Paul Domowitch: Turnovers not only reason Birds aren't scoring

Posted: October 11, 2012

THE EAGLES' turnover problems have been dominating the conversation the last few days, and rightfully so.

Just one team in the league - the 1-4 Kansas City Chiefs - has been more careless with the football in the first 5 weeks of the season than the Eagles, who already have 14 giveaways, 11 of them by quarterback Michael Vick.

In related news, the Eagles are 31st in scoring, averaging a puny 16.0 points per game.

"[The turnovers] are hindering our ability to score," coach Andy Reid said Monday. "It's keeping us down in that latter part . . . [we're] the second lowest-scoring team in the National Football League right now. We've got to make sure that we fix that."

Yeah, that would be nice. But while Vick and Company's turnover problems certainly have been a big reason the Eagles have managed to score just eight touchdowns and 80 points in the first five games, it's not the only reason.

You may recall that the Eagles had 38 turnovers last year, including nine in the red zone. Certainly unacceptable, yet they still managed to finish seventh in touchdowns (46) and eighth in scoring (24.8 points per game).

So what else is going on here? Glad you asked.

The long field

The Eagles' average starting field position in the first five games has been their own 24.5-yard line, which is more than 4 yards worse than last year. By comparison, the Giants' average starting field position has been the 37.3.

The two biggest reasons for the poor starting field position has been the lack of takeaways by the defense and the lack of production from the return game.

While Juan Castillo's defense has held three of the first five opponents to 17 or fewer points, it has forced just three turnovers in the last four games since intercepting four passes against Cleveland in Week 1.

The Eagles' punt- and kickoff-return teams have been equally unhelpful in giving the offense a running start. Through five games, they are 28th in the league in punt returns (6.0) and 30th in kick returns (19.6).

Damaris Johnson has had just two punt returns longer than 6 yards. Brandon Boykin hasn't had a kick return longer than 29 yards, and none longer than 25 yards in the last three games.

Just nine of the Eagles' 59 possessions this season have started beyond their own 35-yard line. By comparison, the Giants have had 18 of 46 possessions start at their own 36 or better.

The Eagles have had just five possessions start in their opponents' territory, and two of those came at the end of their Weeks 1 and 2 wins over the Browns and Ravens, when they ran out the clock. They haven't started a drive on the other side of the 50 in the last three games.

Most of their scoring drives have been cross-country trips. Just two of the Eagles' eight touchdown drives have been fewer than 70 yards, and just three of their 16 scoring drives (touchdowns and field goals) have been fewer than 55 yards.

Lack of big plays

The Eagles' opponents have done a good job of taking away the deep ball. They've had just two pass plays of 40-plus yards and 18 completions of 20-plus yards in their first five games. Last year, they finished with 10 40-plus-yard pass plays and 64 pass plays of 20 or more yards.

"Listen, when you're playing good football teams, you're going to trade punches here," Reid said. "That's how this thing works. You might not get the big play. That might not happen."

That said, 14 teams have given up three or more pass plays of 40-plus yards so far, including four of the Eagles' first five opponents: Cleveland (3), Baltimore (3), Arizona (4) and the Giants (4).

According to Pro Football Focus, Vick is 17th in the league in passing on throws that have traveled 20 or more yards in the air. He has completed just eight of 22 such passes for 235 yards.

Vick completed just three passes that traveled more than 10 yards in the air in Sunday's 16-14 loss to the Steelers. He had just twoe completions of more than 20 yards in the loss, a 23-yarder to DeSean Jackson in the second quarter that was followed by a 2-yard loss on a pass play to LeSean McCoy, an incompletion to Jeremy Maclin, a sack and a punt. In the fourth quarter, his 24-yard pass to Jackson set up the go-ahead touchdown.

Now, you certainly don't have to be a big-play offense to be successful in the NFL. Eight of the 12 teams that made the playoffs last season had 11 or fewer pass plays of 40-plus yards. This season, 15 teams currently have the same or fewer 40-plus-yard pass plays as the Eagles, including the 4-1 49ers, Vikings and Bears and the 3-2 Patriots. The difference is that none of those teams has been as turnover-prone as the Eagles. So they're better equipped for double-digit-play scoring drives.

Extra rushers

Because of the Eagles' injury problems up front and because Vick has shown a susceptibility to the blitz in the past - 11 of his 14 interceptions last season came against the blitz - teams have been regularly sending extra rushers after him.

With the exception of the Cleveland and Arizona games, when he was a combined 13-for-38 against the blitz, Vick has done a good job against it. The last 2 weeks, he has completed 19 of 28 passes for 248 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions when the Giants and Steelers blitzed him.

But while he and his blockers are getting better at handling the blitz, Vick still has struggled when he has been under pressure. And because of the absences of left tackle Jason Peters and center Jason Kelce, he has been under pressure a lot.

According to PFF, Vick already has been pressured on 100 dropbacks. Last year, he was pressured 199 times the entire year. He is ranked 26th in passing under pressure, completing 31 of 78 passes with one touchdown and four interceptions. Last week against the Steelers, he averaged just 3.4 yards per attempt on passes thrown under pressure.

When Vick hasn't been pressured, he has been nearly unstoppable: a .720 completion percentage and a 104.7 passer rating. He has thrown five of his six touchdown passes when he hasn't been under duress.

Bottom line: While the Eagles need to reduce their turnovers, it won't be a cure-all for their offensive problems.


Contact Paul Domowitch at pdomo@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @Pdomo. For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' blog at eagletarian.com.

 

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