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Thursday, April 22, 2021

Eagles Need to Execute…or Heads Will Roll

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Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan has covered and commented on the Delaware sports scene for more than 30 years, everything from amateur recreation leagues and high schools to local colleges and the Philadelphia professional teams. He’s been voted Delaware Sportswriter of the Year multiple times and currently covers the Philadelphia Eagles for CBSSports.com and teaches creative writing courses at Wilmington University.

It’s called the red zone, but for the Eagles it’s been more like the Twilight Zone.

There are many reasons why the Eagles are 3-5 at the halfway point of the NFL season and their inability to score touchdowns when they get close to the enemy goal line is one of them. They’re ranked 30th in the NFL in red zone offense – their lowest ranking in Andy Reid’s 14 seasons as coach — and in 27 trips inside their opponents’ 20-yard line this season they’ve scored just 10 touchdowns.

And the Eagles were at their absolute worst in that department during Monday night’s 28-13 loss to New Orleans, when they were 0-for-5 in the red zone, including four times with goal-to-go and two times inside the Saints’ 5-yard line.

“It’s been a problem with this team every week and we’ve got to just correct it,” wide receiver Jason Avant said. “We have good possessions getting into the red zone and, basically, melt down there.”

Reid said there are several reasons for the red zone meltdowns and, as usual, he blamed himself first. But Reid also said the players need to do a better job executing the plays that are called. That includes better blocking by the line, better route-running by the receivers and quicker decision-making by the quarterback.

“We’re hit and miss there,’’ Reid said. “We’ve had some sacks and we had some turnovers. We’ve all had a little piece of this thing.”

Those red-zone pieces looked like this against New Orleans:

  • The Eagles ran the ball just three times inside the 20 and “gained’’ a net total of minus-1 yard.
  • Quarterback Michael Vick was 3-for-13 passing inside the red zone for 20 yards and his longest pass, a 14-yarder to tight end Brent Celek, ended with Celek fumbling the ball away.
  • Vick threw an interception that was returned 99 yards for a touchdown.
  • Tackle Demetress Bell was flagged for two 5-yard penalties.

Add it all up (or, more to the point, subtract it all up) and the Eagles had the ball for 19 plays in the red zone and turned the ball over twice, were penalized twice, were sacked twice and finished with a net total of minus-9 yards.

When offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was asked on Thursday about the poor red zone performance, he shook his head and said “Geez. …I believe we were 4-for-6 in the two ballgames preceding this last one, so I thought we were going on that.

“I think we ran the ball three times for minus-1 — and then the passing game was worse,’’ Mornhinweg added. “We gave points away, we gave them points [on the 99-year interception return]. … It’s very, very difficult to win ballgames when you get down in the red zone that many times and you come away with the points we came away with.”

Mornhinweg said the key is execution. That’s true of the offense in general, but especially in the red zone, where time and space are compressed.

“All 11 players have to play fast and precise down in the red zone,’’ he said. “Things are happening quickly. And they have the 12th man — I’m talking about the end-line — so things are happening quickly.”

The Eagles had better solve their red zone problems quickly if they have any hope of climbing back into the race in NFC East or challenging for a wild-card berth. Opposing teams know the Eagles like to go for the home run to wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, and for the most part they’ve taken the long pass away from the Eagles offense. And that puts even more pressure on the offense to score  touchdowns when they get close to the enemy goal line.

“I don’t know why we’ve had such trouble down there,’’ guard Evan Mathis said. “But whatever it is, we’ve got to fix it. Red zone breakdowns are one of the things that have killed us.”

Contact Kevin Noonan at knoonan32@aol.com.

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