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17 Sep 2013

Any Given Sunday: Chargers Over Eagles

by Mike Ridley

And just like that, the luster is gone.

After pummeling Washington on Monday Night Football, Chip Kelly's Eagles appeared to be a playoff contender with speed throughout the offense and a game plan that was being described as "brilliant." On Sunday, National Jump to Conclusions Week claimed another victim as the flaws in Kelly's plan were exposed -- namely, you need the ball for it to work.

Kelly disregards the notion that controlling the clock is a key to winning football games. What's most important is making your opponent's defense face more snaps then your own defense. Part of the reason Kelly's scheme was so successful at Oregon was his defense's ability to provide stops and turnovers. During Kelly's last three seasons in Eugene, his Ducks never ranked below 16th in interceptions forced. Producing stops and turnovers allowed Oregon to overcome large time difference disparities. Once such instance happened against UCLA in 2010. Despite Oregon losing the time of possession battle 38:31 to 21:29, Oregon still managed to run more plays in a lopsided 60-13 victory over the Bruins.

Suffice it to say that Kelly doesn't have that luxury with the Eagles. Or at least, he certainly didn't this Sunday.

On Sunday, San Diego had their way with Philadelphia's defense, efficiently cranking out 539 yards on 79 plays and effectively limiting Kelly's explosive offense. They controlled the clock and won the time of possession battle by better than a 2-to-1 ratio thanks to two 11-play drives yielding touchdowns and a 17-play, field goal-producing drive that knocked nearly nine minutes off the clock. More importantly, they won the "plays of possession battle" as well, restricting the Eagles to only 59 plays just one week after they reeled off 77, despite running plays nearly five seconds faster than their Week 1 pace.

The Chargers were able to exploit one of the Eagles' biggest weaknesses: the inability to stop receivers out of the slot. Including the three-touchdown performance by Eddie Royal (yes, that same Eddie Royal), Philadelphia has allowed opposing slot receivers to rack up 168 yards on 15 catches for five touchdowns on just 20 targets. Those numbers translate to a quarterback rating of 139.2, a rating similar to Peyton Manning's Week 1 performance.

Meanwhile, somewhere in southern California, Philip Rivers is singing along to Rise Against, smiling as the sun rises over the horizon.

Rivers is coming off arguably his best game in the last two-and-a-half seasons, eclipsing the 400-yard mark for just the fourth time in his career. What may be more impressive is that Rivers took only one sack and didn't commit a turnover, a result directly tied to the quick drops Mike McCoy's offense has instituted. The three- and five-step drops McCoy's system stresses has allowed Rivers to stay upright and deliver quick, high-percentage passes, rather than the deep drops he often used under Norv Turner.

If there were ever any doubts about the effectiveness of this new system, they remain no longer. Rivers finished Week 2 rated third in DYAR for the season, behind only Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. His total of 282 DYAR is already twice the amount he finished the 2012 season with (138). Despite the quick drops frequently used, Rivers has accumulated his DYAR through more aggressive, downfield throws. In 2012, Rivers targeted running backs on over 27 percent of his passes. That number currently stands at 21 percent -- though small sample caveats apply, of course. What's more telling is that Rivers is among the league leaders in deep ball accuracy. He trails only Rodgers in passes completed 20 yards or more downfield.

Watching this team on film, you see a quick-hitting, efficient offense that is decisive and well-run. Rivers is mastering his pre-snap reads, allowing him to get the ball out quickly. He's also avoiding costly sacks and, more importantly, limiting turnovers. And as an extra bonus, the Chargers avoided one of those dreaded "10:00 am on our body clocks" losses that Pacific Time Zone teams worry so much about.

By the VOA

San Diego may have won the game, but VOA sides with the Eagles.

Dewey Defeats VOA
Team Off. VOA Def. VOA Special Teams VOA Total VOA
SD 39.5% 52.3% 1.0% -11.9%
PHI 52.7% 31.2% 4.2% 25.7%

Again, this is where Philadelphia's inability to run enough plays became a big problem. The Eagles actually gained 8.8 yards per play compared to just 6.8 for the Chargers. That's better efficiency per play, and thus better VOA -- but not enough yardage to win. Costly penalties were also a huge issue. Lane Johnson's illegal formation penalty wiped away a 37-yard touchdown, Patrick Chung's defensive holding helped keep a field goal-producing drive alive and DeSean Jackson's unnecessary roughness after an Eagles' touchdown helped the Chargers start their drive at the Eagles' 42-yard line on a key drive.

Speaking of which ...

