The 2015 Eagles were among the worst teams in the NFL in turnover ratio, among the worst teams in the league in touchdown percentage in the red zone and absolutely horrible in pass defense, allowing a franchise-most 36 touchdown passes.
And yet there they were in Week 16 of the forgettable season hosting the Washington Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field needing a win to keep their playoff chances alive. Despite all the poor play and significant awfulness of the season, the Eagles still had a chance. They had blown their opportunity for controlling their own destiny the game before, losing 40-17 against visiting Arizona. But they still had division games remaining against Washington and New York and, well, maybe the Eagles could turn things around?
They didn't get it done. Washington crushed the Eagles, 38-24, and the Eagles made a shocking change at head coach a few days later.
So here we are, many moons later, and the Eagles have a lot of changes and a new outlook on a new season. The question here is, then, why can't the Eagles win the NFC East? Who says it's an insurmountable task?
"We always have high goals," wide receiver Jordan Matthews said. "Definitely, our goal is to get to the playoffs. I've never been there. I'm hungry to win and to win the postseason, too."
What is the formula for the Eagles to win the NFC East? It's certainly easier said than done in a division in which it's fair to say that defending champion Washington should be considered the favorite, and a solid one at that. Washington had a strong 2015 season and a solid offseason, adding star cornerback Josh Norman to an already-strong secondary. The Redskins are the team to beat, no doubt about it.
But they can be beaten. The Eagles have to be really good at a lot of things to do so in my five-point plan to Win The NFC East ...
Win the turnover battle
Very simple: Teams that win the turnover battle factually win more games than they lose. The best five turnover differentials in the 2015 NFL season belonged to Carolina, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Arizona and New England. All five teams made the playoffs. The Eagles were at minus-5, ranking 22nd in the league.
It's pretty clear, right? Win the ball security battle and you improve your chances to win the game. Head coach Doug Pederson, in Kansas City the last three seasons where the Chiefs were terrific at ball security, preaches it every day. The Eagles practice it every day. They had drills where receivers make catches and players try to rip the ball from their grasp. Same with running backs. The coaching staff is all over the coaches talking about ball security.
So let's hope it improves. A significant difference could mean a playoff spot. That's the way it works in the NFL.
Score touchdowns in the red zone
A 3-for-3 performance in the red zone in the season finale at New York helped the Eagles improve statistically in this category, but they still ranked 15th in the league in TD efficiency in the red zone and that just isn't good enough. The offense left too many points on the field, and while touchdown success in the red zone doesn't necessarily correlate to a playoff appearance - Detroit, the New York Jets and Tennessee finished in the top five last season - there is such a slim margin for error in the league that teams that maximize their trips inside opponents' red zone are going to win games, assuming they get there enough for it to matter.
The Eagles are going to move the ball. The offensive line here is good, upgraded with the signing of guard Brandon Brooks. The scheme is sound. There are some matchups - which I will detail below - to take advantage of.
Touchdowns, not field goals, in the red zone will make a playoff difference.
Play great on special teams
Coordinator Dave Fipp has had one of the best special teams groups in the league in his three seasons here. He's got his core players back, a great scheme and a team that understands the importance of playing solid special teams. Donnie Jones is kicking as well as he has ever kicked. Jon Dorenbos is one of the league's best long snappers. Both Cody Parkey and Caleb Sturgis are NFL-quality placekickers. Darren Sproles is a game-breaking punt returner.
We don't know how the Eagles will play it on kickoffs - now that touchbacks come out to the 25-yard line instead of the 20 - but Fipp will have a good plan in place.
The Eagles should be very, very good on teams.
Raise all kinds of heck at the line of scrimmage defensively
The Jim Schwartz defense is designed to be heck on wheels off the ball. The Eagles are going to attack. They have talent up front, led by tackle Fletcher Cox, and his presence will open up things on the edges as well as for fellow tackle Bennie Logan. There is no more of the restraining two-gap scheme.
The Eagles are going for it on defense. Schwartz is a proven defensive mastermind and the Eagles have strength at the line of scrimmage and on the backend at safety. No doubt there are questions about depth at linebacker and front-line ability at cornerback, but Schwartz has a great design and an understanding of how to use his personnel.
Book this: The defense will be much, much better than it was last year.
Coach well and maximize matchups
Chip Kelly's offense relied on a scheme working, and it did for the 2013 season and at times in the seasons to follow. But once defenses caught on to the tempo and gained a feel for the play calling, the offensive consistency faltered.
So it's important for Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich to take advantage of matchups and do a great job of gameplanning the week before the game. Get Sproles the ball in space in the passing game. Throw 10 times a game to tight end Zach Ertz. Scheme to get open a group of wide receivers that may lack a true "No. 1" player but that has a solid group of young veterans. Play power football and run the football.
The coaching staff has to play a huge part here. Football is a cerebral game at the NFL level. The Eagles have to win that part of the weekly battles, too.
So does it sound that difficult? Is it insurmountable? I don't think so, not at all.
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By DAVE SPADARO