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October 02, 2017

Doug Pederson's offense is carrying Jim Schwartz's defense through time of possession

Back in the Chip Kelly days, if the Philadelphia Eagles were getting the football, you better not head to the bathroom for a pee break, or else you might return to see them punting after a quick three-and-out. Actually, on second thought, you were probably better off just missing it. 

In 2013, when Kelly's offense put up 442 points, fourth in the NFL, time of possession didn't matter so much. In 2014 and 2015, when his offense wasn't producing like it did in his rookie year as a head coach, it sure as hell did matter, as his defense was put in extremely compromised positions. Here were the Eagles' time of possession numbers from 2013 to 2015:

 YearT.O.P. NFL Rank 
 201326:24 32 
 201426:40 32 
 201526:06 32 

As you can see, Kelly's offenses ranked dead last in time of possession all three years of his tenure.

In 2016, Doug Pederson's Eagles led the NFL in time of possession, as they do through four games in 2017.

 YearT.O.P. NFL Rank 

While the 2016 Eagles are not the best example of time of possession correlating to overall team success, note that the five teams ranked immediately behind them last season all made the playoffs. They were the Cowboys, Raiders, Texans, Packers, and Patriots.

In 2017, the Eagles have possessed the football for almost 12 minutes more per game than their opponent, on average. Yet, Pederson says that the design of the offense isn't to just milk the clock.

"It's not a point of emphasis," he said. "I think that we're also one of the top offenses in three-and-outs, not having three-and-outs. And then our third down conversion rate has been good, and we've been able to stay on the field. All of that is a part of the time of possession. And then, of course, the run game, being patient there. Yesterday was an example. We got a few more chunk play runs, but at the same time it all kind of factors into time of possession."

Pederson is right:

Three-and-outs: On the season, the Eagles have gone three-and-out on just 6 out of 45 drives. That would be 13.3 percent. I can't find updated three and out stats for the 2017 season, but as a point of reference, the Atlanta Falcons led the NFL in lowest percentage of offensive three-and-outs last season, at 13.7 percent.

Third-down conversions: The Eagles are second in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage, at 50.8 percent, behind only the Carolina Panthers. The Eagles are first in total third-down conversions, with 30. They have also converted three of four fourth-down attempts, which certainly has helped their time of possession numbers as well. It's perhaps also noteworthy, that the Eagles have 96 total first downs this season, which is second only to the Patriots, who have 99.

Rushing attack: The Eagles are tied for third in the NFL with 143.0 rushing yards per game, and are tied for fourth with 4.7 yards per rush attempt.

At varying points this season, the Eagles have played without their starting stud DT (Fletcher Cox), their best linebacker (Jordan Hicks), their best cornerback (Ronald Darby), one of their starting safeties (Rodney McLeod), and some of the other depth pieces in the secondary and on the defensive line (Corey Graham, Jaylen Watkins, and Destiny Vaeao).

The Eagles' game-sealing, 13-play, 6:44-minute drive on Sunday against the Chargers bailed out an Eagles defense that was getting torched in the second half. At some point this season, Jim Schwartz's defense may have to carry Pederson's offense, but right now Pederson's offense is carrying Schwartz's defense.

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