What Would Buddy Do?
Turns out the Nerd Rankings were (almost exactly) correct
Posted on January 14th, 2009 at 8:02 am by Cheesesteak Hoagie

Throughout the year, we made light of the Football Outsiders rankings’ seemingly misguided impression that the Eagles were one of the top teams in the NFL.  While we generally think the world of DVOA and the Football Outsiders thing, we were alternately flattered and horrified by the the rankings’ fascination with the Birds, even as they continued to falter in the stat that matters most (those pesky Ws), and even conjured up elaborate hypotheses in re: how this could be possible.

It’s worth noting the the Football Outsiders team was equally horrified — they didn’t really know what to make of it either.  As Aaron Schatz put it (in ALL CAPS): “THE EAGLES ARE TRYING TO KILL ME.”

Well well well.  Guess who gets to beat their chest a bit heading into Championship Weekend?  That would be those very same Football Outsiders, whose final rankings had the Eagles, Ravens, and Steelers placed #1, #2, and #4, respectively (the Giants were #3).  It’s going to be very difficult not to take these guys — and DVOA — very very seriously after that.

(Of course, the haters amongst us could point to the part where they had the Cardinals at #20, or that it took a 13.5-favorite losing at home to even get the #1 team into the playoffs, but we’ll instead use those as confidence- and-karma-builders, respectively, for the Birds heading into the NFC Championship Game.)

Birds finish season #1 in Nerd Rankings
Posted on December 30th, 2008 at 1:32 pm by Cheesesteak Hoagie

Sure, they may have needed the heavens to open and gravity to reverse itself on Sunday in order to secure a playoff spot, but our much-maligned Eagles (at least among the commenters on FO) have finished the season ranked #1 in the Football Outsiders DVOA rankings.

In terms of splits, the offense finished 12th, the defense finished 3rd (behind Pittsburgh and Baltimore), and the special teams 13th.  Last year, the Eagles finished 12th overall, with the offense at 7, the defense at 12, and the special teams at (gulp) 31.

As you may or may not have imagined, this is the first time the Eagles have finished first in said rankings.  Would you call them the best team of the Andy Reid era?  Me neither.  So I guess DVOA isn’t quite exactly perfect yet.

Other DVOA notes:

NFC East.  The Eagles finished 1st, the Giants 3rd, the Cowboys 15th and the Skins 18th.  Like last season, we can argue that the NFC East was the best division in football.  Though the NFC South was a bit more consistent — the four teams ranked 6, 9, 12, 13 (CAR, NO, ATL, and TB, respectively) — the NFC East was better on average.  That is, the average NFC South ranking is 10 versus 9.25 for the NFC East.

NFC Least?  Worst division is the NFC West (you’re shocked, I know), with an average ranking of 26.25 and no team higher than 20 (ARI).  Ouch.

Schedule.  The Birds had the 13th hardest schedule in the league.  The Giants had the 8th, the Cowboys the 5th, and the Skins the 12th.  That’s what that last-place schedule in the NFC East gets you!  Also, if you’re looking to stick it to the Pats or Jets fans in your life, you might mention that the AFC East played the 29th-, 30th-, 31st-, and 32nd-ranked schedules.

QB rankings.  Dunavin finished 8th among QBs versus 14th last year.  Also worth noting that he finished with the best ranking in the division, though all the guys were pretty close (Eli 9th, Romo 11th, and Campbell 16th).  I’m just sayin is all.

RB rankings.  A year after finishing numero uno among NFL RBs, the 36 Chambers of Brian Westbrook dropped to 11th.  That’s what happens when you’re hurt most of the year.    Buckhalter finished 10th among those with fewer than 100 carries, versus 3rd a year ago.

Go Birds.

Birds - Bengals Preview: do they still do the GNR thing in Cincy?
Posted on November 16th, 2008 at 12:08 pm by Cheesesteak Hoagie

The Bengals used to rock the “Welcome to the Jungle” thing back in the early 90s, right?  Back in the immediate post-Ickey years? Always though that was cool at the stadium, and oddly topical, especially as we approach the long-awaited release of Chinese Democracy.

Oh right.  The football game.  Against the Bengals.  With the Eagles.

This is essentially a minimal-upside/ all-downside game for the Eagles.  They win, and we all agree they were supposed to win; they lose, and we commence with the Donovan McNabb obituaries (it seems folks have been warming those up already).

(Seriously, if they lose, the fans are allowed to be outraged.  If the Eagles can’t get it done against the Ivy Leaguer, Cedric Benson and Dhani Jones, well, then we were all lied to by the team in July and August.)

The more likely result is that they’ll win comfortably, suck us all back in, and start to convince us (yet again) that this isn’t just last year’s 8-8 team (but with a better punt returner).

Quick list of things I’d like to see/ not see:

A taste of power football.  Wouldn’t it be lovely if the Eagles were able to pull off a mostly-run/ power football/ mix-in-Buck-and-BWest sort of drive against the Bengals?  The Bengals defense isn’t particularly strong (#23 in DVOA, 26th against the pass, 16th against the rush) — wouldn’t it build confidence in our guys if they saw they could actually push someone around at the line of scrimmage?

