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Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Vick is not the only problem in Philadelphia

By Albert Larcada, ESPN Stats & Information

AP Photo/Michael PerezMichael Vick and the Eagles are struggling this season.
After the Philadelphia Eagles' disappointing 30-17 loss at home to the Atlanta Falcons, quarterback Michael Vick acknowledged that he may be headed to the bench. The question is, is that the solution to the Eagles woes? Is it even the most pressing problem they need to address?

The answer lies in the framework of expected points added. You can read the full explanation of expected points here, but the short version is expected points added aggregates the number of points a team is expected to score given the game situation of each play. It's the best way to break down how a team increases (or decreases) its chance of scoring on all plays, not just touchdown plays.

Using expected points we can pinpoint exactly what is preventing the Eagles offense from succeeding this season. And as it turns out, the drop back passing game is not the biggest problem.

In 2010 and 2011 the Eagles led the league in expected points added (EPA) on rushes. Even if we eliminate scrambles the Eagles were still the second best team behind New England. But this season the Eagles are dead last in the NFL in rush EPA when ignoring scrambles, costing themselves nearly 40 points on rush plays. In fact, they are on pace for the worst rush EPA since 2008.

So what's been wrong with Philadelphia this season compared to the past two? Well, it's not scrambling. Vick is still improvising with his legs. Only RG3 and surprise runner Andrew Luck have added more points with scrambles this season than Vick.

The problem is on designed rush plays, particularly those out of the Eagles preferred one-back set. Since 2010 the Eagles have run 2,564 offensive plays. Seventy percent have had exactly one running back in the backfield. In 2010 and 2011 Philadelphia averaged 5.8 yards per rush, ran for a first down on 30 percent of carries and added 51 expected points on designed rush plays with one running back.

This season, they are down to 4.3 yards per rush and have a -28 EPA on designed rush plays with one back.

One thing to note is that Michael Vick is not faultless here. Although his scrambling has once again been superb, his designed rushes have not been. His 1.4 QBR on 19 designed rush plays is well below the league average of 12.2.

One of the biggest reasons for this drop has to be surrounding the absence of offensive lineman Jason Peters. Philadelphia has long been a team that counts on getting yards before contact, and Peters has been a big part of it.

In 2010-11 designed rush plays the Eagles added 15 expected points on 576 rushes with him on the field. With Peters off the field they cost themselves one expected point on 176 rush attempts. This trend has continued in 2012 as Peters has not been on the field yet.

One formation that has worked this season for the Eagles on rush plays has rookie fullback Stanley Havili in the backfield with a tailback, along with the Eagles top three receiving options DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek. This group has added +2.4 EPA on 25 designed rush attempts and another +2.7 on Vick scrambles. Compare this to their -42.3 EPA on rushes in all other formations. Ignoring two lost fumbles that Havili had little to do with, Philadelphia has been a better rushing team with its fullback in the game.

The small sample size says it’s far from a sure thing Havili is the answer to their rushing problems, but the early returns say the Eagles should be open to having their fullback on the field more often. It very well may turn around their rushing game - and potentially their season.