Philly's Fast-Paced Offense May Be The Key To Divisional Dominance
By Frank Irving
Each team in the NFC East boasts a divisional crown within the past five seasons: the Giants in 2008, the Cowboys in 2009 and 2011, the Eagles in 2010 and the Redskins in 2012. In all but one of those seasons, the team that amassed the most total yards on offense captured the division title.
The NFC East's five-year benchmark for total team offense is just shy of 5,800 yards per season — about 362 yards per game. Division champ Washington exceeded that benchmark by about six percent in 2012, while last-place Philadelphia fell about two percent short of the standard.
Do the Eagles have reason to believe they can improve their performance in 2013? Yes, in part by speeding up the game and taking more snaps than their opponent each week. For instance, during the 2013 preseason, they ran 297 plays (74 per game) — the most among the 30 teams that played four games. In comparison, the Giants averaged 70 plays per game, the Redskins 66 and the Cowboys 60. The league average for the 2012 regular season was 64 plays per game.
If the Eagles can maintain that 74-play pace during the upcoming regular season, they'll add seven plays per game to their offensive output compared to 2012. Assuming Philadelphia can maintain its modest 5.3 yards per play average from last season, they would boost their total yards by 37 yards per game — an improvement of 592 yards over the course of 16 games. Their extrapolated total yards would be 6,255, or 124 more yards than the Redskins gained last year.
Granted, this is all based on a sample of four preseason games — more of a guess than a science — but that's the only measure we have so far in rookie coach Chip Kelly's pro career. The New England Patriots proved in 2013 that it's possible for an NFL team to average 74 snaps over an entire season.
Nonetheless, the Eagles must improve markedly in offensive efficiency if all those plays are to amount to anything. Last season, the Eagles ended drives with an offensive score only 30 percent of the time — that was worst in the NFC East (the Giants converted 44 percent, the Redskins 39 percent and the Cowboys 37 percent). Meanwhile, the Patriots converted on 48 percent of their drives.
Clearly, there's room for significant improvement in sustaining successful drives. However, the preseason showed some steps in the right direction in terms of moving the ball. The Eagles averaged 24 first downs per game in their tune-up games, second only to the Texans' 25 per game. The standard-bearer Patriots averaged 28 first downs per game during the 2012 regular season.