Akeem Jordan, The Forgotten Man?

John Breitenbach wrote a post on BGN about the underrated abilities of Akeem Jordan. He goes through all the phases of the game with Pro Football Focus stats and includes nice game shots. Here’s his final analysis:

I’m not trying to make Jordan out to be some sort of superstar but it’s a shame he receives such little respect from Eagle fans. He was undrafted (and went to a tiny school) but he’s worked his way to become at the very least a serviceable NFL starter. At just 26, who’s to say he won’t get better? If you’re looking for someone to challenge Kendricks for the strongside spot, pay less attention to Jamar Chaney, and more to #56.

I’m not going to make Breitenbach’s argument into a straw man; it’s a reasonable and measured conclusion. Maybe Jordan is better than we think. However, I think there are three main rebuttal points:

  1. Jordan isn’t as good in coverage as those numbers illustrate. Breitenbach places Jordan’s coverage stats (09-11) side-by-side with Lance Briggs, and Jordan looks good. Certainly his completion percentage is lower (and therefore better). But, for one thing, Breitenbach doesn’t mention that the sample sizes are quite different. Jordan had only 372 coverage snaps during those three seasons, compared to 607 for Briggs just last year. When you look at targets per coverage snap (i.e. how often he was picked on), Jordan suddenly looks subpar.
  2. I don’t think there’s much evidence, based on Breitenbach’s numbers, that tackling is one of Jordan’s “greatest strengths.” He missed 9.2% of his tackles from 09-11, which would have been good enough for 20th last year among 4-3 outside linebackers with at least 25% of their team’s snaps. That actually does make him one of the better tacklers on the Eagles LB corps, but that’s not a whole lot to brag about.
  3. Finally, the most damning evidence against Jordan is simply that he hasn’t been able to hold a starting job—even when his competition has been so bad. Breitenbach mentions the atrocious Ernie Sims. Moise Fokou, Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney… the list goes on and on of the guys coaches played before Jordan. He got more snaps after Fokou was benched, then placed on injured reserve in the last month of 2011, but that wasn’t a vote of confidence as much as Plan Z.

Jordan is a great special teams player and he’s fine as a backup. But I doubt any good defense considers Akeem for a starting role.

DeMeco Ryans, Two-Down Linebacker?

DeMeco Ryans

I was surprised last week to hear that, at least initially, DeMeco Ryans wasn’t playing as a three-down linebacker. In practices, he was coming out in the nickel formation for Jamar Chaney, an inconsistent player at best.

What happened to the versatile Pro Bowler that we were promised when Ryans was brought in from Houston? I wonder if Reid and company were ever being truthful whether said those things. Although Ryans was undervalued in the Texans’ 3-4 scheme, indications were that he was taken off the field on passing downs partially because he had lost a step after his 2010 Achillies injury.

I went back to look at the stats, courtesy of Pro Football Focus, and I didn’t find any smoking gun. Here are the numbers:

You can clearly see the effect of taking Ryans out of the game on passing downs. His total snaps decreased substantially from his last healthy season (2009) and the percentage of pass snaps he was in for, as a portion of his playing time, declined by a rather large 10 percent. But that just tells us what we already know: that Houston didn’t trust Ryans as much in pass coverage.

Was that concern warranted? That’s harder to tell. On one hand, Ryans was targeted more in pass coverage than in any other year from 2008 on. That may suggest that players he was supposed to cover we’re open more often. The total yards per catch average against him was also the highest on recorded, meaning he gave up bigger plays. On the other hand, the completion percentage of players he covered moved in the opposite direction.

It remains to be seen whether Ryans is actually a coverage liability in the Eagles defense. But the ramifications from this move will be large. Obviously, on the field it’s not ideal. Having to sub out the middle linebacker removes flexibility and creates match-up issues that opponents can exploit. It also raises questions about about both the Ryans’ long term future with the Eagles and the team’s overall linebacker strategy.

As a two-down player in an increasingly pass-heavy NFL, Ryans would be much less valuable—especially at his salary. Perhaps his acquisition wasn’t the sea change in linebacker policy that we thought. After all, a fourth round pick for Ryans isn’t as different as we would like from the fifth round pick it took to get Ernie “Shark in the Water” Sims. His salary jumps to $6.6 million in 2013, and continues at basically that level through 2015. It seem unlikely he would make that much in Philly as a two-down player.

