In light of the Eagles' lopsided 50-14 pass-run ratio in a loss to Washington on Sunday, a lot has been made of the Eagles' propensity to pass as a whole. As a result, I decided to break down the pass-run ratio of the NFL as a whole. Here's what I found.
With including quarterback scrambles as running plays and quarterback sacks as passing plays, the league, as a whole, has run 13,198 running plays and 16,565 passing plays this season – a 44.3 percent to 55.7 percent ratio, relatively heavily favoring the pass. So, where do the Eagles fit into all this?
Despite the pretty heavy pass ratio in the NFL, the Eagles take it a bit heavier – at 60.8 percent. They are one of six squads to throw more than 60 percent of the time in the NFL. The other five squads are Arizona (65.9), Indianapolis (62.1), Detroit (61.6), Denver (60.7) and New Orleans (60.7). So no, the Eagles aren't alone here.
But let's break this down a little bit further. Why are these teams throwing the ball so much? To start, Detroit can't do anything offensively, so the Lions are always playing from behind. Arizona has no running game (last in football), the Eagles and Colts have banged up Pro Bowl running backs (Brian Westbrook and Joseph Addai, respectively), and, frankly, Denver and New Orleans throw the ball so well they have to do it. And the Colts also have that Peyton Manning guy. He's kind of good.
But maybe the running game isn't so bleak for the Eagles. Philadelphia currently ranks 20th in the NFL in yards per rush attempt, which is relatively low in a category they used to dominate. But, compared to the other five teams, it's not so bad – only Denver (fifth overall) runs the ball better per attempt than the Eagles of these six teams.
What are some other reasons for these pass-heavy teams? Well, the old adage says, "You pass to get the lead, you run to protect it." Could these teams be playing from behind so much that a lead is never secure? The defensive numbers seem to suggest as much. Arizona ranks 19th defensively in yards per game, Denver 28th, Detroit dead last, and New Orleans 18th. Indianapolis comes in with a respectable 11th. But the Eagles are third defensively.
Of the other top-10 teams defensively, Dallas comes closest to the Eagles' pass ratio (58.3 percent), and three teams (Baltimore, Tennessee and Minnesota) run more than they throw.
So, what does this all mean? In the NFL in 2008, five teams (Baltimore, Atlanta, Tennessee, Minnesota and Carolina) run the ball more than they throw it. But these teams have had fantastic success – four have clinched playoff spots, and Minnesota has a chance to clinch with a win this weekend.
If you factor in the seven teams that run the football more than two percent higher than the league average, five have clinched playoff spots – the Giants included with the four previous – and one still has a shot to clinch. Only Oakland (50.8-49.2), is out.
Of the 12 teams within a two-percent margin of the league average to either pass or run, though, only Pittsburgh has clinched a playoff spot. But six more have a shot this weekend.
The category the Eagles fall in has the most members, those that throw the football more than two percent higher than the league average – 13 teams. Of these teams, Arizona and Indianapolis have clinched, and Dallas, Denver and Philadelphia still have shots this weekend.
In all, of the 12 teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today, the Titans, Ravens, Giants, Panthers, Vikings and Falcons favor the run more than the league average. The Colts, Broncos, Cowboys and Cardinals favor the pass. And the Steelers and Dolphins are relatively in tune with the average. These teams, as a whole, pass the ball 54.7 percent of the time, one percent lower than the league average.
But that doesn't answer the biggest question – why, with such a staunch defense, have the Eagles been so inconsistent? One of the reasons could be yards per pass attempt. Of the six teams that throw the ball as much as the Eagles, only the Lions get fewer yards per passing play than the Eagles (18th overall). And only the Lions complete a lower percentage of passes than the Eagles (59.8 percent).
And the reason the Colts have had so much success is evident – not only do the Colts rank first in the league in third-down conversions (the Eagles are 13th), they are also first in the league in red-zone touchdown efficiency (the Eagles are tied for 23rd overall, and last among the six teams that pass at least 60 percent of the time).
With even a deeper statistical look, the problems that have plagued the Eagles this season still plague them. The lack of long, consistent drives and touchdowns in the red zone have hurt them, majorly.