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January 15, 2015

Where the Eagles' season went wrong, part V: Lack of explosive plays

Birds' big plays down nearly 25 percent in 2014

In 2013, the Eagles set a new all-time NFL record with 99 plays of 20+ yards. It's a statistic the NFL has been tracking since 1991, and when you think about the number of prolific offenses that have been around since then, what the Eagles accomplished offensively in 2013 seems all the more impressive. The "Run and Shoot" Oilers of the early 90's, the "K-Gun" Bills under Jim Kelly, the Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf," Peyton Manning's teams both in Indianapolis and Denver, the undefeated Patriots, the Randy Moss / Cris Carter Vikings, and the Packers and Saints offenses under Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees all come to mind.

In 2014, however, the Eagles were less explosive. On the season, the they had 75 plays of 20+ yards, which is still a high number compared to other NFL teams, but not near what they were able to do in Chip Kelly's first year with the team.

Since Kelly's offense came to Philly, the Eagles have scored fast. In 2013, the time of possession on Eagles TD drives, on average, was just 2:08. The next closest team was at 2:32. The 2014 Eagles averaged 2:38 of time of possession per TD drive, which again, is still fast, but not as lightning fast as they were in Kelly's first year.

There's more: 

  1. In 2013, the Eagles had 27 TD drives that took less than two minutes. In 2014, they only had 16.
  2. In 2013, the Eagles had 51 offensive TD drives. In 2014, they had 43.
  3. In 2013 they had 23 plays of 40+ yards. In 2014, they had 15.

The Eagles' "big play" stats in 2014, without context, seem good.  2:38 per time of possession, 16 drives of less then two minutes, 43 TD drives, 15 plays of 40+ yards -- all good. 

The trade-off with Kelly's fast paced offense, however, is that when they don't score, three-and-outs and other short drives happen very fast too. As a result, the Eagles defense had to face more snaps (2263) against them on defense the last two seasons than any other team in the NFL. By comparison, the NFL league average over the last two years is 2065 snaps. The difference of roughly 200 snaps between the Eagles the rest of the league equates to over three games' worth of snaps.

In other words, for that trade-off to work, the Eagles better be explosive, and they weren't "explosive enough." In fact, they were less explosive this season than their opponents:

20+ play differential

Last offseason, the Eagles cut a fellow by the name of DeSean Jackson, who was a prolific big play threat. Jackson had more than a quarter of the Eagles' 99 plays of 20+ yards in 2013, with 25. In fact, on drives in which Jackson had a 20+ yard reception, the Eagles eventually scored 17 TDs, seven FGs, and missed two FG attempts, for a total of 141 points. The Eagles scored 30.3% of their total points last season on drives in which Jackson made an explosive play.

In 2014, Jackson led the NFL with 13 receptions of 40+ yards, the same number as the Eagles' entire team.

There are certainly other reasons the Eagles' offense struggled in 2014, like bad QB play and a banged up OL. Still, while the not-so-quantifiable merit of getting DeSean Jackson out of the locker room may have improved the team's #culture, they sure as hell missed his big play ability on the field.

Where the Eagles' season went wrong five-part series:

  1. Part I: Turnovers
  2. Part II: Big plays allowed
  3. Part III: OL continuity
  4. Part IV: Bad QB play

Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski