The first week of the 2019 season is in the books and while the final results in the NFC East were largely what was predicted, fans were treated to a few in-game surprises. Here, we will examine these games through the lens of Expected Points. Expected Points uses data from previous NFL seasons to determine how many points a team is likely to come away with on a given play based on down, distance, time remaining, and field position. The difference in expected points at the start of a play and expected points at the end is referred to as expected points added, or EPA.
Philadelphia, fresh off of a big Carson Wentz contract extension, came into this game as 9.5-point favorites. Wentz along with an impressive wide-receiver corps performed well, averaging 0.50 EPA through the air on each throw. The surprise was the way Washington managed to keep pace with, and early on even outperform, the more experience-laden Eagles. Washington lagged just barely behind Philadelphia on an EPA/pass basis and matched their performance in terms of success rate and 1st down rate through the air. Much of this came on the back of rookie wideout Terry McLaurin. McLaurin had a final line of 5 catches for 125 yards and a touchdown and came about 2 feet shy of catching a 70+ yard TD pass.
The other NFC East game this week saw two passing games on opposite ends of the spectrum. Aside from the Ravens' beatdown of Miami and the Patriots being, well, the Patriots, the Cowboys' offense looks like it could be the best in the league.
Kellen Moore immediately made his mark on the play style, nearly doubling the use of play-action from 2018 and drastically increasing the use of pre-snap motion. Rather than designing the offense around Ezekiel Elliott, Moore seems to have decided to gameplan around his quarterback's strengths.
Dak Prescott became just the third quarterback in the past 30 years to finish a game with 400+ yards, 4 TDs, and a perfect 158.3 passer rating. Only Jared Goff in 2018 and Nick Foles in 2013 have reached that mark. Joining company with Sean McVay and 2013 Chip Kelly is a pretty great start for this offense.
Week 1's Top Players
No surprise here as Prescott finished with the best EPA/pass in the NFC East and second-best in the NFL (trailing only Lamar Jackson's huge day). Case Keenum looked really good as well, and it seems as though he's found whatever it is he had in Minnesota two seasons ago. Every one of Washington's first downs on Sunday came on a Case Keenum pass.
Saquon Barkley headlines the running backs form week 1 with a ridiculous 0.76 EPA/carry. To put that into perspective, the average Barkley carry was more productive than the average Patrick Mahomes dropback (0.67 EPA/pass). In fact, there were only three quarterbacks with better passing numbers than Barkley's rushing numbers. And it wasn't all in garbage time either. In the first half, before the two-minute warning, Barkley had 5 carries and averaged 1.21 EPA/carry. The Giants offense as a whole was pretty anemic, but Barkley is still a dynamic back.
Derrius Guice, on the other hand, had a pretty rough day in Philadelphia. Guice's first carry (a 5-yard gain on 1st down) was his only successful (positive EPA) carry of the game. After Washington took a 17-point lead, Guice's next 4 carries went for a total of 0 yards and -3 EPA, plus a holding penalty that brought them back another 7 yards. These carries also lost the team about 9% total win probability. Not ideal for a team trying to close out a game on the road.
McLaurin jumps out again here with one of the highest average target depths in the league at 20.4 yards. His 4.35 speed is translating into a great ability to get behind defenders and find open space deep.
DeSean Jackson also had himself a day. The 32-year old's two 50+ yard touchdown catches helped him to a 1.40 EPA/target, good for sixth best in the NFL.
We can't leave this section without talking about the Cowboys' Michael Gallup.
On his 7 targets, the second-year wideout collected 7 catches, 158 yards, five first downs, and 13.6 total EPA. Each of Gallup's four targets on either 2nd or 3rd down were past the first down marker. All the Cowboys' receivers had great days, but Gallup's was on another level of efficiency.
Week 1's Top Defenders
Playmaking EPA is a cumulative measure of the EPA lost by an offense when a given defender makes a play (interception, sack, tackle, etc). Washington was full of players making plays against the run, which helps explain the low success rate of Philadelphia's running backs. Leighton Vander Esch highlights the most balanced defenders, with above average passing and rushing playmaking EPA. Washington's Daron Payne also had a big impact during his game, and in fact he shows up in the biggest defensive EPA play of the week.
The East's top plays from week 1
On defense, the highest impact play by EPA came on Payne's batted pass in the 2nd quarter in Philadelphia. The Eagles, in their early comeback attempt, decided against settling for a field goal on 4th and 2 at the Washington 29 yard line. Payne showed some hops and knocked it down before it could get to DeSean Jackson.
The offensive play of the week happened just two plays later, when Case Keenum hit Terry McLaurin in stride for this nice 69-yard touchdown.
There will be another divisional matchup next week when the Cowboys go to Washington. Both teams come in with strong passing attacks, though Dallas does have a pretty significant edge. Adrian Peterson looks poised to start at running back for Washington, and if he can spark a bit more offense on the ground we should see a pretty close game.
The Giants will host their first game in New York against the Bills, who come to town with a slightly worse pass attack and a significantly worse run game thus far in 2019. Look for Saquon to feast some more in this one.
The Eagles head to Atlanta to face a Falcons team that was handed a brutal loss on Sunday by the Vikings. It's hard to imagine their passing game stays as bad as it was in week 1, so we should see some exciting things in the air in next week's battle of the birds.