Philadelphia Eagles 2021 Team Study

Part 6 of my 32-part series breaking down every team’s performance in 2021. Check out part 5 here: Dallas Cowboys. Part 7 now available: New York Giants.

Offense

Eff. Rating Adj. Rating Rank
5.14 +0.11 12th


Offensive Eff. Rating (green) v. opponent average allowed (grey).

Pass EPA Rush EPA Adj. Pass Rate
15th 3rd 30th


The Eagles fielded one of the NFL’s top rushing attacks in 2021, anchored by Jalen Hurts and Miles Sanders, who both averaged over 5.5 yards per carry on nearly 140 carries each. They ran behind a very good offensive line that provided the 4th-best adjusted line yards and allowed Jalen Hurts more pocket time than any other starting quarterback. They leaned into this strength with the 3rd-highest early down run rate in neutral game scripts and the highest overall run rate. It may have taken them a few games to figure out their offensive identity, but they certainly found it.

Having a true rushing threat like Jalen Hurts at quarterback enhances both the run game and the passing game. On designed quarterback runs and scrambles, there is essentially an extra blocker on the field because all 11 offensive players are involved in the play, as opposed to a traditional handoff where the quarterback just steps out of the picture. On zone reads, defenders cannot overcommit to tackling the running back and must stay tentative longer into the play. This helps both the quarterback and the running back with rushing efficiency.

It also helps the passing game. Defenses need to commit a defender to spying the quarterback if he can get outside and escape for an easy first down run. It’s also tougher to get pressure because if you rush the quarterback at full speed, one juke can erase the defender from the play. And boy did Hurts have jukes. The increased rushing efficiency also forces defenders closer to the line of scrimmage, which can help receivers get open downfield.

But many of these advantages diminish in obvious passing situations. Hurts was good at buying time and was mostly accurate, even on the run. But he lacked the vision and anticipation in the passing game that great quarterbacks possess. He was much better at hitting guys on screens, stop routes, and go routes, than diagnosing a defense and identifying which route would spring open in a complex route tree. In other words, he was far better at exposing mistakes by a bad pass defense than he was at lining up and winning against a good pass defense. Chart A shows how the Eagles' offensive Effectiveness trended by each opponent's yards per pass play allowed over the course of the season with Hurts at quarterback.

Chart A

Chart A: Adjusted Eff. Rating by opponent pass defense in net yards per attempt.
*Excludes two games with Gardner Minshew at quarterback.

The Eagles’ relative offensive performance clearly trended up against teams that could not stop the pass. Strong pass defenses forced the Eagles to be one-dimensional. This effect compounded their relative struggles when they had to play from behind. Or, phrasing it differently, this offense performed at its highest level with the lead because defenses had to account for the run game. No team had such clear win/loss splits based on strength of opponent than the Eagles. Their wins came against ATL, CAR, DET, DEN, NO, NYJ, WAS (x2), and NYG, who had a combined record of 46-89 (34%) and all missed the playoffs. Their losses came against TB (x2), SF, DAL (x2), KC, LV, LAC, and NYG, who had a combined 70-49 record (59%) and combined for five playoff spots.

Hurts is still young. Quarterbacks often learn and improve as pocket passers in their first few years in the NFL and there is plenty of room for upside. But I didn’t see an offense in 2021 that can compete at the highest level. A team with a good enough defense and offensive line can still win games with these deficiencies, and it looks like the Eagles are still building. But as of now, this is not an offense designed to win playoff games. They excel against bad competition.

One small detail causes some concern about the effectiveness of the Eagles’ run game. Despite posting the 3rd-highest rushing EPA/play and generating strong yards before contact, they were only 23rd in DVOA on third/fourth down and short. Teams that can bully up front tend to convert these downs at a high rate. The Eagles’ struggles could indicate that their rushing success had more to do with running in favorable situations than being able to win at will. This could also be a noisy stat or merely indicate poor play calling in a limited sample size. It's worth keeping an eye on.

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