Sunday, December 28, 2014

What's wrong in the red zone?

You don’t get to 1-3 on bad defense alone. As part of my story for Wednesday looking at some of the problems with the Eagles offense, I reviewed their most glaring weakness: the red zone.

What's wrong in the red zone?

LeSean McCoy is tackled by San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman. (Michael Perez/AP)
LeSean McCoy is tackled by San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman. (Michael Perez/AP)

You don’t get to 1-3 on bad defense alone. As part of my story for Wednesday looking at some of the problems with the Eagles offense, I reviewed their most glaring weakness: the red zone.

After going over every snap the Eagles have had inside their opponents’ 20, here are some of the big themes, which I’ll detail more below:

-- LeSean McCoy has been their best option. Of the Eagles eight red zone touchdowns, five have come through McCoy.

-- A large part of McCoy’s success is due to his ability to make something out of nothing and make moves in the open, because the offensive line has not been able to power the team into the end zone. They have done well when they have been called on to block in space, such as when the Eagles throw short passes and let McCoy follow his athletic linemen to a score.

More coverage
 
POLL: Will Nick Foles be an Eagle next season?
 
McLane: Eagles face plenty of quetions in offseason
 
Bowen: Eagles left searching for answers
 
VOTE: Is honeymoon over for Chip Kelly?
 
Stats It: Inside Eagles-Giants
 
VOTE: Who's to blame for the Eagles' defensive collapse?
 
Eagles report card: Submit your grades
 
WIN: Make picks in our weekly pro football contest
 
DOWNLOAD: Philly Pro Football app
 
FORUMS: Where do the Eagles need to improve the most?
 
Latest NFL odds
 
Buy Eagles jerseys and other gear

-- Misdirection has helped, as have (not surprisingly) plays on which the Eagles simply relied on their best weapons: McCoy, Vick, Jackson and Maclin.

-- Turnovers are killing the Eagles. They have four turnovers in the red zone, one each game, and each coming in a new way.

-- The Eagles really wanted to get Ronnie Brown involved near the goal line – he has the second most touches in the red zone after McCoy – but he is just not getting it done.

Here are the basics. The Eagles have been inside their opponents’ 20 on 21 drives, and scored touchdowns on eight of them (38 percent). That ranks them 23rd in the NFL. Last year the Eagles scored on 53 percent of their red zone trips, 14th in the NFL.

The Eagles have lined up for 65 plays from scrimmage inside the 20. That includes plays that were either blown dead by false starts or nullified by defensive penalties, which I counted because they represented additional opportunities for the Eagles to get a touchdown (if it was on the defense) or examples of the Eagles hurting themselves and their chances.

We’ll start with the good.

McCoy has been effective and he’s been getting touches. Shady has gotten the call on 21 of the red zone plays. Scoring on five of them seems like a pretty good ratio. (It seems the Giants caught on to this, perhaps explaining some of the odd goal line play-calling later in that game).

Against St. Louis and San Francisco the Eagles ran pass plays for Shady, spreading the defense out and throwing or shoveling to McCoy at or behind the line of scrimmage. Offensive linemen were able to get upfield to block as McCoy scored from seven and five yards out. The plays were more like tricky runs that opened lanes.

McCoy had an eight-yard touchdown run against the Falcons and 11-yarder against the Giants that looked remarkably similar: with nothing going on up the middle, McCoy bounced to the outside and raced to the end zone (beating a tackler on the score against New York). Those were touchdowns he created.

His only “conventional” running score was a two-yarder against the Falcons on which he simply ran inside and followed the line’s push into the end zone.

Two scores have come through Mike Vick’s virtuosity. He ducked out of a sack against the 49ers to find Clay Harbor in the back corner, and made an incredible throw on the run to hit DeSean Jackson for a touchdown in St. Louis.

The other red zone touchdown came when the Vick faked a handoff to McCoy, the Falcons doubled Jackson and Vick found Jeremy Maclin for a five-yard score.

The common theme here? Misdirection and plays that take advantage of the Eagles best weapons. They have five passing touchdowns in the red zone and three on runs.

The Eagles tried some more trickery with Brown, who, it seems to have been forgotten, made his name as a guy who could run and throw. So giving him that option isn’t some new thing the Eagles just dreamed up. The bigger problem is: A) building an offensive line that can’t just punch it in and B) Brown not realizing that the “option” part of the run-pass option is dead once you are being tackled.

The Eagles clearly thought they were getting a goal line threat when they signed Brown, because he’s been a big part of their red zone attack. He has eight touches inside the 20, second most after McCoy (taking into account that it’s unclear who was the intended target on sacks, Vick scrambles or plays killed by false starts). The problem is Brown hasn’t been effective.

Here are the results of his red zone runs: 3 yards (hand off out of shotgun); -2 (direct snap); 0 (hand off from shotgun); -1; 1; fumble (on the run-pass option); 3; 5 (called back by a holding penalty).

Not good.

What about the turnovers? There’s no one theme there, other than that they keep happening. We know about Brown’s fumble last week. Week 1 Vick didn’t see a blitzer and fumbled on a blind-side sack. Against the Falcons a play call that was supposed to fool the defense didn’t and Vick was hammered as he tried to hand off to McCoy. Lost fumble. Against the Giants Steve Smith batted a pass into the air and it was intercepted.

That accounts for four of the 13 red zone failures. Here’s the full list of red zone trips, with the overall red zone performance for each game in parentheses:

At St. Louis (2 for 4):
TD: McCoy takes short pass seven yards.

Turnover: Vick fumble on a sack.

FG: End of the half. Vick spiked the ball on first down, couldn’t hit Jackson on second and they took a field goal.

TD: Vick six-yard throw to Jackson.

At Atlanta (3 for 5):
TD: Vick five-yard pass to Maclin.

FG: Vick passed to Brent Celek to get to the 3, McCoy was stuffed for no gain and Vick threw incomplete to Celek.

Turnover:  Vick fumbles when hit trying to handoff.

TD: McCoy eight-yard run.

TD: McCoy two-yard run.

Vs. Giants (1 for 5)
Turnover: Interception off Smith’s hands.

FG: The Eagles had first downs on the 16 and the 3. But from the three McCoy gained one yard on a run, then lost a yard on a pass play (the Giants seem to have caught on that he was their short yardage guy). Incomplete pass to Smith on third down.

TD: Shady eight-yard run, bouncing outside and shaking a defender.

FG: Consecutive false starts on second down pushed the Eagles from the 16 to the 26. They only got back to the 20.

FG: This one was a mess. The Eagles had first downs at the 15 and the two. From the 15 they tried McCoy but he lost a yard. From the two we got an Owen Schmitt run, two Vick dives and another Schmitt run (they got an extra play due to a Giants offsides). The Eagles showed that they can’t power the ball.

Vs. San Francisco (2 for 7)
TD: Vick to Harbor.

FG: The Eagles had one red zone play – a 3rd and 3 from the 14 – and it was an incomplete pass to McCoy.

Turnover: Brown fumble. This came after McCoy ran for three yards on second down, nearly getting into the end zone.

FG: Vick was sacked for a 10-yard loss on first down, backing the Eagles to the 24. They only got back to the 13.

TD: Shovel pass to McCoy from the five. TD.

FG: One red zone play – 3rd and 6 from the 17. They only gained two yards.

FG: A holding penalty on second down moved the Eagles back to the 20. An incomplete pass to Maclin and then a Vick scramble ended the drive.

One last note: the Eagles have not thrown to their biggest receiver, Riley Cooper, on any of their red zone plays. After McCoy (21 touches) and Brown (8) the Eagles that have been used most are Vick (seven plays, all scrambles), Maclin (five targets) Jason Avant (five), and Celek (five). Jackson has been targeted three times. Again, it’s unclear who the Eagles were going to on plays that resulted in sacks, scrambles or that were blown dead by penalties.

About this blog
Birds' Eye View is the Inquirer's blog covering all things Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL.

Jeff McLane Inquirer Staff Writer
Zach Berman Inquirer Staff Writer
Latest Videos:
Also on Philly.com:
Stay Connected