Let’s get it back to the Eagles, because training camp is 10 days away, if you can believe it.
Where do the Birds need to improve to make another Super Bowl run?
They have to stay healthy, obviously. Duh. If Carson Wentz can’t make it through a full season, Nick Foles ain’t walking through that door again. The defense needs to get off the field and we can’t witness the same 3rd and long and 4th and long issues that cost the team early and often last Fall.
Offensively, they can certainly do a lot better in the red zone, an area in which they underwhelmed last season en route to just 22.9 overall points per game, which was 18th in the NFL and way down from the 28.6 PPG they posted in 2017, which was good for 7th overall. The yardage numbers were the same – about 365 per game in each of the last two seasons – but the Birds just weren’t scoring points the way they did during the Super Bowl run.
At Teamrankings.com, the Eagles were 17th in the NFL when it came to scoring touchdowns in the red zone last season, charted here:
59% isn’t great. This number was 64.06% during the Super Bowl-winning season, when the Birds ranked second in the NFL behind the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Last yea,r Carson Wentz completed 34 of 58 red zone passing attempts (58.6%) for 18 touchdowns and one interception. Nick Foles was 18-28, throwing four touchdowns and one pick at a 64.3 completion percentage. For context, Pat Mahomes threw the most touchdowns of a top ten group that looked like this, after the jump:
Carson’s numbers were down from 2017, when he completed 38 of 59 red zone attempts (64%) for a ridiculous 24 touchdown and 0 interception total. Foles was 12-20 for five touchdowns.
Of course, the Eagles’ average running game didn’t help in this department. Josh Adams led the Birds with 18 red zone rushing attempts in 2018, Corey Clement had 16, and Wendell Smallwood 15. Jay Ajayi had 11 red zone carries before his injury, yet accounted for three of the Eagles’ 10 total rushing touchdowns inside the red zone. Leaguewide, 39 running backs had more carries than Adams, including new addition Jordan Howard.
Howard will help with this, for sure. He ran the ball 35 times inside the red zone for Chicago last year, turning nine of those carries into scores. And when you think about Dallas Goedert playing his second year, plus the addition of JJ Arcega-Whiteside as a bigger-bodied possession receiver, you can put together a very nasty 12-personnel red zone package that looks like this (template courtesy USA Today):
I like it. You can do a lot of different things with that grouping, and one of those pass catchers is lining up against the opponent’s 4th-best DB, so you’re gonna have a mismatch to exploit somewhere.
- just bulldoze your way into the end zone with Howard
- sneak Carson Wentz on the goal line (too risky in 2019?)
- throw back shoulder to Jeffery or JJAW
- hit short seams and slants with your tight ends (Ertz had 27 red zone targets last year, 4th most in the NFL)
- run any variety of play-action with a legit running back now in the fold
It’s a very good short yardage skill player setup, and even then you’ve got Nelson Agholor you can put in the slot, Miles Sanders to replicate some Darren Sproles stuff (wheel routes anybody?) and one of football’s best offensive lines to work with.
On paper, it looks a lot better. It looks like a raging football behemoth, screaming for vengeance after a crappy 2018 in the red zone. You have a (theoretically) healthy quarterback, a bona fide downhill runner, and a handful of guys who can make contested catches. If the Birds can get the ball into the red zone with regularity this year, they definitely have the personnel put touchdowns on the board.