Mistakes costing Eagles in the red zone

Eagles LeSean McCoy can't hold onto a pass. Philadelphia Eagles vs Denver Broncos on Sunday, September 29,2013 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. ( RON CORTES / Staff Photographer ).
Eagles LeSean McCoy can't hold onto a pass. Philadelphia Eagles vs Denver Broncos on Sunday, September 29,2013 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. ( RON CORTES / Staff Photographer ).
Posted: October 02, 2013

Chip Kelly referenced Saturday Night Live in the spring when he joked, "I was told there would be no math" in the Eagles coaching job. But at least Kelly knows the substantial difference between three points and seven points in a football game.

Too frequently this season, the Eagles have settled for field goals when they are within reach of touchdowns. In Sunday's 52-20 loss to the Denver Broncos, the Eagles scored touchdowns on just two of five red-zone trips. They have scored touchdowns on five of 12 visits this season, and settled for field goals another five times.

Kelly addressed the issue before, but it was even more critical on Sunday when the Eagles knew they needed points to match up with Peyton Manning.

Kelly identified the problems as "penalties and drops."

On one play in the red zone, Brent Celek dropped a third-down pass. On another, Lane Johnson had a holding penalty that pushed the Eagles into a second and 20. Another play that would have put the Eagles near the red zone was negated by an Evan Mathis penalty.

"So when we get in the red zone, we talk about no sacks, no turnovers, no penalties, and no drops, and those are the things that are hurting us," Kelly said. "Right now, it's been the penalties and it's been the drops."

Kelly's Oregon Ducks scored touchdowns in 59 of 73 red-zone appearances last season. That's an 81 percent rate. The sample size is small with the Eagles, but it's 42 percent in four games this season.

Kelly's teams averaged 1.2 field goals per game in four years at Oregon. The Eagles are averaging 2.5 field goals per game this season.

Part of it can be attributed to third-down problems: The Eagles are converting 44.2 percent of their third downs. Even more noteworthy is the number of third-and-long situations the Eagles encounter. They have had 13 third downs with 10 or more yards to go; they have converted just one.

"I think we've been in situations where we've driven the football and we've proven we can drive the football," Kelly said. "Two weeks ago when we played the Chiefs, it was the turnover situation and the false starts and illegal procedures and those things that handcuffed us as a football team. I think this past day was the two holding penalties and drops that hurt us."

Kelly is correct about the success the Eagles have had in moving the ball. But the offense needs to improve. Kelly was emphatic after Sunday's loss that quarterback Michael Vick needs more time in the pocket.

There's not a simple solution or adjustment that could alleviate the problem, Kelly said. A lineman could fulfill his responsibilities for most the game and then get beaten.

Vick has also been hampered when his receivers don't get open. The effect of an unspectacular game from DeSean Jackson was evident against the Chiefs, and Jackson caught just two passes Sunday for 34 yards. No Eagle had more than three catches against the Broncos.

One receiver who could emerge is tight end Zach Ertz, the second-round pick who started for the first time on Sunday and played a season-high 44 percent of the snaps. Yet Ertz finished with only one catch for 38 yards.

When the Eagles drafted Ertz, they raved about his versatility. Kelly cautioned patience on Monday.

"I expect him to grow. . . . He's four games into his professional football career," Kelly said. "There's a lot of big plans that you can do with Zach and that we can do with this entire offense, but it's going to come in a process."

Ertz's development could be especially helpful in the red zone, where his big body and route running could help on third-down conversions. And that's what the Eagles need to score seven points on drives instead of three.

"I still think we're stopping ourselves," Kelly said. "We are not getting stopped by a scheme and we are not getting stopped by a look."


zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm

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