Let me stress, finally, that Ryans can still be a major upgrade at linebacker in 2012—even if he does have to come out on passing downs. Just having a reliable veteran leader in the middle to plug some of the gaping run holes would be a big deal. We just may have to temper our expectations for Ryans beyond that role.

Photo from Getty.

Should Michael Vick Run More Against the Blitz?

Check out this chart, numbers courtesy of Pro Football Focus. It shows the breakdown in Michael Vick’s performance when he dropped back to pass against the blitz, in 2010 and then 2011. The chart is stacked so that you see how all the individual slivers add up to 100 percent:

What do we see? Sacks, down slightly. Touchdowns, down slightly. Other completions, up from 35 percent to 44 percent. Regular incompletions, down 3 percent. All good — except for the touchdowns.

Then there’s Vick’s runs and his interceptions. Granted, juxtaposing these two stats isn’t necessarily fair play. But there’s an interesting correlation, whereby Vick cut his scrambling in half from 14 percent to 7 percent of plays against the blitz while his interception rate on those plays jumped from 1.6 percent to 5.6 percent.

On one hand, calming down in the pocket and passing under pressure is an important skill to be an elite quarterback. On the other hand, maybe Vick would get himself into less trouble if he allowed himself to run a little bit more and forced his throws a little bit less.

Disturbing Tackling Numbers for the Eagles LBs

Brian Rolle Tackling

In my recent linebacker review, I evaluated all the youngsters with a fairly skeptical eye. However, in discerning some difference between their various deficiencies, I noted what now seems to be patently false.

I said, “Brian Rolle is the opposite of Chaney, smaller but smarter and a better tackler to boot.” Well, the last part just isn’t true, according to the statistics provided by Pro Football Focus. Derek Sarley alerted me to this article by PFF from a year ago.

The stat they come up with is Total Attempts (sacks, tackles, assists, and missed tackles) per Missed Tackle. From 2008 to 2010, the top 15 linebackers in the NFL had more 20 or more attempts for every miss. Meanwhile, the bottom 15 qualifying linebackers registered fewer than 8.8 attempts per miss. Here are the numbers for returning Eagles:

Eagles Linebackers tackling stats

The thing that should stick out to you is Rolle’s atrocious number. According to PFF’s charters, he had a missed tackle once every five times he had the chance. None of the linebackers really have good results here, but Rolle’s is by far the worst. If he had qualified for PFF’s study last year, he would have been the single worst LB tackler in the league.

I was never that high on Rolle, given his limited upside. But apparently my eyes deceived me about his tackling. If he’s both small and a poor tackler, that makes him a real liability, and an underdog to retain his starting weakside role.

Chaney, Casey Matthews, and Moise Fokou were all pretty poor tacklers last year as well, and in truth their numbers above may actually underestimate the problem. At the risk of relying on my memory of last season again, Chaney’s problem was often that he failed to even get to the ball. That poor diagnosis and reaction wouldn’t factor in to this statistic, which just counts actual tackling attempts.

Still, we might be able to count on at least one of the youngsters to improve in 2012. Want a scarier statistic? Over the last three seasons, DeMeco “Savior” Ryans has a 9.3 attempts/missed tackle ratio. That’s no better than Chaney or Matthews.

Photo from Getty.

On LeSean McCoy's Workload

Jimmy Kempski has a post up that shows LeSean McCoy’s total snap count in 2011 — 894, which is the most of any running back, 50 more than Ray Rice and 100 more than Maurice Jones-Drew.

The data is interesting, but ultimately incomplete. After all, just because he was on the field more than other backs doesn’t mean he took a pounding on every one of those snaps. In fact, if you dig a little bit deeper, you see that despite McCoy’s vast lead in total plays, he was only seventh in total carries and fourth in total touches (rushing attempts plus receptions). Shady was on the field a lot, but his usage rate (percent of touches per total snaps) placed him 21st among the top 25 most used backs. He saw the ball 36 percent of all plays he was in, compared to 54.5 percent for Marshawn Lynch and 53.2 percent for Michael Turner.

