Eagles Offense Avoiding Mistakes

The preseason has uncovered a startling trend: the Eagles starting offense is making less mistakes.

Among the more enduring images of Thursday's preseason romp of the Steelers was Jason Kelce, the beady-eyed bearded center, splattering future Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu on LeSean McCoy's 22-yard touchdown screen. The whiskers proved mightier than the Head and Shoulders locks on that particular play.

Gradually, the Eagles starting offensive line, with Allen Barbre filling in for suspended Lane Johnson, has gotten back to the form that Chip Kelly and line coach Jeff Stoutland urged them to in 2013. After some doubts were raised in the preseason opener in Chicago, Thursday's demolishing of Pittsburgh's defense was a mental respite for Philly fans.

Examining the numbers a little bit closer, and there's a little more cause for optimism when it comes to the Eagles offense. But first, some backstory.

In 2013, Nick Foles was sacked on 8.1 percent of dropbacks. Factoring in the snaps of Michael Vick and Matt Barkley, and the Eagles took a sack on 8.3 percent of dropbacks (Vick's average: 9.6%).

In all, the Eagles averaged a Negative Passing Play on 10.09 percent of dropbacks in 2013. NPP's include both sacks and picks, so about one of every ten passing plays ended disastrously for the Eagles last year.

That 10.09 percent fail rate is merely the 19th best in the NFL last season. A large part of the NPP issue were the 46 sacks that Foles and company endured. In comparison, the AFC Champion Denver Broncos ranked number one in NPP avoidance, averaging a bad passing play 4.32 percent of dropbacks.

This preseason (and 'preseason' is stressed strongly here; I understand it's not 'actual' football), the Eagles first-team offense has only allowed a Negative Passing Play on four of 49 dropbacks. That's a NPP% of 8.16 percent.

Had the Eagles averaged 8.16 percent in 2013, they would have ranked a much-improved tenth in the category, leaping ahead of the likes of Kansas City, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, among others.

Here's how those 49 dropbacks shake out for Foles and the first-teamers:

at Chicago: 9 dropbacks, 2 interceptions

at New England: 11 dropbacks, 1 sack

vs. Pittsburgh: 29 dropbacks, 1 interception

The Bears game saw the Eagles line besieged with confusion, spurred by Mel Tucker's aggressive formations, and Foles really forced throws in that outing. The sack came from Rob Ninkovich, who bullied Barbre quite noticeably. The interception to the Steelers was the freak play where Darren Sproles got tangled on a screen with Todd Herremans, and Polamalu came flying in to pick it off.

Making the improved efficiency more impressive is that one lone sack in 49 dropbacks. That's taking a sack on little more than two percent of passing plays. Considering that Peyton Manning led the NFL last season by being sacked a mere 2.7 percent of dropbacks, it's not out of the realm of possibility that the Eagles line can strive toward these highly impressive numbers in 2014.

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