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Turning The Red Zone Offense From Very Good To Great

With a 53.4 percent touchdown success rate in 2010, the Eagles were 14th in the NFL. It's a number that is a lot closer to No. 1 Indianapolis (67.9 percent) than the bottom of the league, Carolina, which had a 30.3 percent success rate.

The Eagles scored a total of 279 points in the red zone which was sixth-best in the league. The Eagles had 58 red zone drives last year, which was tied for fourth in the league, and scored at least a field goal on 89.7 percent of those drives which was the seventh-best rate in the league.

Still, there is always room for improvement. How can the Eagles offense in the red zone take a step forward in 2011? An impact may very well be provided by an offseason addition who will not play a single down for the Eagles - offensive line coach Howard Mudd.

The Indianapolis Colts have consistently been one of the best red zone teams in the NFL. In three of Mudd's final four years with Indianapolis, the Colts ranked either first or second in the league in red zone offense.

When you think of the Colts offense, you think of the quarterback - Peyton Manning. In the red zone last year, when once again the Colts were first in the league, Manning was 46-of-81 (56.8 percent) for 336 yards with ... 26 touchdowns and no interceptions for a 106.3 rating. What was Michael Vick in the red zone last year? His numbers were good as well. Vick was 38-of-68 (55.9 percent) for 190 yards with 13 touchdowns against just one interception (at Chicago) for a 94.6 rating. What Vick has on Manning, as you can imagine, is the rushing impact. Vick had 87 rushing yards (15th in NFL) and nine touchdowns (8th in NFL) in the red zone in 2010.

In addition to securing the protection for Vick, Mudd is used to his quarterback getting rid of the ball quickly. The need for this is greatly amplified in the red zone where defenses don't have to cover as much ground. DeSean Jackson is blazing fast, but can't out run a defense inside the 20-yard line.

The Eagles were also very effective at running the ball inside the 20-yard line last year. The Eagles were second in the league in yards per carry in the red zone and third in total yards per game. One of the best rushing teams in the league, the New York Jets, was surprisingly 30th in red zone offense. Running back LeSean McCoy was one of the league's deadliest red zone weapons. McCoy had 99 rushing yards (12th in NFL) and four touchdowns, but also was tied for second in the league among all players with 14 red zone receptions. Some are by design, but some are the result of checkdowns which could be alleviated with better protection and improved timing.

And there are other weapons already in the stockpile. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin had 11 catches and seven of them went for touchdowns, a total that was tied for third in the league. Wide receiver Jason Avant and tight end Brent Celek were two of the league's best red zone players just two seasons ago. Both Avant and Celek were in the top 15 in the league in red zone receptions in 2009. Celek was tied for ninth in the league that year with six red zone touchdowns.

The one area in the red zone from last year where the Eagles need to improve the most is successful plays on first down. Defined as gaining 40 percent of the yardage needed on first down, the Eagles only had a successful first down play in the red zone 33.9 percent of the time which was 30th in the league. The Eagles, however, bounced back with a 55.4 success rate on second downs (50 percent of the yards needed for a first down), which was seventh in the NFL.

The Eagles set a franchise scoring record for the third straight year in 2010. The Eagles were one of the best teams in the league at getting into the red zone. They were second in points scored out of the red zone only to San Diego. If the Eagles can capitalize on a few more trips inside the 20-yard line, one of the best offenses will be that much more deadly in 2011.

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