Eagles' torrid start slowed by red-zone struggles

Eagles' torrid start slowed by red-zone struggles

Eagle Eye: Areas of concern

October 1, 2013, 7:00 pm
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Inside the red zone, Michael Vick's passer rating is 61.8. (USA Today Images)

In terms of yards, the Eagles rank seventh in NFL history through four games.

In terms of points, they rank 437th in NFL history through four games.

But nobody counts yards on the scoreboard.

The Eagles are moving the football at near-record pace, but a month into the season they’re among the NFL’s least efficient teams in the red zone.

And until they start converting some of their chances near the goal line, those mountains of yards they’re piling up won’t mean a thing.

The Eagles’ 462 yards per game is seventh-best ever after four games, but the Eagles have converted only five of 12 trips inside the opposing 20-yard-line into touchdowns -- tied for 27th-best in the NFL.

“Obviously, that’s a low number,” rookie right tackle Lane Johnson said. “Every time we get inside the 20, we’re trying to score. It’s something we’ve definitely got to improve on.”

The Eagles’ red-zone inefficiency helps explain why a team averaging 462 yards per game is 1-3 and has scored touchdowns on only 11 of 49 drives.

During their three-game losing streak, the Eagles are 4-for-10 inside the 20, and on Sunday in Denver, they converted just two of five chances.

“I think it just comes down to execution and unfortunately, we’ve had penalties, turnovers and things that have kind of stalled drives for us in the red zone,” center Jason Kelce said.

“Bottom line is great offenses find a way to put points up on the board and they find a way to be successful in the red zone, not in kicking field goals but in scoring touchdowns, and that’s something we have to get better at from an offensive perspective.”

Of the Eagles’ seven red-zone drives that haven’t produced touchdowns, five have resulted in field goals, one in a fumble and one in a missed field goal.

“We need to score more points,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “Certainly in the red zone we want touchdowns. I think when you look at or when I looked at what we've done in the red zone, you know, we've kind of stopped ourselves in some areas.

“You get a bad play or two down there and you put yourself in a third-and-long situation.”

The Eagles have run 33 red-zone plays so far this year, and the numbers are pretty revealing.

Michael Vick has completed just 3 of 15 passes inside the 20 for 31 yards with one touchdown.

Outside the red zone, his passer rating is 99.5.

Inside the red zone, his passer rating is 61.8.

In fact, Nick Foles -- who played a few minutes of mop-up duty in Denver Sunday -- has as many red-zone TD passes this year as Vick. Foles completed a six-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Maehl late in the game.

Bryce Brown is 5-for-8 in the red zone, a 1.6 average, but LeSean McCoy is 5-for-24 for 4.8 yards per run.

“I don’t believe we’re being out-schemed,” Todd Herremans said. “We have the plays and the players to put it in the end zone, we’re just not doing it right now.”

The Eagles have also committed two costly penalties in the red zone, one by Riley Cooper and one by Johnson. And Brent Celek had a bad drop in Denver on Sunday at the 4-yard line.

“Last week, penalties kept us out of the end zone in a game where we needed seven points, not three,” Vick said.

“Especially going against that type of offense. Kansas City, we had some turnovers. Against San Diego, there were some plays we just didn't make. You just can't make those mistakes in crucial moments, when it counts.”

The Eagles are averaging 35 yards per drive, which is second-best in the NFL -- behind the Broncos -- and Donnie Jones has punted just 17 times in four games.

Things have been very good between the 20s.

Just not inside the 20.

“I think our worst enemy is us,” Johnson said. “When we shoot ourselves in the foot. We beat ourselves, and that’s what’s most frustrating about it.”

The tough thing for head coach Chip Kelly is that the red-zone mistakes have been a little bit of everything. If it were just one thing over and over, it would be an easier fix.

“It's a lot of things,” Kelly said. “You look at specifically [Sunday], penalties and drops. We are in the red zone, [Celek] drops the ball. We are in the red zone or potentially in the red zone once, get a penalty. In the red zone another time and get a penalty.

“When you set yourself back and now you're playing 1st-and-20 or 2nd-and-20, that makes it a little bit difficult.

“So when we get in the red zone we talk about no sacks, no turnovers, no penalties and no drops, and those are the things that are hurting us right now.”