There are 5 subtle areas that the Eagles must improve upon for the 2011 season that aren’t being talked about too much this offseason. Most of the focus has been on the need for improving their defense as well as the offensive line. They’ve begun to address those areas with some key coaching changes and acquiring some new talent via the draft. Plus eventually they will have free agency to help fill the remaining holes on the team. However, let’s take a look at 5 specific things that need to improve but do not require any new players or coaches.
Penalties: In 2010 the Eagles were the third most penalized team for the second highest yardage total. They committed a whopping 129 penalties for a total of 1,101 yards and gave up 33 automatic first downs. That’s some undisciplined football right there folks! Penalties are momentum killers for an offense, back breakers for a defense, and can ultimately impact the outcome of a game. To put this in perspective, the Super Bowl Champion Packers had only 78 penalties for 617 yards. This is an area the coaches need to put extra emphasis on in practice this year.
Red Zone Defense: The Eagles had a historic year in 2010 in this area. Unfortunately it’s in the same history book where you can read about the Detroit Lions’ epic winless season. The Eagles’ defense gave up a completely unacceptable scoring rate of 97.7% in the red zone last year. Out of 43 total possessions by opponents inside our 20 yard line, they scored 33 TDs and 9 FGs. There was only one time where a team didn’t walk away with points once reaching this area of the field. The 77% touchdown rate is particularly alarming. Hopefully Juan Castillo has an answer for this.
Getting off the field in third and long situations: How many times last year do you remember giving up a first down when the defense had an offense in a third and long? Too often for my liking. Out of 50 plays last season where the opponent was in a third and 8 – 10 situation, the Eagles defense gave up a first down 18 times for a 36% conversion rate. That’s giving up a little more than one out of every three attempts. That’s also not counting how many times they gave up a first down on third and long via penalty. Obviously we need to stiffen up in this area.
Run the ball more…with our running backs: Yes, this is about the good ole run/pass ratio that Eagles fans love to beat on Andy Reid about. However, this is a slightly different twist. Stats will show the Eagles as having a run/pass ratio of 57% pass, 43% run, and ranked as the 5th best rushing team in the NFL. That is very misleading though. Out of 428 total rushes by the offense, 134 of them were by Michael Vick, Kevin Kolb, Desean Jackson, and Jeremy Maclin. That means only 68% of our running plays actually went to a running back when we have the uber-talented Lesean McCoy at our disposal. Additionally, if you removed the Vick and Kolb rushes (because they were mostly called pass plays), our run/pass ratio is actually 70% pass and 30% run.
In contrast, here are the pass/run ratios and percentages of running plays that were by a running back for the past three Super Bowl Champions: Packers (57/43, 85%), Saints (54/46, 92%), Steelers (52/48, 89%). Obviously they don’t have Michael Vick as their quarterback but it does show that when they run the ball, it’s mostly a true called running play.
Replay Challenges: This one really drives me crazy. Andy Reid seems to have too much trouble in deciding what plays to challenge and what plays not to challenge. I’m not sure if the problem is with Reid or with someone who should be designated to watching instant replays in the coaches booth. Or maybe there isn’t anyone dedicated and that’s what the problem is. His record on replay challenges for the past five years is eight reversals out of 26 challenges. That’s about a 31% success rate. Where that ranks among other coaches is unknown to me at this point since these statistics are difficult to find.
But what there is not a statistic for is how many times Reid didn’t challenge a call when it seemed clear that it would have been overturned. You can only know this if you watch the games and pay attention. Over the years it has become quite evident that Reid needs help in this manner. I think I’ll send him my resume because I can’t understand how I can judge whether or not to challenge a play in the matter of 20 seconds yet a “professional” cannot. I’m available Andy, let’s talk!
Ok, some of these may not be exactly “subtle” changes depending on how familiar you are with the Eagles. A few may even be sore spots for some folks. But just as adding talent to the roster and coaching staff is critical in fielding a competitive team, the teams that can fine tune the details seem to make the difference between being good and great.