The Eagles' struggles covering opposing tight ends have been well-documented, but with the Cowboys' Jason Witten coming to town this week, it's time to take a fresh look at the issue.*
Thanks to stats from Football Outsiders, we can confirm the impression that tight ends have success against this defense ...
... but really not more than "average" success, at least in DVOA terms. Slightly above average success against us last year, slightly below average this year.
(The scary number is the RB DVOA, a point to which we'll return in a bit.)
Meanwhile, our corners are absolutely pillaging opposing WR groups, with Joselio Hanson evidently in lockdown mode, despite the fact that every time I see him on the field someone's beating him in the middle. +
So part of the reason we look "bad" covering tight ends is because we're doing an evaluation in relative terms. Compared to how well we defend receivers, we're not as good in the middle of the field. (The Lions, on the other hand, would be thrilled with how "well" we defend tight ends.)
The other issue is that we don't, in real time, have the ability to think in DVOA terms. It's all cumulative results, which is where the next set of FO numbers comes in (same link as above):
DVOA tells us that tight ends have average success on a per-play basis -- but the cumulative stats tell us that tight ends are getting a lot of balls thrown their way, which means the numbers as a whole end up looking worse. In fact, no other defense in the league sees as many balls thrown to the tight end, and only Atlanta gives up more TE yards per game (80.6).
The question then becomes, is this a problem? Meh, it's not great, but I'm with Colin:
But the ranking against the #1 and #2 wide receivers needs to be taken into consideration when reviewing that data...cannot cover everybody, and personally I would rather teams try to beat them with the slowest receiver out there, because the other guys are blanketed.
The only time this really becomes an issue is if teams get into the red zone and we can't stop their tight ends even when we know where the ball is going.
For this week, the number I'm actually more concerned about is that atrocious RB DVOA figure above. Those can't all be missed Asante tackles, can they? Running backs are averaging almost 7.5 yards a pass attempt against us, after a consistent 5.4 the past two years.
With this guy coming to town this week, we might want to spend some time on that.
* That intro sounded great, didn't it? Very plausible. Now pretend it's true and I wrote this post because of that, not because a couple commenters kicked off the discussion on a previous post.
+ Although we do have an explanation for that, which is that you often see starting WRs moving inside against us. Joselio's given up some plays the past few weeks; he's also been matched up against Santana Moss and Vista version Steve Smith.