January 04, 2017
Over the last two weeks, we've taken a look at the Eagles' players and determined if we think they should stay or go in 2017. Today we'll turn to the leaders of the offense and defense, head coach Doug Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
In case you missed our previous positional previews:
Quarterbacks | Running backs | Wide receivers | Tight ends
Offensive tackles | Guards | Centers | Defensive ends | Defensive tackles
Outside linebackers | Inside linebackers | Cornerbacks | Safeties | Specialists
We essentially already covered whether we think Pederson should return, when we answered the question that was being posed on local radio stations, "Should the Eagles fire Doug Pederson?"
Pederson guided an offense that was 18th in the league both in yards per drive and points per drive, despite heading into the season with a rookie quarterback, a group of offensive skill position players that are bottom-five in the NFL, and an offensive line that was so jumbled that five different players had to play right tackle at some point during the season. That's encouraging.
We also felt that while Pederson was far from perfect, criticism of his play calling was often absurdly nitpicky or classic "hindsight analysis."
We concluded that the Eagles would be wise to allow Pederson, offensive coordinator Frank Reich, and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo to continue to work with Carson Wentz for a full offseason to allow for his continued progression as an NFL quarterback.
The reality is that Wentz is really the person that matters the most, and a coaching change could stunt his growth. If after the 2017 season, the Eagles haven't shown significant improvement, then this discussion will have more merit. Barring some sort of amazing coach magically becoming available and banging down the Eagles' door begging to coach the team, Doug Pederson isn't going anywhere just yet, and any suggestion that he should after just one season is asinine.
There were times this season when the Eagles' defense looked like a dominant unit. For example, the Eagles held arguably the best offense in the NFL, the Atlanta Falcons, to 15 points Week 10. Atlanta's next lowest point total on the season was 23 against the Denver Broncos. Or how about when the Eagles stomped all over the Pittsburgh Steelers, holding arguably the best offense in the league in 2015 to just three points? Or the time they beat up on Sam Bradford non-stop for four quarters?
And then there were the bad games. The Redskins' offensive line bulldozed the Eagles' front to the tune of 230 rushing yards back in Week 6. Or against the Packers, when Green Bay really only had six drives, scoring on five of them, and averaging a soul-crushing 11 plays per drive. Or in Week 13, when the Bengals' first six drives went like this: FG, TD, FG, TD, TD, FG.
Schwartz even acknowledged the inconsistency after the Bengals game.
"You know, for nine weeks you probably could not mention best defenses in the NFL without mentioning the Eagles," he said after the loss to the Bengals. "The last three, you probably can't mention worst defenses in the NFL without mentioning the Eagles."
On the whole, compared to the rest of the NFL, the Eagles' defense was an above average unit. It was the inconsistency from week-to-week that separated them from the best defenses in the league.
Nevertheless, there was significant improvement from a year ago. Heading into the season, it was a given that the Eagles were likely to improve dramatically from 2015, when the Eagles were 30th in yards allowed and 28th in points allowed, partly because Chip Kelly's fast-paced offense put the Eagles defense on the field far more than normal. In 2016, the Eagles were 13th in yards allowed and 12th in points allowed, which on the surface appears to be a major improvement.
During the Chip Kelly era, I liked to use "per drive" stats as a more fair comparison for the Eagles' offensive and defensive units when compared to the rest of the league. By "per drive," I mean "points per drive" and "yards per drive." Because Chip Kelly ran an up-tempo offense, his offense had far more drives per game than the typical NFL team, while his defenses faced more drives than normal. As a result, the more traditional "per game" stats were wildly skewed favorably for his offense, and negatively for his defense, simply because there were more chances for his offense (as well as the opposing offense) to put up gaudy numbers.
For the last three seasons, defensive coordinator Billy Davis was put in an unwinnable situation. The Eagles' defense was dead down the stretch in 2015, as they faced 1148 snaps on the season. In 2016, by comparison, the Eagles' defense faced 978 snaps. That's a difference of 170, or almost the equivalent of three games' worth of snaps.
Still, even if you go by "per drive" stats instead of "per game" stats, Schwartz's defense was much better. Here's a comparison of Davis' "per drive" NFL ranking in 2015 vs. Schwartz's "per drive" NFL ranking in 2016:
No matter how you slice it, Schwartz's 4-3 attack-style defense was significantly better across the board than Davis' 3-4, two-gapping read-and-react defense.
If there is one area where Schwartz's defense needs major improvement heading into 2017, it's big plays allowed. In 2016, the Eagles' defense gave up 57 pass plays of 20+ yards, which was sixth-worst in the NFL. They also gave up 13 plays of 40+ yards, which was tied for third-worst. Part of that is on Schwartz; part of it is on the Eagles' corners, where the Eagles will look to upgrade for the 87th consecutive year (or at least it feels that way).
Assuming he doesn't land a head coaching job somewhere, which is not anticipated, Schwartz will absolutely be back in 2017.
Green = Stay
Orange = No need to release before training camp, but ideally the Eagles will have found an upgrade
Red = Go