PHILADELPHIA -- It was obscured by the big “33” next to “Eagles” on the scoreboard, but the Eagles were not very successful in the red zone against the Cowboys on Thursday.
“We didn't execute well down there,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. “We're not going to make any excuses. We've got to correct that and we've got to do better -- especially playing against a good Seattle team.”
Mark Sanchez’s early success in the red zone created the apparently false impression that the change in quarterback had helped solve the problem. A look at the Eagles’ red zone appearances in Dallas suggests it’s a combination of the quarterback and the play-calling that is derailing the offense.
The Eagles scored a touchown -- Sanchez’s 2-yard run -- on their first foray into the red zone Thursday. The play was set up by a third-and-2 conversion where Sanchez hit Darren Sproles for 4 yards to the Dallas 10-yard line. From there, Sanchez hit wide receiver Riley Cooper for an 8-yard gain. On second-and-goal at the 2, Sanchez faked a handoff to LeSean McCoy and ran it into the end zone himself.
On the Eagles’ second red zone possession, they had a first-and-10 at the Dallas 20. Sanchez rolled to his right and threw the ball away deep while under pressure. On second down, McCoy ran around right end for 7 yards. On third-and-3, Sanchez’s pass for tight end Zach Ertz was knocked away by safety Barry Church. The Eagles kicked a field goal.
Next time up, McCoy ran for 9 yards on first-and-10 at the Dallas 18. He ran for 4 yards and a first-and-goal at the 5 on the next play. Two more runs netted 2 yards. On third-and-goal at the 3, Sanchez threw incomplete for Riley Cooper.
The last trip featured McCoy running for a first down at the Dallas 13. From there, Chris Polk carried the ball twice for a total of 6 yards. On third-and-4 at the 7, Sanchez threw an incomplete pass intended for Cooper.
You can see the patterns. The runs by McCoy come in bunches, then stop. Either Polk comes into the game or Kelly goes to the air. The throws to Cooper are hard to explain, too, as Jeremy Maclin and Jordan Matthews were not targeted in the red zone. Neither was Brent Celek. Sproles got one touch and produced a first down.
As good as the Seahawks’ defense is, it is ranked 28th in the NFL in defending the red zone. Some of the numbers are skewed by the team’s early struggles, but opponents have scored touchdowns 64 percent of the time they’ve gotten into the red zone. Then again, neither of Seattle’s last two opponents have scored touchdowns.
It will be a challenge to improve the Eagles’ red zone effectiveness this week, but Kelly can start by making sure the ball is going to his most dynamic playmakers: McCoy rather than Polk, Sproles and Matthews and Maclin instead of Cooper.