Deeper Into the Red Zone

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles' biggest challenge is finding a way to convert all those yards into points. But is Foles really any better than Vick inside the 20?

Solving the Eagles' red zone woes should be Chip Kelly's main focus right now.  Sure the defense stinks, but a lot of that is due to a lack of talent (especially at safety) to fit the new 3-4 defense, and there's nothing Chip can do about that until next spring.

The offensive tools are already there, and if this team can convert all those yards into points, they'll simply outscore opponents.  Last year, Kelly's Ducks got slaughtered on D by Matt Barkley's Trojans, giving up 51 points.  Luckily, they scored 62. Just by solving this problem, and getting special teams back on track, the Eagles would  become a legitimate playoff contender instead of an amusing factoid:  "ha ha, they're 2-3 and still leading their division!!"

I recently wrote about Michael Barkann's radical proposal to bring in Nick Foles solely as a red zone closer, which is an intriguing notion.  But the more I look at this issue, the less I'm convinced that Foles is better close to the goal line.

It's true that Foles has had more success getting touchdowns this year than Vick. And I don't think prior seasons -- with a different scheme and roster, Vick being injured and Foles a rookie -- give us any useful information.  But Foles has had so few drives this year that percentages can be misleading.

In fact, the very focus on red zone scoring  is misleading in its own right.  Take the Giants game, which is the only fair comparison between the two quarterbacks.  (Foles' only other drive was in garbage time against the Broncos.)

Foles only got into the red zone twice (though one of his touchdown drives was a single pass, after an interception,  from the 25).  On his red zone drives, the Eagles got one touchdown and settled for one field goal.  The field goal is misleading, though.  Foles had thrown a 21 yard pass from the 39 to the 18, but there was only time for one more play before the half. Foles might have scored a touchdown on that drive, but we'll never know, and that's exactly the question.

He also had two drives that ended just outside the red zone. Foles got that TD from the 25, but he also settled for a field goal from the Giants' 23, on 4th and 13.

Looking at all drives in game five, Foles had 8 -- resulting in 4 punts, 2 field goals and 2 TDs.  Vick had 6, with a touchdown, 3 field goals and 2 punts. The bigger difference, to my eye, was Foles starting with better field position, and punting more. He didn't get a single first down on three of his drives, while Vick drove consistently.

The best argument for Foles is that he can "throw a receiver open," as he did on his two touchdowns. But he wasn't able to do that consistently, and  DeSean Jackson's 5 yard touchdown  was clearly a designed play, one that could have been called when Vick was in, too.

There's a good case to be made that play calling is a part of the red zone inefficiency. Chip Kelly's Ducks scored on runs for most of their touchdowns, but the Eagles have been whiffing on short passes in the red zone.  Two of Vick's red zone field goals came on fourth down and three, at the Giants' 20 and 11 respectively.  Going for it on fourth would have given Vick a chance for one or two more TDs, and his running ability and toughness give him a big advantage in short yardage situations.

After looking closely at every drive in game 5, the most striking thing -- for both quarterbacks -- is field position. Foles scored touchdowns only after interceptions gave him great field position, at New York's 25 and 38, and he didn't even get a field goal after the third INT, starting at midfield. The only time Philadelphia scored a touchdown after starting in its own territory was when Vick was at the helm.  Otherwise, long drives resulted in field goals at best, and Vick was much better in getting those, too.

Perhaps the real key is not the quarterback at all, but takeaways.  Oregon's gambling defense never got enough credit for contributing to the Ducks' offensive potency.  Duck fans were not the least surprised when Foles threw a touchdown on his first play after the initial interception.  Vick did the same thing -- also from the 25 -- after a fumble recovery against Washington, and it has been almost routine for Oregon to strike immediately after turnovers.

In Philadelphia's two wins, they got three and four turnovers respectively.  (In their three losses combined, they took only 2). If they keep coming up with big defensive plays, and get a little more aggressive on fourth down, this offense can start punching its weight.  And it weighs a ton.

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