Red Zone Blues


Sifting through three weeks of stats has a meaningless quality to it, true enough. The number really don't begin to make any sense until midseason. One game can skew things beyond all reality. You engage in this practice at your own risk.

That said, I dug the Eagles' red zone stats out ot the NFL release this morning, trying to get a handle on where this thing might be headed. Because this team looks both good and fun so far, both competitive and interesting. Fun to watch, fun to disect -- a sportswriter's dream, it appears. So, anyway.

Through three games, the Eagles have shown some improvement in the red zone -- but not enough.

Last year, red zone offense was their greatest deficiency. It is the reason why I thought they should find another big target for quarterback Donovan McNabb. Because while I always liked their receivers and thought they were good enough, I also saw a quarterback who just wouldn't throw it to them down near the goal line, down in traffic. I thought he needed a big target but it never came. So now we see how it works.

In 2007, in their depths, the Eagles were getting touchdowns less than 40 percent of the time on red zone possessions, one of the handful of worst numbers in the league. After a rush in the last three games of the season, they goosed the number up to 45.1 percent overall -- 24th in the league. Even at that, it is the aspect of the game upon which everybody was focused in the off-season.

And this year? So far, they're doing better -- seven touchdowns in 13 trips inside the red zone, which is 53.8 percent, which is good for 14th in the NFL, which is good for mediocre. (Dallas has the same percentage, the Giants are worse and the Redskins are better so far.)

The Eagles have three passing touchdowns in the red zone and four rushing touchdowns. That is the biggest difference so far, that ratio. Last year, it was skewed largely to the pass (15 passing TD's in the red zone, eight rushing TD's). We all kind of suspected, if they didn't get the big receiver, that they might finally start to lean a little more on the running game in close, and they have. Brian Westbrook has been their biggest red zone player so far, and by a large margin.

But now, with the ankle injury, with the questions about whether or not he will play Sunday against Chicago, you wonder. With tight end L.J. Smith -- quiet so far, and now with a back injury -- you wonder even more.

So, yes, they're a little better so far. But it gets harder from here, and it remains the key to the season.