Certainly every snap carries some amount of wear and tear, especially pass blocking. One could disagree with me on this, but I don’t think those other snaps hold a candle to the repeated and unforeseen hits a player takes with the ball in his hands. That said, I agree with Jimmy’s (and Andy Reid’s) overall point: they need to find a reliable backup who can spell Shady from time to time. This makes it puzzling that the Eagles would trust three inexperienced players to compete for the number two spot.

Tackling: Eagles Linebackers vs. DeMeco Ryans

DeMeco Ryans Tackle

If you’re like me, you haven’t seen many Texans games and you don’t know much about DeMeco Ryans other than by his reputation. Some folks study by watching game film, and I highly recommend you read up for that perspective. My habit is to reach for the stats.

The stats, of course, are incomplete. This is especially true when trying to quantifying the production of a middle linebacker. With defensive linemen you can look at sacks. With corners you can look at interceptions and yards per attempt against. But middle linebackers are tough.

Largely we look at tackles to tell us about our linebackers, but that’s by far from a perfect statistic. Tackles are influenced by the broader scheme, the intricacies that make even 4-3 defenses different, and the performance of players in front and behind the defense’s middle management.

Still, it’s all we have, so we might as well use it up. Jimmy Kempski, that mustachoed maven of the NFC East, wrote a post yesterday in which he pulled “Snaps Per Tackle” from 25 inside linebackers last season.

To take what he’s done one step further, and give it a more Eagles-bent, I used similar data from Pro Football Focus. However, I only looked at snaps and tackles in the run game. Below you can find the middle linebacker performance of both Eagles linebackers and Ryans since 2008:

Eagles Linebackers DeMeco Ryans Tackling Stats

Because of all the factors involved (as well as inevitable inconsistencies in the original data), I wouldn’t blow any one of these numbers out of proportion. Tackles, missed tackles, and stops all together can give us a interesting look at production.

Examining the Eagles stats first though, it looks like stop percentage may be the most relevant stat of the bunch. Tackle percentages are all over the map, and missed tackles can depend so much on just a few plays. But stops — not tackles for a loss, but prevention of a “positive” play — seem to correspond to what our eyes tell us is a good linebacker play. For example, both Jamar Chaney and Casey Matthews scored very poorly in 2011 by this measure, while Chaney’s moments of glory at the end of 2010 account for his high marks then.

Looking just at Ryans’s stats, it’s obvious that he had a down year in 2011. Not only did the new 3-4 scheme limit his playing time, but he was less productive across the board on a per snap basis. Ryans’s stop percentage dropped dramatically last year, and is the lowest figure on among all players listed above. Prior to his 2010 achilles injury though, he posted solid, if not spectacular numbers. Missed tackles were really his only run defense problem in 2008-2009.

At the end of the day, the numbers suggest some cause for worry, especially about his most recent performance. However, if Ryans can return to his pre-injury performance in a 4-3 scheme, the Eagles have found a very solid middle linebacker going forward.

Photo from Getty.

A Real Linebacker? No Way!

DeMeco Ryans

It’s a year too late, but let’s not spoil the fun. The Eagles finally have a real linebacker. It’s a miracle.

The trade yesterday for Texans middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans is everything the Eagles needed and more. In fact, it’s a master stroke by the front office. While the best free agent linebackers have zero Pro Bowls between them, Howie Roseman and company went out and acquired a two-time Pro Bowler for basically the same money and the equivalent of a late third round pick.

There are obvious caveats to the deal, starting with why the Texans would be willing to trade the 27-year-old Ryans. The decision to move him probably amounts to three factors. First, Ryans was going to cost upwards of $6 million a year for the foreseeable future, and the Texans are not in great salary cap shape. Second, the linebacker’s production fell in 2011 playing in Houston’s new 3-4 scheme. Instead of playing virtually every defensive snap, he only was on the field 58 percent of the time last year (according to PFF).

With the Eagles’ salary cap wizardry and 4-3 scheme, neither of those should be a problem here. The only remaining question is whether he’s lost a step following achilles surgery in 2010. Ryans played all 16 games last season, but many observers called it a down year for him. Hopefully the injury won’t be a factor going forward.

Even with that potential drawback, getting Ryans is a big win for the Eagles. He instantly becomes the most talented linebacker in this city, probably since Jeremiah Trotter first left in 2002. And he doesn’t have to return to Pro Bowl strength in order to make a huge impact in the middle of the Eagles defense.

