The main reason the Eagles Offense struggles in the first half

The Philadelphia Eagles Offense is on paper supposed to be one of the most explosive in the league. But in the opening four games of the 2015 season, it has yet to make an impact. In fact, it has yet to score a touchdown in the first half of a game..but why is it starting so slow?

There are a few factors that have contributed to the slow starts and a lot of them have been explained in detail when analysing the overall performance of the team so we won’t bore you with what you already know. We’re not going to say “Sam Bradford has struggled to warm up and complete passes early on” or “the lack of running game has cost the team” because it’s obvious..what we’re doing is looking at how the opposing team win the battle from the get go.

When you look back at the time of possession for the four games so far this season, the Eagles have had the Offense on the field for a combined total of 93.59 minutes. 94 minutes out of  240. Almost a third. It would be a lot less if it wasn’t for the added element of the running game against the Jets seeing them convert a few more third downs. To give this stat some context, here’s how the Eagles possession stat looked like through their first four games last year.

2015 first four games    DIFF           2014 first four games

24:23                          (-6.23)                     30:46
19:35                          (-4.10)                     23:45
31:49                           (-6.07)                     25:42
18:52                          ( + 1.09)                   17:43

So in comparison to last year, the Offense has actually been off the field for the equivalent of an entire quarter. But why? (Again without going into the things you already know)

The problem for the Eagles this year is that they like to get into shootout scenarios. The team are used to firing first, bringing up a quick stop and getting the opposing Defense back on the field to wear them down and shoot a wounded antelope to reap maximum benefits.

Why hasn’t this method worked this year? Because the Antelope knows that the Lion is coming. So instead of acknowledging its death is imminent and allowing the Lion to catch it..the Antelope out-manouvers the predator. How? By controlling the tempo of the game.

Chip Kelly’s Offense hasn’t converted on third downs. It’s a fact. Bradford has thrown too many incompletions early on, the receivers make easy picks and the running game is non existent. So when the Offense takes less than a minute to get on and off the field again, the opposing Offense then dictates the pace of the game to keep them off the field.

The Falcons didn’t really need to do it but did it unintentionally due to a mismatch with Julio, a shorthanded Dallas did it perfectly and a similarly shorthanded Washington followed suit. The Eagles run D is good. The Eagles Red Zone Defense is good. Their pass rush isn’t so good and their secondary whilst improved is still questionable. So with linebackers pouring towards the Quarterback and unable to make a play, this buys valuable time for the opposing team to throw a short pass over the top and turn it into big yards as there is nobody around to make the tackle until at least 5 yards have been picked up.

After a while against Washington, we began to see a pattern. A short run followed by an incomplete pass or a short yard gain and then a third down rush up the field to move the chains. It was the same outside attempts, the same Garcon reception and the same coverage being shown almost every time..it was too predictable. So when you know what’s coming, you’re able to plan around it.

Think about it from an opposing teams perspective.
Teams know Bradford lacks confidence and throws incompletions (until week 4)- blitz early on
Offensive line can’t hold- show pressure off the edge, blitz early on.
DeMarco Murray- As long as we hold this Offensive line there is no Demarco Murray
Receivers- double coverage, tendencies to drop passes and/or fumble. Bradford only targets 2-3 guys..take them out of the game.

What are you left with? A QB who has nowhere to go, nobody to throw to without risking an interception and a running game that won’t work. It wasn’t until week 4 that we finally saw some Offensive steam when Bradford caught Defenses by surprise and unleashed some deep passes.
It appears that as opposed to scoring, the opposing Offense’s biggest weapon has been keeping the Eagles Offense off the field and inadvertently playing them at their own game. Whilst not up tempo, the four teams have been able to mix up the plays to wear down the Eagles Defense and keep an inconsistent unit off the field for as long as possible.

Half the problem has come from opposing Offenses drawing out drives (just look at the 15 play final drive from Washington) to seal games and score and the other half has come from bad play calling on Philadelphia’s behalf. If your Offense finally gets back out onto the field after nearly an entire quarter, you want to keep the ball..not have a three and out in under a minute. The Offense is supposed to be attacking but if there is no flow there early on then they have to try something different..because that’s EXACTLY what opposing Offenses are doing and it’s working a treat.

It’s not that the Eagles are being outplayed as such…it’s almost as if they’re being out strategised. Chip Kelly failed to run down the clock despite having such a versatile backfield and it arguably cost them the game. That’s one unrelated example..but teams know how the Eagles like to attack..and a bullet can’t be fired if there’s nobody holding the gun….

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