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The Eagles should be good in the red zone, when they actually get there

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They say getting there is half the fun...

NFL: Preseason-Philadelphia Eagles at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to look at the Eagles offense and think they’ll be good at just about anything. The wide receivers are perhaps the worst in the NFL, the offensive line is already missing a starter, the running game isn’t a strength, they could go through three different starting QBs and no one would be surprised, and Doug Pederson has next to no history as a playcaller to indicate he can overcome any of this.

But they might just be good, relatively speaking, at one thing: the red zone. The trouble for the 2016 Eagles will be getting to the red zone, but once they are there, the Eagles have some good options on hand.

Jordan Matthews

Over the past two seasons, Matthews has caught 16 TDs, the 12th most in the league during that time span. 11 of those have come in the Red Zone: 6 in 2014 and 5 in 2015. Among WRs with at least 10 red zone targets, his catch rate of 62.5% in 2014 was 11th best, and in 2015 it was 9th best, also at 62.5%. Only five WRs were in the top 20 in both seasons: Matthews, Antonio Brown, Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate and Larry Fitzgerald.

Jordan Matthews is a very good and reliable red zone receiver.

Multiple tight ends

Tight ends are a strength on the Eagles offense and already in the preseason Doug Pederson has shown that he will go to a lot of two and three tight end personnel groupings. For the Eagles this is addition by subtraction, especially in the red zone, where long speed is no longer a factor. When the Eagles go to two or three TE sets, they will be removing WRs who struggle at catching the ball and replacing them with TEs who are good pass catchers in Brent Celek and Trey Burton. Celek has caught 9 of his 13 red zone targets over the past two seasons, all of his 4 TDs in that span coming in the red zone. He should continue to be strong near the goal line, as he has always had good hands, been a strong route runner and used his body well to shield defenders. The coaching staff is high on Burton and he will get his opportunities, in camp and preseason last year he demonstrated good hands.

Dorial Green-Beckham

Green-Beckham is a work in progress on many levels, but with a little polish he could present a respectable red zone target. At 6’5” he is easily the tallest target among Eagles WRs, and has shown some ability to go up and get the ball at the NFL level. 3 of his 4 TDs last year came in the red zone, though overall his red zone numbers in 2014 were poor. His 40% catch rate was 46th out of 58 WRs with at least 10 targets, but consider the context of the team he was on and is joining. Among Titans WRs, only Kendall Wright, with a catch rate of 57.1% did better than 50-50 in the red zone, and Green-Beckham was the most targeted WR, with 10 targets. Meanwhile on the Eagles only Matthews had a catch rate above 40% among WRs. With weak competition, Green-Beckham might immediately slide in as a better red zone option than Nelson Agholor or Josh Huff.

Darren Sproles

Sproles, like the rest of the Eagles offense, struggled in the red zone the past two years. But throughout his career he has been a weapon near the goal line. 18 of his 20 career rushing TDs came from the red zone, and 17 of his 28 receiving TDs have as well. After one of the least efficient years of Sproles’ career in 2015, the Eagles feel that they can get him back to resembling his heydays in San Diego and New Orleans. If so, he will be a strong option in the red zone, where his positional versatility and the physical matchup dilemma he offers defenses can create mismatches, especially with the personnel groupings that the Eagles are likely to lean on in the red zone.

Carson Wentz’s mobility

Time will tell just how good Carson Wentz is, but he is far and away more mobile than Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel, and that could be a significant advantage in the red zone. In college Wentz rushed for 12 TDs in 23 starts, and his mobility isn’t just limited to rushing. Wentz has shown the ability to keep a play alive using his feet and is also throws well on the run. He can open up the playbook with designed roll outs and run/pass option plays that Bradford and Daniel can’t execute.

The shovel pass, hopefully

It’s presumptuous to think that Doug Pederson’s playbook is a carbon copy of Andy Reid’s, but being the only playbook he’s had as an NFL coach, we can safely assume that he will borrow extensively from it. One play he should absolutely incorporate is the goal line shovel pass that defenses were routinely unable to stop even in the end of the Andy Reid era when they knew it was coming.

Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy scored more than a few TDs this way, and it’s easy to envision Darren Sproles or Wendell Smallwood on the end of this in 2016… so long as Pederson brings it back.

Red zone offenses have no real correlation to the overall quality of an offense or winning. The 2016 Eagles offense is going to struggle to get to the red zone no matter who is on the field. But once they do get to the red zone, the Eagles have tools at their disposal that can allow them to punch above their weight.