Eagle-Eye analytics: Eagles vs Dolphins preseason week 3

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Location: Lincoln Financial Field – Philadelphia, PA

When: Thusday, August 24th, 2017

Time: 7:00 PM ET

The Eagles are set to play their third preseason game of the year against the Dolphins, following a week of joint practices with the team. The third preseason game often times serves as a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the starters, and for the Eagles, it should be no different. While of course the Eagles won’t plan on showing too much, it will still be nice to see the first-team offense and defense play extended minutes.

I want to see the Eagles’ offense establish an identity, particularly on the ground. In addition, I’m really anticipating seeing the Eagles’ first-team defense play substantial minutes. The unit has looked superb during their brief stints in the first two preseason games. Here’s to hoping they continue that trend.

REPORT CARDS:

The grading scale grades teams based on their overall league rank in the four (4) following categories:

1) Points Per Game

2) Yards Per Game

3) Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA): This is a method of evaluating a team’s efficiency. It takes every single play during the NFL season and compares each one to a league-average baseline based on situation. You can read more about it here:

http://www.footballoutsiders.com/info/methods

4) Weighted Offense/Defense: Weighted Offense/Defense is adjusted so that earlier games in the season become gradually less important. It better reflects how the team was playing at the end of the season.

MATCHUP: EAGLES DOLPHINS

2016 REPORT CARD: DOLPHINS’ OFFENSE

Points Per Game: C

Yards Per Game: D

Defense-adjusted Value Over Average: C+

Weighted Offense: B

Overall Offense: C

The Fins’ offense earned a ‘C’ overall grade in 2016. Although Miami was roughly average in terms of PPG, YPG, and DVOA, one thing I would like to point out is, notice the ‘B’ grade in Weighted Offense. As Miami’s season progressed, the club leaned more and more on RB Jay Ajayi. This in itself led to the offense being more efficient as a whole, and thus, led to the team playing better late in the season. After the offense found its groove, the Fins made a strong push and earned themselves the right to play on into the post-season. Although they did lose to the Steelers in the Wildcard game, Miami seemed like a team that was competitive once again.

Heading into 2017, the Dolphins had reason for optimism. That is, until, Franchise QB Ryan Tannehill tore his ACL in the offseason. Now, with Jay Cutler at the helm, what can we make of this Dolphins’ offense?

On paper, at least, it looks as though the offense should perform similarly. With stud WRs Stills, Parker, and Landry, and of course, newly-found workhorse Jay Ajayi, Cutler shouldn’t have to do too much for their offense to remain competitive. I think there has always been an under-lying notion that Tannehill has under achieved as Miami’s QB, so the drop off between him and Cutler, I would expect, will not be of a large margin. As this team showed last year, they have entered a window of competiveness. With all of the weapons Miami has on offense, Cutler will have plenty of chances to, well, take plenty of chances.

While Cutler will always be known as a gunslinger, the Fins are a border-line playoff team ready to win now, and Cutler’s erratic style of play could be a detriment to that. I look for Cutler to be more of a game-manager this year, than he has been in seasons past.

Although a preseason game, it is the third preseason game, and the starters will play more than they do in the other games. While both squads will run a lot of ‘vanilla’ concepts, it will still be interesting to see the starters for both sides for roughly two-three quarters attempt to build momentum and string together multiple series.

In every one of the above categories, the Eagles’ defense out-performed the Dolphins’ offense in 2016. As we discussed earlier, the Dolphins’ offense, I would assume, should operate similarly in 2017. That being said, it wouldn’t be right to downplay them losing Tannehill. The Dolphins’ offense lost their franchise QB, and the Eagles’ defense seemingly has improved across the board. I like the Eagles’ matchup here.

While I was really impressed with the way Miami’s offense progressed last year, and the momentum the team had built throughout the year, the loss of their franchise QB will be tough to overcome – one would think.

 

2016 REPORT CARD: DOLPHINS’ DEFENSE

Points Per Game (Allowed): C-

Yards Per Game (Allowed): F

Defense-adjusted Value Over Average: C-

Weighted Defense: D+

Overall Defense: D+

To put it simply, the Dolphins’ defense did not play very well last year. I like their roughly-average grades in PPG and DVOA – indicating play-by-play efficiency; however, the defense gave up massive amounts of yards. In addition, while their counterparts on offense were playing better later in the season, the same can’t be said of the defense.

Even though they are near the league bottom in YPG allowed, I think the team’s ‘C-‘ DVOA rating indicates that the Fins’ defense was able to somewhat hold its own in important situations. Additionally, their ‘C-‘grade in PPG allowed may very well be tied to that ability to be efficient in important game situations. If the Dolphins’ defense can eliminate some of the huge chunk yardage they tend to give up, they will be one step closer to being an above-average unit, instead of a below-average one.