Moreover, Ryans was a team captain and by all accounts a tremendous leader. The Eagles have had problems in that area too, but it seems likely that the team has found it’s vocal defensive signal-caller for the foreseeable future.

Photo from Getty. Video h/t BGN.

Pass Blocking Efficiency, from Peters to Kelce

Eagles Offensive Line

Considering how much fun we had the last time we talked about offensive line play, we might as well go back to it.

Pro Football Focus calculates “Pass Blocking Efficiency” as a percentage of plays in which offensive linemen prevent quarterback pressure. Sacks are weighted more heavily than hits and hurries, but they all count.

Here are the numbers for the Eagles starting linemen last season:

Eagles Offensive Linemen Pass Blocking Efficiency

I listed the players in order of their Pass Blocking Efficiency, but truthfully that doesn’t quite give you the right context. 95 percent might sound good, but you have to prevent the quarterback from pressure the vast majority of the time if you even want to see playing time as an offensive lineman.

For a more accurate picture, look at the ranks on the left side. Those numbers are where the player stands among all those at his position (tackle, guard, or center) who played at least 50 percent of his team’s snaps. Therefore, even though Evan Mathis has the highest raw score, Jason Peters was ranked higher among his peers. He scored 5th-best among tackles, where Mathis was 11th among guards. Presumably that means that Peters’ job is more difficult.

Todd Herremans ranked 35th with 94 percent PBE, but that’s not as bad as it might sound. 58 tackles qualified with more than half of their team’s snaps, so he is below average among all of them. On the other hand, he still scored better than the majority of “second” tackles, so I suppose there’s a positive way to look at his performance. Danny Watkins, at 43rd out of 55, looks worse than Herremans on this measurement.

It was Jason Kelce that really stood out to me, though. At 30th overall, he was the single worst center measured. I was critical of Brian Baldinger’s comments that Kelce was having a Pro Bowl year, but that was based solely on my own impressions. These numbers certainly back me up though. In fact, Kelce’s 33 total pressures allowed was 10 more than the next highest center.

Assuming Mathis returns to Philly, it looks like the left side of the line will be more than fine. But everyone from Kelce on down the right side definitely has room for improvement in 2012.

Photo from Getty.

Will Nate Allen Finally Break Out in 2012?

John Breitenbach, for Pro Football Focus:

Having said that, Allen’s performances late in the season can give Eagles fans hope going into 2012. Following that New England debacle, he graded positively in each of the last five games, amassing a grade of +7.2 in that span. Overall, he finished at +3.8, good enough for 15th in the league last year. He looks ready to break out if he can remain fully healthy in 2012.

Over the last two seasons, Nate Allen has had stretches of games where he’s looked like an above average starter with good coverage and acceptable tackling ability. In his third season, maintaining that level through all 16 games would be a big boost to the Eagles defense.

Also check out Breitenbach’s take on some potential low-cost veteran additions to compete for the other safety spot.

Room to Improve for LeSean McCoy as a Receiver

LeSean McCoy

LeSean McCoy had an All-World rushing season last year, racking up 1300 yards and 17 touchdowns, good enough for best in the NFL in DYAR, by far. McCoy is also a more complete player than most other backs. His pass blocking has, by all accounts, improved significantly since he entered the league. And out of the backfield, McCoy has caught 166 balls over the last three seasons — third-most among all running backs.

Despite all those catches, however, there still seems to be room for improvement in the receiving department. While McCoy has already met or surpassed his mentor’s rushing ability, Brian Westbrook was a much more natural receiver. In fact, he was probably the best wideout the Eagles had for a number of years there.

At a basic level, Westbrook averaged 8.9 yards per catch over his entire career. McCoy has only managed 7.3 yards. That’s a large difference, although it’s hard to tell exactly why McCoy is deficient in that area.

One way to get a second-level look at McCoy’s receiving stats is to look at his receptions by distance. Pro Football Focus tracks passes thrown by direction, including whether those passes were thrown behind or in front of the line of scrimmage. Here is McCoy’s receiving production by year, delineated by passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage and past it:

LeSean McCoy Receiving Statistics

For starters, McCoy has always been targeted more in the backfield. Most of those are swing passes, screen passes, and shovels. However, at least until this year, he was also turning those passes into bigger gains. There’s an interesting trend, which may or may not be significant, where McCoy’s screens have become less effective each season while his receptions on pass routes past the line of scrimmage resulted in bigger gains.