Key Moment

With a little more than seven minutes remaining in the game, the Eagles scored the go-ahead touchdown, taking hold of the "momentum" (if you believe in such a thing) and the "win expectancy odds" (if you don't). Another fourth-quarter loss for the Chargers seemed even more certain when Fozzy Whittaker fielded Alex Henery’s kick at the 11-yard line (courtesy of Jackson’s penalty) and took it up the right hash where he was sandwiched between Brandon Graham and Colt Anderson, pinching the ball out directly towards Henery. As Chargers fans collectively prepared to bang their head into the closest brick wall, the unthinkable happened; the ball caromed off Henery’s elbow, and after four Eagles failed to fall on the ball, the Chargers’ Darrell Stuckey miraculously grabbed it. San Diego would go on to score a crucial touchdown seven plays later.

Behind the Numbers

The Eagles put on a performance Sunday that was truly one-of-a-kind. Below are a few nuggets to help you win free beer at your favorite neighborhood watering hole:

  • The Eagles ripped off 58 plays and 511 yards, despite holding the ball less than 20 minutes. They did this by averaging 20.5 seconds between plays (Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info).
  • The Eagles became the first team in NFL history to lose a game in which they gained 500 yards, caused two turnovers and committed zero.
  • The average score of the previous 47 games to have this happen: 46-16.


One doesn’t have to search hard to find articles and commentary detailing Philip Rivers' decline as a player. In Norv Turner’s system, Rivers was constantly roughed up thanks to deep drops behind a sub-par line. As a result, he threw 15 picks and was sacked a career-high 49 times in 2012. McCoy has designed a system that not only plays to Rivers' strengths, but also those of the players around him. The short drops take advantage of Rivers' keen pre-snap reads while also limiting the liability of his still-shaky line. The spread system allows the Chargers to use their depth at receiver while covering up their running game weaknesses. Additionally, the use of no-huddle limits the substitutions the defense can make, giving Rivers more vanilla looks to diagnose.

The results through two games are promising. While Rivers is unlikely to maintain his pace of 56 touchdowns and just eight interceptions, his outlook is positive. If he can continue to cut his sack rate and limit his interceptions, he has the ability to put numbers on the board. Given what the Chargers have shown on defense, every point will be needed.

Posted by: Mike Ridley on 17 Sep 2013

41 comments, Last at 21 Oct 2013, 12:48am by newquynh


by Dan in Philly (not verified) :: Tue, 09/17/2013 - 4:48pm

I think most Eagles losses this season will look like this one - an unbelievable offensive performance overshodowed by a few missed opportunities and a defense unable to get off the field on 3rd down. I liked the Eagles offense while watching, but reviewing the box score was unbelievable. 8.8 yards per play, and that with one Jackson long TD called back due to a rookie penalty. I am still pretty amazed at what Chip Kelly has done so far.

If the Eagles offense continues to play like this, I like their chances any given Sunday.

by Kevin from Philly :: Tue, 09/17/2013 - 6:04pm

Most of their wins are gonna look like this game too. The only difference will be who has the ball last. And really, that's OK - nobody really expected this team to be anything this year. The best I was hoping for was to have the defense playing better by the end of the year, and that may still happen. Next offseason, solidify that D, get a QB for the future and the sky's the limit in 2 or three years.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Wed, 09/18/2013 - 10:15am

"get a QB for the future"

I'm sure this is penciled in on Chip Kelly's calendar for the offseason: "Day 1, 8:30: Find QB for the future. 9:00: Cure cancer. 10:00: World peace."

Seriously, this team's got a lot of building to do to be a perennial contender again.

by Kevin from Philly :: Wed, 09/18/2013 - 1:46pm

Kinda overstating the difficulty of finding a QB, aren't you? Hell, the Bengals and the Bills might just have accomplished that. Who'd have thought that'd ever happen?

At the end of last season, the Eagles had to find a new coach (done), get the offense back on track (done), improve special teams (getting there) and completely overhaul the defense (well, something had to come last). I'd say they already have done a lot of rebuilding. If they can get the D to be just OK, they could be a poor man's version of the 99 Rams. Granted that won't happen by week one next season, probably not the one after that either, but at least they seem to be on the path to getting better - and that's all you can ask from the first year of a new regime, isn't it?

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Fri, 09/20/2013 - 6:58am

Wow, that's incredibly optimistic. Getting the offense back on track? How? What exactly looks better than last year?

As far as I can tell, the main difference is that the new coach uses McCoy a lot more, which isn't sustainable. The offensive line is still pretty good but not deep, the receivers are still flashier than good, and the quarterback is still just flashy enough that people occasionally forget he's awful.

