Better to be lucky than good? So far for the Eagles the answer has been yes
The Philadelphia Eagles have had a very interesting first 4 weeks of the season so far. The Eagles are 3-1 and depending on your line last week, either 3-1 or 2-2 ATS, while averaging 30.5 points per game, scoring 30, 30, 37 & 21 in the first 4. At first glance it appears the season is going the way last season went and the way many anticipated this season going. The defense is struggling again and forcing the team to win shootouts on the back of their offense but is that what has really happened? Below are the offensive numbers so far in 2014 compared to the 2013 number when the Eagles were one of the best offenses in the NFL.
While the Eagles are averaging 3 points more per game and scoring more efficiently, scoring a point for every 12 yards gained vs 15 last year, every key offensive metric is down and most are down dramatically. As an Eagles fan that watches every down its been really evident that the offense is not moving the ball nearly as well this season and there are 2 big reasons why.
- Injuries to offensive line: Last year the Eagles enjoyed a luxury that almost no NFL team did which was to have the same starting 5 on their O-Line all season long. The same talented group returned this year but the health hasn’t as pro bowl RG Evan Mathis was injured in the opener and put on IR designated to return. Star C Jason Kelce was injured early in week 3 and is expected to be out until week 10. To compound the impact of those injuries, starting RT Lane Johnson has missed the first 4 games due to suspension and his back up Matt Tobin was injured in week 1 as well. The injuries to the line have really derailed the Eagles run game which was the engine of the offense for Chip Kelly last year and used to set the passing game up. Almost 40% of 1st downs were run plays last year compared to 25% this year and overall run plays are down 10%.
2. Nick Foles is not playing well. While all his numbers are down so far from a year ago, it is more than just bad throws or throwing more interceptions. Nick Foles has missed a number of big plays either holding on to the ball too long and taking a sack or having happy feet and moving out when he didn’t need to leading. This fantastic article by Sheil Kapadia which looked at the All 22 tape from the Jags game in week 1 showed some of the missed opportunities and they are stunning. These missed opportunities continue to plague the Foles and the passing game. So how have the Eagles been lucky? Through 4 games the Eagles have scored 14 TDs but the offense has only scored 9 of them, the other 5 have come on a Fumble return, Int return, Punt return, kick-off return and blocked FG. Non offensive TD’s are generally pretty rare and extremely random, certainly not something that can be counted on unless you have a prime Devin Hester on your team. Below is the current offensive TD% and its clear how much of an outlier the Eagles are.
Last season only 2 teams were below 89% and only 1 below 87% in offensive TD% the KC Chiefs who were at 83% so we should expect the Eagles special teams and defensive TD’s to dry up and the Off% to increase. The Chiefs are an interesting case study in this as they bucked regression most of the year and managed to score non offensive TD last year at a pretty incredible rate, scoring 11 TDs on D/ST. It should be noted that they played a much easier schedule than the Eagles will this year and also that their defense was a much higher rated defense than the Eagles as well.
In the end, I think the Eagles reliance on non offensive TD’s will create some value in betting against them at least until the lines are adjusted to their lesser offense or until the issues on their offensive line are resolved and they are able to run the ball more effectively.
I do expect the Eagles to be a very good offensive team in the 2nd half when both Kelce and Mathis return from injuries but until then their will be opportunities to find value against them as the perception of them being an elite offense is not accurate so far.