Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles offense have been struggling to put points on the board through the first 5 weeks of the 2012 season.
The question is, why?
With the exception of left tackle Jason Peters, center Jason Kelce and a different full back, this is the same offensive unit that averaged almost 400 yards of offense and 24.8 points per game last year.
Through 5 games this season, the offense is averaging just 323.4 yards and a meager 16 points per game (which is good for 31st in the league).
Even with all the issues from last year, one area that never appeared to be a problem was with scoring points.
Furthermore, a weak defense was the primary reason for most of the woes last year, along with an offense that turned the ball over way too much. Well, so far this season, the offense is still turning the ball over but the defense has been much improved.
So, what gives?
Before I get into some stats, I wanted to list what I thought are some factors that could determine offensive success, then see how the Eagles’ offense compares for the first 5 games of this year through the first 5 games of last year.
Obvious factors would be loss of offensive talent, change in scheme, turnovers, penalties and facing better defenses. However, when considering those factors, there are no differences so far this season as compared to last year.
The first 5 teams the Eagles faced last year are arguably of the same caliber of defenses as the first 5 from this season (cumulatively). The offensive scheme is the same, turnovers and penalties appear roughly the same, and we could offset the loss of Peters and Kelce with the fact that last year’s OL featured 3 new starters (including 2 rookies) in the first year of a new OL scheme.
I decided to just use the first 5 games from last year in my comparison also because Andy Reid’s teams have historically always gotten better as the year goes. So anything from the second half of last year wouldn’t be a fair comparison to the beginning of this year.
With that said, I decided to just look at some of the raw offensive numbers per game between this year and last year (first 5 games), then look at any differences and see if anything can be derived from that.
Here are the stats…
- Yards per game 2011: 424. 2012: 323.4
- Yards passing per game 2011: 280. 2012: 251.2
- Yards rushing per game 2011: 165.6. 2012: 132.2
- Points per game 2011: 25. 2012: 16
- Yards per play 2011: 6.7. 2012: 5.1
- Turnovers in 2011: 15. 2012: 14
- Red zone turnovers 2011: 4. 2012: 4
- Penalties per game in 2011: 5.8 for 49.6 yards. 2012: 6.8 for 63.4 yards
- Time of possession in 2011 and 2012 we basically even at just over 30 minutes per game
- Defensive takeaways in 2011: 6. 2012: 7
- Points off of takeaways in 2011: 21 (spread across 3 games). 2012: 17 (14 in one game)
After looking at those numbers, is there anything that stands out to you? The key differences to me are the yards per play, rushing yards per game and points off of turnovers.
If you take away the Baltimore game this year, which is the one where the Eagles cashed in for 14 points off of 2 turnovers, the Eagles have only gotten 3 points off of their other 5 takeaways as compared to getting 21 points from their 6 takeaways at this point last year.
Turnovers are often key for the simple fact that they set the offense up with a short field and shift momentum. While this year’s defense has been playing much better and limiting the scoring of their opponents, they haven’t improved in the takeaway department yet.
Though the offense would certainly benefit from more takeaways by the defense, the more concerning problem right now is the offensive line.
The Eagles’ significantly lower yards per play and rushing yards per game indicate two things: lower level of play by the offensive line and the inability to hit on big plays.
Both of those issues could be related to the offensive line, although not being able to hit the big play can also be a result of Vick mis-firing a pass, not seeing the open guy or the receivers not getting open.
It’s most likely a combination of those factors. However, to better illustrate that point, check out Sheil Kapadia’s excellent All-22 film breakdown of the offense line’s performance against the Steelers last week.
Kapadia was able to show blatant mistakes (mental errors) in protection by the offensive line and how Vick either isn’t seeing open receivers or is not making quick enough decisions on throwing the ball.
Another thing to point to in regards to the offensive line is the number of sacks on Vick at this point in the season as compared to last year. So far this year, Vick has been sacked 14 times. Last year through 5 games he was sacked just 6 times, half of which occurred in Week 1, which means he was sacked just 3 times in the following 4 games.
I wish I could find an accurate stat that tracked how many hits a quarterback takes because I can almost guarantee you Vick has been hit significantly more so far this year as compared to last year at this time.
Advanced NFL Stats have Vick as taking 29 hits (tied for 2nd most in the NFL) so far this year and consequently the Eagles’ offensive line ranked as worst in the league. However, I think Vick has taken more than 29 hits this season.
He seemed to have been hit close to that many times in just the Arizona game alone.
Pro Football Focus has the Eagles’ pass-blocking graded at -10.1 and run-blocking graded at 12.6. In contrast, last season they had them at 15.6 and 48.7 respectively. That’s a drastic difference in play from the line.
Furthermore, the Eagles’ offense has been reduced to more “small ball” this year, most likely due to the problems on the offensive line. Martin Frank of the Courier Post wrote a good piece on this the other day.
In his article, Frank stated the following stats showing the differences in the Eagles’ scoring drives this year as compared to last year:
This season, the Eagles have needed drives consisting of 10 plays or more on 8 of their 16 scoring drives. Last year at this time, they only had 5 of 22 scoring drives take 10 plays or more.
Frank also points out that the Eagles have 23 “big plays” this year so far (plays of 20 yards or more) which puts them on pace for 74 for the season. Last year, they had 84.
Small-ball can work when you’re able to sustain it. It equates to longer, time-consuming drives and gives the defense a good rest while tiring out the opposing defense.
However, when it doesn’t work and you go 3-and-out too often, it has the opposite effect and deflates a team.
Andy Reid has always loved the big play as it’s been a trade-mark of his offense for years. There is only one reason the Eagles are dialing-back the big plays and that’s due to ineffective play from the offensive line.
And to boot, when you’re struggling in this capacity and you still have a penchant for turning the ball over, you’re really in trouble as an offense. The Eagles have the type of offense right now that cannot afford to turn the ball over.
Last year, and in previous years, their big-play offense could overcome turnovers because they could score quickly and from anywhere on the field. Now? Not so much.
Their 2-minute offense takes them about 8 minutes to run.
The good news is that the problems with the offensive line appear to be more mental errors rather than physical. Mental errors are correctable, physical problems are only corrected by getting new players.
Also, turnovers are correctable. Protect the damn ball!
Therefore, the problems on offense are all correctable issues. Hopefully the line will figure things out soon and correct their mistakes. Hopefully Vick buys some stick ‘em so he stops fumbling the damn ball.
If the offense can do those 2 things, they’ll be back to lighting up the scoreboard in no time.