Eagles

Carson Wentz, Eagles proving better than anyone in red zone

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Carson Wentz, Eagles proving better than anyone in red zone

If the Eagles cross their opponent's 20-yard line there's a good chance they're going to score a touchdown. 

A really good chance. 

In fact, they're better at scoring touchdowns in those situations than any other team in the league. The Eagles have become the best red-zone team in football.

Through 11 games, the Eagles have scored a touchdown on 71.8 percent of their trips into the red zone. The next closest team is Green Bay, which is scoring at a 67.7 percent clip. 

Against the Bears, the Eagles scored on three of their five trips to the red zone but were really better than that. Their fourth trip was ruined when a fumble happened on the snap from the backup center to the backup quarterback. And the final trip into the red zone ended in victory formation as the clock ran out. 

While the Eagles have scored touchdowns on 28 of their 39 trips into the red zone this season, they've been even better in their last six games. Since the Carolina game, the Eagles have scored on 18 of 22 trips to the red zone — an amazing 81 percent. 

"I think for us, it's just the continuity of continuing to rep and to execute the same concepts over and over each week," head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday. "I think it's one of the things that I credit the offensive coaches for is maximizing our personnel down there, creating some matchups. You saw yesterday with Alshon (Jeffery) at the one time on a linebacker, right before the half, and just putting our guys in positions to be successful.

"And then obviously this was — [defensive coordinator Vic Fangio] for the Bears is not a big zero-blitz guy bringing everybody in. He showed that yesterday and we were able to adjust and make some plays down there and score a touchdown to Nelson (Agholor) on one of those.

"So yeah, we just continue to execute our plan, execute our schemes, things we have worked on all offseason, all training camp and continue to get better."

The Eagles spend a good portion of every Friday practice working on situational football, which includes red-zone work. That seems to be paying off. 

The Eagles' improvement in the red zone this season is pretty incredible. Last season, they scored touchdowns on just 49.1 percent of their red-zone trips, so they were toward the bottom of the league. In fact, their 71.8 percent success rate this season is considerably higher than any success rate under Chip Kelly or Andy Reid. The closest mark came in the 2004 Super Bowl season when the Eagles scored on 63.8 percent of their trips to the red zone. They're eight percentage points better so far in 2017!

Part of the reason for this rise in success is pretty simple. It's the same reason Pederson gave a couple weeks ago for his team's success on the road: This Eagles team is just better. They're a better football team.

The other obvious answer is Carson Wentz. 

So much of red-zone success simply boils down to quarterback play and the Eagles have a potential MVP working for them. Pederson admitted a lot of the Eagles' success in the red zone comes "pre-snap" based on what the defense is showing. 

"You get a lot of information pre-snap on any down," Pederson said, "but particularly in the red zone when things become a little tighter, a little faster, lanes are a little narrow, or the ball has to be out a little faster, things like that."

Wentz is responsible for a lot pre-snap, but once the ball is in his hands, he makes things happen, too. He's been dynamic in the red zone this season. His 118.1 passer rating in the red zone is the third highest in the NFL and is actually 14 points higher than his overall passer rating. Just Eli Manning (121.2) and Drew Brees (118.4) have higher red-zone passer ratings. And Wentz has a better red-zone passer rating than Aaron Rodgers (116.2) and Tom Brady (108.3).

Check out Wentz's numbers in the red zone: 31 for 47, 242 yards, 20 TDs, 0 INT

And now Brady's red-zone season stats: 39 for 64, 243 yards, 20 TDs, 0 INT

Yup, the two MVP candidates are pretty close.   

“The biggest thing is the game plan we have coming in each week," Wentz said. "Our coaches do a tremendous job of getting guys in the right positions to make plays. Our balance of being able to run the ball down there and throw the ball has been big for us, too. And then it just comes down to guys making plays. We’re just making more of them right now. The tighter you get to the red zone, the defense has to declare their coverage a little more. In the back of our heads, we have those things we can go to versus different looks. Sometimes you have to change things, and sometimes you just let it roll. Coach called a great game.”

Pederson said that earlier in the season, he thought the Eagles struggled in the "big red-zone area," which is inside the 30. He challenged his offense to get better in those situations. He wanted the Eagles to run the ball better and take care of the football better in the red zone.

It worked. 

