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How Can The Red Zone Offense Improve?

Posted Oct 1, 2013

Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur met with the media before practice late Tuesday morning to answer questions about the offense’s performance in the past two games after such a blistering start to the season. Play in the red zone, where the team has scored just five touchdowns in 12 opportunities, has crept up again as an issue after plaguing the Eagles offense in 2012. Following Sunday’s loss to the Denver Broncos, head coach Chip Kelly pointed to “penalties and drops” as the main culprits, and Shurmur sought to expand on those red zone struggles.

“Well, I think we need to score more points,” Shurmur said. “Certainly, when we’re in the red zone we want touchdowns. … When I looked at what we’ve done in the red zone, we’ve kind of stopped ourselves in some areas. You get a bad play or two down there and then you put yourself in a third-and-long situation. We need to be more efficient there on all our downs in the red area.”

The Eagles have their own formula for calculating and comparing red zone success with other teams. Typically, all one needs to do is look at how the league’s top-ranked teams are performing inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.

“We obviously want to score a touchdown every time we get down there. I think a good way to look at, we always look at what the top-five teams are doing in terms of their percentages, what are the playoff teams doing,” Shurmur said. “Generally, we’ve had some bad plays in (the red zone) and just generally need to be more efficient. Whether the ball goes in the end zone or we’re inching it closer to the goal line, I think we can do a better job.”

The offensive line has also had problems in pass protection recently, and as a result quarterback Michael Vick has been left with both a muddled pocket and less time to make plays. That said, it is not just the offensive line that needs to up its level of play, but all the position groups as a whole if the offense is going to achieve the potential displayed over the first two games.

“I don’t there’s any common thread there,” Shurmur said in assessing the offensive line’s pass protection struggles. “When we’re throwing the football, there are a lot of elements to completing a pass, and the first one starts with protection. I think when you look at it, the last two weeks, we’ve played against some pretty good fronts, and I think our guys battled in there. And there are times when it’s not a perfect pocket. Ideally, you want to be able to take one step from the (shotgun) or three steps from the (shotgun), be able to plant, hitch and throw the football. There are a lot of times when that doesn’t happen, and we’re very fortunate to have a guy like (Vick) who can escape and extend the play.”

Shurmur is pleased with Vick’s performance thus far and thinks he is doing a good job of playing within the scheme and directing the offense.

“I think Mike, when he uses his legs properly, can be very dynamic. We’ve seen him do that throughout his career,” the offensive coordinator said. “He’s going through his progression when he takes off. Those are times when there’s excellent protection, where he’s able to go through his progression, whether he hits his alert, his one-two-three, then after he hitches a couple times he takes off. Those are some of the plays that don’t get talked about, but it’s what we coach and it’s what he’s very good at.

“Mike’s doing a good job. He threw the ball hot a couple times the other night. He was aware of adjustments we made, and I think Mike did a lot of good things well. … I think he does a good job of getting the ball out. I thought he did a good job of throwing the ball (against the Broncos), he threw the ball pretty accurately.”

After the first two games of the season in which he posted 16 catches for 297 yards and two touchdowns, wide receiver DeSean Jackson has been kept relatively quiet against the Chiefs and Broncos, totaling just five catches for 96 yards.

“Teams have played more man-to-man against us,” Shurmur opined as one of the reasons for a drop in Jackson’s production. “I think DeSean battled and did a good job (against the Broncos). Sometimes catches come in bunches. I think in this case here, we spread the ball around. I think we had nine or 10 different receivers that touched the ball. I think all our receivers need to battle when they’re manned up.”

Rookies Zach Ertz and Lane Johnson have experienced some growing pains as they learn the ropes of the NFL. Their development is right on target in terms of the coaches’ expectations.

“(Ertz) learns something new every day when he’s out here,” Shurmur said. “He’s a young player, much like Lane Johnson. He has his good plays and bad, and we feel like he can do some really find things in the passing game and he’s becoming a better blocker.

“Lane’s battling and I don’t see a confidence issue. … I do see progression. What he lacks is experience in this league, and he’s getting it and I think he’s doing a good job.”

The Eagles still have the league’s No. 2 ranked in terms of yards and this Sunday they contend with the Giants, a team that has surrendered the most points through the first four weeks of the season. It will be an opportunity for the Eagles offense to improve in every facet.

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