I don't see Philly getting better for a while.

by Mansteel (not verified) :: Tue, 09/17/2013 - 5:02pm

Perhaps I'm reading it wrong, but there seems to be a vague condemnation of Kelly's idea that # of snaps is far more important than time of possession. It seems clear to me that Kelly has it right: defenses get tired by defending, not by standing around between snaps while the game clock runs. Thus ToP is largely irrelevant except insofar as it (imperfectly) captures how many plays teams run.

The point is that running plays quickly and consequently "losing the ToP battle" is not a hindrance to your own defense. Yes, the Philly defense will get tired because there will be more possessions and plays in Eagles games than in typical games, but of course so will the opposition's defense. Undoubtedly, many announcers will not understand this and claim that Kelly's system doesn't work because it makes his defense tired, and undoubtedly I'll get annoyed.

Unrelatedly, I am delighted to learn that there is an NFL player named Fozzy Whittaker.

by dbt :: Tue, 09/17/2013 - 5:11pm

I would agree that running plays, and in fact running plays faster to keep defenders from recovering or rotation, is a better strategy than trying to collect "clock minutes" like they count for anything is a better strategy for most of the game.

That said, clock management philosophy at the end of halves and games is a critical part of pro football strategy, something Chip's predecessor was never great at. I think that running your core offense without any regard to game time strategy is stupid.

by sundown (not verified) :: Wed, 09/18/2013 - 12:42am

Time of possession isn't just about tiring out the defense--it is about keeping the ball out of the opposing offense's hands. I like what Kelly has done thus far, but how gassed were Chargers' defenders at the end of this past game? They didn't look all that spent and they're basically an average defense. The jury is very much still out on how successful Kelly will be long-term.

by ElJefe :: Wed, 09/18/2013 - 12:05pm

Without being tired, the basically average defense gave up five scores and a missed FG on the Eagles final six meaningful drives. One could even squint and say that the Chargers' D contributed to win by being soft enough to allow 57 yards in 80 seconds on the Eagles' final drive. Greater resistance would left their own offense less time to (inevitably) drive for a winning score.

Overeducated Layabout

by RickD :: Wed, 09/18/2013 - 1:48pm

"Time of possession isn't just about tiring out the defense--it is about keeping the ball out of the opposing offense's hands."

But #snaps measures the same thing.

by Ian Chapman (not verified) :: Wed, 09/18/2013 - 3:05pm

That isn't entirely so. By way of example, look at the end of the week one, Seattle vs Carolina game. Seattle recovered a Carolina fumble deep in their own end with a bit more than four minutes to go. Seattle did not have all that many snaps after that, but they bled the clock brilliantly with a combination of short passes and runs, and Carolina never saw the ball again.

That's what Kelly's Eagles are missing.

by tballgame (not verified) :: Wed, 09/18/2013 - 2:14pm

It does seem like a bad game to use to analyze Kelly's preference of snap count over ToP. The Chargers 'won' ToP, but they also had about 15 more snaps than the Eagles. If Kelly's idea is that # of snaps leads to wins, I'm not sure you can condemn the idea using a game in which the team that had more snaps won.

I do agree with the clock management issue. Buffalo had a lead against New England in week 1 and was still only using 20-some seconds per snap, which may have lead to each team having more possessions in the fourth quarter. If you have the better team, you want to maximize the number of possessions to allow the cream to rise to the top. If you don't, you want to minimize the number of possessions and hope to leverage a few plays that break your way.

Taking the lead with an 80-second, 57-yard drive is better if you get the ball with 1:30 left than if you get the ball with 3:30 left. Belichek does a great job with this. If the Pats get the ball with 3 minutes left on their own 40 needing one score to win, they run the ball. They know if they are going to score, they will do so in 2 minutes, so they first move the clock where they want it. To use # of snaps, Kelly should know he isn't getting another possession so hustling only gives the other team more snaps. Creating a # of snap advantage sometimes means limiting opportunities for the other team's snaps.

by commissionerleaf :: Tue, 09/17/2013 - 5:19pm

I am amazed that any NFL coach actually believes that time of possession OR number of snaps make any significant difference in the absence of outlier games where fatigue becomes a really significant factor.

One of my favorite games of all time was this one: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/200909210mia.htm

In which the Colts run 37 plays to Miami's 88, have the ball for less than a quarter (14:53), and win, because their lack of time of possession was mostly an expression of -just how outclassed- Miami's defense was. Forget getting off the field. Miami's D couldn't stay ON the field in the fourth quarter because they allowed scores so fast.

Also, I looked up games where a team rushed for over 200 yards and lost. There are a lot of them, but the record was set just last year:


In this game: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/201212230kan.htm

by Scott C :: Tue, 09/17/2013 - 9:08pm

I agree in general -- time of possession and snap count in isolation mean almost nothing.

