The Eagles are in an incredible position coming into Sunday’s clash against Dallas. With an 8-1 record for just the fifth time in franchise history, the Birds are soaring above the rest of the NFL. Behind their hot start are many moving parts, but one has undoubtedly been their success in the red zone.
Last year, the Eagles ranked 24th in red zone scoring. The team continued to push their way deep into enemy territory and struggle to punch the ball into the end zone. A swaying factor in the decision to draft the likes of Mack Hollins and sign Alshon Jeffery, the Eagles have paid close attention to their struggled inside the red zone and it’s paying dividends.
Carson Wentz has simply been surgical when inside the red zone this season. In fact, he’s the only quarterback to have thrown more than 10 touchdowns and 0 touchdowns without being sacked when within 20 yards of the end zone this season. The NDSU product’s 15 red zone touchdowns see him ranked first in the league, while his 117.6 rating ranks him second. Of course, a huge part of the Eagles offense this season has been the run pass option. With so many threats on the field at the same time, Wentz is incredibly dangerous with the ball in his hands, but defenses simply cannot afford to focus all of their attention on the danger outside.
When asked about the secret formula behind the Eagles scintillating red zone success, offensive coordinator Frank Reich simply put it down to execution. “You can look, you can be, and if you look at the red zone stats, you can be 24th in the league and say, ‘If we had just scored five more touchdowns,’ I’m just using a hypothetical here, it doesn’t take that many more touchdowns to go from 24th to 10th. So it’s just a question of making five or ten more plays over the course of the season. This year we’re making those plays.”
Every great arsenal has a hidden weapon. Every great trick has an ace up the sleeve. Insert Corey Clement, an undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin who has stunned each and every week for the Eagles. After his first special teams tackle came on the very first kick of the season Clement’s role in the offense has only grown as time has passed. From being trusted to move the chains and drain the clock, to putting the backfield on his shoulders and running hard whenever called upon, Clement has been one of the team’s most pleasant surprises…and that impact is at its highest when in the redzone.
“I think it’s just his attitude, his demeanor, his want to and will, those are all what Corey is and who he is.” Doug Pederson told reporters earlier this week, showing complete admiration for his running back. “He’s a very violent, aggressive runner, and just loves ball. Anytime he gets in there, he just goes 100 miles an hour and he is a smart guy. He’s coachable. And he does exactly what you ask him to do and the results are paying off for him.”
Clement sits behind only Leonard Fournette and Kareem Hunt in total touchdowns for rookie running backs this season, but all five of his scores have come from within the 20 yard line. Clement is tied with Evan Engram, Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey for the most red zone touchdown’s by a rookie this season. Five touchdowns in nine games is impressive but his ability to hit the hole with assertion and reliability means the Eagles can drive downfield before dropping the underdog into a situation where he shines.
In the game against Denver, Clement showed just how lethal he can be, scoring a career high 3 touchdowns. Through the air, on the ground, it didn’t matter. Nothing fazed the running back who confusingly fell through the draft. A situation where such an esteemed college rusher slips through the cracks can often cause a chip on the shoulder…and Clement is no exception.
“I think all of our players have a lot of want-to. But I put Corey — if we’re talking small increments of want-to, they’re all really grade A, A-plus.” Reich went onto say. “But Corey has that little bit of extra want-to. That’s always been something that stuck out about him, as far as I’m concerned, from day one since he’s been here.”
After the win over Washington, a win in which Clement had one carry for six yards but caught his first receiving touchdown of the year in beautiful fashion, Clement remained hungry and humble.
“We just always have a big chip on our shoulder. When we come out here we are always overlooked by somebody just because we are rookies, but just because we are rookies doesn’t mean we can’t make a play. When we are out there, we try to think and play as veterans. When we walk out with those guys, like [Eagles TE Brent] Celek, and all of those other veterans that have been out there, we want to prove that we belong out here. So when the time comes, I don’t want anybody second guessing why we are out there on the field.”
The Eagles continue to wreak havoc inside the red zone…and their secret weapon is only getting better. Clement has 22 carries for 105 yards and 2 touchdowns in the last two weeks, but his impact inside the opposing 20 is simply dominating. Without Sean Lee, Dallas would be right to be wary of the former Wisconsin Badger…as would the rest of the NFL.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports