Since Darren Sproles was the Eagles' rotating sixth captain on Sunday afternoon in Chicago, it was his decision to call "heads" for the coin toss. It didn't work. Or did it?
The Eagles lost the toss, but it might have been a good thing.
The Bears decided to defer, so Nick Foles and the Eagles' offense got the ball first and promptly marched 50 yards on 10 plays and Jake Elliott made his 43-yard field goal to give the Eagles an early lead in their eventual 16-15 win.
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No, the Eagles didn't keep that lead and went into the half down 6-3, but that drive was important. It at least proved to the Eagles that they could move the ball against the NFL's top-ranked defense.
The Eagles desperately need to get off to a hot start this coming Sunday. It's even more important this weekend.
The Saints are the type of team that will crush you if they get out in front. That's exactly what they did to the Eagles in Week 11, when they jumped out to a 10-point lead in the first quarter and 17-point lead early in the second quarter.
The Saints are 5-0 this season when leading after one quarter. They are 9-0 when leading at half.
So on Sunday at the Superdome, the Eagles need to find a way to get on the board early. They can't let the Saints build a lead on them.
Check out some more important numbers:
• The Eagles have scored in the first quarter in seven games this season (including the wild-card game) and are 7-0 in those games. They are 3-7 when they don't score in the first quarter.
• While the Eagles have the best winning percentage in the NFL when they score in the first quarter this season (they're 7-0), the Saints are second. They're 10-1 when they score in the opening quarter.
• Including Sunday, the Eagles have now won 19 straight games when they score in the first quarter. In the last two seasons, they are 20-1 when they score in the first. That's the best winning percentage in the league for those games. The only loss came in Kansas City in Week 2 last year.
During the last two years, the Saints are 20-6 when they score in the first quarter, which isn't bad either.
• The problem is the Eagles scored just 41 points total in first quarters this season. That was dead-last in the NFL. The Saints were ninth with 81.
Since the Eagles will be on the road again Sunday, they'll get to make the call on the coin flip again. Every time they've won the toss this year, they've elected to defer. That's what they're likely going to do if they win the toss on Sunday. Earlier this season, I asked Doug Pederson why he defers and it's because of their analytics.
I think it's more about the number of touches, possessions the offense can get. When you study it and look at it, if I can gain one more possession in the first half like we did last week - we actually got two, to get one, kick a field goal and then come out in the second half, go down and score - that's kind of the object. That's what you're trying to do. If you can give your offense another touch or two, especially at the end of the half, that's what we want.
I get all that, but I wonder if it wouldn't be better to give the offense the ball first and try to get on the board before the Saints' high-powered offense.
Either way, the Eagles need to get off to a hot start, something that eluded them for much of this season, if they want to win this rematch against what might be the best team in the NFL. They can't afford to attempt a game of catch-up again.
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