This seems to be a really interesting matchup on paper. With the Dolphins’ D and Eagles’ O both earning ‘D+’ overall grades in 2016.

Now, initially at least, I was anticipating a good year from the Dolphins prior to Tannehill’s season-ending injury. With that said, I do still expect a very similar year. While I think their defense will be ‘better’ this year, in the end, the defense’s performance is intimately related to the offense’s efficiency. If Cutler and the offense consistently turns the ball over, and/or can’t sustain drives, it’s going to put this defense to the test.

 

SPOTLIGHT: BYRON MAXWELL

Good, bad, or indifferent? It seems like Byron Maxwell has, at least at one point in his career, fit all three of those bills.

Ironically, his best overall grade here comes during the 2015 season, in which he played for the Eagles. Yes – no need to remind me – I remember how bad he was here in Philly. I really do. But I wonder how much of that had to do with his talent, vs other factors such as: scheme, pass rush, surrounding talent, Chip Kelly drama, etc. Quite frankly, though, the only reason his top-graded season came in 2015 is because his tackling grade was much higher that year than in others.

Despite the lackluster tackling grades, Maxwell, throughout his career, has performed near the top of the league at his position in PBUs and in INTs.

Although it seems Maxwell feels slighted by the Eagles for moving him, the trade sending him and Alonso to Miami has worked out quite well for both teams.

 

SPOTLIGHT: KIKO ALONSO

Kiko Alonso absolutely burst onto the scene as a rookie with Buffalo, compiling 159 total tackles, 2 sacks, 5 PBUs, 1 FF, and 4 INTs. Unfortunately, however, Alonso missed the entire 2014 season after tearing his ACL.

Alonso’s 2014 injury led to the LB being available for trade, and the Eagles pounced at the opportunity to grab such a young, rangy linebacker. While his redemption season in Philly started off on the right foot, injuries plagued Alonso yet again – this time throughout much of the 2015 season.

This, again, led to Alonso being put on the trade block. The Eagles were able to move Maxwell (and his contract) and Alonso to Miami, and in doing so, exchanged their 15th overall pick for the 8th pick that year. As we all know, the team was able to then trade up from the 8th pick to the 2nd pick to select QB Carson Wentz.

Kiko’s first season in Miami was actually pretty good. Although he received an overall grade of ‘B-‘for 2016, that grade is somewhat weighed down by his low sack total. Alonso ranked near the top of the league in tackles and interceptions for LBs.

Both Maxwell and Alonso seem to be playing well in their new home. I for one, am excited to see them against this current Eagles’ squad.

 

SPOTLIGHT: MYCHAL KENDRICKS

Ah, Mychal Kendricks – the player it seems every year is being discussed in trade talks. Yet here we are, heading into the 6th season of his career, and he remains with the Birds.

It’s easy to see the dip in production he experienced in 2016. Kendricks, a starting-caliber LB, was only on the field for roughly 20-25% of the defensive snaps last year. While likely unsettling for him, that is the nature of today’s pass-happy NFL. Teams today often employ more defensive backs to counter the various 3 and 4 WR sets that dominate the league. For all linebackers, and for Kendricks specifically, snaps are becoming harder to come by.

I wanted to spotlight Kendricks for a couple reasons:

  1. The guy has played wonderfully during the first two preseason games. He seemed to always be around the ball, and showed his knack for making big plays.
  1. Kendricks has been a pro’s pro about everything. Even after requesting a trade due to being frustrated with his diminished role on the team, he still shows up to work each day and doesn’t complain.

I think it was a subtle, yet classy move by the Eagles, who, really let Mychal attack during the first two preseason games – which is when he’s at his best. He put some nice plays on film for other teams seeking LB help, and week 3 against Miami should provide him with yet another opportunity to do the same.

It was the least the Eagles could do for Kendricks, who has been a solid contributor for this team during each of his seasons in the league. At this point, it seems to be less of an “if” and more of a “when”, in terms of the Eagles moving on from Kendricks. Nonetheless, I’m excited to see him play against the Dolphins this week.

 

PRO FOOTBALL FOCUS MENTIONS:

Steven Means has continued to shine, after making a name for himself last year. PFF awarded him their game ball against Buffalo, and subsequently named him to their Preseason Week 2 Team of the Week.

As much as I want to say preseason doesn’t matter, Fletcher Cox is just too good to ignore. I’m excited to see him and the rest of the D-line in extended action against Miami.

There has been talk lately that Barnett is likely to see more reps with the first-team. Without trying to overhype him too much, the kid has just looked tremendous in preseason action. I can’t wait to see him get some first-team reps against the Dolphins.

 

Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

 

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