Eagles Seeing Benefit of Dominating Time of Possession

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EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – AUGUST 27: Philadelphia Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni during the National Football League preseason game between the New York Jets and the Philadelphia Eagles on August 27, 2021 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

The Philadelphia Eagles ruled the ground game once again as they finished with 185 rushing yards in their win against the New York Jets on Sunday. Head Coach Nick Sirianni continues to put together offensive game plans relying on the running game to move the chains. Strong play from the offensive line and an effective rotation of running backs have helped them become the top rushing offense in the NFL, averaging 160 yards per game.

The emergence of the rushing attack has also allowed the Eagles to control the tempo of their recent games. They controlled the ball for 35:36 yesterday, while the Jets only held it for 24:24. The Eagles are now 5-0 this season when they win the time of possession battle and 1-7 when they lose it.

Eagles Benefit from Time of Possession

The Jets kept the game close during the first half on Sunday. They moved the ball well on offense and held a slight edge in time of possession at halftime. They would’ve been in a better position to pull off an upset if they had converted on either of their two extra-point attempts or an attempted two-point conversion.

The Eagles took complete control of the game during the third quarter when they held the ball for an astounding 13:50. They dominated the second half despite not scoring a touchdown and only extending their lead by nine points. The ball control eliminated the need for backup quarterback Gardner Minshew to make any spectacular plays late in the game.

They frustrated the Jets’ defense with a methodical running game. The Jets hurt themselves with two costly mistakes, and the Eagles took advantage on both of their third-quarter possessions. First, a pass interference penalty on Bryce Hall extended a Philadelphia drive despite an apparent third-down stop. On the following drive, C.J. Mosley committed an encroachment foul when the Eagles ran a hard count prior to the snap when facing a 4th and 3.

If it weren’t for an errant snap by Nate Herbig after the game was already out of reach, the Eagles might not have punted all afternoon. The New York defense simply couldn’t get off the field.

Sirianni credited both the offense and the defense during his Monday press conference for their combined effort in controlling the clock so well against the Jets.

Eagles Struggled Against Top Competition

Former Eagles Head Coach Chip Kelly stubbornly insisted that time of possession had no bearing on the outcome of NFL games. He focused instead on the number of plays that teams ran. His demise as a head coach led to greater scrutiny of the stat.

James Keane analyzed the effect of time of possession shortly after the Eagles fired Kelly. He concluded that the stat is “situationally meaningful” in a way that Kelly never considered. One of his points of emphasis aligns perfectly with the trajectory of the 2021 Eagles season.

“Teams facing a stronger offensive opponent benefit from a ball-control strategy more than teams facing a lesser offensive opponent.”

The Eagles have lost against five of the top seven offenses ranked by the DVOA model of Football Outsiders. They lost the time of possession battle in all five games.

The Eagles lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the top-ranked offense in DVOA, in Week 6. The Philadelphia defense held the defending Super Bowl champions to just seven points in the second half. However, Tom Brady and the Buccaneers held the ball for 39:56 in the Thursday Night Football matchup. They didn’t score on their final possession, but they ran out the entirety of the 5:56 remaining on the clock and walked away with a 28-22 win.

In a Week 9 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Eagles lost the time of possession battle 33:27 to 26:23. The Chargers, who rank second in offensive DVOA, won on a field goal as time expired. They went 15 plays for 64 yards in 6:05 on their final drive. They kept a red-hot Jalen Hurts off the field and gave him no chance to lead a heroic upset.

Philadelphia’s only victory of the season despite losing the time of possession share came against the Carolina Panthers in Week 5. Carolina ranks 29th in the NFL in offensive DVOA, so it was realistic to think that the Eagles could pull out a victory without dominating the ball control. Three interceptions and a blocked punt contributed to the win more so than sustainable game planning.

Sirianni Making Progress

Sirianni holds a much different attitude than Kelly, to the relief of Eagles fans. He has progressed through his first season largely due to his willingness to correct mistakes and adjust to the personnel on his team.

Once they passed the tougher offensive opponents on their schedule, Siriani and the Eagles have demonstrated the ability to control the flow of the game and hold the ball for long stretches, thanks in large part to the running game. Their undefeated record when winning the time of possession share, however, has come against lesser opponents.

The ability to use ball control as an advantage can help an NFL team’s chances for an upset, especially if their opponent’s strength is an efficient offense. The Eagles did not rely heavily on the running game and the ability to control the clock early in the season against top competition. The ability of opposing teams to control the ball played a significant factor in the team’s 2-5 start.

The Eagles will not face any of the top offenses in the NFL in their next three games. If they can continue to execute in the running game and control the flow of the game, they can stay in the hunt for the NFC Wild Card and enter a Week 18 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys with a chance to clinch a playoff berth. Time will tell if the Eagles can earn their shot to prove their new strategy can work against a strong opponent.