Red Zone Menace

Posted: November 21st, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 54 Comments »

The Eagles had some of the worst Red Zone defenses in NFL history just a few years back. Now the team is 6th in the NFL in that category and is on a major hot streak. How can a unit that gives up yards left and right be so good in a critical area? What gives?

I think the biggest thing is that the Eagles lack speed on defense. That’s a major issue when covering the whole field. The Red Zone is a confined space. Size becomes more important. Quickness can be a big help, but flat out speed has its limitations. There just isn’t enough room to run by people.

You can use speed to move laterally, but the Eagles do a terrific job of playing the edges. Connor Barwin and Trent Cole are not dynamic pass rushers, but both guys are strong, tough, physical run defenders. They will set the edge on run plays and make it very difficult to run by them. The ball-carrier can go further behind the LOS to avoid them, but that allows pursuing players to run to the ball.

The Eagles also have big DBs. They are more effective in a confined space. They can be physical with receivers and not worry about getting beat deep. Some of the Eagles biggest RZ problems have come when they played off coverage and let receivers catch slants and other short, safe throws.

Bill Davis and the coaches have done a terrific job of teaching the players the scheme. You don’t see a ton of confusion or blown assignments. You will see the DBs pointing to players and talking about who has who. This isn’t a sign of confusion. This is the players making sure they are all on the same page. In order to avoid “I thought you had him” type of mistakes, you must talk before and sometimes during the play. The Eagles can’t blame problems on a lack of communication (any Ratt fans?).

Tackling is vastly improved. That simple fact means  a lot in the Red Zone. You must get players down quickly. One broken tackle can mean the difference in a FG attempt and a TD.

Players are also making timely plays. There is no specific reason for this. Brandon Boykin has 2 INTs and a FF in the Red Zone. Connor Barwin had the strip sack on Sunday. Guys are just making plays. That didn’t happen in recent years.

This is a more physical, more aggressive unit than some recent Eagles defenses. All 4 of the top CBs will hit and tackle. Patrick Chung and Earl Wolff are good hitters and tacklers. Nate Allen is playing more physically than ever before. DeMeco Ryans is a tough guy in the middle. The D-linemen aren’t firing upfield to penetrate. They are firing off the ball and hitting blockers. That keeps blockers from getting free and it sets a tone that offenses aren’t going to have it easy. You have to physically control Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan and Cedric Thornton on a given play in the Red Zone to score a TD. That’s not easy.

We also have to acknowledge that the Eagles haven’t faced a slew of deadly QBs. You might see young guys like RG3, Scott Tolzien, Terrelle Pryor or Mike Glennon make some good throws and big plays, but they are going to have issues in the Red Zone. Passing windows get tight in there. The Eagles have big DBs so it can look intimidating to a young passer that wants to find an open receiver.

Imagine how good this group can be when they add a CB and OLB with speed and playmaking skills.

It seems forever ago that Matt Ryan and the Falcons were 5 for 5 in the Red Zone on their way to winning 35-31. That was early in 2011. The Eagles have made a lot of changes since then and they are paying big dividends in the Red Zone.

_


  • Andy124

    Big guys beat up little guys.

    • ACViking

      Then why is D-Jax out there in the RZ?

      Everyone is bigger than he is.

      • Flyin

        He has hypnotic powers.

      • Eagles_Fan_in_San_Fran

        Little guys get lost amongst big guys?

      • Andy124

        Yeah, we can’t take those Chip-isms too literally.

        I wonder which way he’d go if a reporter tried to go there with him? He could go wiseass Chip:

        “Yeah, we should probably be sending 11 linemen out there every play. Brilliant. Hey, can we hire you to replace me?”

        Or he could go serious Chip:

        “DeSean is a special player who can make plays all over the field. We want to get him on the field and the ball in his hands as much as we can.”

  • Eagles1991

    Tommy:

    Quick question Sir…do you think next years draft will focus mainly or Defense? Or Oline as we are aging there? Or both?

    • philip

      Bpa

      • mtn_green

        BPA all the way.

    • Anders

      As the others said. BPA. Every position in the first 3 rounds except for Center, RB and Kickers/punters.

      • mksp

        QB is the tricky one.

        If Manziel falls to us…..oh man. Thats gonna be a tough call. Especially if you’re staying true to BPA philosophy.

  • Noah D.

    Re: Nate Allen

    Tommy, you’ve mentioned that Nate’s play has really gotten better. Do you think that, granted the pretty decent play Davis has gotten out of Allen all year (he has been the 2nd best guy in the secondary, behind Boykin) Howie will give him a new deal? He doesn’t exactly have great market value, so I’d imagine his comparably low price-point would be attractive for the play he’s given them this year. As I’ve seen it, he’s finally gotten his head on his shoulders.

