What Areas Are Most Vital To Improve In 2nd Half Of Season?
At 5-3 and winners of three straight games, the Eagles have put themselves in position to contend for a division title and a playoff spot in the next two months. They have some key points of emphasis to improve upon, starting immediately on Sunday night against the visiting Giants.
1. Finish Drives
This is no secret. The Eagles are not scoring enough touchdowns on their drives. And while it is nice to see that David Akers has the most points in the NFL and that he has made 19 of 23 field goals, the Eagles have to score more sixes than threes. The Eagles have scored 15 touchdowns on 33 trips inside opponents' 20-yard lines, a touchdown percentage of just 45.5 percent. That ranks 24th in the NFL. The Giants defense ranks second in the NFL in red zone success, permitting just 5 touchdowns on 14 trips inside the 20-yard line.
2. Open Games Better
It has been a real problem lately, with tough starts against San Francisco, Atlanta and Seattle. How many times can the Eagles come out lethargically on offense, fall behind and then wake up and win a game?
The goal is to start fast and finish strong, and the Eagles have not done that consistently during their three-game winning streak. They will have to do so in a tough eight-game schedule that ends this regular season. Putting Donovan McNabb in a comfort zone right from the start is important, but so is having some balance offensively. Where is the running game in the early going of games? Against the Giants, the Eagles need to get a lead and dictate to the visitors and not have it the other way around.
3. Pressure With Four-Man Rush
Jim Johnson's group ranks second in the league in sacks per pass play – behind the Giants – and the front seven deserves kudos for that. Still, it is important that the team generates more pressure from the four-man rush, rather than turning to the blitz when a push is needed.
Darren Howard has been a revelation with 6 ½ sacks and Juqua Parker has 4 ½ to lead the way. The Eagles need more from Trent Cole, who is stuck on 3 sacks, and they need more from Victor Abiamiri when he plays tackle in the nickel. Also, Mike Patterson, Brodrick Bunkley and Trevor Laws have to add some pass rush when the Eagles have their base defense on the field.
Imagine the havoc the secondary could provide with consistent pressure, even when there is no blitz called. You would see turnovers and big plays galore from the defense. That is the goal. On Sunday night, the Eagles need to get after quarterback Eli Manning and get him out of his comfort zone. If he is able to sit back in the pocket, it won't matter how many great cover corners the Eagles have. They won't have a chance if Manning has all day to throw.
4. Run The Ball More Effectively
The Eagles rank 23rd in the league in rushing yards per game and 21st in average yards per rushing attempt. That just isn't good enough. It sure doesn't seem like the problem is how many times Andy Reid dials up a running play, but what happens when the Eagles run the ball. They aren't winning the battle at the line of scrimmage, and that includes the tight ends and the receivers. Too many defensive linemen are playing on the Eagles' side of the ball, especially in critical short-yardage situations.
The answer? Not sure. Be more physical up front. Establish the mindset of superiority at the line of scrimmage. Execute the blocking scheme. There is no greater challenge than the one waiting on Sunday night.
5. Dominate On Special Teams
There has been definite improvement in every phase here. The punt coverage teams have been outstanding, with punter Sav Rocca and the guys running down the field doing a fine job. The kickoff coverage team ranks 27th in the league in return average allowed, and that has to get better.
In the return phase of things, Quintin Demps opened Sunday's game in Seattle by nearly taking the kickoff to the end zone. More of the same is needed. DeSean Jackson is an all-out thrill ride on punts and could use a tad more consistency in his return confidence.
Akers has made 19 of 23 field goals and he is tied for eighth in the league with 8 touchbacks on his kickoffs.
The nudge here is to dominate in every phase. The Eagles are better than they have been, but that isn't enough, is it? The goal is to dominate.