Naughty Nurse: Philadelphia Eagles haunted by cold sweats

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Apr 22, 2012



(Our Russian mail-order Naughty Nurse checks the statistical vital signs of each NFL team after each season. She breaks out her pigskin probe and uses her soothing, healing hands to take the temperature, and maybe a few liberties, with the Philadelphia Eagles. See her statistical analysis of other NFL teams here.)

By Adam Dobrowolski
Cold, Hard Football Facts Diagnostician
 
When the mainstream media replied to the self-proclaimed “Dream Team” label, a firestorm of hype built around the Philadelphia Eagles. However, by the time the 2011 NFL season was coming to an end, the dream resembled one of a 120-pound introvert hoping to land the Prom Queen – merely an exaggeration and illusion that vanished when it came time for the men to put their game on the line.
 
Five fourth-quarter blown leads made the Eagles, a team that actually looked rather appealing on paper, finish a meager 8-8. While they didn’t suffer through the same end-of-the-year tragedy that the Dallas Cowboys did, the Eagles made their bed by the time December rolled around.
 
The embarrassing fourth-quarter collapses include:
  • Week 2: Blowing a 10-point fourth quarter lead in a 35-31 loss at Atlanta, a game in which Michael Vick made his first start in Atlanta since serving time in jail and leading the Falcons
  • Week 3: Allowing two touchdowns from Eli Manning in a 29-16 at home to the eventual Super Bowl Champion New York Giants (Manning threw four touchdown passes in only 23 attempts)
  • Week 4: Blowing a 20-point second half lead (and six-point fourth quarter) lead at home against San Francisco, who spent a week away from California during a two-week East Coast trip
  • Week 9: Allowing 13 unanswered points (including 10 in the fourth quarter) in a 30-24 loss at home to Chicago on Monday Night Football
  • Week 10: Blowing two different fourth-quarter leads at home to the John Skelton-led Arizona Cardinals for the team’s fourth blown home loss in five games
Perhaps back-up QB Vince Young, the player who first heaped the label over the neck of the Eagles, didn’t realize that dream would become nightmare in last quarter of the REM cycle. Neither did he know it would recur enough times to send the all-hyped team on the golf links during the playoffs.
 
The 2011 storyline: The Eagles once again prove to fall short of Super Bowl expectations, this time with horrifically mediocre results. Michael Vick once again proves to be injury prone. Andy Reid once again gets a chance to stay as head coach, much to the chagrin of the Philadelphia fanbase. Vince Young once again proves to be a fool.
 
The Vital Signs
Coach (record): Andy Reid (126-81-1 with Eagles, 126-81-1 overall)
2011 record: 8-8 (24.8 PPG – 20.5 PPG)
Record against the spread: 8-8
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 1-4 (21.4 PPG – 27.2 PPG)
Record last five seasons: 46-33-1 (.581)
Best Quality Stat in 2011: Real Passing Yards per Attempt (8th); Defensive Hog Index (8th)
Worst Quality Stat in 2011: Passer Rating Differential (21st)

ALL QUALITY STATS
Overall QS SCOR BEND RPYPA DRPYPA QBR DQBR OPR DPR PRD OHI DHI REL
10 20 19 14 8 11 14 9 19 19 21 9 8 9
Overall = Overall position in Quality Stats Power Rankings; QS = Quality Standings; SCOR = Scoreability; BEND = Bendability; RPYPA = Real Passing Yards per Attempt; DRPYPA = Defensive Real Passing Yards Per Attempt; QBR = Real Quarterback Rating; DQBR = Defensive Real Quarterback Rating; OPR = Offensive Passer Rating; DPR = Defensive Passer Rating; PRD = Passer Rating Differential; OHI = Offensive Hog Index; DHI = Defensive Hog Index; REL = Relativity Index.
 
Statistical curiosity of 2011: Want to know the true difference that Nnamdi Asomugha provided in his first season in Philadelphia? Not much, really. Yes, the Eagles allowed four fewer touchdown passes, down from the alarming 31 in 2010. However, Philadelphia finished worse in Defensive Passer Rating (rising from 80.61 to 85.68). This result happened primarily because the Eagles couldn’t maintain their high takeaway total from 2010. The Eagles only intercepted 15 passes in 2011 after hauling in 23 a year earlier. At least one person got it right that Asomugha wouldn’t make a huge difference in his first season in Philly.
 
On the flip side, there was one good thing: Philadelphia allowed opponents to complete fewer than 60 percent their passes (58.1) for the second consecutive season.
 
Best game of 2011: 34-7 v.s Dallas Cowboys (Week 8). Philadelphia’s lone win against a Quality Team was a 17-10 victory at the New Meadowlands against the Giants in Week 11. However, a split between those two teams can be pretty much expected, especially when it involves the road team winning. Think about the best Eagles moments against the Giants: The Miracle at the Meadowlands, The Miracle at the New Meadowlands, Clyde Simmons’ blocked field goal return, Brian Westbrook’s season-saving punt return touchdown in 2003, and the 2008 NFC Divisional playoff victory. All of those moments happened in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Consider that victory simply a product of the rivalry.
 
