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Red Zone, Turnover Ratio Must Improve

These are the two hard-and-fast statistics that matter in the NFL, and the ones that must improve for the Eagles to take the next step: red-zone touchdown efficiency on offense and turnover ratio.

This isn't the space to further the "How is Nick Foles playing?" conversation. Nor is it the time to expand upon LeSean McCoy's productivity, or the missing pieces along the offensive line or the offensive scheme, etc.

This is about two statistics: Red-zone touchdown efficiency and turnover ratio. The Eagles rank poorly in both categories, and substantial improvement in these areas will likely improve the overall quality of play for the team for the remainder of the season.

  • Red zone offense: 16 trips inside the opposing 20-yard line. Fourteen scores, one turnover, one missed chance to win a game at San Francisco. Six touchdowns, 8 field goals. A touchdown percentage of 37.5 percent, which ranks 30th in the NFL prior to Monday night's game.
  • Turnover ratio: Twelve giveaways (5 interceptions, 7 fumbles lost) and 8 takeaways. A minus-ratio, tied for 27th in the league prior to Monday night's game.

These are categories that are clearly important. The Eagles were prolific offensively last year, setting franchise records for points scored and yards gained and they led the league in plus-20-yard plays. Yet they ranked 18th in the NFL in touchdown percentage in the red zone, at 52.63 percent. So they got bigger at wide receiver, expanded the involvement of the tight ends in the passing game (particularly Zach Ertz) and expected to be a whole lot better in the red zone this season.

It hasn't yet happened, although the Eagles are well aware of the need for improvement.

"It's important to put the ball in the end zone. We're not doing it on a consistent basis," said tight end Brent Celek. "We're just making too many mistakes. Too inconsistent. We can't keep missing opportunities and expect to keep winning.

Sunday against the Rams was the perfect example of how poor play in the red zone comes back to haunt. The Eagles had a 7-0 lead right off the bat thanks to the blocked punt and recovery and return for a touchdown. They then had two red-zone opportunities to basically put the game out of reach and failed to reach the end zone in both instances.

On first and goal from the 8-yard line with 8 minutes, 27 seconds to go in the first quarter, the Eagles lined up Ertz in the right slot and had him run an underneath slant route. Quarterback Nick Foles delivered a perfect pass to Ertz, who was unable to make the catch. A reception there would have taken Ertz to the 3-yard line, and perhaps the end zone had he broken a tackle. On second down from the 8, LeSean McCoy took a handoff out of the shotgun and was swarmed by the Rams attacking defense. McCoy gained 1 yard. On third and goal, the Eagles lined up three receivers to the right side of the formation, but Foles was blitzed and pressured and hurried and his pass for Ertz in the end zone was rushed and too long to give Ertz a shot to make the play.

Cody Parkey kicked a 26-yard field goal and the Eagles led, 10-0.

A defensive hold and a Darren Sproles 23-yard punt return plus a Rams penalty gave the Eagles possession at the St. Louis 47-yard on their next offensive possession. The short passing game produced one first down and then the Rams were penalized for pass interference, giving the Eagles a first-and-10 situation at the St. Louis 13-yard line.

And again, the drive stalled.

On first down, Foles rolled right as the Eagles spread the field and sent some receivers on short crossing routes. Nothing open. Foles threw for Jeremy Maclin in the right corner of the end zone, at the pylon, but he was covered -- he had stepped out of bounds, anyway -- and the pass was incomplete. On second and 10, the Rams had 8 men in the box and attacked the line of scrimmage on a handoff to McCoy. McCoy had a fine run, actually, starting left and then finding a crease to head north and gain 4 yards to the 9-yard line. On third and 6 from the 9, the Rams sent five pass rushers and created pressure, and played man coverage on the receivers and Foles was flushed out of the pocket and threw the ball away for an incomplete pass.

Parkey's 27-yard field goal made it 13-0 late in the first quarter. Instead a three-touchdown lead, the Eagles allowed the Rams to stay in the game, despite their horrible start.

"It's been a combination of everything," said left tackle Jason Peters. "Everybody has to do better. We need touchdowns."

He's right. The Eagles dropped a pass, gave up pressure in the passing game, failed to get open and missed a golden opportunity to take a huge lead.

It's the same story in the turnover game. At minus-4, the Eagles are far, far behind their pace of a year ago when they turned the ball over just 19 times, took it away 31 times and ranked tied for fourth in the league with a plus-12 ratio.

"It's an important stat," said head coach Chip Kelly. "Ball security is something we work on every day."

The good news is that the Eagles are 4-1 despite the early-season inconsistencies and that the red zone and the turnover ratio are two areas where the team can improve. Every part of the team shares in the responsibility of tightening things up and scoring more touchdowns and turning the ball over less.

And when the Eagles get it right, and this team plays its best football, watch out. The Eagles can beat any team when they are at their best.

Sunday night would be a good time to start as the red-hot Giants come to town for a prime-time game with first place in the NFC East at stake.

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