    Chung, on the other hand, has been pretty mediocre and somewhat disappointing. Wolff has far outplayed him, even as a rookie. I think if it’s a question of Chung or Allen, they’ve gotta keep Allen.

    The top of the FA class is Jarius Byrd, TJ Ward, Major Wright, Nate Allen, and Malcolm Jenkins. I’d have to imagine that the value of continuity and having your “own guys” outweighs adding an overpriced FA.

    • Anders

      Be honest I would love to bring Allen back, but also had a guy like Byrd.

      Byrd is a flat out play maker and we need that. Having Byrd, Allen, Wolff and Chung (he takes a pay cut), would be great. Question is of course if the Bills tag him again and if the Eagles are interested (I doubt it will be about money as the Eagles will always pay for star FAs)

      • GermanEagle

        Byrd cannot be tagged by the Bills again.

        Give me Byrd and Orakpo in Free Agency and I will cream my pants!

        • Anders

          He can, but it will cost them 120% of his previous deal. I really doubt they will pay him over 8 mill for just 1 season when they would do that last year

          • GermanEagle

            Who was it then who couldn’t get tagged twice? Might have put him on Revis Island…
            Nevertheless it will be really interesting to see if a) Byrd hits the market and b) if the Eagles will make a play for him. Just imagine him and Orakpo as true playmakers in our defense next year, plus a shutdown corner in the draft. This Defense would instantly become scary good!

          • Anders

            My dream off season is signing Byrd, Verner and then either sign Orakpo or trade for Dion Jordan.

            I know it wont happen, but we can dream right?

          • gherbox

            I have a bad feeling about signing Byrd. I feel as though we would just be signing another guy after he peaked. Orakpo would be intriguing though.

        • Mike Calabrese

          Yes he can be tagged for an increase of up to 5% or something like that. After 2nd time then goes way up. But they have only franchised once so far.

      • Buge Halls

        If Chung could stay healthy for more than two games in a row, he might be worth keeping. But right now, I’d say cut him loose at the end of the season – assuming we draft right or pluck well from FAs.

  • Weapon Y

    Tommy, which CBs and OLBs do you like in the draft? Do you think there’s any offensive skill guy or O-lineman who have elite potential?

  • nopain23

    I have said this before ..don’t waste a first RD pick on a so called stud CB(just look at the guys drafted in the last 3 drafts or so who have failed to impress) Iggles should go aftera stud rush OLB

    Khalil Mack please!!!

    • Anders

      Khalil Mack is out of reach.

      But there is other good OLB prospects like Trent Murphy (leads NCAA in sacks), Marcus Smith, Trevor Reilly, Jeremiah Attaochu just to name a few possibilities in the first 3 rounds.

      There isnt that super stud CB in this draft, but there is some good prospects like Verrett, Ifo, Dennard, Fuller, Roby, Gilbert or the freak Stanley Jean Baptiste (6-3 220, have fluid hips and runs 4.5, to compare Richard Sherman at 25 pounds less ran same speed, proving that 40 yard time is overrated for CBs)

  • sprawl

    They don’t show up in the stats line but don’t the two 2-point conversions we allowed on Sunday count as redzone failures in some way?

    • Buge Halls

      I would say, based upon the potential impact on the game they had, they were HUGE failures! Stop one or both of them, and it makes them need an extra score – in that case, they would have needed three TDs and a FG to tie with out the 2-pointers (I think that’s right). To see them running wide open on both plays – that was terrible.

      • ACViking

        Washington schemed the bunch pass perfectly.

        Not only creating a double pick.

        But also forcing the Eagles to use their safeties to cover 2 of the receivers.

        The QB draw out of the same formation was a gimme.

  • BlindChow

    ESPN’s Kansas City blogger credited Andy Reid’s physical training camp as the reason KC’s been tackling better this year.

    Someone needs to tweet him the stats about how many missed tackles the Eagles had the last couple years–and how Kelly didn’t tackle in training camp.

    • A_T_G

      Oh, don’t dump cold water on the newlyweds, it is their honeymoon.

      • P_P_K

        And like all honeymoons, it’s sure to end.

  • Philip Soloninka

    One of the things that jumps out to me is how many GANG tackles the team has been having. Watch how many players close in on the ball, that has to contribute to the drop on missed tackles as well.

    • Corry

      I think that’s been a big part of the improvement on D. It seems like such a simple concept to rally to the ball, and yet it seemed like such a foreign concept the past couple of years.

      • Philip Soloninka

        Agreed, and it’s a much welcome change

  • ICDogg

    http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303531204579208093548496418

    Dave Krieg isn’t a name I expected to see on a list like this…

    • ACViking

      Re: Surprise . . . Dave Krieg

      In 1994, Krieg spent his only season in Detroit running HC Wayne Fontes’ high-octane offense — after replacing the struggling Scott Mitchell.