Instead, this mid-season Sunday Night Football blowout victory over the Cowboys was nothing but sheer domination. Throughout the entire first half, the Philadelphia offensive line dominated what was at the time strong group of Defensive Hogs from Dallas. It certainly shut up notable overrated clown, Rob Ryan, who earlier in the year promised to beat the Eagles’ glutes.
 
At the time, it looked like that win would turn around Philadelphia’s fortunes, and finally get the nightmare to end and the team to begin. Instead, the Eagles lost four of their five to drop to 4-8 and effectively knock themselves out of legitimate playoff contention.
 
Worst game of 2011: 21-17 vs. Arizona Cardinals (Week 10). While it wasn’t made official until Week 16, this loss pretty much wrapped up any chances of making a run into the playoffs and beyond. In this game in particular, the Eagles were spotted an early 7-0 lead after Asante Samuel made a pick-six.
 
However, led by John Skelton of all Captain Comebacks, the Cardinals put together the stunning victory. That win broke an 11-game road losing streak, and gave Arizona its first win in the Eastern Time Zone since beating the 2-14 Lions in 2009.
 
Playoff hopefuls like the Eagles can’t allow inferior teams like the Cardinals to win on the road during what’s supposed to be their brunch hour (it was an 11 a.m. local start time in Arizona), especially when the loss drops the team to 3-6.
 
Strength: Positional coaching. Eagles fans found out very quickly why Jason Babin (pictured) was so eager to rejoin Jim Washburn, his defensive line coach in Tennessee. Washburn’s implementation of the “wide nine” on the defensive line exploits Babin’s pure pass rushing ability, which led the former first-rounder to a career-high 18.0 sacks and three forced fumbles. This performance followed previous career highs from 2010 under Washburn, 12.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
 
Meanwhile, Howard Mudd came out (a brief) retirement to coach the offensive line, and the unit subsequently made vast improvements by season’s end. Entering 2011, that part of the team was a liability, but it became a strength once Mudd got to work.
 
Unfortunately, the offensive line will miss Jason Peters this year, who suffered a ruptured Achilles’ tendon during a personal offseason workout. That may make Mudd’s challenge much tougher this year, but his track record in Indianapolis proves that he can make it work in the oft-injured Vick’s favor.
 
Weakness: Linebackers. Safety. The Eagles fans who truly follow the team’s roster will ask the same question nearly every year under Andy Reid: “Will they finally draft a good linebacker or safety?”
 
Since Brian Dawkins received a travel pass out of Philadelphia after the 2008 season, the Eagles have yet to recover at safety. No wonder the Eagles have allowed 85 touchdown passes over the last three seasons, tied for the most in the league in that span (with the Minnesota Vikings). Nate Allen already suffered an Achilles’ tendon rupture and torn patellar tendon in his first two years in the league. Quentin Mikell is no longer with the team. Kurt Coleman can only brag about a three-interception game against the lowly Washington Redskins. Jaiquawn Jarrett didn’t prove to be starter-ready as a rookie.
 
The complications aren’t much better at linebacker, as the Eagles relied on youth in recent years to get the job done. Perhaps it’s no surprise players like Keenan Clayton, Moise Fokou, Omar Gaither, Stewart Bradley, Akeem Jordan, Casey Matthews and Brian Rolle didn’t really work out together.
 
General off-season strategy/overview: The Eagles for years needed to get some standout at linebacker. At the least, it would help to stabilize the unit and provide some veteran experience to get some balance in the mix. That’s where the acquisition of DeMeco Ryans comes into play. Philadelphia only gave up a fourth-round pick (plus swapping third-round picks) to get Ryans, who was a standout with the Houston Texans before they switched to the 3-4 defense. He should provide great leadership at middle linebacker, and this move could be one of the quiet steals of the offseason.
 
However, the Eagles didn’t address its safety scenario in free agency. Perhaps they’ll find a standout safety in 2016, but now would be better. Unfortunately, safeties aren’t worth drafting in the first round, and they already drafted a safety in the second round in each of the last two years. That was another position, like linebacker, that needed a strong veteran addition. In fact, if they were able to grab a leader at safety, it could complete the secondary to become one of the best on paper.
 
For now, they’ll need to consider drafting an offensive tackle, considered the Eagles traded Winston Justice two weeks before Peters went down with injury. Of course, Philadelphia would be best off waiting for someone who fits the Mudd profile. Interior defensive line would also help.
 
Totally premature 2012 diagnosis: Perhaps in another statistical curiosity, the Eagles became the 13th team to go .500 or better with a turnover margin of -14 or worse. Of the first 12, only the 2004 Packers sported a worse turnover margin the following year. So that means the Eagles are guaranteed to play better, right? Well, not exactly. Only four teams improved their record the following year.
 
Fortunately, the Eagles scored 9.8 Pythagorean Wins, according to Pro Football Reference. That suggests the Eagles outplayed their record last year.
 
If the defense can cut down on blowing fourth-quarter leads and Michael Vick can stay healthy, this may be at least double-digit win team. The running game will be dynamic and dangerous with Vick and defending 20-touchdown running back LeSean McCoy. The passing game will also be explosive, with perennial playmaker DeSean Jackson. The pass rush will make plays with Washburn’s “wide nines.”
 
More or less, if this team can enjoy stability and consistency in 2012, a playoff berth seems to be a likely outcome.

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