The Eagles are just a couple of years removed from a Super Bowl championship, and they made the playoffs last year even though starting QB Carson Wentz missed significant time with injury. They have been one of the better teams in the NFL in the last couple of years, and it’s not just because of the talent of their players on the field. The Eagles are at the cutting edge of the league in terms of using technology and analytics to improve their team. While other teams have been slow to adopt those aspects, the Eagles are taking advantage of them — to their benefit.
What technology do the Eagles use?
Ryan Paganetti is the Eagles’ assistant linebackers coach, but he is also a member of the team’s analytics department, a fitting role for someone who has a B.S. in economics from Cornell.
During games, Paganetti has a direct line of communications to head coach Doug Pederson. He is responsible for feeding the coach with math-based recommendations for plays in certain situations, including going for it on fourth downs. The communication between the two has been strengthened in recent use thanks to the NFL’s use of radiofrequency identification (RFID) technology.
The league uses RFID to track and record the players’ positions and movements in real-time with chips embedded under their shoulder pads. The Eagles were the first team in the league to install the corresponding technology in their practice facility. That was in 2014, and only one-third of NFL teams have followed suit in the ensuing five years.
How do the Eagles use the technology?
Last spring, the league released two years worth of game data captured through RFID, and Eagles owner Jeff Lurie made sure the Eagles were well-equipped to handle all that information when they received it. While most teams still haven’t begun to adopt RFID technology, the Eagles have already built a robust analytics department — full of Ivy Leaguers like Paganetti — around the tech to decode and utilize the information that RFID has captured.
John Pollard, an executive with Zebra Technologies, the firm that has worked with the NFL to develop the technology, calls the Eagles “a model organization in terms using information and how they actually apply it day in and day out.” Pollard also noted that the Eagles have “long been at the forefront” of taking advantage of advancements in technology.
How do the Eagles benefit from technology?
Studying the player movement data from the RFID technology allows the Eagles’ coaching staff and players to game plan better against their opponents. Having the player-tracking information allows the team to efficiently time the opponent’s pace of play, including how fast they get to the line of scrimmage and how many adjustments they make once there.
Knowing that allows the Eagles — and other teams that utilize the collected data — to tailor the tempo of their practices to the pace they can expect to have to play in their upcoming game, based on the opponent’s data. The Eagles can use that data to develop schemes, as well as identify tendencies and matchups that they can exploit during the game.
Technology helps, but it doesn’t guarantee success
The Eagles can use all the technology and data at their disposal and they will gain advantages over their opponents, but former team president Joe Banner explains that it doesn’t guarantee success. Banner says the advanced data “gives you a little better odds, which in a league that’s built to neutralize everything, increasing your odds a little bit in some areas is a big difference.”