Great RB Debate
Analytics Report: Swift Vs. Gainwell, By The Numbers
Those waiting for Philadelphia native D’Andre Swift to take over the Eagles’ backfield were rewarded Thursday night, as an injury to Kenneth Gainwell forced Swift into the lead ball-carrier role.
Swift, acquired from the Lions during an NFL Draft weekend trade, rushed for 175 yards on 28 carries – averaging 6.3 yards per carry – and scored a touchdown in the 34-28 victory.
Thanks to some light boxes deployed by the Vikings, Swift capitalized on his opportunity, delivering one of the best rushing performances in Eagles history – 11th-most all time – and raised some questions as to why the Eagles only gave him one carry Week 1 against the Patriots while Gainwell led the offense with 14.
Geoff Mosher and Adam Caplan discussed more carries for Swift going forward in the latest Inside The Birds podcast, and former Eagles standouts Jason Avant and Quintin Mikell echoed a similar sentiment in the “Q&A” podcast on Inside The Birds.
Despite Gainwell’s milestone performance against the Vikings, he hasn’t necessarily secured the lead role going forward.
Gainwell since the start of camp has had the trust of Eagles coaches, and head coach Nick Sirianni said Monday that he expects Gainwell and others who missed the Week 2 game to return for Monday night’s Week 3 game against 2-0 Tampa Bay.
Both Swift and Gainwell operate similarly as backs and offer another dimension in the pass game, as Swift averages 7.5 yards per reception over his career and Gainwell averages 7.6.
This purpose of this analytical deep dive is to understand the process by which Eagles have used to determine their lead ball carrier, and why Gainwell might still be the team’s lead back when healthy.
It will also compare the career stats of both running backs.
The Case for Gainwell
Since Swift just came over in April, and since Gainwell is in his third season with the Eagles, it’s a fair assumption that Gainwell has a better grasp of the playbook and system.
However, this probably isn’t the only reason why the Eagles preferred Gainwell in the opener. Gainwell out-snapped Swift (20-2) in the week 1 matchup.
Gainwell over his career has shown to be better in pass protection, as seen below:
Gainwell has only allowed one sack in 60 pass protection opportunities while Swift has allowed four, though it’s important to note that Swift has had more opportunities in pass protection, which means it is more likely he would have allowed more sacks.
That’s where the rate of sacks allowed per opportunity (SK/Opp) is significant.
Gainwell’s ratio is 0.02 while Swift’s is 0.04, meaning that roughly every 50 opportunities Gainwell will allow a sack compared to every 25 opportunities in which Swift would allow a sack.
It’s also important to note that Swift has allowed a lower rate of total pressure (where pressure is sacks + hits + hurries). But the fact that Swift allowed his QB to get hit for 60% of pressures allowed – while Gainwell’s is just 12.5% – indicates that still Gainwell is the super pass protector, and important element to an Eagles offense that typically looks to come out passing.
In fact, the first play of the Week 1 game resulted in Hurts finding Gainwell in the left flat for six yards.
The Case for Swift
Based purely on rushing statistics, here is how Swift and Gainwell compare throughout their careers.
Despite having significantly more attempts, Swift has a slightly higher yards-per-attempt average. Swift also has more touchdowns.
Surprisingly, Swift has more yards before contact – perhaps a testament to Detroit’s excellent offensive line – but also perhaps due to Swift’s rushing style and vision through the blocks.
Gainwell has a slightly higher yards-after-carry average, which could be due to his running style and vision. However, both backs have fairly similar values.
Swift leads in every other proportional statistic and, based purely on rushing, likely has the edge over Gainwell.
The Eagles will likely use a combination of Gainwell and Swift, despite Swift’s incredible Week 2 showing.
Sirianni mentioned going with the “hot hand,” which would seemingly be Swift. But the Eagles have faced some aggressive fronts and defensive play callers over the first two weeks, and that won’t change Monday when they face the Todd Bowles-led Buccaneers.
Bowles’ defenses are typically among the NFL’s leaders in blitz percentage, so the Eagles could lean more on Gainwell for better pass protection. The upstart Bucs already have eight sacks.
When the Eagles face weaker rush defenses – or defenses that don’t historically blitz as much – it’s more likely Swift will see more opportunities.
– Sam Finkel is a staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com who focuses on analytics.
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