The Red-Faced Zone
Why the red zone makes the Eagles' defense blue.
The Red-Faced Zone
There was no way to know when it happened -- it seemed like mere garbage time in a one-sided game -- but at the start of the fourth quarter on Sept. 26, the third game of the season, David Garrard and the Jacksonville Jaguars accomplished something against the Eagles that no team would match the rest of the season.
The Jags were trailing 28-3, the eventual final score, and were facing a 4th-and-6 at the Eagles' 18-yard line. They went for the first down, of course, with Garrard dropping back to pass and attempting to locate receiver Ernest Wilford. He didn't succeed and the Eagles took over the ball on downs.
The significance? Well, during the 2010 season, opponents would drive inside the Eagles' 20-yard line -- the crucial red zone -- a total of 43 times. On 42 of those occasions, the opponent would come away with either a touchdown (33 times) or a field goal (9 times). Only Jacksonville couldn't manage the trick. Who knew?
Now everyone knows. Get into the red zone against the Eagles and you score points. As you can imagine that rate of failure (97.7 percent) is the worst in the league, and the percentage of red zone drives leading to touchdowns (76.7 percent) is also the worst in the league.
By comparison, the Packers have let opponents into the red zone just 31 times this season -- a good idea in itself -- and have allowed scores on 26 of those occasions. Only 15 of those have been touchdowns, however, a percentage of 48.4 percent. That's only good enough to rank the Pack 12th in the league in TD vs. No TD percentage, but it doesn't look bad stacked up against the Eagles.
So what's the problem? Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was asked that very question on Thursday and his answer should be printed out and handed to every fan who says, "How come you guys don't ask tough questions and get the real answers?" You try it sometime.
Here's what McDermott said: "It's not about lowering percentages right now. It's about winning the football game. And we're on a one-game season, sudden death, and our players know that, our staff understands that, and there's an urgency that comes with that. So we're going to do whatever we can to win the game; if it's shutting a team out in the red zone, that's what we'll do. If it's not allowing them into the red zone, that's what we're going to try and do. So, red zone is a part of giving up points and that's where we've needed to work on in some areas of our defense this year. So, we're working hard at that right now."
All right, fine. He's not going to say who or what has been screwed up. There's no reason he should, unless you think it's a fan's right to know -- which is not a concept shared by Andy Reid and those who follow his lead.
In a way, since the Eagles' defense hasn't been great in any section of the field, there's no reason to believe it would be better in the red zone. Their ability to stop opponents on 3rd down is ranked in the bottom half of the league.
To me, that points out the secondary as the weakest link in the chain -- you can chicken/egg the pash rush pressure thing, if you like -- and the concept makes sense in the red zone, too. Allegedly, coverage is easier in the red zone because you don't have to worry about a long pass. The back line of the end zone is your friend and teammate. If you can't cover there, you really can't cover.
There are problems all over the place. The linebackers are a revolving door, and the front four doesn't get consistent pressure, but the secondary has been bad even before half of the season's starters were lost to injury. What have you got now? Quintin Mikell, Dmitri Patterson and (sometimes) Joselio Hanson, all of whom entered the game as undrafted free agents; and you've got Kurt Coleman, a 7th-round pick; and Asante Samuel, who is a Pro Bowl takeaway guy, but a liability in other ways. Add it up and the coverage isn't good because the talent isn't there. Hamburger can be fine, but hamburger doesn't taste like steak.
As for Sunday, enough with the numbers. McDermott is right about that. The season's numbers don't matter any longer. At least, he better hope not. Green Bay (60.4 per cent) is third in the NFC at turning red zone opportunities into touchdowns.