Welcome to another installment of Crunching The Numbers, a weekly, stats-based game preview I do for Bleeding Green Nation. For more about the stats I use (and why I use them) to make my “armchair coach” observations, check out an archive of previous posts in this series here.
Week 8 In Hindsight (Plus Golden Tate)
I’ll only cover my thoughts on the London game briefly since it’s old news. My biggest take was that I felt Doug needed to try and incorporate more big plays into the offensive gameplan. They accomplished this, as the Eagles had at least 5 plays that went for 30 yards or more. The defense also did a good job not allowing Bortles to build confidence and burn them deep, as he stuck to short and intermediate passes all day.
Of course, it was not all sunshine and roses. The defense gave up three consecutive scoring drives after the Eagles took a 12-point lead in the second half, and the offense tried hard to lose the game on an almost-fumble (I’m actually surprised that the call was reversed). This team is still struggling to put games away – save the Giants – and that’s something they’ll need to fix coming out of the bye if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive. I will say it was nice to see the defense get a fourth down stop for once, but again they won’t have the luxury of facing a Bortles-led offense every week. Drew Brees and Todd Gurley will convert those 4th-and-2s every day of the week and twice on Sundays.
In more relevant news, the Eagles traded for Golden Tate last week at the deadline. At first, I wasn’t crazy about the move, and I originally assumed that the Eagles must have also received a late-round pick when I heard the report – there was no way it was just a third for Tate, straight up. But of course it was just that, which to me seemed way too steep for a 30-year-old wide receiver that might be gone in March.
But after hearing more about just how good Golden Tate is (and reading about his remarks at his press conference), I’ve warmed up to the move. Howie has a clear strategy of “win another Super Bowl before I have to give Wentz the farm,” and Tate is the kind of guy you want on your team to achieve that goal. It’s really hard to win in this league, so aggressive moves like this are necessary to compete in the short term. I think it’s fair to question Howie’s overall approach – especially his new fondness for “kicking the can down the road” a la Jerry Jones – and that probably deserves its own post (spoiler: I’m not the biggest fan). But in the context of this season, trading a third for a player of Golden Tate’s caliber is a slam-dunk move that you make every time it’s offered.
But what about the team that Tate torched a few weeks ago, the Dallas Cowboys? Wonder no more, as we’re getting into my game preview! Bold-faced statistics indicate that team has the advantage, while numbers in parenthesis are the league rank.
Game Preview: Dallas Cowboys
The Eagles are 4-4 and the Cowboys are 3-5, both of which seem like appropriate records considering the statistics above. Neither team is bad, they’re just mediocre. I wouldn’t be surprised if the final score next Sunday is 17-10. But what can the Eagles do to make sure they’re on the winning side of that final?
There is only one notable statistic that sticks out for the Cowboys, and that is their impressive SACK% (8.42), good for fifth in the league. The Eagles would be wise to do what they can to neutralize the pass rush, whether that be by screen passes, pounding the rock, quick passing, bootlegs, or a combination of all four. I think this would be a good game to temporarily reduce Wendell Smallwood’s role in the offense (especially if Sproles is finally able to come back) since he is absolutely atrocious in pass protection.
The Cowboys’ defense lives and dies off turnovers, and the Eagles will play right into their hands if they’re not careful. The offense has struggled to protect the ball and Wentz has had a bad case of fumblitis all season. Mitigating the impact of the pass rush will help with this, but they could adopt a two-pronged attack by taking shots deep to keep the defense honest. The Dallas secondary, while not awful, can be exposed, as demonstrated by the milquetoast Marcus Mariota last Monday. The Eagles could also look to create big plays by setting up wide receiver and tight end screens, which would be an easy way to get YAC master Golden Tate involved early, especially since it is unlikely he has a full grasp of the playbook just yet.
The Cowboys are 25th in the league in TOP, indicating that in spite of having one of the best running backs in the game they are unable methodically move the ball and control the clock. The Eagles should focus pressuring a banged up Cowboys offensive line. If the Eagles blitz, they should blitz from the edge in order to keep contain. Pressure up the middle isn’t exactly helpful if a struggling Prescott can just flip the ball to Ezekiel Elliott for an easy four or five yards. I’d like to see some safety blitzes in particular considering how well Jenkins and Maddox are playing right now.
Additionally, I think the Eagles can afford to stack the box against the Cowboys in order to slow down Elliott. The secondary has been burned all year, yes, but Prescott’s abysmal 6.3 Y/PA (25th in the league) demonstrates a complete incapability to push the ball deep. Similar to the Giants game, any steady production on offense is going to come from the running back position, so the Eagles should primarily shut down the run game and essentially challenge Prescott to beat them on the big play. The Eagles have done a decent job this season managing receiving corps that lack true star power at the position. In spite of their logo, this holds true for the Cowboys as well, Amari Cooper’s presence notwithstanding. Let them show that they can complete the deep ball before taking the emphasis off the run.
With the Redskins dropping to 5-3 after being embarrassed at home by the Falcons on Sunday, the NFC East is available to be won by the team that decides they kinda sorta wanna make the playoffs (except for the Giants). Doug has done a great job in his three years of getting the team to compete in spite of circumstances, and I expect the back half of 2018 to be no different. It sucks that a first round bye and homefield advantage – once the goal entering the season – are all but off the table, but getting back to the playoffs would go a long way to showing that this team is here to compete year after year. (Remember, the burgeoning New England Patriots missed the playoffs in 2002, the year after their first Super Bowl win.) They have a lot of work to do before they can say they’re ready to hang tough with the other 2018 heavyweights this season, but in a middling NFC East they are primed to right the ship after the bye and make a run to playing meaningful football in January.