Preseason expectations had the Philadelphia Eagles as Super Bowl favorites and near-locks to win the NFC East. Six games into the 2011 season, the Eagles have vastly underachieved at just 2-4 and last place in the division. But Sunday’s 20-13 win over the Washington Redskins may have been just what the team needed to get back on track.
Here are five things Andy Reid and the Eagles must avoid in order to keep winning football games.
The story of the 2010 Eagles was a defense that couldn’t stop anyone in the red zone, going on to allow a higher percentage of red-zone touchdowns than any team in 20 years.
This year, the defense has improved (how could it not?), but the offense has faltered at periods inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, having to settle for field goals or even turning the ball over at costly times.
In last week’s game against the Redskins, Michael Vick and the Eagles made five trips inside the red zone, resulting in a pair of touchdowns, a pair of field goals and a turnover. 20 points in five trips inside the red zone is probably about what a team should expect to get, and scoring four times was efficient, although the turnover hurt.
The Eagles have a high-powered offense—one capable of scoring from any spot on the field on any given play. That being said, not pounding the ball in from the 2-yard line on 3rd-and-goal shouldn’t be what ends up costing the Eagles the game.
The 2011 Eagles are on pace to finish just nine total yards short of the 2000 Rams’ NFL record for most total yards gained in a season. The offense is that prolific, which is precisely why turnovers are so detrimental to the team.
The Eagles have had a slew of brutal turnovers so far this year, as they currently rank dead last in the NFL with 17 giveaways—an overwhelming five more than any other team in the league. Michael Vick has thrown eight interceptions—certainly not great production, especially from a guy who threw six all of last year—but the real problem has been costly fumbles.
In the loss to the Buffalo Bills, wide receiver Jason Avant had a huge reception on a 3rd-and-10 with the Eagles buried at their own end zone, and he promptly coughed the ball up to the Bills. Later in the game, Avant failed to secure a fourth-down pass, and the ball was intercepted by safety George Wilson, icing the game. This has been a common theme of the Eagles for the duration of the season.
In the four-point loss to the Atlanta Falcons in Week 2, Michael Vick fumbled three times, losing two of them. The following week, Vick and backup quarterback Mike Kafka combined to throw three interceptions in a loss to the New York Giants. Against the San Francisco 49ers the next week, Jeremy Maclin lost a fumble in the closing minutes of a one-point loss, although it was Ronnie Brown’s goal-line fumble that was probably even more costly. And in the Bills game, Vick threw four interceptions in addition to Avant’s fumble.
The Eagles have a group of playmakers that rivals any team in the league—maybe league history. They just have to cut down on the turnovers or it will cost them their season.
In the loss to the Falcons in Week 2, the Eagles gave up 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, losing a heartbreaker by four points. The following week, the Eagles let the Giants put up 15 points in the fourth quarter, giving the Eagles a fourth-quarter collapse for the second straight week. Against the 'Niners, the Eagles pulled off a new low, choking away a 20-point halftime lead to lose by one point.
Even in last week’s win over the Redskins, the Eagles outscored the Redskins 20-3 in the first half, but got outscored 10-0 in the second half.
The Eagles seem to play worse as the game goes on. Case in point: the Eagles are allowing just 10.8 points in the first half this season but an average of 13.3 points in the second half and a shockingly awful 8.83 points in the fourth quarter.
Playing 60 minutes of football should be a given for a football team as talented as the Eagles, but so far, the Eagles have failed to do so consistently.
There’s not much the Eagles can do to prevent injuries, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t costly. Losing Jason Peters, the best offensive lineman, and Trent Cole, the best all-around defensive player, for a few weeks is extremely costly.
Vick has seen his fair share of injury scares, whether it was his concussion, his right hand contusion that was initially reported as a broken right hand or a dislocated finger. Considering the backup quarterbacks have thrown three interceptions in 17 pass attempts this year, Vick’s health is a must.
The 2011 Eagles aren’t as bad as their 2-4 record, but what counts in the NFL standings is the win column, and so far, the Eagles’ two wins put them in last place in the division.
It’s difficult to fathom how a team that puts up as many yards on a regular basis as the Eagles can be 2-4, especially when the defense has two Pro Bowl defensive ends and a trio of Pro Bowl caliber cornerbacks.
The Eagles are simply letting games slip out of their grasp. They’re a few plays away from having won the Atlanta game, the 49ers game and the Bills game. This is a team that essentially could be 5-1 if they had played a little better at just the right time.
It’s time for the Eagles to actually start playing better, and that begins with playing to their full potential on the field.