A long kickoff return.  Yes yes, Demps has been close for a while.  Great for him.  We’d like it if he actually busted open a huge one.  Maybe even a touchdown.  It has been a while.

Start McNabb in your fantasy leagues.  Don’t think Big Red missed the stat above about the Cincy pass defense.  Dunavin will throw it three dozen times today, won’t he.

If the Eagles are going to screw up, please do so in a new and innovative way?  No sloppy two-minute drills, no stuffed at the line, no dumb challenges.  Try something new, like 12 men on the field or an ill-timed LJ Smith fumble.

Trent Cole, earn that jersey purchase today.  Hometown game for ya, big fella.  I’m wearing your shirt this week.  Make it happen out there.

I think the Eagles delay the apocalypse another week or two and roll the Bengals.  I’m watching out in the H-O-B.  Prediction = Eagles 31, Bengals 13.

It’s official: Birds are the worst short-yardage team in the NFL
Posted on November 14th, 2008 at 9:18 am by Cheesesteak Hoagie

As discussed last week, your eyes do no deceive you in re: the Birds’ short-yardage struggles.

But whereas a week ago the Eagles were merely the 30th-ranked short-yardage team in the NFL, last weekend’s performance against the Giants has secured them the well-deserved honor of the number-32 slot.  Yup.  Last place.  Worse than the Lions, worse than the Bengals, worse than the Raiders.

Full details here.

Of course, they’re actually now the fourth-best pass-blocking offensive line — just the way that Andy Reid likes it.

We’re not imagining things in re: the Eagles in short-yardage situations
Posted on November 5th, 2008 at 1:52 pm by Cheesesteak Hoagie

Not to go all-DVOA-all-the-time on you, but what with the emerging meme of “the Eagles are crap in short-yardage situations” among the blathertariat, I figured it was worth at least ninety seconds of research to see if it was just our collective imagination. That is, are the Eagles really bad in short-yardage situations or are a few significant plays in big moments skewing our evaluation?

Yeah. I wish I had better news.

According the Football Outsiders Offensive Line stats, the Eagles are 30th in the NFL in “Power Success” through Week 8. Power Success is defined as follows:

Power Success: Percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer. This is the only statistic on this page that includes quarterbacks.

So we’re not imagining things about the short-yardage problems. The odd thing is that the o-line stats are otherwise not terrible — 13th overall on the run, and 10th in sacks allowed. That is, the Eagles offensive line appears to be above average except for those plays when they desperately need just a yard or two.

Let us all now feel 8 percent more vindicated about our opinions and 12 percent less confident in said offensive line.

A match made in DVOA (that just means “nerd”) heaven
Posted on November 4th, 2008 at 6:17 pm by Cheesesteak Hoagie

It’s official — the Eagles - Giants game Sunday night will feature the #1 (Giants)- and #2 (Eagles)-ranked teams in DVOA. Truth be told, this was looming a week ago, when the two teams’ rankings were reversed.

The nerdocratic uber-rankings have the Birds and G-Men fairly evenly matched across the board:

Total Weighted DVOA: Giants 1, Eagles 2.

Offense DVOA: Giants 1, Eagles 5.

Defense DVOA: Eagles 6, Giants 7.

Special Teams DVOA: Eagles 6, Giants 10.

Unfortunately, the Eagles trail significantly in the only stat that actually matters (those pesky Ws) and are also in bad shape in re: tiebreakers in the division. Still, it sure seems like a big game just got a little bit bigger? Or at least 13 percent nerdier?

(Also, I assume that if you’ve made it to this site, you know what DVOA is. If not, check here.)

Iggles Blog vs BountyBowl Bye Week Blogganza (#6)
Posted on October 18th, 2008 at 12:55 pm by Cheesesteak Hoagie

Derek pwned me a bit yesterday afternoon, and then assured me that no one would be reading anything on the bye weekend anyway.  So that’s pretty sweet.  

Let’s go to the highlights: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.   

*****

I didn’t expect us to actually discuss the performance-enhancing drug thing at all.  I dunno.  This isn’t something that tends to get me too spun up; do we feel betrayed by Lenny Dykstra, or are do we treasure our memories of the ‘93 Phillies?  And if we’re talking about football, I mean, dude.  Even if these guys aren’t on banned substances, they’re clearly stretching the boundaries of natural human development.  They’ve chosen to play a hideously violent game, one which might bring them glory and riches, but which undoubtedly will remove some quality from their later years.  They’re willing to carry extra bulk and smash into other dudes.  We can’t see their faces out there anyway; if some of the killer robots want to use special fuel, well, I don’t think it really ruins the TV show.

(Unless it’s the Cowboys or Giants.  Then it’s f*cking cheating.  But I guess I generally don’t romanticize it all that much.)