But these things do start to matter when two teams are close to evenly matched. Given two teams that are close in average yards/play and stop rate against each other, many of the talking head buzzwords start to be more relevant: "ball control", "turnover differential", "field position battle", "clock management" etc.

None of that matters at all if you average 25 yards/play and they average 5.

by RickD :: Wed, 09/18/2013 - 1:50pm

You have found a counter-example to the general trend. The game you cite is the outlier.

by NeoplatonistBolthead (not verified) :: Tue, 09/17/2013 - 5:50pm

I think the Eagles' attack will work in inverse propotion to the quality of offenses it faces and direct proportion to the quality of defenses it faces. An elite QB with a good game plan can force a shootout, and then Kelly's plan looks a little silly. This year's Chargers (in the morning, no less) are pretty much as bad as a team can be and still meet that qualification, and here are the results. Good recipe for making the playoffs, I think, but some infuriating losses probably lie ahead. Once you're there, well... you're there, so hey.

On the other side, the Chargers may not be playoff material, but this Bolts fan was bracing for double-digit losses, and now I'd have to say probably not. This feels like a team with a lot to like and a lot to hate, and with a smart coach, they'll be somewhere in the 7-10 win range, with remote hope of a wildcard.

by Other Dean (not verified) :: Wed, 09/18/2013 - 11:15am

Agreed. Even factoring in the demoralizing loss to Houston, these two games have given me some hope that this year might be a bit better than last year. At this point the offensive line looks better than I thought it would and Rivers has been taking advantage.

by Harris :: Tue, 09/17/2013 - 5:55pm

I'm not sure how amassing 30 points and more than 500 yards points to problems with the Eagles offense, especially when you consider that they left maybe four TDs on the field. They didn't need the ball more often, they needed the defense to prevent a few third down conversions in the second half. The Eagles will be involved in a lot of shoot-outs because the defense is just as ineffectual as the offense is awesome.

by sundown (not verified) :: Wed, 09/18/2013 - 12:47am

True enough, but giving better offenses more plays in which to find ways to beat you isn't a great strategy. That is where traditional practices like running some clock when you have the ball come into play. Kelly admitted that and I expect he will do things a bit differently in the future.

by Harris :: Thu, 09/19/2013 - 7:10am

No, Kelly admitted to mishandling the final drive, and that's not what I'm talking about. I don't want him slowing down the offense--bury the bastards under an avalanche of points, I say. The fact is, we're not having this conversation if the defense put up even minimal resistance. Those guys need to earn their paychecks too.

by Kal :: Tue, 09/17/2013 - 6:31pm

This is not actually that shocking to me - a longtime Oregon fan. Kelly didn't have a whole lot of experience in close game situations with the clock being a factor, and the few times he did the performance was a mixed bag. The most notable bad one was in 2011, when Oregon lost to USC after a truly baffling combination of bad playcalls and poor play gave them a shot to tie the game with a field goal from 47 yards with the literally worst field goal unit that entire season.

I think this is something that he can get better at. Or simply hire one of us to get him better at it :)

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 09/17/2013 - 6:48pm

After pummeling Washington on Monday Night Football, Chip Kelly's Eagles appeared to be a playoff contender with speed throughout the offense and a game plan that was being described as "brilliant."

All we learned is that the defense is bad.

Everything said about the offense is still true.

by ElJefe :: Wed, 09/18/2013 - 12:16pm

In the last six quarters, the Eagles' defense has faced 15 meaningful drives. They have yielded 10 scores, had one FG missed, and received two turnovers inside their own 10-yard line. Thirteen out of fifteen drives into scoring territory is about what could expected from a solid D-1 defense against NFL offenses, and I'm moderately confident Alabama or LSU would do better. This defense may be just as comically bad as last year, without the fistfights between coaches.

Overeducated Layabout

by commissionerleaf :: Tue, 09/17/2013 - 9:07pm

Kansas City had TWO games with over 200 yards rushing that were losses last year.

The above and this goliath of suck: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/201210070kan.htm

Anyone who thinks Joe Flacco is worth his contract should be referred to the above. Baltimore had eleven drives in that game, scored three field goals, allowed 200 yards rushing AND WON, because Matt Cassel threw two interceptions in fifteen passes and fumbled to boot.

by commissionerleaf :: Tue, 09/17/2013 - 9:16pm

But wait, there's more!

