Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Requiem For A Dream Team

The best thing you can say about the 2011 is it's now 2012.

For the Philadelphia Eagles, it was a year where seemingly everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.  The best possible off-season had the worst possible season.  With so much hype surrounding the team, that they could finish 8-8 is a slap in the face.  An embarrassment.  An indictment of everything wrong with Andy Reid, Howie Roseman, Joe Banner, and Jeffrey Lurie.

Or was it?

About a month ago when the Eagles were 5-8, I wrote about the Eagles Pythagenport win percentage and how the 2011 Eagles were largely a victim of bad close game luck.  At the time, the Eagles were just behind the Dallas Cowboys for 2nd best team in the conference, with a Pythagenport win percentage of just over .511.  Since then, the Eagles have done nothing but win.  Their win percentage went up.  Meanwhile the Giants, whom Pythagenport had has the 3rd best in the division behind only the embarrassing Washington Redskins went on to win it.  It's almost a terrifying prospect to go back and revisit this for updated numbers, because I know what the result will be.  I know how this ends.  I have not even done the math, and yet I know how this ends.  I wish I didn't.  But I do.  Here it is.

Actual win percentage
Giants:  .563
Eagles:  .500
Cowboys:  .500
Redskins: .313

Pythagenport win percentage:
Eagles:  .615
Cowboys:  .538
Giants:  .490
Redskins:  .356

The Eagles ended the season at .615 Pythagenport win percentage, or just .1 short of 10-6, to convert the percentages back to actual records.  In terms of Pythagenport win percentage, the Eagles were over a game better than the Cowboys, the 2nd best team in the NFC East, according to Pythagenport.  To compare the Eagles to the wild card teams, well, both the Lions and the Falcons both finished 10-6.  I explained the justification for the disparity a month ago, but I will blockquote here as a refresher.
A basic theory of football is there is the ability to win close football games (with close football game being defined as games where the final margin of victory is 7 points or less) is not an actual ability. Some might define this perceived ability as being "clutch." But alas, no coach/QB/team hold an ability to consistently win/lose close football games. Over the course of a season, teams will tend to hover around the .500 league median. In his article last Friday, Bill Barnwell elaborates on this general point further with Tim Tebow's performance being the subject of the post. To go back to the Eagles, the Eagles are 2-5 this season in games where the final margin of victory is 7 points or less. The bad luck the Eagles have seen in these close games is a major reason why the Eagles' actual win percentage is as far below the Eagles' Pythagenport win percentage as it is. The fact that over 50% of the Eagles games have been decided by a touchdown or less is part of the reason their Pythagenport win percentage hovers around the .500 mark.
Brian Solomon, in a post a month ago attempting to negate what I said, only reinforces my point by (correctly) eliminating other well-known measures of "luck" in a football game.  To further illustrate this point, take a look at Andy Reid's record in games decided by 7 points or less per season over the course of his tenure in Philadelphia.

1999:  4-6
2000:  4-4
2001:  3-3
2002:  3-3
2003:  6-2
2004:  4-1
2005:  5-5
2006:  4-5
2007:  3-5
2008:  1-6-1
2009:  4-2 
2010:  5-5
2011:  2-5

Lesser teams had normal luck.  Good teams had bad luck.  Hell, the unluckiest team in the entirety of Andy Reid's tenure made the NFC Championship Game.  Even with the dramatic roster turnovers that have occurred over the last decade, the only consistency is the inconsistent records in close games.  Because, as I mentioned before, the percentage of games a team wins decided by seven points or less boils down to luck.  That is where the 2011 Eagles were unlucky, and ultimately, that is why they did not qualify for the playoffs.

The 2011 Philadelphia Eagles were, at worst, good enough.

At best?  Some people might want to stop reading now, because if you thought the above stats were difficult to get through, it only gets harder to read from here.

There are numerous methods of ranking a team.  One of the best, is Football Outsiders' DVOA rankings.  For an explanation of DVOA, click here.  Yesterday, Football Outsiders published their latest weighted DVOA rankings.  Now it is important to note that if there is such a thing as momentum from game-to-game, it is at best hugely overrated.  But at the same time, the make-up of a team and the play of a team can be quite drastic from Week 1 to the end of the regular season.  So while momentum, may not necessarily be a factor in this discussion, there is certainly a lot of merit to placing more weight on games played toward the end of the season as opposed to games played toward the beginning of the season.  Here are a list of select teams in weighted DVOA after wild card weekend, non-playoff teams included.

1.  New Orleans Saints
2.  Green Bay Packers
4.  New England Patriots
5.  Philadelphia Eagles
6.  Houston Texans
7.  San Francisco 49ers
10.  Baltimore Ravens
13.  New York Giants
21.  Denver Broncos

Five out of eight.  According to Football Outsiders, the Philadelphia Eagles are better than five out of eight NFL playoff teams.  And look at who is ahead of them.  The teams everyone considers as the NFL's "elite."    Even with less than elite competition, the Eagles were playing quite all right in the last few weeks, weren't they?  And for those that did not click on the above DVOA explained link, yes, DVOA factors in strength of opposition in their rankings.

