Nov 17, 2011, 2:09 PM EDT
Like statistics? Good, because here’s a stat for you: the Philadelphia Eagles are almost as likely to commit a turnover as they are to score a touchdown. Now what does it have to do with defense?
There are a few things we know for certain are true about the Eagles defense. They’ve blown five fourth-quarter leads this season, which is simply disgusting regardless of anything else. By any conventional measure, they’re not particularly good against the run, their 4.8 yards per carry allowed being the sixth-worst in the NFL. Oh, and their defensive coordinator was the offensive line coach the previous 13 years, and he has Jaiquawn Jarrett covering Larry Fitzgerald one-on-one when the game is on the line.
They’re also responsible for more than half of the team’s scoring the past two weeks. So why does it seem like the offense is still getting a pass?
There is no question this defense is not what it should be, but even though Castillo won’t work as a scapegoat for Andy Reid, he does seem to make a perfect human shield for Michael Vick. Since Vick had another one of those Superman performances against the Cowboys, where the Eagles were able to do whatever they wanted en route to scoring on their first six possessions, the offense has not been able to get it going the last two games.
Of the Eagles 41 points against Chicago and Arizona, the Eagles managed a meager 17 on conventional scoring drives starting from inside their own territory. The defense, however, provided a touchdown in both contests. Nnamdi Asomugha’s interception in the fourth quarter on Sunday put them in field goal range — a good thing, because the offense went three and out — and a fumble recovery on Monday Night Football set up a 33-yard LeSean McCoy touchdown jaunt.
In other words, the defense has actually been CARRYING the offense the past two weeks… and that’s only the beginning.
LOSING THE FIELD POSITION BATTLE
As if that weren’t enough, the offense sure made life difficult for their D against the Bears. Of the 30 points that were scored, only 10 were on possessions starting from further out than the Chicago 42-yard line — not to mention the seven DeSean Jackson essentially handed them with that fumble at his own nine.
What’s the point? When that 30 pops up on the scoreboard, it looks like the defense did a horrible job. The truth of the matter is, they were set up to fail.
All things being equal, it is the defense’s job to stop the opposing team from getting into the end zone no matter where the possession begins. However, it goes without saying that possessions beginning from the opponent’s own 40-yard line or closer have a much higher probability of producing points, particularly those that start within field goal range.
The Eagles have defended against 98 offensive series this season. 18 of those, or 18.4%, began at their opponent’s own 40 or better. How did the ball get there? The most common result is either via turnover, or the offense conceded the field position with a punt from deep inside their own zone. Those possessions account for 12 of all 33 scoring drives against the Eagles’ defense this season, or 36.4%.
To summarize, almost one in five times the defense walks on the field, they are starting with their backs against the wall. Meanwhile, over one-third of all scoring against the Eagles occurred under these circumstances.
45 total drives, or 45.9%, began between the opponents’ 20- and 39-yard lines, accounting for 48.5% of all scoring drives. That equates to a 35.6% success rate inside the typical starting point, which admittedly is not great, but still almost twice as good as the 66.7% success rate from the 40 on. For comparison’s sake, the other 33.7% of drives that began inside the opponents’ own 20 have a much lower 15.2% success rate. The defense is almost twice as likely to create a turnover, and it’s nearly four-times as likely they will force a punt from that distance.
One more time, the breakdown:
… from drives starting between the opponents’ 20-39: 48.5%
… from drives starting at the opponents’ 40 or closer: 36.4%
The Bears game is one example of where field position did a number on the Eagles’ chances, but the same thing happened in Atlanta back in Week 2. Three out of the five touchdowns the Falcons scored actually started in Philadelphia territory, at the 38, 24, and 49 respectively. The defense is ultimately accountable for allowing 65 points between these two opponents, but the offense should actually share some of the blame for at least 41 of them.
But wait, there’s more!
COMING UP SHORT
So the defense is getting the short end of the stick. Big deal. They’re still not very good. The Eagles had leads in five of these games.