The prior season, but also in 2012, Kansas City was on the WINNING side of a 7-3 game in which the Chiefs, helmed by Kyle Orton, defeated the Tim Tebow Broncos in Orton's semi-triumphal return to Mile High, and Kansas City allowed 200 yards rushing, most of them to Willis McGahee.

I say semi-triumphal because, well... Orton was a rather weak tea 15 of 29 for 180 yards. The Jamaal Charles-less Chiefs running game managed three and a half yards per carry. The four point margin of victory was driven by a long Dexter McCluster run and Tebow's 6-of-22 with a pick performance.

by commissionerleaf :: Tue, 09/17/2013 - 9:25pm

So it occurred to me to limit the query to those games in which a team ran for 200 yards and not only lost but were shut out. Needless to say, the games that came back were all pre-1980.


The interesting bit is that the O.J. Simpson Buffalo Bills were able to break 200 rushing yards and fail to score twice in three years... against the SAME TEAM, the Miami Dolphins. The Bills were shut out by the Dolphins twice in three years, 1971 and 1973, each time managing to break the 200 yard barrier in an exercise of brutal futility.

So what happened in 1972 you ask?


The Bills lost 24-23 to a Miami team that... you guessed it, rushed for 200 yards.

by Cythammer (not verified) :: Tue, 09/17/2013 - 9:30pm

So somehow the Eagles having a terrible defense is a product of their offense being fantastic and running plays quickly?? Okay…

by sundown (not verified) :: Wed, 09/18/2013 - 12:53am

Dude, it ain't that complicated. They're running plays extra fast extends games and gives extra plays to the opponents. Now, they may well come out ahead in the long run with that strategy but don't pretend you can't see the potential for negative outcomes when you tell the opposing offense "go ahead and take another shot at our d" at the end of a close game.

by Sifter :: Wed, 09/18/2013 - 5:34am

You're right it ain't complicated, but I don't think about it the way you do. I think this: Yeah a quick pace gives extra drives to opponents, but if the Eagles D was even average they should be able to stop more of those drives, and get their offense the ball again. That's the bottom line, their D isn't good enough to feed their O.

by NoraDaddy :: Wed, 09/18/2013 - 9:19am

You guys do realize that both offenses get the same number of drives, right? (In the absence of turn-overs, of course.) It's not how many drives you give your opponents, (because you'll have the same number) but what each of you does with your drives. This whole "you need to limit your opponents number of touches" is ridiculous. If running fast helps you score more often on offense then that's what you should do. If running fast doesn't help out your offense and all it does is make your defense tired by putting them on the field more, then you shouldn't do it.

by Kyle D. (not verified) :: Wed, 09/18/2013 - 11:08am

Since Kelly has said he doesn't think he handled the end of the Chargers game well and that they should have eaten some clock, he apparently disagrees with you. Without question there are times when you want to limit an opponent's touches, particularly at the end of games where you are winning.

by ElJefe :: Wed, 09/18/2013 - 12:12pm

If he was really smart, he'd be referring to how the Eagles should have onside kicked after their final FG. The probability of recovering a (very) surprising onside kick had to have been greater than the ~5% chance the Eagles' D wouldn't give up points if SD had the ball. And, if SD recovers the kick they may have scored with enough time on the clock for the Eagles to have a meaningful drive in return.

It would have appeared completely insane and would have been a very public condemnation of his own defense, but I actually think it would have been the correct play.

Overeducated Layabout

by dmstorm22 :: Wed, 09/18/2013 - 11:40am

Well no, weaker teams should always try to limit amount of drives, because over less drives, the quality between two teams could be less apparent (of course, it could go the other way too).

Easy case, over the Jaguars have a far better chance outscoring the Seahawks over 10 drives total than 10,000 drives total. And while the difference between 14 combined drives and 24 drives isn't nearly as drastic, there is still a difference.

by BJR :: Wed, 09/18/2013 - 5:44am

I don't see many issues with gaining 511 yards on 58 plays. I can see issues coming when the time comes that they can't get Vick, McCoy and Jackson on the field at the same time.

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by COtheLegend :: Wed, 09/18/2013 - 2:31pm

As an Eagles fan, to everyone who is acting like this is a shocking upset: Relax. People forget the Eagles were 4-12 last year, and the expectation coming into the season was for the team to have a good offense and a possibly horrible defense. So, it looks like they may be exactly what they are supposed to be. It's also possible the Chargers may be better then we thought. Nobody knew how good the Harbaugh 49ers were going to turn out to be in their first season either. Everyone, just relax. It's week 2.

As for the time of posession argument, milking your time of posession can also fail if you don't score enough points. It's very tough to criticize any team over not using enough of the clock if there's wide open paths for offensive players to run through. Are they supposed to turn those down?

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