Picking up from yesterday, after a minor detour to fix some stats issue identified by ATG ...
Time to talk about Donovan. Here are the numbers:
As we learned on Monday, presumably these are combined regular and postseason stats. And as before, the percentage columns allows us to better compare across seasons. (Touchdown and Interception percentages are per attempts; sack percentage is per attempts plus sacks.)
I thought we might actually see a more striking difference in terms of sack percentage. Overall, McNabb was much, much better about not taking sacks last year than he has been throughout his career:
His red zone numbers are in line with those full season numbers, but because he's typically been better about not taking sacks in the red zone, the RZ numbers don't change much.
The interception percentage is obviously also high. We're talking about uber-small sample sizes here, but still, it's more than you'd like to see. Especially because the team's total red zone interception number was five: three by McNabb, one by Kolb and one by DeSean Jackson. (The numbers above are just McNabb.)
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Just because I was curious, I ran some 2008 leaguewide numbers against each other:
I don't know enough about how they derive DVOA to say much about that, but it's at least somewhat interesting.
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So now that we've broken things down by unit, let's go drive by drive. Summary table of red zone results:
You'll note the numbers here don't exactly match the PFW numbers from above. I count 66 trips instead of 63 because of the two kneeldowns (which I'm guessing PFW smartly takes out of their comparative stats) and because Buckhalter had a touchdown run from the 20-yard-line. The FO stats consider that in the red zone, and I do too. But PFW doesn't, so they end up with 31 touchdowns in 63 trips.
It doesn't make a huge difference either way. If you add that touchdown into PFW's stats, the Eagles only go from 49.2 percent to 50.0 percent, moving them into a tie for 21st. But it does add a complicating factor as we compare stats within different datasets.
(Also, the "penalty" was a holding call that knocked them out of the red zone for good.)
A couple interesting things in that chart:
- The FGs as time expired. Both of these were late first half drives where the Eagles got the ball and raced down to the red zone to kick field goals on second down with almost no time left. Hard to criticize the offense for these.
- The two blocked field goals. Those just shouldn't happen in the red zone. Also can't blame the offense for an inability to convert 32- and 34-yard field goals.
- The five interceptions. Those were killers. Over 31 percent of the team's interceptions came on the 19 percent of plays in the red zone. (If you just count McNabb, it's about 19 percent for each.)
So how far off were the Eagles? Well, using the PFW numbers for leaguewide comparisons, to get to "average" in term of score percentage, they only need to convert one of those two blocked field goals. To become top 10, they need to make both the blocked field goals and then pick up 1.5 other scores.
The touchdown side is a little more difficult. They need two more touchdowns to get to average, five-and-a-half to eke into the top 10.
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As a side note, I have to say that after a week of staring at these numbers, the whole idea of the "red zone" is starting to seem awfully arbitrary. We're lumping together red zone possesions that start with second-and-six on the 17 with those that begin with first-and-goal on the eight. We count second-and-eight on the 19, but not first-and-10 on the 21, even though the latter is arguably a better situation.
All of which means that when we throw around these numbers, we're not really talking about red zone performance, but rather "red zone performance," where the phrase in quotes is something that tastes almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea a proxy for what we're really trying to measure.
Which isn't to say this stuff doesn't have value. The incredibly consistent decline of the team's "red zone performance" does not, after six years, seem random.
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So now the big question everyone wants to ask: Who's to blame?
First answer is that I stand by the Westbrook Theory. When you have a guy who makes up that big a portion of your offense, but isn't as effective down by the goal line (due to an overabundance of attention), it has to have an impact.
The second is receiving talent. Now that we have the corrected graphic from yesterday, let's put it up again:
We said yesterday that the goal is to score TDs 60 percent of the time in the red zone. With a 60/40 pass/run breakdown, that means you need to score passing TDs 36 percent of the time. The numbers above are coming up a little short.
I don't know how much we're going to be able to bump up the running back percentage. Teams are so keyed in on those guys down there -- especially Westbrook -- that it doesn't seem like a profitable way to go. That leaves tight end -- and we know those guys could be better -- and wide receiver ... which I think bleeds the discussion over into issue number three ...
... which would be Donovan McNabb. Don's a great quarterback, but it's fair to say his strength isn't making anticipatory throws on the money into tight spaces. That's fine when he's throwing to a big, physical guy like Terrell Owens or even Chad Lewis, but it doesn't work as well when he's supposed to throw a slant to Kevin Curtis. Take away the run threat and his big targets, and it's perhaps not surprising that he's struggled some.
The final explanation would of course be the playcalling. I understand the Eagles are keying off a defensive alignment when they audible to splits backs and run the shovel pass, but when a couple thousand fans are at home whispering "shovel, shovel, shovel," when it happens, you have to wonder how many surprises these guys still have in store. (And note, as always, that I think this is the least important factor.)
What that all means is that this season is shaping up to be a bit of a test. The run game should certainly be better (if the line gels, Weaver does well, Westbrook stays healthy and McCoy hangs on to the football), but the real test will likely come in the passing game.
If I'm wrong about McNabb, maybe we'll see Jackson, Curtis and Maclin jitterbugging all over the place and scoring tons of red zone touchdowns. If I'm right, the most important guys are going to be Brent Celek and Cornelius Ingram, two big bodies who can put themselves between McNabb and the defender and give him a backstop to throw into.
As with last year, I guess we'll see.