NFL head coaches too frequently use their “gut” to make decisions, forgoing the numbers in favor of hunches. That can really hinder a team’s win probability over the long run, yet coaches continue to make game-planning and on-field choices as though they can somehow sense something the stats can’t.
It seems like that happens more often in division games than other matchups because coaches have a firm grasp on the opponent. They know their strengths and weaknesses, and the games often become a contest of forcing the opposition to continually convert a sub-optimal task (even more so than in other games).
But this Philadelphia Eagles team is a far cry from anything the Dallas Cowboys have ever faced. There’s no history to judge, no memories in the bank from which the coaches can inform their decisions. So this week, more than ever, the Cowboys need to understand the numbers.
Here’s how the Eagles are playing offense in 2013. . .
61.1: Eagles’ first down run rate in the first quarter
There’s little doubt that the Eagles want to run the ball. They do it a lot early in games, with the rate of first down runs decreasing as contests progress.
Some of that is probably due to game situations, but it’s still noteworthy. It will be interesting to see 1) how the Eagles’ run rate changes with Nick Foles at quarterback and 2) if the offense can be as efficient with Foles, instead of Michael Vick, running variations of the read-option.
8: DeSean Jackson’s red zone targets
Through six games, Jackson is leading the Eagles in red zone targets.
It’s never a good thing when a 5’10”, 175-pound receiver is leading your team in targets inside the 20. There’s an extremely strong correlation between height/weight and red zone efficiency, so it’s no surprise that Jackson has converted just one-fourth of his 2013 red zone targets into touchdowns.
Jackson also has a career red zone touchdown rate of just 12.7 percent, which is horrific. In comparison, Dez Bryant has converted five of his eight 2013 red zone targets into touchdowns and 19 of 45 (42.2 percent) during his career.
If the Eagles want to target Jackson in the red zone, the Cowboys should be more than happy to let that happen. He’s certainly a player to monitor between the 20s, but he should never see a double-team when the field is condensed.
20.5: Average length (yards) of Eagles’ touchdowns
Amazingly, the Eagles’ average touchdown has come a half-yard outside of the red zone, and they’ve scored over half of their offensive touchdowns outside the 20-yard line. They’re a highly explosive team built to score from anywhere on the field via both the pass and run.
In comparison, the average length of the Cowboys’ touchdowns is 13.1 yards—a number that’s inflated due to Terrance William’s 82-yard bomb. Below, you can really visualize the difference between the two offenses.
The Cowboys have only three touchdowns from outside the red zone. That’s not to say their offense is worse than Philly’s because red zone success is far more repeatable than the consistent creation of big plays. But the outcome of this game will very much be dictated by if the Eagles score from outside the 20-yard line (or how many times they do it).
17.6: Percentage of Eagles’ runs to the right edge
The Eagles run more to the right perimeter than anywhere else on the field.
For the most part, though, both the Eagles and Cowboys are pretty balanced in their run locations. The only reason to expect more Eagles runs to the left side of the offense is because Kyle Wilber will be lined up there on the majority of snaps. Left tackle Jason Peters on Wilber is a matchup the Eagles will likely try to exploit.