      Krieg’s offensive weapons: HB Barry Sanders. WR Herman Moore. WR Brett Perriman. (That’s 1 HOFer, 1 should-be HOFer, and one darn good WR.)

      In 7 starts, at age 36, Krieg went 5-2 — lifting the Lions to a WC birth — and finished with a 116.2 rating.

      Earlier in his career, Krieg had some pretty good seasons for the Seahawks — making 3 Pro Bowls.
      http://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/K/KrieDa00.htm

      Oh . . . and Krieg was a free agent from tiny Milton College, a 600-student college that is closed.

      You just never know where you’re going to find a good QB.

      • Jamie Parker

        I would have expected this from him in 1984, when he had to throw a lot after Curt Warner blew out his knee in the first game. The Seahawks were 12-2 before stinking up their last 2 games. He had Steve Largent and Daryl Turner to throw to then. He’s thrown passes to some good WR’s in his career.

        • ACViking

          Fair point. In fact, if Warner hadn’t been hurt (and, despite his production in later years, he was never as good), I think Krieg’s numbers — like you — would have been better with that ’84 Seattle team.

          Also, as noted by others in T-Law’s prior posts, by the 1990s, the NFL had become even more of a passing league than in ’84. Schemes were better. Rules were tougher on defenses.

          Finally, Krieg v.1994 was, I think, the proverbial “cagey veteran” — and having a RB like Sanders along with H-Moore gave him lots to work with.

          Had Krieg played all 16 games, I’m skeptical that he’d have posted a 116.2 rating for the season.

          _____________

          My analogy would be Earl Morrall who, at ages 34 and 38 with better skill players and O-linemen around him, put up (for the time) some great numbers . . . earning MVP awards along with way for the Colts and then the Dolphins.

    • anon

      any numbers on length of pass from scrimmage?

      • ICDogg

        Look at Derek’s last article in the Daily News

        • anon

          saw that i meant of the other guys to compare. the stats seem a little inflated given 60% of his passes are under 10yds. not a knock on foles he’s playing great but the numbers are def system-inflated out of respect for the other guys.

          • ICDogg

            I don’t have those stats but Foles throws as many long throws as most QBs, if not more.

          • anon

            you’re right, foles has 2nd most air yds per att.

            http://www.sportingcharts.com/nfl/stats/quarterback-air-yards/2013/

          • Tumtum

            The great part is that the guy is almost always pretty open when he makes those throws. He isn’t scared to throw to a guy he thinks has a chance that isn’t fully open deep though. It seems like Brees is always throwing to a guy fairly covered deep (unless its J.G who can’t be covered). He just puts the ball where it needs to be and its either going to be an inc. or catch. Starting to see that with Nick too ala the “under thrown” Riley bomb to the middle of the end-zone.

        • ICDogg

          …………

      • ACViking

        A –

        Overlaying the list cited by ICDogg on the top 25 all-time YPA leaders for a single season, only Aaron Rodgers in 2011 appears on both.

        NOTE: only 8 QBs post-1979 have made the Top 25 YPA/single-season list.

        Pre-1980, despite bump-and-run defenses and run-centric offenses, QBs — though with lower completion percentages — completed longer passes.

        Then came Bill Walsh and the WCO — with short passes replacing runs. The scheme inflated completion percentages and drove down YPA.

  • A Roy

    Tommy, More Led Zeppelin than Ratt…

  • ICDogg
    • jshort

      Better than a coffee, that got me pumped up for the day

    • Tumtum

      Ah great video I meant to find the rest of that. Saw a bit of that when they played it going into the half on Monday night.

    • TheRogerPodacter

      ah. just came here to post this. nice work.

  • Eagles_Fan_in_San_Fran

    Damn, we’re better now mainly because we simply communicate/stay on the same page and tackle. What an indictment of the previous regime.

  • Tumtum

    Off-topic alert:

    Anyone else also very glad Dion Jordan was scooped by Miami before Chip could get him? Lane’s floor looks like a very solid RT. So happy to see a player with less risk and a really high ceiling taken there.

    • Mac

      I for one, was thrilled with the Johnson pick.

    • mksp

      I like the LJ pick, but Dion will be a special player once he has an offseason to gain strength and is utilized properly in the defensive scheme.

      I’m still dreaming of trading Graham and a pick for DJ this offseason.

  • Buge Halls

    I know it’s still early and there is still a lot of season left to play, but I REALLY hope Chipper sticks with the defense with at least the top three picks this spring. That is of course assuming Foles finishes strong.

  • ICDogg

    OT: Many of us old enough to remember when JFK got shot remember exactly where we were, and for those of us who were school age, that place was in school. Philly schools let us out early.