You can't understate the importance of scoring points in the red zone.
Last season, the two teams competing in the Super Bowl, the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints, were ranked second and sixth, respectively, in that category. In fact, every playoff team but three were in the top half of the league in red zone percentage. The Baltimore Ravens were ranked 18th and the New York Jets were ranked 20th, but both sported defenses ranked in the top three in the league. Then there was the Philadelphia Eagles, who ranked 23rd in red zone scoring with a 48 percent success rate.
Well, 2009 is behind us and the Eagles have performed tremendously in the red zone so far this season. Through three games, the Birds have scored seven touchdowns in eight trips to the red zone, equaling an 87.5 percent efficiency - that's good for 1st in the NFL.
Coming into the season, questions were aplenty as to who the red zone target would be for this Eagles offense. And here's a guess: not too many people predicted Jeremy Maclin. But low and behold, the 6-0, 200-pound Maclin has three red zone touchdowns in as many games. The latest, a 16-yard strike from quarterback Michael Vick, came with the first half winding down Sunday in Jacksonville.
"As a receiver, you never want to take your eyes off of (Vick) for a second," Maclin said. "I looked back on the initial route and I saw (Vick) starting to break the pocket, so I kind of set my guy up inside and then came back outside.
"It's always key to get points at the end of the half. We work on our two-minute drills every week in practice and you want to capitalize on those opportunities."
For a team that struggled with red zone scoring a season ago, Maclin's success so far this season is a promising sign. But receiver Jason Avant argues that no single player has made a greater impact in the red zone than Vick. He's a threat with his arm and his legs, a unique set of skills that give defensive coordinators fits.
"I think the fact that we have Mike and he can use his legs to put defenses out of position a lot of times," Avant said, "it's kind of scary because they know if you play certain defenses you're giving him an opportunity to run. If you play more of an aggressive defense, that leaves some guys open sometimes.
""It's kind of a quandary for a lot of defenses and I think his talent has been helping out our team in the red zone and many other areas."
The Eagles spent this offseason with a few goals in mind. One of them, surely, was to improve the offense in the red zone. Guard Todd Herremans says the team is far from achieving that goal, but they're off to a good start.
"There were a couple of things coming into the season that we knew we needed to do better at," Herremans said. "Red zone was one of them. ... We're not at the point yet where we're fine with this. We're always going to be able to find things to work on. If we keep maintaining the things we're doing and add positives to that, it's only going to get better."
After scoring seven touchdowns in eight red zone opportunities, the coaching staff would likely be just fine maintaining the status-quo.
-- Posted by Josh Goldman, 2:30 p.m., September 29