Let’s talk about turnovers. We all know what those are, and they are very, very bad. They kill drives, and as we just revealed, can give away field position. Looking at it from another point of view though, they have also taken a consequential number of points away from the offense in 2011.
The Eagles have 21 turnovers this season, which out of 97 total possessions means they’ve given it away 21.6% of the time. Now, we can’t assume they would have scored on all 21 drives, since they only come away with points 38.1% of their possessions. However, nearly one-third of those turnovers we can state pretty emphatically that, yes, they should have scored.
Seven is the number of turnovers the Eagles committed from inside the red zone, or one-third of all turnovers, and 7.2% of all possessions. That means seven times when they were all but assured of netting at least three points, they gave the ball away without scoring any. Even if we were to assume three is all they got, that’s 21 points they left on the field… but hold the phone. They didn’t merely lose 21 points — three of those turnovers went for 17 points the other way, causing the total point swing to be closer to 38.
Not only are they fortunate to have only allowed 17 points off red zone turnovers, we are being generous in saying they only erased 21 from their own pocket. These aren’t meaningless, either. For instance, three points instead of Ronnie Brown’s backward-pass fumble would have made the difference against the 49ers. These plays add up.
There’s another type of turnover most people aren’t even talking about — turnovers on downs. Another seven Eagles drives ended from their failure to convert on fourth down. On the season, they are 5-for-12. Only three teams have gone for it as many or more times, and none has a lower rate of conversion.
When you add it all up, the Eagles are almost giving the ball away as often as they score. 22.7% of drives end with a touchdown, while 21.6% end with a turnover. 38.1% end with some type of scoring play, and 28.9% end with the offense giving the ball back without so much as a field goal try or punt. It’s not just inconsistent. It’s completely inefficient.
All told, opponents have scored 56 points off of interceptions and fumble recoveries, which accounts for 27.6% of all scoring against the Birds this year. We’re at the home stretch.
LOOKING AT IT PLAINLY
13, 35, 29, 24, 24, 13, 7, 30, 21 — these are the total number of points the Eagles defense gave up in every game this season. The only games they’ve won all season are where the defense held the opponent to 13 or less.
Think about that for a second. Even if the defense is terrible, this means their offense hasn’t outscored anybody in a tough game all year. The offense that’s third in the NFL in yards per game, and returned all their starting skill position players from last season, hasn’t been able to go out and
simply put more points on the board than the other team to put themselves in a position where the defense couldn’t possibly let them down.
And these aren’t all extremely high totals. 35, 29, and 30 are on the larger end, but 46 points off turnovers were scored in those three contests alone versus the Falcons, Giants, and Bears. The rest of them — 24, 24, and 21 — two of those were against the 22nd and 23rd ranked defense in the league! The Eagles couldn’t manage more than three touchdowns against any of them?
At least the defense has an excuse. They have a new defensive coordinator, who may very well be as incompetent as his press clippings would indicate, not to mention six new starters. They tried to throw this collection of new coaches, free agents, and inexperienced players into a blender during a shortened off-season, and it’s certainly shown.
What’s the offense’s excuse? Okay, play calling has been curious at times, never moreso than on Sunday against the Cardinals, when LeSean McCoy had 14 carries while Vick struggled mightily. I agree, that doesn’t make sense.
When has Vick carried this club on his back this season though? When has the passing game functioned properly at all? When have these star receivers produced in the clutch? When has the offense been able to get one or two yards when they needed it most?
The only thing more brutal than watching this season go up in smoke is knowing that the explanations for why this is happening don’t make much sense. Yes, the defense hasn’t been able to secure leads — but how many times should they have actually been counted on to do so, knowing the offense basically has been pissing into the wind?
The defense isn’t good. The offense is the reason the Eagles are 3-6.
* All mentions of “possessions” only counts possessions where the offense would attempt and legitimately could be expected to score. Any possession that ends with a kneel down, or where the distance to be traveled to get into a scoring position was highly unlikely with the given time remaining on the clock, were not counted. All facts and figures regarding possessions compiled by the author.
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