It goes against what members of the media have told you.  It goes against what people want to believe.  People were just waiting for the Juan Castillo experiment to fail.  And when things started as bad as they did, the narrative had already been written.  Juan Castillo as a defensive coordinator was the biggest flop in Andy Reid's entire coaching tenure.  Worst decision ever.  Fire Juan.  Fire Andy.  Fire Howie.  Someone's gotta be accountable for this epic and humiliating disaster.

But what if I told you this story did not end like you thought it did?

What if I told you redemption could happen in front of your very eyes, and you not even notice it?

Here is a look at a total DVOA by defense after Week 4
1-31.  31 NFL teams not named the Philadelphia Eagles
32.  Philadelphia Eagles: 21.6%.

If you were to say the Juan Castillo experiment was a complete flop after the first four weeks of football, you would be absolutely right.  And while it is never the brightest decision to make permanent judgments after four games, it is certainly safe to say things were not looking good for Juan.

But look at non-weighted DVOA by defense after the regular season concluded
10. Philadelphia Eagles: 0.3%

That number gives equal weight to each play in the first four games of the season as it did in the final 12 games.  And it factors in strength of opponent.

The question then arises, what to do with Juan Castillo?  Was the turnaround a result of Castillo's coaching, Castillo's scheming, or players flat out playing better?  Was there a single change that turned things around?

I wish I knew the answer.  Unfortunately, I do not.  But when evaluating what to do with the defensive coordinator position and Steve Spagnuolo, who is reportedly going to be in Philadelphia the end of this week, it is an answer I hope Andy Reid has.  Jeffrey Lurie has already (smartly) announced Andy Reid will be back for the 2012 season, so this will be Andy's decision to make, as he is in charge of his coaching staff.    There are reasonable arguments for keeping Juan Castillo, and reasonable arguments for firing him or demoting him to the now conveniently available CB coach.  There are reasonable arguments for bringing in Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator and/or an assistant head coach as an aid to defensive coordinator to Juan Castillo, and there are also arguments against Spags.  There is no definite path here, and if any of the above come to fruition, I can't say I will be disappointed or angry.

The sun has set on another Philadelphia Eagles season.  Another Eagles season without a Super Bowl.  But when one makes the Super Bowl their sole expectation for the season, and that expectation is not met as it ultimately happens for 31 of 32 NFL teams, it's not hard to fail, and it's not easy to win.  Unlike in college football where every regular season game counts until they don't anymore, every game in the NFL is treated with the same weight.  The fact of the matter is four poor early season defensive performances combined with bad luck damned the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles to an eternal hell consisting of ignorant ridicule and worn out jokes.

The 2011 Philadelphia Eagles were a good football team.  It is a shame they will never be remembered as such.

On that note, we say so long to the Dream Team.  And all it's promise.  And all it's potential.  And all it's bad fortune.  You should be remembered fondly, although these words will fall on deaf ears.  Maybe one day, we will see this farewell as a revival.  Maybe one day, all will be forgotten.  Maybe one day, years of pain will be erased with a moment of glory.  But for now, we must bid you adieu.


  1. Goal for 2012 Eagles: Stop fumbling and getting intercepted so often!

    Philadelphia needs to tweak that offense. It sounds funny but I do not see how they can be Super Bowl contenders without a receiver like 2004 T.O.

    I cannot be convinced that Andy Reid and management can win a Super Bowl. Way too often the offense is half-complete and that's a management issue. McNabb was an elite QB stuck with guys like Todd Pinkston for years. Vick is a top 10 QB stuck with talented but oft-injured midget speedsters who singlehandedly eliminate any fade passes from the playbook. Oh, and Vick himself gets hurt a lot.

    Reid's issue is that the timeout management, clock control, and stretches of games where he just abandons the run have not been fixed and have become habit. If they become habit, it's hard to break a habit. He's great with personnel and has elite skill position players on offense... but he's a piss-poor gameday coach.

  2. The 8th best offense in the NFL needs tweaking? Granted the Eagles are not New England, Green Bay, or New Orleans, but you do do not need to be Green Bay, New England, or New Orleans to win. For at least two of their teams, the season will end in a loss.

    Andy Reid is not the NFL's best game day coach (I'd have to think that honor goes to Sean Payton), but he is far from the worst and certainly not "piss poor." Running the football is being de-emphasized more and more in the NFL in favor of a QB-oriented, pass-heavy attack. History and studies have shown that in the modern NFL, teams run the ball because they are winning, they do not win because they run ball.

    As far as receivers go, DeSean Jackson may or may not back down from his demands of "Larry Fitzgerald money." If he does and can accept a reasonable contract, I'd welcome him back and think the Eagles should bring him back.

    Andy Reid has never been one to use fade routes anyway. He sets up screens and shovel passes (which I prefer in near endzone situations anyway). The lack of a real tall wide receiver outside of Riley Cooper and the two tight ends is hardly a major problem for the Philadelphia Eagles. In fact, it is probably more of a nitpick than anything else.

    I know you love to rag on the Eagles offensive line. But as it turned out, they were statistically one of the best in the league this year.

    Like I said in the post, the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles were a good football team.


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