After a rocky few years, Eagles are the NFL’s most lethal team when inside the red zone

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At 10-1, it’s almost impossible to find a significant fault with the Philadelphia Eagles. It is incredibly easy however to find strengths…and the team’s performance inside the red zone this season is worth noting. Coming into the game, the Eagles led the league in red zone offense, scoring on 25 of 34 drives that have reached the 20-yard line this year. They came out of this week still leading that statistic, scoring on 80% of their red zone drives against the Bears.

“The biggest thing is the game plan we have coming in each week.” Quarterback Carson Wentz said after the victory. “Our coaches do a tremendous job of getting guys in the right positions to make plays. Our balance of being able to run the ball down there and throw the ball has been big for us, too. And then it just comes down to guys making plays. We’re just making more of them right now.”

Both Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffery were able to haul in touchdown passes from inside the danger zone today, accounting for two of the three thrown by Carson Wentz. The optionality when inside the red zone has been something the Eagles have been striving to improve long before the arrival of Doug Pederson and the Dorial Green-Beckham experiment.

In 2014, the Eagles finished 23rd in red zone scoring (49%). The change in quarterback that season with Mark Sanchez taking the reins after a Nick Foles injury played a factor. The Eagles were noticeably a stronger red zone scoring team under Sanchez than they were with Foles. The last three games of the 2014 season, the Eagles scored on 67% of their red zone plays. The lopsided difference, along with Foles huge step back in play, pushed Kelly to force a change at quarterback.

The Eagles improved their red zone performance in 2015, finishing in the top 15 in red zone scoring with a percentage of 56% (15th best in the NFL). The weird thing that season was how the team was more successful on the road versus at home. The Eagles scored on 68% of their red zone snaps on the road, while only scoring on 46% of their red zone snaps at Lincoln Financial Field.

If we fast forward to a completely different looking offense, that trait still carries over…only now the Eagles are converting on 82% of their red zone drives at home and still over 60% on the road.

“Well, earlier in the season, we sort of struggled, especially in what we call the ‘big red zone area’ and I challenged our guys offensively.” Doug Pederson explained. “We had to make a conscious effort that if we are going to get the ball down into that area, which for us is really inside the 30, we’ve got to execute better. We’ve got to run the ball better. We’ve got to take care of the football better down there. And they really have since that point, it was about after week, maybe three or four, somewhere in there, they have really embraced that.”

One of the major game changers in the sudden turnaround has been UDFA Corey Clement, whose six touchdowns this season have all come from within the 20-yard line…and that’s what really stings where no Eagles offense in previous years has. The optionality that Chip Kelly craved to instill simply didn’t ever come to fruition because the weaponry was cast out. The Eagles have a huge target in Alshon Jeffery and one of the most prolific tight ends in the league with Zach Ertz. Both have accounted for six touchdowns this season.

Doug Pederson’s offense and play-calling have helped create such a multi-dimensional threat, that it’s hard for even the toughest of defenses to contain every option. If Alshon Jeffery is blanketed, teams have to prepare to suffer yardage to Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz, or even one of the three running backs licking their lips art a chance to score.

“First and foremost, the coaches do a great job of putting us in situations to be successful. [WR] Alshon [Jeffery], myself we have the easy job, all we have to do is run the route and we know the ball is going to be exactly where it is.” Star tight end Zach Ertz expressed when asked about the red zone success. “The whole offseason we put a lot of work into the red zone, specifically red zone on third down. And I think you can see that is showing off during the season, from the beginning to now. We have done really well in the red zone right now. We have to keep it up. We have a big stretch of games coming up against the Seahawks and the Rams. So we are excited about the upcoming games.”

It’s taken a while, but the Eagles are finally the league’s most dominant red zone unit in the NFL…and the scariest part is that Doug Pederson still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve.

 

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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