Saturday, December 27, 2014

Eagles failed to sustain recent defensive red zone success against the Vikings

During their 5 game winning streak, the Eagles held opposing offenses to 4 TDs on 13 red zone opportunities. That's a success rate of 30.8%, which is tremendous. To put that in perspective, the Seahawks allow TDs to opposing offenses on 38.7% of their trips inside the 20. If the Seahawks can maintain that level of red zone success, it will be the best defensive red zone percentage allowed since 2009.

Eagles failed to sustain recent defensive red zone success against the Vikings

Vikings running back Matt Asiata carries the ball during the first half against the Eagles. (Andy King/AP)
Vikings running back Matt Asiata carries the ball during the first half against the Eagles. (Andy King/AP)

During their 5 game winning streak, the Eagles held opposing offenses to 4 TDs on 13 red zone opportunities. That's a success rate of 30.8%, which is tremendous. To put that in perspective, the Seahawks allow TDs to opposing offenses on 38.7% of their trips inside the 20. If the Seahawks can maintain that level of red zone success, it will be the best defensive red zone percentage allowed since 2009.

Here is how the Eagles fared in the red zone on defense during their 5 game win streak:

The Eagles' red zone success on defense was a major reason why they haven't allowed a team to score more than 21 points against them in 9 games. Against the Vikings, the Eagles allowed 48 points to a Vikings offense missing Adrian Peterson and other key contributors.

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Why? Because the Vikings executed on 5 of their 6 trips inside the red zone. Opposing offenses during the 5 game win streak often did not execute. A few examples:

• Against the Raiders, the Eagles faced an athletic but unseasoned QB in Terrelle Pryor. On one of the Raiders' trips inside the red zone, Pryor had a TD pass staring him in the face.

That's an easy throw from a clean pocket. Pryor didn't see it, and the Raiders settled for 3.

• Against the Packers, Green Bay squandered several red zone opportunities. The first was on Brandon Boykin's INT. The Eagles were in man coverage, which was a favorable look for the Packers for the play they had called. Jordy Nelson ran a quick out, and was open. A well-timed throw on this pattern is incredibly difficult to defend, but the ball has to come out on time. On the still shot below, QB Scott Tolzein is staring it down the whole way and the ball should already be out of his hands, but it is not.

Nelson has not only created an adequate amount of separation, but he also has a 6 inch height advantage over Boykin. This is easy pickings for a QB like Aaron Rodgers, and should be a TD. Instead, Tolzein threw way too late, and behind the receiver. Credit Boykin for getting his head around, locating the ball, and making a big play, but if the offense had executed properly, this is a TD.

• The Eagles caught other red zone breaks against the Packers. This was actually pretty good coverage by Cary Williams against James Jones, but Jones makes the catch. Unfortunately for the Packers, Jones' right foot is juuuust out of bounds.

They also caught a break when Tolzein fired high and wide to Nelson in the end zone on 4th down in the 4th quarter. Nate Allen's coverage isn't bad, but an accurate throw probably would have resulted in a TD.

Nelson almost wound up making that catch anyway, despite the off target throw. It was close enough to warrant an official review and some heartburn for Eagles fans.

• Against the Redskins, the Eagles were beneficiaries of the same hesitation on a quick out mentioned above. TE Jordan Reed is matched up 1-on-1 in man coverage against Patrick Chung. This play is open, and if the ball comes out with even a little anticipation as Reed comes out of his break, it's probably a TD.

Instead, Robert Griffin III didn't trust it, double clutched, and Connor Barwin destroyed him for a sack fumble that led to a turnover.

Before the streak, when the Eagles were 3-5, opposing offenses were executing in the red zone at a success rate of 57.7%.

That is a little below the NFL average. While the Eagles have certainly been a better defense in the second half of the season, their recent success in the red zone was unsustainable.

On Sunday, the Vikings made the plays that other teams had not been making during the streak. It is likely that teams the Eagles may face in the playoffs (should they make it there) will be less apt to leave plays on the field as well.

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