Here is what we will be watching in Sunday's game between the Eagles and Buffalo Bills:
The Red Zone Highway. The Eagles had the league’s worst red-zone defense in more than a quarter century last season. Incredibly, after four games, their 2011 red-zone failure rate is even worse. Opponents have managed to score touchdowns on 8 of 10 trips inside the 20 on Juan Castillo’s bend-and-break defense. That’s the bad news. The worse news is the Bills are second in the league in red-zone offense, converting 80 percent of their trips inside the 20 into TDs.
The Turnover Issue. The Eagles enter Sunday’s game with a minus-6 turnover ratio, which is the second worst in the league. They already have 10 giveaways. Opponents have scored 28 points off those turnovers. The Bills are second in the league in takeaways with 11, including 8 interceptions.
Fourth-Quarter Peril. Heading into this season, Andy Reid-coached teams seldom let fourth-quarter leads slip away. The Eagles were 90-15 under Reid in games in which they took a lead into the final period. Even last year, with a defense that got Sean McDermott fired, the Eagles were 7-1 in games in which they had the lead after three quarters. This year, the fourth quarter has been quicksand. They’ve blown leads in the final period three straight weeks. They’ve been outscored 36-0 in the fourth quarter the last three games. Oh, and now, they’re about to face a team whose quarterback has a 117.5 fourth-quarter passer rating.
Covering the Backs and Tight Ends. Covering TEs has been a problem for the Eagles for a couple of seasons. Now, RBs also are hurting them in the receiving game. The Eagles have allowed 40 catches for 478 yards and 6 touchdowns to tight ends and backs. The Bills will try to exploit that weakness this week. TE Scott Chandler already has four TD catches. RBs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller both are excellent receivers.
Tales From the Goal Line. The Eagles’ futility in turning goal-to-go situations into touchdowns the first four weeks has been well chronicled. They haven’t been able to power their way into the end zone and are afraid to have Mike Vick throw it in there. A helicopter isn’t an option. Somehow, someway, Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg must come up with a solution.