Of course, it would be irresponsible to discuss performance-enhancing substances without noting that two players from the NY/ NJ Vodka-Red-Bulls were suspended on Thursday for using banned supplements.  This is MLS we’re talking about here!  What will the children think?  (Both Philly guys, by the way.)  Seriously, this is bad news.  Luckily, they were both fined 10 percent of their salary; as my brother noted, that’s like $4,000!

(What, we don’t follow MLS?)

Far be it from me to dodge a question, I’ll admit that I actually forgot that “least favorite Eagle” was in play.  I was hoping to debut a regular feature on this topic (no kidding, I was), so I’ll give you a sneak preview: his name begins with an L, ends with an R, and in the middle there’s a lot of “Orenzo Booke.”  The tight end is obviously a close second (if only because he seems to be a much bigger jerk than Booker; Booker’s just overmatched).

On to some of your points before my final volley of questions:

I don’t understand in re: Sheldon Brown.  What leads you to believe he’s only in it for himself?  Because he avoids the media-training cliches when talking about contracts?  The guy plays every single game and is by all appearances extremely irresponsible when it comes to contact.  You think he’s 100 percent healthy every week?  Big hits don’t get you contracts; gambling for picks does.  I bet Sheldon Brown has a lot of respect from the rest of the team.  And, frankly, I’d prefer it if you didn’t continue to impugn his good name!

I’m glad your commenters gave you grief for the Nerdbirds.  As loud as that stadium is, and as much as Homlgren seems to be in AR’s head, the Seahawks are a train wreck right now.  The Eagles had better win that game.

Please tell me that the MySpace story is true.  Seriously?  You really stalked Tony Hunt on MySpace?  That’s fantastic.  Also, when are you going to get your ass on the Facebook?  We have a great officer position waiting for you when you do.

You missed my rather pessimistic point on the 36 Chambers of Brian Westbrook.  I don’t doubt Westbrook’s pride or his toughness.  My bigger concern is his health.   Are broken ribs going to heal quickly?  Does the rest of the league know that he’s banged up in the mid-section?  I mean, I hope so.  He’s the best player the Eagles have.  But I think we might be overly optimistic about the rate of his recovery.  I mean, I hope not.  I hope he’s spending extra time in the hyperbaric chamber this week.  But we have to confront the fact that he might not be whole for a while.

Dude, you totaly dodged the McNabb question!  You’re right to note that he hasn’t had a bad stretch yet to prompt the inevitable larger conversation amongst the blathertariat, but I’m asking you now what you think.  Before the season, I certainly thought it was a done deal that this would be his final season in Philly.  Now I’m not so sure — I think he has a shot to stay for a couple more seasons (if he so chooses).  Where are you landing on this topic?  You think he’s still gone?

Also, we’re both obviously complete nerds about the Football Outsiders thing — what’s your professional opinion on the Eagles being #1 in DVOA this week?  Hidden indicator that the Eagles might be better than we all think, or proof that Aaron Schatz and the boys might need to reconfigure their spreadsheet?  I obviously think it’s the model’s fault.  While they do a nice job of trying to create a taxonomy that understands that not all plays are created equal, it’s obvious that the model doesn’t capture the value of the half-dozen plays in a game that matter a ton — and that the Eagles seem prone to screwing up.  Plays on the goal-line, big stops in the fourth quarter, sloppy stuff at the end of the first half: these seem to be themes every week.  Am I imagining things here?

It’s also worth noting that I blame Andy Reid for those screwups.  Discuss!

Semi-innovative and/ or hare-brained scheme for defeating (or at least covering against) Patriots
Posted on November 20th, 2007 at 9:22 pm by Cheesesteak Hoagie

perhaps we just make rocca inactive this weekSo I was browsing the comments on this week’s DVOA update on Football Outsiders when I saw a very intriguing proposal for how to play the Patriots:

To beat the Pats (or at least keep it competitive), why not go for the offensive version of the NHL trap? Assume NE is going to score a TD or at least a FG every drive. Play keep away as much as possible. No punting - play for all 4 downs. Keep the ball on the ground as much as possible. Run the clock down every snap. All you need is 2.5 yards a play to keep the drives alive. And if the run is working, some short passing routes will open up.

Whilst we’re sure this would never happen, given that the Birds are (GULP) 23-and-a-half-point underdogs on Sunday and it’s not clear that Dunavin is going to play anyway, I say we tip our caps to TMQ and just get after it.

The master plan: no punting.

Here’s why it’s not completely (that is, only partially) crazy:
(Read the rest of this story.)

How has Eagles D remained in upper half of rankings? It hasn’t.
Posted on November 18th, 2007 at 10:27 am by Cheesesteak Hoagie

go get em fellasAs with most things in life, it really depends on how you keep score.

A piece in yesterday’s Inquirer marvelled at how the Eagles’ defense has managed to remain in the “top half” of the league defensive standings despite its, um, rather uninspired play of late. It’s a nice piece, one that’s meant to find a silver lining in the lame efforts of recent weeks and to remind Eagles fans that maybe the defense isn’t so bad after all.

Unfortunately, that remark about the “top half” doesn’t really tell the whole story:
(Read the rest of this story.)