(Note that YAC, yards after catch, include yards gained behind the line of scrimmage.)

So that’s interesting. But in order to get any context for those numbers, we have to compare them to other running backs. I averaged the 2011 reception figures for five comparable backs: Darren Sproles, Ray Rice, Chris Johnson, Arian Foster, and Matt Forte.

Other Running Backs Receiving Statistics

In many ways, these backs had the opposite production of McCoy. Most of their receptions came from routes past the line of scrimmage, not screens and swing passes. They were also more effective running those real pass routes than McCoy, with an average of 10.8 yards per catch beyond the line of scrimmage.

Granted, the reason McCoy runs few wide receiver-type routes is because he’s so valuable in the backfield — even as a decoy. But that’s true about these other running backs as well.

One way McCoy can take his game to the next level would be to apply himself this offseason to becoming a better route-runner and receiver when put in motion out of the backfield. That extra element made Brian Westbrook a multidimensional threat, and McCoy would be wise to follow in his footsteps.

Photo from Getty.

Michael Vick: Under Pressure

Michael Vick Scramble

I don’t think anyone (with the possible exception of Andy Reid) was shocked when Juan Castillo didn’t work out on defense. But nearly everyone was surprised at just how far Michael Vick regressed from his star season in 2010.

The big problem Vick had was simply turnovers. After posting zero interceptions through his first eight games the previous season, Vick was picked off 14 times in 13 games in 2011. That’s not nearly good enough if the Eagles want to rebound and make a run into the playoffs next year.

So let’s go a little deeper to try to understand some of Vick’s interception woes, using some stats from Pro Football Focus. Today I want to split Vick’s plays into two categories: regular and under pressure.

Let’s look at his non-pressured stats first. When not threatened by sacks or hits, Vick completed 69 percent of his passes, good enough for 8th-best among the 24 quarterbacks who took at least 50 percent of their team’s offensive snaps. That completion rate jumps to 76 percent and 6th-best when you don’t count drops against him.

As to interceptions, Vick was slightly below average, but not by much. He was 15th out of 24, with an interception rate of 2.5 percent. For reference, Eli Manning was 14th with 2.4 percent, and Drew Brees was 11th with 2.1 percent.

Overall, Vick showed room for improvement, but no big problems when he wasn’t pressured. When he had defenders in his face, however, Vick’s performance was more of a mixed bag.

On one hand, he had the 5th-highest touchdown rate and the 2nd-lowest sack rate among those 24 quarterbacks. With only 11.6 percent of all pressured dropbacks turned into sacks, Vick’s famed elusiveness served him well avoiding a big loss.

However, Vick completed only 42 percent his passes under pressure, which ranks 18th. Worse, 4.9 percent of his passes were intercepted, beating only Matt Hasselbeck, Tarvaris Jackson, Rex Grossman, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. (Matt Ryan scored about average, at 3.5 percent, while Andy Dalton, Aaron Rodgers, and Sam Bradford were blemish-free.)

There are two takeaways from this information. One is relatively straightforward: Vick needs to handle the pressure better, even take a few more sacks rather than expose himself to interceptions. The rookie Dalton, who threw zero interceptions under pressure, also threw the ball away in those situations more than anyone else in the league. Vick could learn something from that example.

But the second takeaway is more nuanced. For the last two seasons, Vick has been under pressure more than nearly any other quarterback. Last year he ranked first overall with pressure in 39.8 percent of his dropbacks. In 2010 he was second, with 41.8 percent.

Given the improvement along the offensive line year-over-year, it’s likely that this has more to do with Vick than his blockers. Football Outsiders sack timing stats show that more than half of his sacks take longer than three seconds, which partially can be attributed to avoiding defenders, but also results from his tendency to hold on to the ball too long.

Vick is a playmaker when he scrambles around — his touchdown rate is actually higher with pressure than without. But avoiding sacks and trying to score big also led him to turn the ball over far too much.

Perhaps Reid and Marty Mornhinweg should focus on teaching Vick to avoid more of those situations by making pre-snap reads and quick decisions about where to go with the football. If DeSean Jackson returns, there will still be plenty of opportunities to create big plays, even without dancing around in backfield. If he doesn’t become more consistent and less turnover-prone, Vick will continue to be a liablity going forward.

