Oct 26, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly reacts against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Eagles 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
The Philadelphia Eagles lost 24-20 to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. It was a tight game as it took a late fourth quarter Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer strike to wide receiver John Brown for 75 yards and the touchdown helping Phoenix pull out the victory. The Eagles are still 5-2 and hold the second place spot in the NFC East, so one late game loss to a 6-1 Cardinals team does not, in my mind, indicate a disaster is at hand. However, the Philadelphia Eagles are close to the bottom of the league in three alarming stats, which warrant some review.
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Red Zone Scoring Percentage
It is well documented that the Eagles are dead last in red zone scoring percentage; converting opportunities into touchdowns inside their opponents’ 20-yard lines only 34.78% of the time. I just wrote an article last week on this topic stating that tight end Zach Ertz is the team’s cure for their red zone (let’s call it the Philadelphia Eagles Midnight Green zone for grins and giggles from now on) ills, and I guess head coach Chip Kelly doesn’t read my stuff (no offense taken coach) because Ertz wasn’t targeted a single time in the Midnight Green zone on Sunday. Ertz did have his most receptions for the year, five, and that’s a great step in the right direction, but I still feel like the Eagles are missing out on Zach’s special abilities to make room and catch the ball in tight spaces.
The knock on using Ertz in the Midnight Green zone is that blocking is not his strong suit. I’ve watched the film, and the only game where I saw Zach struggle in the blocking phase was against the San Francisco 49ers. But, guess what, the whole team struggled against the Niners and lost the game. Don’t believe me that Ertz is a good blocker? Go back to last season and you’ll see that during the second quarter of the Arizona/Eagles game, Philadelphia ran a short screen play to their former wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Jackson motioned left, then shuffled right and grabbed the pass along the line of scrimmage taking it for a 14-yard gain up the sideline.
Oct 26, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) passes the ball to tight end Zach Ertz (86) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Eagles 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
The running lane that tight ends Brent Celek and Zach Ertz created for Jackson during that play was big enough to drive a Mac truck through because their blocking was executed flawlessly. This is just one example of a good play Ertz had, as he has numerous other outstanding blocks last season and this season. People need to stop referring to Ertz as a “poor blocker,” and the Eagles need to stop helping their opponents by taking one of the team’s most dangerous Midnight Green zone weapons out of the game.
Time of Possession Per Game
The Philadelphia Eagles possess the ball for only 26:52, which is the second least amount of time in the NFL ahead of only the winless Oakland Raiders. Let that sink in for a moment. Philadelphia gives their opponents more chances to score against them than 30 other teams in the league. Today’s National Football League certainly isn’t your Grandfather’s “three yards and a cloud of dust” NFL where a team must run the ball 90% of the time. However, winning the time of possession battle is proven as a consistent way of league success. It is no coincidence that the five teams who lead the league in time of possession (Indianapolis Colts, Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Detroit Lions) all are either first or second place in their divisions. Teams with high ToP/G percentages run the ball well, keep their defenses fresh, and prevent other teams from executing their offensive game plan.
It is my opinion that Chip Kelly’s hurry up spread offense is innovative and one that teams will be copying for years to come. Philadelphia has proven that they can generate substantial points in a short period of time game after game. However, against great defensive teams like San Francisco and Arizona, the winning recipe calls for heavy rushing yards and dominating the time of possession.
Oct 26, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy (25) steers guard Matt Tobin (64) for a block while running the ball during the first half against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
By hurrying up the attack, I believe Kelly puts his team in a position of weakness. The 49ers and Cardinals are both fast defenses that play quick, and they stayed with the Eagles offense the entire game. What the Eagles needed to do was slow down those two opponents with clock-grinding, long scoring drives. By going no huddle, the Eagles ultimately wore out their own defense and gave the ball back to the 49ers and Cardinals with more time to attack.
What more can be said; the Eagles are tied for fourth worst in the league with minus seven turnovers. That’s seven fewer turnovers the team has generated than given up to their opponents. Each turnover represents not only points the other team can score against Philadelphia, but also potential points lost for the Eagles. In other words, a turnover represents a maximum potential swing of 16 points if you utilize the opportunity for a two-point conversion.
Each interception or fumble is a potentially lost touchdown and 2-point conversion plus a lost touchdown and 2-point conversion for the enemy. This is the reason teams that prevail in the turnover battle each game will have a higher percentage of wins. It’s no secret that the Eagles must do a better job of protecting the football. Yielding three turnovers as they did against Arizona on Sunday is a sure recipe for losses.
It is important that I state again, I do not think one loss against an incredibly good Arizona Cardinals team predicts disaster for the Philadelphia Eagles. However, if the Iggles cannot improve their Midnight Green zone touchdown percentage, win time of possession battles particularly against good defensive teams, and finally prevent turnovers, this team will start a downward spiral which they may not be able to pull out of until too late. The Houston Texans who boast a 56.52% Midnight Green zone touchdown percentage, the league’s eleventh highest time of possession record, and have +4 turnovers may present a bigger challenge to Philadelphia than some may realize.