Paul Domowitch: Eagles' red-zone woes make Reid see red

Center Mike McGlynn chases Bears' Chris Harris after critical, red-zone interception in Sunday's loss.
Center Mike McGlynn chases Bears' Chris Harris after critical, red-zone interception in Sunday's loss.
Posted: December 02, 2010

CONSIDERING THAT his defense gave up 31 points to a Bears offense that had been averaging 19, and considering that it managed to make Jay Cutler look like the second coming of Joe Montana, some of you might have been a little taken aback by the fact that Andy Reid spent most of his postgame news conference Sunday bemoaning his offense's inept performance in the red zone in the Eagles' 31-26 loss to the Bears.

Some of that, a lot of that, is the fact that Reid is an offensive coach, and like most offensive coaches, he tends to see most games through offensive eyes. Whether the final score is 7-6 or 65-64, he's usually going to feel that the reason his team lost was because it didn't score enough points.

He never has felt more strongly about that, though, than this year. With a young, unpredictable defense that leads the league in takeaways, but also has been gashed for 27 or more points five times in 11 games, Reid knows that if the Eagles are going to get to the playoffs this season, his offense is going to have to lead the way.

Which means maximizing every scoring opportunity. Which means a lot more touchdowns and a lot less David Akers.

The Eagles are tied for second in the league in scoring through 11 games. They're currently averaging 28.2 points per game, which is 4.0 points a game more than they averaged in 2004 when they went to the Super Bowl. They're on pace to score 451 points this season, which would be a franchise record, but that still might not be enough to get them to the playoffs if Sean McDermott's defense doesn't stop playing Santa Claus.

That's why Reid was so ticked off about his offense's 1-for-5 red-zone performance Sunday. That's one of the reasons why he reamed out his star wide receiver, DeSean Jackson, who had two costly red-zone drops, including a would-be touchdown.

"It's something we need to keep working on and focusing on and get right,'' Reid said Tuesday of his team's red-zone struggles. "You get down there, you need to come away with touchdowns.

"Things happen a little faster down there. So you've got to stay focused. You've got to have the right plays called. If you're going to throw the ball, it's gotta be dart plays that can happen now."

The Eagles currently are ranked 19th in the league in red-zone offense, which is actually better than last year when they were tied for 23rd, and better than '08 when they were 22nd and better than '07 when they were 24th.

Long story short, they haven't been very good in the red zone for a while now (see chart). Some years it has bothered Reid more than others. Because of the fact that he just doesn't know what to expect from his defense from week to week this year, and because of the fact that his offense is armed with the best collection of skill-position weapons he's had since he arrived in Philadelphia, it's bothering him a lot right now.

The Eagles have managed to score 53 points the last two games despite the fact that they converted just two of 10 red-zone opportunities into touchdowns in those games.

Since converting seven of eight red-zone chances in the first three games of the season, they are 12-for-31 (38.7 percent). In their last three losses, they are 3-for-11 (27.3 percent) inside the 20.

Their biggest problem in the red zone has been the unreliable play of the offensive line. Their second biggest problem has been drops by the receivers.

If the season ended today, there are two plays that would best define this season for the Eagles. The first would be that third-quarter fumble on the 3-yard line in Week 7 against Tennessee when center Mike McGlynn let Titans defensive tackle Jason Jones crash through unblocked and break up a Kevin Kolb handoff to LeSean McCoy.

The second play would be Michael Vick's deflected interception in the second quarter Sunday at the Chicago 4-yard line. Usually reliable left guard Todd Herremans let defensive tackle Tommie Harris get inside penetration on him. Harris got his left hand on Vick's pass and it floated into the arms of free safety Chris Harris.

Two squandered red-zone opportunities. Two major momentum swings. Two costly losses.

To their credit, the Eagles' offensive linemen have been stand-up guys when they've screwed up. McGlynn readily admitted his culpability on the fumble in the Tennessee game. Herremans did the same regarding Sunday's interception.

"The one Tommie tipped, I was off the ball late," he said.

Then there are the drops. While it didn't cost them the game, slot receiver Jason Avant, as sure-handed a receiver as there is in the league, had one of those Jackie Smith moments in the second quarter of the Giants game 2 weeks ago. Was wide open in the back of the end zone. Vick put it right in his bread basket, and he dropped it, forcing the Eagles to settle for a field goal.

On the Eagles' previous possession in that game, Jackson failed to hang on to a pass in the end zone that wasn't the gimme that Avant's was, but definitely should have been caught.

Against the Bears, on a first-and-10 at the Chicago 19, Jackson found a soft spot in the zone at the 5-yard line, but dropped the pass from Vick. Later in the game, on a first-and-goal at the Chicago 10, Jackson ran a slant into the end zone, but seemed to pull off the pass when he saw Bears safety Major Wright zeroing in on him.

There were other red-zone gaffes Sunday. On a first-down play from the Chicago 9 in the second quarter, Herremans got beat again, this time by defensive tackle Anthony Adams, who forced Vick to throw the ball away just as not one, but two receivers were coming open in the end zone.

Later in the second quarter, on a third-and-goal at the Chicago 3, Julius Peppers came in completely unblocked and sacked Vick for a 14-yard loss. It wasn't clear if it was just a poorly designed play by offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg or if fullback Owen Schmit forgot to block him.

On another red-zone opportunity in the fourth quarter, Peppers blew up yet another play when he got inside penetration and deflected a Vick pass on a second-and-goal at the Chicago 7.

"For how good we were in the red zone early in the season, we shouldn't be having these kinds of mistakes down there that we've had the last couple of weeks," Herremans said. "Whether it's fundamentals, technique, mental, whatever, we just have to practice on upping the focus [as far as] everybody getting off the ball a little faster, everybody having their assignments down pat.''

Catching the football in the red zone was a point of emphasis by Reid and his coaches this week as they prepared for tonight's game against the Houston Texans.

"That's one thing that's been a problem," tight end Brent Celek said. "Catching the ball down there. We have to do that. We've got to get open and we've got to catch the ball."

Said Avant: "I had an opportunity a couple of weeks ago and didn't get it done. I had a chance to make a play in the red zone. It could have helped us out and I dropped the ball. But that was a couple of weeks ago. You've got to push forward and focus on the next game and the next pass.

"A few weeks ago, we were near the top in the red zone. Now we're back in the middle of the pack. One good game and we'll be back in the top 10. So we don't need to dwell on those things. We know we've got to play better. Not just down there, but all over the field."

Send e-mail to pdomo@aol.com

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