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."

How Carson Wentz’s mind has become a weapon for Eagles’ run game

How Carson Wentz’s mind has become a weapon for Eagles’ run game

Carson Wentz first said it after the win over the Bills and it definitely piqued my interest.

After the Eagles’ 31-13 win in Buffalo, Wentz stated that running the ball was the “recipe” for his team. He spoke about the importance of controlling the line of scrimmage. And he mentioned it again after the win over the Bears.

It seemed like a strange thing for a 26-year-old franchise quarterback to say.

That is, until you realize just how involved and invested Wentz is in the Eagles’ run game.

“That’s what he’s embraced, the power of the five guys in front of him and the abilities of the backs,” 40-year-old backup quarterback Josh McCown said. “When you have those weapons, you have to use them and he’s not afraid to use it.

“And his mind. His mind is a weapon. When you can identify fronts and realize this is a good run vs. that, it’s rare and it’s hard for quarterbacks. When you get a guy that can do that and you got the guys up front who can pull it off, it can be a weapon. He’s certainly helped us with that.”

That’s something very similar to what quarterbacks coach Press Taylor said earlier in the week, that Wentz’s mind is “one of the strengths” of the Eagles’ rushing attack.

You’ve probably seen it several times this year. Wentz will be at the line of scrimmage and check to a run play based on what the opposing defense is showing. But it’s a more detailed process than that.

And Wentz is heavily involved.

“Carson, since Day 1, has been very involved in the run game,” center Jason Kelce said. “Probably a little different than a lot of other quarterbacks. He really wants to know what the checks are for, why they want to do them. With some guys, I’m really the one who’s taking control of it and that’s not the way he is. He’s a guy that wants to know why we’re doing everything. He’s a very cerebral guy. He’s very knowledgeable when it comes to the run game, really any facet.”

Likewise, McCown is impressed that a “rather young” quarterback has the awareness and control over games that Wentz does.

So just know when Wentz makes a check, there’s a whole long process behind it.

Really, it starts with film study during the week as the Eagles work to create their game plans. It continues on the sideline during games, based on the actions of the opposing defense. These are conversations between Wentz, Kelce and offensive line coach/run game coordinator Jeff Stoutland.

Sometimes, there are glaring reasons for a check. Other times, there’s a more back-and-forth discussion between the group about what might work and where there might be a flaw in their thinking.

Wentz, as you might imagine, downplayed his involvement in the run game. “Not a ton,” he said, before crediting Stoutland and Kelce.

Don’t buy it.

“He’s involved in all of it,” Kelce said.

It’s not like Wentz is Peyton Manning up there with the full playbook at his disposal. There are “tight parameters,” as Taylor put it. If the defense shows this, check to that. But with all their prep work, the Eagles feel confident that Wentz and Kelce will get them into successful plays.

Recently, that has meant a whole bunch of runs. With their receivers struggling this season and with DeSean Jackson out, the Eagles have kind of become a run-first team. While Wentz thinks chunk pass plays will come, he also thinks the Eagles can win like this.

And that’s all he cares about.

“I think he wants to win,” Taylor said. “So I think he will do whatever it takes for us to win the game.”

For now, that means running the football. And Wentz will be involved every step of the way.

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5 matchups to watch as Eagles host Patriots in NFL Week 11

5 matchups to watch as Eagles host Patriots in NFL Week 11

The Eagles (5-4) are back from their bye week with what might be their toughest game of the season against the Patriots (8-1) at the Linc.

The last time these two teams played against each other in a game that mattered, the Eagles won 41-33. But a lot has changed since then.

Here are five matchups to watch on Sunday:

Tom Brady vs. Jim Schwartz

No, the Patriots didn’t win Super Bowl LII — I remember that pretty clearly — but Brady did have a big statistical game. He threw for 505 yards with 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. That’s the most passing yards ever in a playoff game. I know they lost and I know that was nearly two years ago, but Brady carved up the Eagles that night. His numbers this season aren’t nearly as incredible. In nine games, he has 2,536 yards with 14 TDs and 5 INTs, but he’s still capable of having a big game.

“Yeah, he's a tough competitor and gives them a chance to win every week,” Schwartz said. “He doesn't make many mistakes.”

So it’ll be on Schwartz to find a way to force him into a few mistakes on Sunday. Maybe that means blitzing, maybe that means showing a few looks for which the Patriots won’t be prepared.

There will be pressure on Schwartz, with an extra week to prepare, to figure out a way to slow down Brady more on Sunday than he did in the Super Bowl less than a couple years ago.

Julian Edelman vs. Avonte Maddox

The Patriots’ top receiver this season has been Edelman, who missed Super Bowl LII 18 months ago. In 2019, the 5-10 slot receiver has 63 catches for 663 yards and four touchdowns. To put that in perspective, the Eagles’ top two receivers (not including tight ends) are Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor. They have a combined 66 catches for 635 yards and six touchdowns. Edelman is a real threat.

Maddox returned for the Bears game before the bye and will be given a tough task on Sunday in Edelman. Edelman has been consistently good this season but also has two 100-yard games.

Stephon Gilmore vs. ???

The Patriots are famous for taking away their opponents best player and they do this in a few different ways. Gilmore is their best corner, so it would make a lot of sense if they just match him up against the Eagles’ best receiver. But Alshon Jeffery’s status is in question. So there could also be the possibility that the Patriots decide to put Gilmore on tight end Zach Ertz, a possibility offensive coordinator Mike Groh didn’t dismiss earlier this week. It’ll be interesting to see what the Patriots decide, especially if Jeffery doesn’t play.

It’s worth noting that the Eagles will probably use a lot of 12 personnel (two tight ends) in this game. And they already use that personnel package more than any other team in the league. It’s something the Patriots have struggled with. More on that from NBC Sports Boston.

Doug Pederson/Mike Groh vs. Bill Belichick

This is where Pederson needs to be innovative. The Eagles will have to have a few scenarios in their minds of how the Patriots want to defend them and have wrinkles ready to throw at them. In a lot of games, I think the coaching matchups are overblown; the players win or lose games. But the most intriguing thing about this game is the chess match that will go on between Belichick and the Eagles’ offensive staff, which includes Carson Wentz. The Patriots’ defense is an opportunistic bunch, leading the NFL in takeaways. So Wentz will have to be careful with the ball, but Pederson’s play-calling needs to be better in this game. Should be fun to watch.

Eagles’ run game vs. Patriots’ run defense

Before the bye week, we watched the Ravens run for 210 yards against the Patriots in their huge 37-20 win in Baltimore. Now, 61 of those yards came from Lamar Jackson and the Eagles won’t have that type of run game production from their quarterback this week. But the point is that I think the Eagles can run on the Patriots.

While they have the 11th run defense in the NFL, giving up 99.1 yards per game, you have to remember that they’ve been up on teams. In four of their nine games, the Patriots have given up fewer than 60 rushing yards. But in those four games, the Patriots have outscored their opponents 74-14 in first halves, including three first-half shutouts. Many teams got behind them and were forced to abandon the run.

And, overall, the Patriots are giving up 4.7 yards per carry, which ranks 26th in the NFL.

The Eagles have found success running the ball this season and they should try to get that run game going against the Patriots.

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