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Over the past couple season, the struggles of the Philadelphia Eagles in the red zone have been well documented. The team has moved up and down the field at will, only to bog down once they get inside the 20. The reasons for these struggles have been debated to death and the blame for the struggles has been spread all over the place. It was Andy Reid's bad playcalling. The wide receivers weren't big enough. Donovan McNabb can't throw the fade...
Although it's obviously very early going and who knows what the rest of the season holds as far as red zone efficiency, there may be answer as to where the blame for the red zone struggles should have gone. This season, with Michael Vick at QB, the Eagles have scored TDs on 7 of 8 trips to the red zone. That's 87.5% efficiency.
The coach hasn't changed. The weapons haven't changed. The offensive line has probably gotten worse. What is the one obvious major change the Eagles have made since last year that might explain the total 180 turnaround in their red zone performance? Sam Donnellon described what happened with the Redskins yesterday.
Donovan McNabb seemed to blame the plays getting in late or the team not getting up to the line quick enough for yesterday's struggles. Anyone having dejavu?
Whether you're one of the Vick lovers or haters, you have to admit that he's making plays in the red zone. Whether he's running the ball in himself, buying time for his WRs to get open, hitting Jeremy Maclin with accurate passes... To me, he's the difference in the red zone performance. It's not like Andy Reid is making brilliant play calls suddenly. The team is just executing better and that starts with the quarterback.
Michael Vick talked about his performance in the Red Zone.
"If you go back to my days in Atlanta I thought we always did a good job in the red zone and had a high efficiency and percentage in the red zone and were able to score a lot of points. My eyes light up when we get down there and I think everybody else on this football team does too. You have to go out there and put the ball in the end zone. You work so hard to get down there and you don't want field goals, you want touchdowns."
I don't mean this to simply be a McNabb bashfest. I still think Donovan McNabb is the greatest QB we've ever had... but there's a pretty notable preponderance of evidence here is there not? He's really the only factor that's changed in the Eagles Red Zone equation and they've dramatically improved. The Redskins are struggling in that department in and we're hearing that the playcalling isn't fast enough and maybe the weapons aren't good enough... The same we heard here.
Just for kicks I ran some numbers from the Football Outsiders database on Red Zone DVOA. DVOA basically measures play by play effectiveness in relation to the league average in a number of areas. The stat does factor in the quality of the opponent. The Eagles are ranked at #4 this year with a 93.3% DVOA. The Redskins are 25th with a -57.4% DVOA. Actually those numbers aren't even taking into account this week. So the Eagles are likely to get even better and the Redskins could actually regress further.
Just for comparison's sake, the Eagles finished 2009 with a 2.1% DVOA, which put them right around the middle of the league at #15. The Redskins were ranked #9 with 11.8%.
So what say you? Was it all McNabb's fault? Is it still too early to tell?