"They really have since that point, it was about after Week, maybe 3 or 4, somewhere in there, they have really embraced that," Pederson said. "And again, it comes down to their preparation and the way they practice on Fridays when we do our red zone. Just they don't want to be denied."

Eagles bring back special teams maven Bryan Braman

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Eagles bring back special teams maven Bryan Braman

The Eagles have brought back a former special teams ace for the stretch run. 

Special teamer Bryan Braman on Tuesday signed with the Eagles to rejoin Dave Fipp's special teams group.

Braman, 30, had been with the Eagles from 2014-16, when he was a major contributor for Fipp's top-end special teams unit. He can help fill the void left by the season-ending injury to Chris Maragos earlier in the season. 

During his three seasons with the Eagles, Braman led all Eagles with 1,214 special teams snaps. He played more special teams snaps than any other Eagle in each of the last two seasons. He played in all 48 games over those three seasons, but was mainly a special teams player. 

After officially placing quarterback Carson Wentz (ACL) on Injured Reserve Tuesday, the Eagles had one available roster spot. It looks like it will be filled by Braman. 

Braman was not resigned by the Eagles this past offseason. He spent some time in New Orleans but was placed on their IR and was then released. He hasn't been with a team since early September. 

Eagles' offense 'full steam ahead' with Nick Foles at QB

Eagles' offense 'full steam ahead' with Nick Foles at QB

Carson Wentz is out, Nick Foles is in. 

And the Eagles claim their offense isn't going to change. 

On it's face, that seems somewhat absurd. After all, Wentz is more than an average quarterback. He's the face of the Eagles' franchise and was an MVP candidate through 13 weeks. Foles was once a Pro Bowler, but there's a reason he wasn't a starter entering this season. 

So how will the offense look different? 

"I don't expect it will look different at all," Foles said adamantly.  

Why is that? 

"Because it's our offense," Foles answered. "This is the Eagles' offense. This is the one that is the DNA of this team. And we're going to do what we do. We have so many tremendous players on offense that can do a lot of different things. We just have to go out there and execute and have a great week of work and just keep moving." 

Offensive coordinator Frank Reich finally admitted that there will be "very minor tweaks" to the Eagles' weekly game plans with Foles in at quarterback. But he made the same point as Foles, that the system is built around the QB, but also around the other talent on offense. 

There is, however, one pretty significant difference between Wentz and Foles. 

"Now, Carson has some unique physical traits that he does exceptionally well, but it's nothing that Nick can't handle," Reich said. "We're full steam ahead."

The Eagles run plenty of run-pass option plays, but head coach Doug Pederson pointed out on Monday that the Eagles very rarely use their quarterback to run the ball in those situations. And as far as RPOs go, Foles has used them plenty before. 

Another part of the offense that has been tailored to Wentz is the autonomy the quarterback has at the line of scrimmage. Wentz has been able to make calls and checks pre-snap based on what the defense shows. It seems like Foles will have that same ability, which is something he's excited about. 

"Understand this, he's a veteran player who has played and won a lot of games, not only here, but other places that he's been," Pederson said. "Nick's a highly intelligent football player."

Pederson said he and Foles will talk weekly to make sure his quarterback is comfortable with the plays that go into the game plan. So, theoretically, things could be different. But based on what the offensive leaders of the team have said, don't expect wholesale changes. 

Now, what might change about the offense isn't necessarily by design. Because of Wentz's unique physical gifts and escapability, he's able to make incredible plays. The escape in Washington, the throw to Corey Clement in the end zone, the deep flick down the sideline in Seattle, those are plays only a handful of guys in the world can make. It would be unfair to expect Foles to make them. 

But as far as game-planning goes, the Eagles are going to do what they've done. 

"I feel comfortable in this offense," Foles said. "I love this offense. We're going to run this offense. Nothing's going to change."

Foles dealt with elbow soreness during the summer, but says his elbow now feels "amazing" and is not an issue. That's good news for the Eagles, because at least Foles has plenty of starting experience. His backup, Nate Sudfeld, has never even been active for an NFL game. 

The Eagles' hopes in 2017 rest on the shoulders of Foles. 

"I've always been a gunslinger, just let it rip," Foles said. "That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to play loose, count on the guys, lead this team. There's no other place I'd rather be. That's why I came back here. ... I'm ready to step up and help this team win."