August 23 Philadelphia Daily News columnist Rich Hofmann
“THE EAGLES‘ first offense has played three quarters, taken the ball into the red zone three times, and scored zero touchdowns, which has led to the conclusion by some that the sky is falling. Which is ridiculous.
On the first trip, tight end Brett Celek dropped a touchdown pass from Kevin Kolb. On the second, fullback Leonard Weaver pushed the offense back outside the red zone by getting called for a holding penalty. On the third, a touchdown pass to Jason Avant was nullified because of the NFL’s annual preseason crusade against offensive linemen who aren’t lined up correctly.
Talk about your small sample sizes.
“I think a lot of stuff we’ve done, we’ve stopped ourselves,” said wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who suffered a shoulder contusion in Friday night’s exhibition loss at Cincinnati, but who practiced yesterday. “We’ve been in the red zone numerous times, but haven’t been able to convert. I had a fumble going in last week on third down. It’s inexcusable. Little stuff like that we’ve got to eliminate. Other than that, I think we’ve moved the ball pretty well.”
In the NFL, the defenses are often ahead of the offenses at this point of the summer (and even into the beginning of the season). Besides, nobody is really doing a whole lot of offensive game planning at this time of year. You go with your basic stuff and you try to execute it, and if you score, you score. But you can’t get overwrought about the results, not in August.
The Eagles have had early-summer execution problems. This is not a death sentence.
“I’m going to tell you this: If you execute properly, then you’re probably going to get the touchdown,” coach Andy Reid said. “So, it’s a little bit of a chicken and the egg, here. Everything’s faster and quicker down there and we spend a lot of time during the season on the red zone, practicing it against whatever team we’re playing. I can’t tell you we do that during the preseason.
“I’m not making excuses or anything, but that’s not what we do. The thing that we have to do is we have to be better down there and a little more precise and accurate. I’m talking about all positions when I say accuracy there. I’m talking about blocking, throwing, catching, running routes.”
Red-zone touchdown percentage is a funny stat. People hang a lot on it, and it makes sense – except that it isn’t always a great predictor of, say, which teams are going to make the playoffs. Last season, of the top 10 red-zone teams, only five made it to the postseason. The same was true in 2008, five of 10. Last season, a slightly better predictor of success was overall number of trips to the red zone; New Orleans, the Super Bowl champion, led the league, with 71.
The Eagles have scored a bunch in the last few years but have been a below-average red-zone team. It is a fact that leads to an overall sense of frustration about your offense, especially your short-yardage offense, even when the big picture says you score plenty of points. It is a frustration that weighed on Reid and Donovan McNabb last season, and now Kolb will get his chance with the burden.
When you don’t score in the red zone, it becomes a mental issue sometimes. We’re frittering away our opportunities here . . . leaving points on the field . . . can’t win by kicking field goals . . . et cetera.
But here’s the thing about Kolb: This might be the most fair way to compare him and McNabb. They are different physically and stylistically. Kolb will probably complete a higher percentage of passes than McNabb, but fewer long passes. Kolb will probably have a lower sack percentage because he gets rid of the ball quicker but a higher interception percentage because he’s younger and more of a risk-taker. There are a lot of other stats that won’t be comparable, year over year, because so much depends on how the defense is playing.”
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