Photo from Getty.

The Mess of Pro Bowl Cornerbacks

Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

It’s quite a feat to turn a strength into a weakness. That’s what Juan Castillo and Johnnie Lynn managed to do to the Eagles’ elite trio of cornerbacks.

Coming into the season, the three Pro Bowlers were supposed to be an asset that covered up the Eagles inexperience at safety and linebacker. Instead, we were frequently left to wonder if the coaches had any plan to use them effectively at all. The biggest problem was that through most of the season no one figured out how to play Asante Samuel, Nnamdi Asomugha, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie all in the same lineup.

After they decided not to trade Samuel, the Eagles assumed that Rodgers-Cromartie could man the slot, a position he was uncomfortable with from the start. In yet another example of poor self-scouting, that turned out to be an awful idea.

Courtesy of Pro Football Focus, here are Asomugha’s and Rodgers-Cromartie’s stats at the two positions (Samuel played almost exclusively outside):

Nnamdi Asomugha Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie 2011 Coverage Stats

Starting with Asomugha, it’s worth noting that by these metrics he was stellar. Among cornerbacks with at least 25 percent of snaps, Nnamdi ranked first overall in coverage snaps per target, sixth in yards per snap, and second in snaps per reception. Each figure was down from 2010, as he was targeted more often, but they were all still elite.

Regardless, Asomugha provided similar performance no matter where he lined up. He had slightly more targets in the slot, but didn’t allow anything big.

Contrast that with Rodgers-Cromartie, who posted a massive split playing in two different positions. Out of the 44 corners last year with 25 percent or more slot snaps, he ranked 39th in snaps per target, 44th in yards per snap, and 41st in snaps per reception. That is awful. He was arguably the worst slot corner in the NFL.

Put Rodgers-Cromartie outside, and everything changes. In fact, DRC’s numbers on the outside were even better than Asomugha’s. As bad as he was on the inside, Rodgers-Cromartie was one of the best corners in the league when he was playing at his natural position.

Toward the end of the season Rodgers-Cromartie began to get more snaps outside. Partially that was to replace an injured Samuel, but even before that Asomugha would often play the slot in nickel and dime. Clearly, that was a much better defensive formation than what they had going on earlier — and that it took so long to implement is another black mark against Castillo.

Looking forward, I expect Samuel to be traded, freeing up space for DRC to play outside all the time. While Asante is still a great cornerback, playing to everyone’s strengths will be easier next year. The cornerbacks might actually be the fool-proof strength we all expected six months ago.

Photo from Getty.

Maclin vs. Jackson: Who’s More Valuable?

DeSean Jackson Jeremy Maclin Philadelphia Eagles

After the high-flying success of the 2010 Eagles passing attack, this past season represented a large drop off in passing production. Michael Vick regressed from his MVP-caliber season, and his young wide receivers did as well.

Even with fewer sacks, Vick’s net yards per attempt (which includes sacks) went down in 2011, as did his touchdown percentage. Meanwhile, his interception rate doubled. DeSean Jackson caught more passes, but had fewer yards and touchdowns. Jeremy Maclin suffered a similar decline across his numbers.

However, it was an especially trying season for Jackson, who played with the weight of failed contract negotiations on his shoulders. Unfortunately, instead of keeping business and football separate, Jackson admitted after the final game that he let the contract issues distract him.

So, as we enter the offseason, the question remains as to what to do about Jackson and his pending free agent status. Do you let him test the market, or do you franchise tag him? Do you try to work out an extension, or let him walk/trade him?

These outcomes are all on the table. The correct answer lies as much in how you view Jackson as a player, and how he fits into the Eagles offense. Is he a legitimate number one receiver, or do his personal foibles and inconsistent hands make him expendable?

Relatedly, if Maclin is the real number one wideout, maybe you build the offense around him instead. After all, he has more receptions and touchdowns than Jackson the last two seasons, and (for what it’s worth) wide receiver DVOA stats tend to rank Maclin above Jackson.

I thought a good place to start with all of this was with the final piece: an analysis of Maclin and Jackson against each other and, notably, without each other.

