The Eagles are 4-1 since the bye week, but one area that still needs improvement in the final quarter of the regular season is the performance by the defense in the red zone.
This year, the Eagles have allowed a touchdown 78.8 percent of the time when opponents get inside the 20-yard line. No team has allowed a touchdown on a greater percentage of red zone opportunities than the Eagles this season. Since the bye week, the Eagles have allowed at least two touchdowns inside the red zone in each game. Overall, the five Eagles opponents since the bye have been successful on 14 of 17 red zone trips.
"Any time we've played like we have in the red zone, there is more than one problem and it starts with keeping the players in position to make plays and it goes all the way down to making plays," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "We're hard at work trying to get that problem fixed right now and if we want to make a stretch run here, we need to do a better job in the red zone."
Certainly not having cornerback Asante Samuel has hurt the Eagles in this area. Samuel has missed the last two games with a knee injury. The Eagles have allowed their last two opponents to score six touchdowns in the red zone and five of them came on pass plays. Strong safety Quintin Mikell said that the young players on defense are learning that the speed of the game picks up inside the 20.
"Some of the things that happen when you have a young team is the red zone stuff gets overlooked from the standpoint that everything is so much faster down there. You don't expect it be so fast and there are so many different things that can happen in the red zone," Mikell said. "That's definitely something we need to fix. We're working towards it."
But in the Eagles' last game against the Texans, it appeared as if the lack of a pass rush allowed the two passing scores in the red zone. Quarterback Matt Schaub had extra time to throw the ball and that allowed additional time for his receivers to get open. Mikell was not sure as to whether the Eagles blitz as much in the red zone as they did in the past. Defensive end Trent Cole doesn't think it takes a special scheme to take care of business in the red zone.
"There's not a whole lot of strategy involved in the red zone. As a defensive player, it pretty much comes down to whipping the man across from you," Cole said. "If we can do that, we'll be fine."
On Sunday night, the Eagles face the Cowboys who have scored a touchdown on 60 percent of their red zone trips this season. That's good for seventh in the NFL.
-- Posted by Chris McPherson, 9:05 a.m., December 10