in the six games the Eagles have won - plus-10.

They are minus-6 in the games they've lost.

"There's a direct correlation between the turnover game," Kelly said. "That is the biggest thing for me."

In the team's three-game winning streak, the disparity has been even more evident. The Eagles are plus-5 in those games, with two takeaways in each game and just one lost fumble. Last season, the Eagles finished minus-24 in turnover differential during their free fall to a 4-12 finish.

A big reason for the decrease in turnovers this season is quarterback Nick Foles, who has been efficient and careful. The Eagles have played Foles, Michael Vick, and Matt Barkley at quarterback. Sample size and circumstances are different, but Foles has been considerably better at taking care of the ball.

Foles has one turnover in 349 plays. Barkley has four turnovers on 76 plays - 1 every 19 plays. Vick has five turnovers in 322 plays - 1 every 64 plays. Those numbers help explain why the Eagles are 4-1 with Foles as the starter, and why Foles is expected to remain No 1 when the Eagles return from their bye week.

"He's not turning the ball over, and that's huge for us," Kelly said.

Foles placed an emphasis this offseason on his decision-making. He analyzed the quarterbacks he considers the best in the NFL - Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Tom Brady - and noted how their decisions are a catalyst for their success.

"They will take shots when they can, but if they have something open short they are going to take it," Foles said. "And they are smart with the football and you don't want to put the football in harm's way."

Foles had more turnovers than touchdowns last season. He also committed costly turnovers in the preseason and lost the competition for the starting job to Vick.

Foles emphasized that a turnover is worse than a punt because it alters the momentum. It also has a noticeable effect on field position.

During the last three games, opponents have had 36 drives against the Eagles. Only one started in Eagles territory - the one that followed Foles' fumble against the Green Bay Packers.

The Eagles have displayed a bend-but-don't-break defense that allows the second-most yards per game in the NFL but ranks 15th in points allowed. That's because there are many yards they can allow before the end zone. In Washington's 12 drives on Sunday, the Redskins' average starting field position was the 20-yard line. Their best field position was the 39-yard line, and 10 of their 12 drives started at the 26 or worse.

Besides the drive that followed Foles' fumble against Green Bay, the Packers had an average starting field position at the 18.5-yard line and all nine drives began inside the 30.

In the Eagles' win in Oakland, the Raiders started 11 of 14 drives inside the 25-yard line and had an average starting field position at the 21.

"It's huge," Kelly said. ". . . No. 1, don't turn the ball over offensively. Obviously you give them a lot shorter field. If we don't convert offensively and we're in the situation where we have to punt, can we pin them deeper?"

The Eagles don't seem bothered by the perception that they bend without breaking.

Their defense has allowed 1,358 yards in the last three games (452.7 per game), but only 49 points (16.3 per game). The five touchdowns they have allowed required drives of 71, 80, 86, 80, and 88 yards. All Kelly cares about is the points, and defensive coordinator Bill Davis and his players say scoring defense is the metric that matters when evaluating his group.

"The statistical part, you're chewing on things I don't think you need to be chewing on," Kelly said. "You need to stop people from getting the ball in the end zone. And I think we're getting better at that. We can still do a better job of it, and I think we all know that."

Extra points

Quarterback Michael Vick (hamstring), cornerback Bradley Fletcher (pectoral), and linebacker Mychal Kendricks (knee) practiced on Tuesday. Safeties Earl Wolff and Colt Anderson both appeared to miss practice. Wolff has a knee injury, and Anderson injured his ankle in the last game.

Vick said he expects to be healthy for the Dec. 1 game against the Arizona Cardinals. Kendricks also said he would be ready to play against the Cardinals. Both missed the Washington game.

The team practiced for about 90 minutes. The Eagles will return to practice from their bye week on Tuesday.


BY THE NUMBERS

+10

The Eagles' turnover differential in six wins.

-6

Their turnover differential in five losses.


zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm

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