Here are the stats for the two receivers in games they both played, over the last three seasons (from Pro Football Focus):

Maclin Jackson With

Looking at this data, you can see that pass distribution has been almost equal; Maclin has a slight edge in targets. However, Maclin’s catch rate is much higher, resulting in more than an extra reception per game. Jackson catches more of the longer passes, however, so the yardage works out almost equal.

Both have been good receivers, but in different ways. Jackson is more explosive, Maclin is more reliable. Two reasonable people might disagree over which is more useful, and I’m not sure it’s worth debating at this time.

But those stats are only when the two play in the same game. If we want to know who is more valuable or, more to the point, what the prospects are without Jackson, we need to look at games they played without their counterpart (highlighted green for improved performance and red for decline against the baseline):

Maclin Jackson Without

Let me just start by stating plainly the small sample size here. In the last three years Jackson has played only 6 games without Maclin, and Maclin only 3 without Jackson. That said, the numbers might still provide insight.

In both cases their pass targets went up by one — but that’s really the only similarity. In almost every other statistic, Jackson’s numbers actually improved without Maclin in the lineup. He had a higher catch rate and higher yards after the catch. Slightly fewer touchdowns, but that’s so hard to project over a limited number of games.

Meanwhile, things haven’t gone well in Maclin’s few tries without Jackson. While his targets went up, his catch rate dropped dramatically to less than 50 percent. He had fewer yards per catch, fewer yards after the catch, and no touchdowns. All in all, surprisingly poor results.

Once again, small sample size, but this is the only evidence we’re going to have before the Eagles make a long-term decision on their mercurial young star. And the evidence certainly suggests that Jackson’s not only a fine receiver himself, but his deep threat makes his running mate look better as well.

Take away Maclin, and Jackson benefits from the increased attention. Take away Jackson, and Maclin suffers despite it.

Some fans might be willing to move on without Jackson, should that come to pass. But this data reads like a warning. In a full season without DeSean, Maclin might look a lot more like Reggie Brown than Mike Quick.

Photo from Getty.

Rewind: Notes on the Eagles-Jets Game

Brent Celek Eagles Reception

I rewatched the Eagles-Jets game last night and came away with several short nuggets for your enjoyment. Here you go:

  • The Trent Cole and Jason Babin delayed blitz routine is fun to watch. Jimmy at Blogging the Beast has a nice breakdown of it. Though they’ve run this for a few weeks, it was especially effective against the Jets. I expect that the Cowboys tackles will be more prepared to pass their rushers off to the inside, which is when the Eagles should go double A-gap blitz instead.

  • On the other side of the blitzing coin, there’s no need to pull zone blitzes that drop Cole into coverage. It’s just counter-productive. Mark Sanchez completed his long pass to tight end Dustin Keller against Cole. Of course, it helped that he could use a pump fake to move Kurt Coleman out of position.

  • Casey Matthews definitely has potential as a nickel linebacker. He’s at least playing at game speed now and recognizing backs out of the backfield quickly, which is a massive improvement from before. He wasn’t a horrible pick in the fourth round, but I have no idea what Juan Castillo and company were thinking starting him, especially as a rookie.

  • Meanwhile, Brian Rolle seems to be hitting a bit of a rookie wall. Where Matthews was flying around the field, Rolle looked slower than usual.

  • Asante Samuel shifted over into the slot on the right side once or twice when he didn’t have a receiver to match up with on his side. That said, he was immediately called for pass interference on a slant route.

  • Pro Football Focus charted the Eagles defense with 9 blitzes out of 31 plays. In general, blitzing (even sending 6+) is very positive for this team, since most of the coverage problems originate with linebacker or safety play.

  • I loved the little play action screen pass in the third quarter, when the Eagles brought Brent Celek across the formation as if he was going to trap block, then he let the defensive end go, turned, and was open for the quick pass. Almost converted for the first down.

  • The Jamar Chaney interception was all Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. DRC jumped the slant route and knocked the ball into the air. It really shouldn’t be as hard for him to adjust to the slot as he makes it out to be, but he’s clearly more comfortable on the outside.

  • LeSean McCoy’s 33 yard TD run was a classic example of his skills. He dodged the first free rusher and then bounced to the opposite side of the field, dancing around another defender. Then he turned on the burners. Touchdown.

Photo from Getty.