Sputtering offense has hurt Eagles, too

Posted: October 05, 2011

The defense has rightfully absorbed an avalanche of blame for the Eagles' late-game collapses, but it takes more than Juan Castillo's inexperience for the team to get outscored, 36-0, in the last three fourth quarters.

The Eagles offense, largely intact from last season and loaded with Pro Bowl talent, has scored just seven points in the fourth quarter this season.

Last year, the big-play group carried the team, making up for a porous secondary. This year, it has sputtered when it has mattered most.

The Eagles have failed near the end zone, given the ball away, forgotten one of their most potent weapons and stalled on late drives.

That can't continue if the Eagles hope to rally from a 1-3 start, especially with the defense losing Trent Cole for at least two weeks and defensive tackle Antonio Dixon for the season as they prepare to face a Buffalo team scoring 33.3 points per game.

The most glaring issue is in the red zone, where the Eagles have scored touchdowns on just eight of 21 trips inside opponents' 20-yard-line - 23d in the NFL.

The biggest culprit there has been turnovers. The Eagles have lost possession four times in the red zone, once each game. That's three or seven points lost, including twice in games decided by four points or fewer.

"We need to make sure we take care of that and eliminate the turnovers down there," coach Andy Reid said.

What has worked? Going to LeSean McCoy. He has scored five of the team's eight red zone touchdowns, often making plays work with sharp cuts in tight spaces.

It doesn't help that the athletic offensive line, which excels in space, struggles when it comes to straightforward power near the goal line. Instead, the line has done well on short passes to McCoy that let the blockers take advantage of their quickness. He has scored on two such plays.

"Whether it may be one guy here or one guy there, it's different things," running back Ronnie Brown said, "but those things add up."

The turnovers near the end zone are part of a bigger problem: The Eagles have given the ball away 10 times this season. Only two teams - the Broncos and Steelers - have given up possession more.

Quarterback Michael Vick has 15 turnovers in his last 10 regular-season games. He has not played turnover-free since facing the Redskins in Week 10 last season.

Meanwhile, McCoy has been largely forgotten in the fourth quarter despite ranking second in the NFL in touchdowns and fifth in rushing. He has 11 fourth-quarter carries, compared with 15, 19, and 21, respectively, in the first, second, and third quarters.

On Sunday, McCoy had only one run in the fourth, even though the Eagles led to start the quarter.

"I've sat up here before and told you that I was way too passive in second halves, so that's not my M.O. That's not what I wanted to do," Reid said.

Running with McCoy can also turn into scores. His 49-yard touchdown burst in Week 1 capped the Eagles' only win of the season. McCoy is averaging 12.3 yards per carry in the fourth quarter. His 11 runs in the final stanza have produced seven first downs, which have been all too hard to come by in recent weeks.

In the Eagles' three losses, they compiled just 12 first downs in the fourth quarter, forcing the defense back onto the field. (They've had 60 first downs in the other three quarters of those games.)

Their drives in the fourth quarter the last three games have ended like this: punt, turnover on downs, end of game, downs, interception, interception, missed field goal, missed field goal, fumble.

Two of those fourth quarters were played without Vick. When he finished Sunday's game the Eagles moved the ball, picking up six first downs, but were let down by two missed field goals.

If the offense could sustain late drives, though, it wouldn't have to rely on field-goal attempts. Instead, it now shares responsibility for a three-game losing streak.

Coming and going. The Eagles officially signed defensive tackle Derek Landri on Tuesday and placed Dixon (triceps) on injured reserve, ending his season. Landri will wear number 94.


By the Numbers

Here are some Eagles numbers to consider:

 Scoring by quarter:

   1      2      3      4   

  21    39    34      7

10

give aways, tied for the second-most with the Chiefs, Cowboys, and Jets. The Steelers and Broncos have 11.

38

percent red zone scoring, 23d in the NFL.

4

red zone turnovers, one in every game.

McCoy in charge

Shady McCoy has five of the Eagles' eight red zone touchdowns. DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Clay Harbor have one each.

McCoy also has 21 touches - or targets - in the red zone, most on the team. One of his touches was a botched handoff he never received. Ronnie Brown has eight red zone touches, and Vick has seven red zone runs or scrambles.

Here are McCoy's carries per quarter, average gain per carry per quarter, and first downs per quarter:

1st: 15 carries, 3.0 avg.,

3 first downs

2d: 19, 4.7, 7

3d: 21, 4.4, 7

4th: 11, 12.3, 7

- Jonathan Tamari

 


Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214, jtamari@phillynews.com or @JonathanTamari on Twitter.

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