The groundwork was put in place during the spring camps. Red-zone drills were run again and again and again as Andy Reid and his coaching staff started the process of improving what was an offensive weakness last year, and has been a trouble area in the recent seasons of this West Coast offense.
As the Eagles go their ways before they convene at Lehigh University, a top-line item to make better is the offense's touchdown ratio in the red zone. The Eagles, as explosive as any team in the NFL, bogged down too much inside opponents' 20-yard line. The Eagles ranked tied for 23rd in the league in red-zone touchdown efficiency (48.08 percent), and while David Akers was almost automatic cleaning up with his kicking, the goal here is touchdowns, not field goals.
"We need to get better there," said Reid. "It is one of the areas, in general, where we need to be better offensively."
The burden is not just on Reid and on offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, of course. The players are responsible, particularly quarterback Kevin Kolb, and his performance in the red zone is critical to the offensive upgrade. Kolb worked hard at it in the spring, throwing with precision, playing with confidence and displaying a trust in his receivers.
What, exactly, the coaching staff has in mind to alter the scheme remains to be seen. The Eagles like to roll the quarterback to the right side of the field and throw, and they've had success doing that. The fade pass, something not used very often in Donovan McNabb's time here, could be more of a factor. Kolb has a nice touch on that throw and he puts it high and in a spot where only his receiver can go up and get it.
There are going to be more wrinkles. The Eagles need to run the ball more effectively in the red zone behind their big, strong offensive line. Along with better play in the red zone, the offense needs to be more effective in short-yardage situations. They have big backs with Mike Bell and, should he make the team, Charles Scott. Starter LeSean McCoy showed he was a strong between-the-tackles runner. Fullback Leonard Weaver is capable of picking up the tough yards inside.
Should the line come together as the Eagles expect -- obviously, Nick Cole at center and Stacy Andrews at right guard are huge keys -- the Eagles should be able to push the pile at the line of scrimmage.
But what else is needed to score touchdowns? The Eagles have plenty of talent at wide receiver, of course. Their tight ends are excellent. The pieces are all in place, and there are no minds more creative offensively than Mornhinweg's and Reid's. They have to play to Kolb's strengths, which appear to be many. He can throw accurately on the run. He gets rid of the ball quickly. He is able to audible out of plays and get into favorable matchups.
The Eagles need to find ways to isolate their receivers in tight situations and create good situations for DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant. Moving tight end Brent Celek around the formation, as the Eagles like to do with their versatile tight end, could alter defensive plans.
It's going to come down more to player execution than coaching X's and O's. Kolb's plus-20-yard line passer rating is a key statistic to monitor this season. How much the Eagles trust their running game inside the 20-yard line is going to tell a lot about the approach in the red zone. Can the Eagles rally and get more of a smash-mouth mentality in the red zone? Do they think, perhaps, that they need to spread the field more and give their receivers some option routes and create space?
We're all going to watch Kolb with a stern eye, and his play in the red zone will go a long way toward determining wins and losses and, with that, his success running the offense in 2010.