Notes on Sunday’s loss to the Eagles and looking ahead to the Panthers:
Here’s one way to put Rex Grossman’s performance in perspective: If his season were to have ended last Sunday, it would have been the second-best season of his career, better than even his Super Bowl year in terms of Win Probability Added (WPA) per game. As poorly as he has played recently, it’s about as good as one could reasonably expect. Grossman’s ceiling is clearly established. The question now is whether John Beck can possibly be worse.
Beck is a statistical enigma. He has appeared in only 5 games before Sunday, all of which were for the 1-15 2007 Dolphins. He was a disaster, posting -1.36 WPA, -31.9 Expected Points Added (EPA), with 3.0 Adjusted Yards Per Attempt (AYPA). He didn’t have much of an offense around him, but he was the worst of the three Dolphins QBs that year. Beck’s fourth quarter against the Eagles was solid, even if the Eagles defense was partially in prevent mode. He posted +6.7 EPA, a 50 percent SR and 6.9 AYPA, which bodes well if (or when) he is given the starting nod.
Kory Lichtensteiger’s season-ending injury is going to be very costly. He may have been the Redskins’ best offensive lineman. Running plays classified as over “left guard” were the team’s most successful with a 67 percent Success Rate (SR), compared to a team average of 46 percent. Trent Williams’s absence will obviously hurt as well. Runs to the left, “up the middle” and right had 57 percent, 46 percent, and 43 percent SR respectively. The Redskins have been correctly favoring the left when running the ball, going left, middle, and right 57 percent, 9 percent, and 34 percent of the time.
The Redskins lost the battle in the trenches badly last Sunday. The Redskins’ offensive line allowed 3 tackles for losses, 9 QB hits, and 3 sacks, while managing only a 27 percent run SR. The Eagles line allowed 2 tackles for losses, 2 QB hits (due largely to the very maneuverable Michael Vick), and 1 sack. Vick is elusive, but he does get sacked fairly often, and when he does it’s often for more yards than most other quarterbacks.
Down by 17 points in the 3rd quarter, the Redskins attempted a field goal on 4th down and 3 from the Philadelphia 8-yard line. This is a curious decision, to put it nicely. Going by the percentages, it’s wise to go for it in this situation, even when the score is close. When a team is down by 17, it’s essential. The best-case scenario is that you’re able to score two touchdowns in the four remaining possessions you can expect, all while holding your opponent scoreless for an entire half of play — the opponent who already put up a 17-0 lead on you. And this only gets you to overtime with a 50/50 shot to win. To win a game like this requires some smart gambles, and this was a missed opportunity to create some good fortune.
The bright spot for the Redskins continues to be the defense. It’s easily a top 10 squad, probably top five. They’re sixth in EPA and SR, and they’re sixth in WPA per game. Overall, they’re ranked fourth in the league in efficiency accounting for the quality of to-date opposing offenses.
This Sunday, the Redskins will take on the league’s very worst defense. The Panthers are at or near the bottom in nearly every important category. The offense should be able to right its ship, at least for one day, but the problem will be slowing down rookie sensation Cam Newton.
Brian Burke is former Navy pilot who has given up his F/A-18 for the less dangerous hobby of football analysis. He is the creator of Advanced NFL Stats, a website about football, statistics, and and game theory.