All week long we’ve been hearing about the importance of taking what’s being given to the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense.
Don’t force the football into double coverage deep down the field, throw it away if nobody pops open in three seconds, run to the side of the field with the least defenders, etc., etc., etc.
Yes, the goal is always to play sensible football. But for the Eagles to truly achieve greatness (and beat a majority of the teams left on their schedule), they’re going to have to find ways to take what’s not being given.
It means an aggressive, improvisational approach even without without their top — only? — deep threat, DeSean Jackson, who remains out with what the team calls an abdominal strain.
It means, for example, that if Alshon Jeffery, a possession receiver, is singled up on the outside, they might want to instantly take a shot over the top and trust that he can use his long wingspan to overpower the cornerback if he can’t outrun him.
It means sending their fastest available receiver, Nelson Agholor, deep early and often to at least loosen the safeties.
It means quarterback Carson Wentz not necessarily throwing the ball away if he doesn’t find anyone immediately open, which raises his injury risk considerably but which also makes him special, which is what they desperately need him to be now that it’s proven he has no great receivers until Jackson gets back from his injury.
Given the state of this team, they can’t win any other way. Those long, 12- and 13-play, 80-yard drives in which you methodically take what’s being given are always great and almost always necessary, but they only land you in the end zone maybe two times per game.
Of all the Eagles 30 touchdown drives of 60 yards or longer in 2018, only 20 lasted longer than seven plays.
Through five games this season, they have eight TD drives of 60 yards or more, with seven lasting longer than seven plays. That’s a better ratio than the year before but still less than two per game.
Point is, they’re going to have to get to the end zone more ways than those against Minnesota this coming Sunday and against Dallas the week after that for sure.
For that to happen, they’ll need either short-field possessions created by their defense or special teams, neither of which they should have to rely on for assists. Or they’ll need short scoring possessions that reduce the odds of backfiring along the way with a false start or a hold or some other nonsense that gets them behind the chains, leading to chants of “punt team, get ready,” on the sideline.
That means chunk plays that opponents are not willing to give but the Eagles have to be willing to make.
“We still feel that we have the guys that are capable, without a doubt,” Wentz boasted. “DeSean is kind of his own type of player in that regard, but we still feel that we’re capable of doing that and we’ll still attack downfield when it’s there. But again, we’re not going to force it. ... But when it’s there, we’re going to try to exploit it."
At the same time ... “It can be hard to sustain long, 12-, 13-play drives, especially against a good defense,” Wentz added, “but if that’s what it takes, that’s what we’re going to do.”
That’s what it will take for one or two scores. But unless their defense comes through with another historically freakish game like it had against the hapless New York Jets last Sunday, they’ll need more.
That’s where Wentz and his receivers and tight ends and backs come in.
Wentz is averaging just 6.6 yards per attempt this season. That’s down more than a full yard from his career-high of 7.7 set last year.
The Eagles’ team average of 6.4 yards per attempt ranks 22nd in the NFL. That ranking will have to rise for them to remain in the championship picture in 2019.
“That’s something I don’t really analyze a whole lot,” offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. “I think the No. 1 stat is getting your team in the end zone, and I think we’re fifth in the NFL right now in touchdown percentage.”
With two of their three victories coming against teams that still haven’t won.
Now that the Eagles will be stepping up in class these next six games, they’ll need bigger plays more often.
“We will continue to try to look for those kinds of plays," Groh said, “and hopefully over the course of a 16-week season we make more than our share there.”
That’s their only real way to the postseason.